Scott Kurtz offers “PVPOnline” to newspapers for free and starts a firestorm in the process.

This is something I’ve been following for awhile now before commenting on and if nothing else it’s been a fascinating lesson in human nature and resistance to change. Scott Kurtz is the creator/owner/publisher of a webcomic called PvPOnline.com that has a huge following, of which I am a member, that he’s managed to turn into a full-time job despite the fact that it appears daily on the web for free. He’s done this mainly through sales of merchandise and then eventually publishing comic books with original stories in them—first through Dorkstorm Press and then later through Image Comics. Scott was at the recent San Diego Comic Con and he participated on a panel discussion about the future of the comic strip where he made his announcement that has riled up a number of traditional syndicated cartoonists:

This last year, I was contacted by Universal Press Syndicates about PvP. They know the strip and were very interested in syndicating it as a feature. I would love to see PvP in newspapers and we started talks. I let them know that there were six years of archives available and that I could edit the strips to conform to family paper editorial standards. The only thing I could not do was give up my ownership and rights to my creation.

Under no circumstances would I relinquish my copyright, book deals, merchandise deals, rights to market my strips, etc. If they wanted PvP, we would agree to a newspaper distribution deal and that was it. After six weeks the syndicates returned with their answer: They wanted PvP…all of it. If they could not have the rights to the feature, they weren’t interested. So we parted ways.

But I’ve already become attached to the idea of seeing PvP in the papers, and that’s why I’ve decided to start a new program. In the coming months, I’ll be putting into effect, a program in which papers can receive PVP for free. That’s right, free. They don’t have to pay me a cent for it. I will provide for the papers, a comic strip with a larger established audience then any new syndicated feature, a years worth of strips in advance, and I won’t charge them a cent for it.

That’s right, he’s offering PVP to any newspaper that wants to carry it for free. To an outsider like myself this is a brilliant move and a win-win situation for Scott and the newspapers. PVP already has a large readership and is popular with a demographic that many television networks, let alone newspapers, would kill to get a piece of and appearing in a daily newspaper would likely only increase its popularity which could lead to more merchandising deals and thus greater profits for Scott even if he doesn’t charge the papers anything for the strip. The papers get a popular strip at no cost with an already plentiful amount of material to make use of. So what was the reaction when word of this got out to the syndicated cartoonists? Well if this thread over at ToonTalk.org is any indication then to say a lot of them were less than enthusiastic would be a major understatement. Several folks said it would be impossible—free or not—for Scott to get into any papers without a syndicate. Wiley Miller who does Non Sequitur accused Scott of not doing his research as well as being ignorant of how newspaper editors work and predicted that Scott’s “in for a rude awakening.” Veteran cartoonist and author of the book The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Cartooning Arnold Wagner opined that he’s seen folks try this sort of thing before and it didn’t work then, probably won’t work now. Illustrator Bob Burnett questioned how one makes money when you’re giving your work away—something Scott is already doing—and suggested it was tantamount to “essentially throwing the profession under the bus.” Newly syndicated “Karen” (no information on who she is or what strip she produces was to be found) complained that Scott’s plan might be good for him, but bad for other cartoonists such as herself as she is not a go-getter and doesn’t have the “time OR the temperment to self-syndicate.” She continued to be baffled on why Scott would give away his comic as opposed to asking at least some money for it even if he self-syndicates concluding with “Where is the logic in this? It’s… why it’s CRAZY talk.” Things got progressively nasty from there. “Dawn156” stopped by PVP and opted to shift tactics from criticizing Scott’s idea to criticizing the strip that day saying, “In just a fast casual reading of today’s gag, I found one misspelling, one “typo,” and one comma error. You couldn’t PAY an editor to run this gag.” What she didn’t realize is that the strip that day was a guest strip by another cartoonist and not Scott’s work (Scott often invites other cartoonists to submit strips while he’s off at a convention). Probably the worst critic though is someone by the name of “Malky” (who also doesn’t provide a real name or what strip he draws, though he claims he’s not syndicated) as he’s dropped all pretense of discussion in favor of dictating to others the nature of reality while demonstrating an amazing ignorance of it.

