I was wrong.
In reaction to the announcement, I wrote:
Honestly, I’m not sure that this is going to succeed; WDC has been a pretty active and useful resource for webcomickers, but that accumulated wisdom is now locked off behind a subscription wall — the archives of the free days are not freely available. The change was dropped into the laps of readers pretty abruptly.
I can see the argument that WDC takes Guigar as long to produce on a daily basis as any of his strips, but with no recompense other than perhaps driving a few people to his strips (although I doubt many who frequented WDC didn’t already read his comics). That effort deserves remuneration, and Guigar has set what he thinks is a fair price.
I just don’t think that many people are going to pay it.
Guigar’s betting that the distinction between entertainment and information is sufficient that people will pony up a couple bucks a month for access (side note to those attempting such things in the future: “ten cents a day” sounds much less than “thirty bucks a year”).
Unfortunately, with the exception of very few prominent brands, with high-quality content, pitching to niche audiences (we’re talking Wall Street Journal grade, here), this hasn’t proved to be the case on the internet so far — people pretty much equate “content” and “free”.
That fourth graf is where I got it especially wrong — I was reading WDC as an informational resource and nothing more; what’s become clear is that Brad’s managed to turn it into something else entirely. If it isn’t already, it’s well on its way to becoming a professional society, with the fringe benefits that go along with it. Members exhibiting at the inaugural C2E2 got a break on table costs greater than their annual subscription (with the possibility that a similar deal may extend to other Reed Exhibitions shows in future), and the 10% discount at Transcon could be worth hundred of dollars.
And while I don’t have definite information on this, I think it’s likely that Guigar would not have been able to negotiate such deals for the readers of an open website — that $30/year subscription acts as a gatekeeper, and convinces suppliers that this is an audience that they want to reach out to. That bit of exclusion acts to make the demographic cohort economically desireable.
As … let’s say awkwardly as the transition was handled, the outcome has been significant. I’ve seen no indication that the quality of postings has dropped off, that the discussions have fallen away, or that the passion of the membership has diminished. Guigar is coy on the exact number of members, but he has been willing to describe it as Close to twice what I expected, and more signing up every week. That fact alone ought to give him the leverage to make deals to benefit his members in future. Website hosting, accounting and business services, private-label Bristol, and custom-edition Cintiqs could be a reality someday. Or, if we’re really shooting for the moon, how about WDC becoming the equivalent of the Freelancers Union? They get access to an insurance benefit.
Naturally, we’re talking long term on any of these developments, but we’re only a third of a year from inception. The shift from free info site to professional society is still in its infancy, but there’s great promise for what’s coming up. I read the intent wrong, and Brad just sat back and smiled that secret smile he gets when he knows he’s gonna show me what the deal really is. Nicely done.