Zuda - the webcomics offshoot of DC Comics - highlights some of the strengths and weaknesses of the webcomics millieu. Many Webcomics are amateurish in execution, tend towards the throwaway and while the democracy of the platform can make it hard to for the reader to edit, lowering the barrier for participation in the medium can only be good in the long run.
By contrast Zuda is exclusive, high quality fare, which mainly encourages entries from established professionals in the comics industry (such as Sliney). Zuda applies some of the editorial expertise from the comic medium's print tradition, some of the 'wisdom of crowds' from the internet (in the form of voting) and I broadly think this is a positive development.
However, Sean Kleefeld and Jake Forbes made some interesting points recently that caused me to think about it again, especially in light of Tokyopop's decision to put more of its content online.
The problem arises, not in quality of design or content, but in distribution. Both Zuda and the Tokyopop sites currently online (such as Ikki) format their comics as Adobe Flash, which means that readers cannot subscribe to the comics as they would a blog feed, but have to visit the site to read the comic.
Forbes summed this up nicely:
I didn't think about this until I read about The Symptoms. I realised I hadn't visited the Zuda site in months. I read a moderate amount of webcomics, but all of them are 'pushed' to me, via my feed reader. I almost never visit the websites themselves.
"As a reader, I should have each of these needs addressed:
- I liked this comic. Now tell me what to read next.
- I want access to it NOW, regardless of who publishes it.
- If it’s serialized, give me the option to subscribe.
- I want access to it at home or on the go. What’s an appropriate screen viewing size should be up to me.
- I should be able to preview before I buy."
I think most readers understand that finding a business model for publishing online is in everybody's interest, but the 'pull' model that Zuda and other established publishers adopt on the web needs serious reconsideration if they want to build an online readership.