For better or worse, in the absence of any sort of paywall on the actual content and enough readers to justify a thriving ad market, most webcomics are reliant on merchandise to make money, usually T-shirts and reprint books. I may complain about the effect this has on which webcomics can be financially successful, but unless micropayments miraculously start working or webcomics can gain significant traction on a subscription model, that’s the way it is.
One of the challenges of needing to sell webcomic merchandise – and there are a lot of challenges for selling merchandise – is finding a place to sell them at. Many if not most webcomics sell merchandise through print-on-demand outfits like Cafepress, but sometimes that’s not the ideal approach, especially when production of many things gets cheaper per-order as more of them are ordered, and especially when many such places have an iffy reputation for the quality of the resulting merchandise. What’s more, print-on-demand shops are usually intended for reeeeally amateur operations – you could sell T-shirts and mugs with your kid’s random crayon drawing on it at CafePress. I’m not sure that sends the best message when Girl Genius is selling merchandise at the same site as “Billy’s T-Shirt”.
Last week Rich “Order of the Stick” Burlew announced he was opening up Ookoodook.com to sell his merchandise, instead of using, in his words, “a game manufacturer who was just doing me a favor by retailing my stuff” in APE Games, a partner in the new site. But Rich also intends the site to sell products not only from himself, but from “other independent and self-publishing creators”, and that “[w]e hope this new venture will allow us to spotlight other self-published products that you may not be aware of yet by working with their creators directly.” The site seems intended for publication of a wide variety of material, so long as it’s unlikely to sell through traditional retail channels, but it still seems fit for webcomics to take to it like a glove. If webcomics have their own ad service, why not their own store?
Ookoodook isn’t perfect – it appears you need to handle production yourself, implying your product needs to already exist, and the only other webcomic to sell merchandise on the site, Schlock Mercenary, hasn’t even advertised its existence – but I can’t help but wonder what it presages for webcomics.