August 22, 2004

More on the Comics Biz [8:20 pm]

Good Grief! That Favorite Comic Strip Is Missing

In grudgingly taking up such questions, editors and publishers face a choice that has long been agonizing for papers that dared to replace longtime favorites. By cutting strips like “Brenda Starr” and “Judge Parker,” as The Atlanta Journal-Constitution did this year as part of a comics shuffling, editors run the risk of alienating older readers, who are their core constituency. (Indeed, after a write-in campaign, The Journal-Constitution decided to give “Judge Parker” a reprieve.)

But if editors instead choose to cut newer strips like “La Cucaracha,” or fail to make room for more cuttingedge work, they realize they may be bobbling a prime opportunity to lure the younger people who are critical to newspapers’ future — and whose love for animated entertainment has been demonstrated by the television programs (including “The Simpsons” and “King of the Hill”) and movies (“Finding Nemo”) that they watch and the books (graphic novels) that they read.

[...] Lalo Alcaraz, an editorial cartoonist for the alternative newspaper LA Weekly, who has been drawing “La Cucaracha” for nearly two years, was more blunt about the generational scrimmage for space on the comics page.

“If only science had not found a way to revive dead cartoonists and keep them alive, that would be helpful to me and a lot of guys coming up,” he said in a veiled swipe at, among others, “Peanuts,” which remains in syndicated reruns more than four years after the death of its creator, Charles M. Schulz.

Deliberations within newspapers about whether to cut comics, and if so how many and which, are set against a bleak economic backdrop. Not only have newspapers in general not partaken of the advertising rebound some other media, like television, have enjoyed, but publishers also are grappling with the unforeseen costs of covering a war in a year that also has the Olympics and a national election. Meanwhile, ominously, newsprint prices have risen steadily, jumping 10 percent in the last year, with another similar increase expected.

And don’t miss this related story: SDCC - Part Four [via BoingBoing] - a story of a comic strip writer who’s eschewing syndication licensing in exchange for exposure — free comics to build demand for the related products; books, etc.

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A Collapse of Privacy? [11:21 am]

Maybe. But there’s also clearly a failure to think, on a host of levels. When the Computer Opens the Closet

“The age of privacy is over and with it the ability to sustain denial,” said Dr. Sheenah Hankin, a psychotherapist in New York City. “Anyone can search the Internet and discover a lot about their spouse.”

[...] The digital clues run the gamut. Take Carolyn of Chevy Chase, Md., who divorced her husband in May, after a 33-year marriage. (Her full name is not used because her husband is in Bolivia and could not be reached.) Carolyn, 56, said she was outside smoking a cigarette when, through a window, she saw her husband viewing gay pornography online. He told her it was a pop-up ad. But her “ah ha” moment came when she found a print-out of an e-mail arranging a meeting with a man, obvious even to the technologically challenged.

Mary, a harpist in New Jersey, noticed her husband rising earlier than usual to use the computer while the rest of the household slept. One insomniac dawn she wandered into the kitchen at 5 and heard the sounds of arriving instant messages from the adjacent family room. Her husband told her he was in a sports chat room and had made a comment that struck a nerve.

But when the same thing happened again, she registered his guilty demeanor. She realized how often he all but body-blocked her when she approached his computer. One morning, she discovered on his screen an e-mail from another married gay man, arranging a first meeting. Before she heard his tread on the stair, she had read two more messages, from different men setting up dates.

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Video Games, Market Dynamics and DRM [11:16 am]

Another consolidation coming? This adds another dimension to Thursday’s StarForce Interview and Piracy Discussion article — are the rising stakes in videogaming driving them toward DRM? As they explore options beyond “blockbuster” economics, the effort to extract downstream revenue almost demands more elaborate protection: Video Game Makers Go Hollywood. Uh-Oh.

Video game makers, by contrast, have traditionally had one window for making money: the first three to six months after their products hit the shelves. If they don’t sell fast enough during that period, retailers mark them down from, say, $50 to as little as $19. “We’re in the land of legitimate entertainment, rivaling the movie box office now,” said Steve Allison, the chief marketing officer for Midway Games. “But we’re a little crippled when it comes to the secondary opportunities the movies have.”

To combat the problem, publishers are - again, in Hollywood fashion - scrambling to develop secondary revenue streams. One is online games: selling subscriptions to play on the Internet, often against other players. Another is advertising: the industry’s biggest company, Electronic Arts, for example, has a small but aggressive advertising team that calls on Fortune 500 companies, pitching in-game advertising as an alternative to television commercials. Clients include Burger King, Dodge and Procter & Gamble. Activision is working with the Nielsen ratings company to develop an advertising rate card like that used in television.

At Microsoft, the company’s Xbox game division is planning a marketing juggernaut modeled after a “Star Wars” movie release for its “Halo 2″ game.

Related: The Making of an X Box Warrior

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Why Sharing Matters [11:01 am]

In this interesting article on the future of classical music, a striking thought: The Critical Masses

So I was the one at fault for defining my former roommate as having no interest in classical music, then being surprised that she had some. It’s true that she is not particularly interested in those major classical music institutions (much as they would love to attract her, an educated, employed city dweller on the cusp of 40).

I would guess that she has never been to an orchestra concert in her home city. She probably didn’t think of Tan Dun’s music as classical. But she found him, without the help of a critic, thus demonstrating something that has become ever truer in our society of iPods and other digital players: people tend to find the music that interests them. This is the best omen for the future of music in general. [emphasis added]

And a related thought on the subject of our government’s efforts to crminalize p2p from today’s letters to the editor — There’s too much that is illegal [pdf]:

AS A RETIRED Massachusetts criminal defense attorney now living in Florida, I have been following with great interest the news stories about Governor Mitt Romney’s attempts to bully the court-assigned attorneys into working for free.

The United States incarcerates a higher percentage of its population than any other nation in the world, yet we claim to be a free society. No free society makes criminals of so many people.

The real problem is that there is too much that is illegal. The war on drugs is a huge exercise in futility and official stupidity. Other victimless crimes clog the criminal justice system. We are even starting to jail people for economic crimes, just as the Soviets once did.

Since the public has decided to use the criminal justice system as a cure-all for social ills, the taxpayers are simply going to have to pay through the nose to carry the freight.

If they would rather their tax dollars went to schools, public works, or disease research, perhaps they could reconsider just how much criminal law they really need.

JOHN MARK GABRIEL

Groveland, Fla.

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