Which isn’t to say that Scott doesn’t have his supporters, but the vehemence with which some of the opposition has responded in that thread is pretty astounding. Despite what many of them claim it’s pretty clear they’re worried about Scott’s venture undermining the status quo or, at a minimum, damaging the value of their own properties in the process of failing spectacularly. The number of people repeatedly asking Scott to consider charging at least some money for his strip makes this pretty obvious. Malky’s comments would be comical in their short-sightedness if it weren’t for the venom they also tend to contain. Comments like: “Yes, perhaps that’s what cartooning, like America generally, should be looking at. The Brazilian model. Where the nuts come from.” This is particularly amusing considering that not one reply earlier he was complaining about the quality of the debate by saying, “DJ, you sound like a sixth grade tattle taler. Glad you’re having a good time. Nobody’s deliberately twisting words, and your childish glee at what you imagine to be other peoples discomfort cheapens this debate.” I suppose he would know best based on his own comments. As a lesson in hubris, Malky is hard to beat.

Now I don’t claim to know jack shit about syndicated comics, what it takes to become syndicated, or why they’re supposedly the best model anyone can come up with. Nor do I claim to know that Scott’s vision is correct or that he’ll be successful with his undertaking. What I do know is that Scott has managed to be successful enough to make a living doing things his way on the Net despite the great “dotcom crash” and all the people who claimed it wasn’t possible. Part of that was hard work on his part and part of that was probably him not knowing what he was getting into and being too stubborn to pay attention to the naysayers. He had his stumbles along the way, but he’s still there and has managed to branch out into comic books in the process which also seem to be doing well. If anyone has a better chance of doing what he hopes to do I’d be hard pressed to name them. While I have no idea if he’ll succeed, I wouldn’t bet against him.

67 thoughts on “Scott Kurtz offers “PVPOnline” to newspapers for free and starts a firestorm in the process.

  1. Okay, I’ll jump in here and make a comment or two while Les is pondering his next missive:

    Johnny: I really think you are missing the main point that Les is trying to make. He is not claiming that Scott will necessarily succeed or fail; he is saying that Scott should have the opportunity to try his plan, without a bunch of entrenched cartoonists yelling at him about how it won’t work. Maybe it will, and maybe it won’t. He should be able to try it and see.

    You state that a web-based model is different from a newspaper model. Again, so what? Logically, it should be impossible to profit from something that you give away for free, and yet somehow Scott has managed to do so. Therefore, Les is willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, and admit that his newspaper plan might just work. Yet to you, this is a statement of unequivocal support for Scott’s plan. I frankly don’t see how you follow this logic.

    “Mommies apron.

  2. (Les) is not claiming that Scott will necessarily succeed or fail; he is saying that Scott should have the opportunity to try his plan, without a bunch of entrenched cartoonists yelling at him about how it won’t work. Maybe it will, and maybe it won’t. He should be able to try it and see.

    As I’ve already said I don’t believe Scott is likely to vary his attitudes because of any arguments put forward on the basis of helping cartooning per se. He’s his own justification and as people are fond of saying, what’s anyone ever done for him to merit his concern?

    The argument that he should be left alone to offer his work for free to newspapers is premised on a few faulty assumptions. One is that Scott was approached by Universal and after considering their offer, rejected it because they wanted rights to his ancillary income. This is certainly the impression that he chose to impart. The truth is quite the opposite, as indicated by the letter posted above.

    It’s an important distinction because it feeds into the second faulty assumption. That the syndicates are desperate, losing ground fast and looking hungrily at the success of young turks like Scott to shore up their fast dwindling market-share.

    The syndicates are big business. A business which makes money from cartoons. As soon as there’s a sure fire way of making money from cartoons (aside from the on-line advertising model – which works to an extent) like a micro-payment which the average web user is happy to make then you can be sure the syndicates will swoop in. Scott may even find himself the one selling the buggy whips.

    Les is willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, and admit that his newspaper plan might just work. Yet to you, this is a statement of unequivocal support for Scott’s plan. I frankly don’t see how you follow this logic.

    Les called the plan brilliant and then said he had no opinion as to whether it would work or not. Either he thinks it’s a good idea or he doesn’t.

    “Mommies apron.

  3. To make a long story short, there seems to be an established business model where syndicates make big money off cartoonists, a select few of which get a far better deal than the rest of the bunch and their relative marketability gives the individual cartoonist more clout to (re?)negotiate contracts. So far, nothing new.

