Is Substack Good for Web Comics?

It's complicated

Key Takeaways

  • Substack is getting into web comics publishing.
  • Comics already enjoy a thriving indie-publishing scene.
  • One stop-shops for ‘content’ are convenient, but worrying.
woman laying on the floor or a library or shop reading comics

Joe Ciciarelli / Unsplash

Newsletter publisher Substack is getting into comics. It seems like a perfect fit. 

Substack has signed several indie comic creators to publish on the newsletter platform. New comics will arrive via email, and readers can pay the artists directly. Substack already has gotten several big names on board, including Batman head writer James Tynion IV. Substack has lured these creators with up-front payments so they can take their time establishing an audience at their new home. 

"I'm not surprised to see the expansion as it's pretty logical, and I'm always happy to see more writers, artists, and illustrators move to being independent and supported directly by their fans," Ryan Singel, founder of Outpost, a service that lets independent creators build their own small media empire, told Lifewire in an email. 

Comics and Substack

At first glance, web comics are just another creative medium, like special-interest blogs, or single-author newsletters. But webcomics are different in a few ways. One is they often have a loyal and fanatical (in a good way) fanbase. And another is that some of them have been making money for quite a while, selling merchandise, ads, and subscriptions. And this makes sense. Few people would buy a t-shirt of their favorite financial analyst newsletter, but a favorite web comic? Totally

And web comics also are way ahead on the newsletter format. Many of them already arrive in your email inbox when a new issue is available. So why bother with Substack? 

"I'm not surprised to see the expansion as it's pretty logical."

Substack is now almost synonymous with subscription-based email newsletters. It takes a large chunk of creators’ revenue in exchange for web hosting, and—probably more important—to give potential readers a single destination. Us users tend to prefer one-stop shops on the web. We like to know the sites we visit contain all possible options, and Amazon, YouTube, and so on are happy to oblige. 

This is the appeal of something like Substack. It makes it easy for creators to charge money, and for fans to pay. There’s no getting redirected to a third-party payment site, or having to manage multiple subscription plans. Once a reader is using Substack, signing up to more newsletters (and now comics and podcasts) is trivial. 

Chunk of Change

It’s not all good news, though. Substack might be hot right now, but it takes a big cut, in return for not much. Essentially, creators are paying Substack to host their media and to handle payments. 

"I'm of the belief that real independence for creators isn't the Patreon/Substack/Pico/Memberful model, where creators are tenant farming for companies with gobs of venture capital," says Singel. "Like farming landlords of yore, these companies take a percentage of all earnings (5% to 12%)."

Comic book store in Tokyo, Japan

Martijn Baudoin / Unsplash

Singel’s Outpost, which does something similar on top of the Ghost blogging platform, takes a flat fee, charged per-member. For readers, none of this matters—at least not until their favorite comic goes under. But for creators, it’s a big deal. 

"Creators who haven't yet figured out their ‘big idea’ character or story will have to rely on the strength of their subscription base for financial support. For those creators, the 10% fee could be a pain point unless they have supplemental income through a day job or family," Gabe Hernandez, founder and publisher of comic review site Comical Opinions, told Lifewire via email. 

Endgame

It’s easy to spot Substack’s endgame here. It started with newsletters, and now offers podcasts and comics. Substack could easily become a media empire that helps indie publishers get paid for their work, like Patreon or Ko-Fi.

But where Patreon is more of a blog that links out to the artists’ creations on YouTube, or their podcast, and so on, Substack is more focused.

"Where Substack has a slight leg up over its competitors is through its strong focus on publishing content," says Hernandez. "The Substack interface is geared for creating articles and newsletters with writers in mind, whereas Patreon and Ko-Fi are less about writing content and more about supporting the creator as a patron."

"I'm of the belief that real independence for creators isn't the Patreon/Substack/Pico/Memberful model..."

Substack—and its alternatives—is a real boon for creators and their audiences. It’s never been easier to pay people for their creations. But do we risk ending up with yet another monolith like YouTube?

"Taken a few steps further (assuming this move is successful), Substack could be the default digital publishing subscription platform for every newsletter and magazine you find on the newsstand or in bookstores," says Hernandez.

Was this page helpful?