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Nov 6, 2006
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The New Site

Monday, November 6, 2006 - 02:56 PM

Welcome to the new Sheldon site!

I haven’t been this excited in a long time – and based on the e-mails and posts I’ve been getting from Sheldon readers – you folks are, too. The new site is finally here! And with it, Sheldon is casting off the archive limitations, pop-ups, slow-loading times, and small-strip sizes that we’ve all come to dislike at the syndicate.

Instead, you'll be getting:

- Free access to 5+ years of Sheldon strip archives
- Larger-sized Sunday and daily comics than previously
- Faster loading times than previously
- Free daily delivery of Sheldon by e-mail
- Free RSS feed
- Free “Send This Strip to a Friend” feature
- “Jump to a Random Strip” feature
- Ability to search the archives by dialogue, punchline and more
- No pop-up/pop-under ads
- Daily blog
- Direct links to the Sheldon forum, store, new featurettes, and more

The site design is meant to represent the organized clutter of a cartoonist’s desk and, like any new site – will undoubtedly have it’s lovers and it’s detractors. Give it a few days before you take a firm stand, to see if it does or doesn’t grow on you. Personally, I love it, and can’t say enough nice things about it’s designer, Kris Straub. He’s good people.

I also can’t say enough good things about the folks at Dumbrella Hosting, who are responsible for all the cool features above. Professionalism, thy name is “Dumbrella Hosting”.

And, lest they be forgotten, to the dozens of web cartoonists who have inspired me in these past few years: strips like PvP, P-A, Unshelved, Goats, Dinosaur Comics, Achewood, Overcompensating, and most especially my compadres-in-arms at Blank Label Comics. Cartoonists like these have shown a traditionalist hold-out like myself what’s possible when you take the reins of your own creation, and I thank them for it.

So, why the move first to comics.com…and then away from it?

It’s simple, really. For me, newsprint had always been the promised land. I’m part of that last generation of cartoonists who grew up reading newspapers. For us, newspapers still exhibited some unquantifiable siren-song, even though I knew logically that the industry was shrinking, and that younger readers were abandoning it in droves.

Despite all that, I wanted to see Sheldon in print. And in a different age, when newspapers were still the hard-charging, competitive businesses
they used to be, the strip *might* have launched. But for a long while
now, it's been clear that syndication just wasn't going to happen, and
that even if it did, that the money would not be strong enough to live
off of. On that point, I'm not naive: the money from syndication has never been good
in my professional lifetime. In fact, from everyone I've talked to, recent years have shown it to be increasingly difficult for new strips to gain a foothold. I haven't heard
of a single new cartoonist, syndicated since 2000, who has been able to
make their sole living off their strip. Not one. And let me tell you, as a lover of the artform, I desperately WANT that statistic to be wrong. (…and if you’re a cartoonist making their living from your first, syndicated-after-2000 strip, please e-mail me. I want nothing more than to be wrong, here.) But sadly, in an age where a beautifully drafted strip like Franklin Fibbs only gets into 12 papers...it doesn't surprise me. The market overall is in frenetic retrenchment mode as continued year-over-year drops in readership and ad revenue batter newspapers.

Am I saying that no new newspaper strips will ever bring their creator a full-time living? Certainly not. I’m sure there will be 3-5 more strips that can achieve that. But newspapers are on the cusp of an exponential-curve of declining readership and advertising. When the reading vision of the Baby Boom generation starts to go in 5-10 years, newspapers will be decimated. The younger generations will never replace the audience that's being lost.

Syndicates already know that. Even more, they’re preparing their business for it. As one editor (for a different syndicate) told me just a few weeks ago: his corporation knows that newspapers are experiencing a 5% annual decline, and that the industry can probably only support buying their strips for 5-10 years more. That’s why, in his words, his syndicate is positioning itself more as a “talent agency” – a la William Morris or CAA – selling their creators’ works across multiple mediums.

Will it work for them? I don't know. As the husband of a TV writer: I'd much rather sign up for William Morris' 10% agent fee than a syndicate's traditional 50% fee. Especially if syndicates are going to be replicating the services of a traditional talent agency.


Where once I might have been sad about the death of print, the growth of webcomics has me incredibly optimistic. Creators are taking full control of their businesses, establishing direct ties with their readers, and making a living doing both. Comic strips have already shown themselves to be very popular online, as everyone knows. And among that popularity, it's also increasingly clear that cartoonists don't "need" a syndicate when working in this different
medium: with the cost of creating and distributing strips trending toward zero, and online gross income leveling at a modest level for most, a few-person operation is actually preferrable to being tied to a corporate entity. Syndicates may, in some ways, be a hindrance to the viral growth of a comic strip: their sites lack the blogs, the forums, and all the touches of personlized web use that's spawned 6 million YouTube videos, 50 million blogs, and 100 million MySpace pages.

And so,I’m taking the reins on Sheldon once again...with a helluva lot of excitement.

And in the next few days, I'll be talking about the new stuff coming down the pipe for the strip, such as the second book collection (...just two weeks away!), upcoming appearances at the Charles Schulz museum, and more.

But in the meantime, I want to hear your thoughts on the move, the new site, and the future of Sheldon. Let’s hear what you have to say!

-Dave

PS: Don't forget to spread the word about the new URL: http://www.sheldoncomics.com

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The Silmarillion

Monday, November 6, 2006 - 11:30 AM

...I've actually started this book 3-4 times, and never got past the creation cycle at any attempt.

If you've read all the way through it, my heartiest congratulations: you've reached a level of nerdery to which I can only aspire.

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Flaco

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