    Along comes a cartoonist that for whatever reasons has issues with this business model and tries something different, be it ill-considered or ultimately self-defeating or whatever. Still nothing new.

    The only vaguely interesting question is whether or not his alternative way of doing things represents a feasible and sustainable business model that has the potential to disrupt the status quo or force the cartoonist powers that be to adopt an embrace-and-extend strategy.

    Knowing nothing about the cartoon business other than the amount of verbiage expended about Kurtz, it would appear that indeed whatever he’s doing is at least perceived as potentially disrupting, for better or worse or something.

    So?

  4. Okay Johnny, I’ll try to keep my response as short as possible, but you made many points, and I want to respond thoroughly.

    The argument that he should be left alone to offer his work for free to newspapers is premised on a few faulty assumptions.

    Jumping ahead, I don’t think either of those assumptions you list below are requirements for the argument. The best argument is that a free market dictates that anyone can ask any price they want for a product or service, even nothing. The newspapers are free to accept or reject his offer.

    One is that Scott was approached by Universal and after considering their offer, rejected it because they wanted rights to his ancillary income. This is certainly the impression that he chose to impart. The truth is quite the opposite, as indicated by the letter posted above.

    I don’t agree with your interpretation of the letter. As I read it, Scott wanted to retain all rights to his comic and characters, and the syndicate wanted those rights. I assume that you don’t dispute those statements. You seem to think that there is a contradiction between Scott saying that he rejected their offer, and their letter saying, “We reject your offer.

  5. You seem to think that there is a contradiction between Scott saying that he rejected their offer…

    What offer would that be?

    In either case, Scott is trying to find an alternative to the conventional wisdom, as he did with his webcomic.

    What’s unconventional about his web comic model? There are gazillions of web cartoons out there. He’s just one of the few to be making money from it.

    Whiteanting your peers to try and score their spot aint so new and improved either.

    Now we’re getting into a whole other argument, but let me just say that the barriers to entry for a newspaper comic and a web comic are quite different.

    You are telling me the two are different? I thought that’s what I was doing, Are you suggesting Universal et al won’t be able to catch up with Scott Kurtz Inc.?

    He thinks it’s a brilliant plan. He’s not sure if it will work. Where is the contradiction?

    If he has no opinion as to if it will work or not why does he think it’s brilliant? I mean, stop with the semantic tap dance routine for crap sakes.

    If he wants to provide his comic for free to newspapers, then he certainly has that right.

    Ok. Fabulous point taken. He’s free to give it away free. I agree. It’s whether doing so is a brilliant idea or not. That’s the issue at hand.

    That’s also how Bill Watterson depicted the choices, and he WAS able to get the syndicate to let him retain rights to his own strip.

    WAS he? Well that’s great because that was also my point.

    How does that help 99.999% of the cartoonists working today?

    Oh, you’ve taken a survey? Why didn’t you say so earlier. 99.999%, wow, that many? That sure is a lot. I guess that settles it then.

    Imagine for a moment, just for laughs, that Waterson wasn’t the only one to have ‘worked out a deal with the syndicates”. What if anyone with a brain would attempt the same thing?

    If the syndicate wants it, they’ll negotiate.

    But perhaps he, like Scott Adams, feels like he can modify his strips to conform to newspaper standards, yet still keep it entertaining.

    Whereas everyone else sets out to make it boring? You guys are the ones who say he’s the answer to Beetle Bailey, not me.

    Now you’re just being ignorant.

    Smile when you say that buddy.

    You read the letter yourself: He was being courted by syndicates, stuck to his ideas of what he wanted out of the deal, and was rejected.

    Yes I read the letter. Did you? He was being courted? Please provide quotes.

    Scott:

    Thanks for your patience. We’ve decided to pass on a PVP distribution
    deal.

    What am I missing?

    By your logic, his web comic must not have any readers, since people must perceive his free comic as worth nothing.

    Dagnabbit. Why don’t you just argue with yourself….

    ..let me just say that the barriers to entry for a newspaper comic and a web comic are quite different.

    Good point.

    Why not add how web users don’t expect to pay for anything on the web. The access fee is the price of entry.

    Yes, rejection is an integral part of the comic business. Most comic artists “deal with it

  6. Wow, this whole discusion reminds me of one of my favorite internet statments:

    Arguing on the internet is like runniong in the Special Olympics.  Win or lose, you are still menatlly retarded.

  7. Lazurk, I’ll admit this isn’t the most scintillating discussion I’ve ever seen, but you’re proposing a model that I’m not familiar with.

    It’s hard to win any argument while keeping your dignity and credibility intact – is there some special property to arguing “on the internet” that makes people “menatlly retarded?”  Please explain.

    Nice dig on Special Olympics, BTW.

  8. What offer would that be?

    Look, obviously you believe that letter is true, which means that there was some sort of offer for Scott’s comic. One can infer from the letter that if Scott not made certain stipulations, the deal would have gone through. And by the way, to answer your question below, the process of negotiation between Scott and the syndicate can be considered “courting.

  9. Thanks, Andy, for taking the time to spell out my point for MJ. You nailed it right on the head. I suppose I should have taken MJ at his word when he said “unless you spell it out for the uninitiated I have nothing but assumptions to go on” and realized that it was a plea for me to spell things out using small words if I wanted him to understand my point.

    You can call me egocentric, and egotist, a hypocrite, a bavarian walnut roaster, I don’t give a turkey’s nugget if you do. I just think it’s a poor substitute for actually saying something about the subject of this thread. If you think it adds weight to your arguments then you keep on doing it.

    I have actually said quite a bit about the subject of this thread, but it appears you’re either unwilling or unable to recognize it when you see it. I do feel you’re coming across as very egocentric and I also feel you’ve been a hypocrite. I said as much not because it adds weight to my argument, but in the (apparently futile) hope that pointing it out will get you to stop acting in such a manner.

    The truth is you got so pissed off with Rodmck calling you names that you grabbed your Tonka truck and told the assembled play-group that they were all stupid anyway and if they weren’t going to play right then you were going home to mummy.

    Com’on, MJ. Surely you’re witty enough to come up with a better slam than that? You’re not even trying here.

    Which is why we’re here. I never once personally insulted you. The best you could come up with was to accuse me of ignoring what you insisted the discussion was all about and making snide remarks about people wearing pen protectors.

    So you don’t think snide remarks are personally insulting? You seem to take my snide comments as such. Bit of a double standard, wouldn’t you say?

    The point is, you are talking about a web based model. Not newspapers. Different things.

    So what are you saying here? That because it’s a web based model it’s no surprise he’s making money by giving his work away for free? Is there something magical about web based models that ensures free work will earn you money?

    Sorry, but I fail to see why giving your work away for free on the web has any more reason to be successful than giving your work away free in the newspaper. If the strip has enough appeal to reach a wide audience that might be inclined to purchase the products Scott does sell then whether or not Scott’s being paid by the papers that are carrying his work is pretty immaterial to whether or not it’ll be a success. The only real hurdle you’ve pointed out is in convincing editors to give the strip a try, which is obviously something Scott doesn’t have to worry about with his web based model.

    On the one hand you seem convinced that editors won’t give the time of day to any strip that isn’t syndicated and thusly charging a fee, but on the other hand you seem to be convinced that simply offering the strip for free is somehow going to convince the editors that all cartoonists should work for free even though you think that said editors would never consider a cartoon that was offered to them for free. This fits in nicely with your earlier claims that Scott’s efforts devalue the work of all cartoonists in the eyes of editors with the exception of your own work which is apparently immune from this effect.

    You say, “to an outsider like me, this is a brilliant move.

  10. Hey, if you’ve never struck yourself repeatedly in the head with a ball-peen hammer then why should I be expected to believe you have anything intelligent to say about that activity? Go off and do that for a few weeks then come back and tell us your opinions on it.

    I would imagine that, after being hit in the head repeatedly with a ball-peen hammer, you might actually think that it’s a good idea.

    Wait a minute…maybe that explains why so many syndicated cartoonists are so supportive of the system of syndication, which treats their creative output as a commodity which is bought and owned by the corporation. I think you may have come up with the perfect analogy.

  11. Les, you are the consummate building and burner of straw-men.

    Time after mind numbing time you build a case against a point in isolation or construct an entire argument against a foe which exists only in you own fevered mind.

    I’m struck by a slightly distubing image of you dancing around the flaming effigy wearing your Santa hat, whooping with glee at your supposed victory.

    Sigh.

    Let’s begin the beguine.

    I have actually said quite a bit about the subject of this thread

    I should hope so. I said doing otherwise in the form of trading insults was a poor subsitute for keeping it relevant. I never said you haven’t reeled off reams on the topic at hand.
    Strawman #1.

    I do feel you’re coming across as very egocentric and I also feel you’ve been a hypocrite. I said as much not because it adds weight to my argument, but in the (apparently futile) hope that pointing it out will get you to stop acting in such a manner.

    Which is kind of absurd in light of the fact that you are saying it on a board dedicated to your daily thoughts on subjects of your own choosing under ever watchful gaze of your own photo festooned in a Santa hat. Do you imagine yourself to be a humble man?

    So you don’t think snide remarks are personally insulting? You seem to take my snide comments as such. Bit of a double standard, wouldn’t you say?

    Strawman #2.
    My remark was snide but I never personally insulted you. I made a joke (this you know full well) about IT professionals wearing plaid shirts and pen protectors precisely because they were outdated stereotypes. I did so to illustrate the fact that you were commenting on an industry with which you had no professioanal experience. Just like a cartoonist talking about the IT industry. I’ve actually had a fair amount of experience working in IT support.

    Sorry, but I fail to see why giving your work away for free on the web has any more reason to be successful than giving your work away free in the newspaper.

    If you don’t then you understand things even less that I imagined. Giving services away for free is the basis for most of the internet’s ability to generate income and share market value. Free services drive customers to sites which in-turn generate advertising revenue.
    It’s costs me nothing to click a link to PVP and view the cartoons. The cost of providing me that service is offset by the sales of PVP themed products and advertsing sold by Scott himself. Advertisers care less about the content of the site than they do the numbers of potential customers they’ll likely display their ads to. Scott can do whatever he likes providing it brings people to his site. This online debate is one example.

    Newspapers have daily deadlines, legal obligations, stringent content restrictions and editorial standards. An editor simply does not have the time to do any of the following:

    “..grab a year at a time and check the whole series out at once. If they should find a particular strip objectionable they can skip it without feeling like they’re wasting money and without having to fill the space with something else because they’ve already got the next strip in the series.”

    This is why they use syndicates.
    This is why the product being free makes little difference. A paper is not going be spending a few dollars a day on a single strip in any case.

    If being honest and qualifying my statement means that I “don’t have the nuts

  12. Edit: This is why the product being free makes little difference. A paper is not going be spending MORE THAN a few dollars a day on a single strip in any case.

  13. …continued.

    Odd, that sounds a lot like the syndicated cartoon industry if the complaints proffered so far are to be believed.

    Perhaps but the difference is that every syndicated cartoon appearing in a newspaper has been veted by someone and generates income for it’s creator through direct income.

    The gazillions of webcartoons are by and large a labour purely of love.

    Scott himself offered to edit the strips to conform to family paper editorial standards. Of the two issues, this “problem

  14. MJ, I can’t speak about “editors” generally but you sure described the editor of our local paper.  I can’t recall the last time he was against a law, a rule, or an ordinance no matter how pointless.  hmmm  It goes a long way toward explaining why our comics page is so lame.

    By “post-paper-information-economy” I actually meant after newspapers themselves go away – which they will, IMHO.  That will happen quickly when two conditions arrive:
    1) Cheap, durable newsreaders with nonvolatile, paper-resolution, reflective (not backlit) screens show up in bubble-packs in the office-supply aisle of your grocery store for $19.95, and
    2) Local radio stations start delivering digital content to be picked up by said readers. 

    I bet our right-brained local paper editor would say “That will never happen!”  LOL  I think it will happen in twenty years, maybe ten.  The practice of printing each day’s news on dead trees and delivering to to everyone’s house before sunrise each day has had a good long run, but…

    How that will affect comics syndication, I can’t even guess.  Maybe there will be changes in FCC rules allowing newspapers to buy radio stations, and the content will be produced in the same way it is now except for the printing stage, and comics syndication will continue as before.  But that would require a pretty right-brained publisher to force the editors to think beyond the printing press.

  15. I have just stumbled on to this cool comic book.  And have only been able to find issues 2,3,5,6, and 8 can someone please tell me where to find the others?  I would like to have the rest if at all possible, please let me know. Thanks

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.