An Open Letter to the Creator of Our Valued Customers

First, some reference information: Our Valued Customers is a webcomic that, prior to the events I’ll be talking about here, I’d enjoyed reading. It’s quick little one-off things, content along the lines of Not Always Right, but specific to things overheard in a comic-book store.
Further reference information: I keep track of all the comics I read using a mix of Feedly and Comic Chameleon on my iPhone. I prefer Feedly since I can pull it up on both my laptop and phone, but CC also works quite well, and is designed in such a way that the creators get a (hopefully fair) cut of the revenue.
This fine morning,1 though, what greeted me wasn’t a comic: it was, instead, a short little diatribe about the evils of Feedly:2

I really hope FEEDLY and COMIC-ROCKET make some great ad revenue on my comic today while I make NOTHING on it. I hope I can come up with something GREAT so those dudes can get some big traffic for their crummy pimp sites. They’ve really earned it, I mean, I make cartoons for free everyday and they make money on them……. And I don’t.

Which I’ve got a few problems with, so let’s go ahead and pick at some nits.
First: you realize that your content is being automatically read by Feedly, and not manually copied in by someone that works there, right? This is roughly equivalent to the homeless man who starts screaming about his crazy ex-wife whenever someone walks by – you’re directing your anger in entirely the wrong direction.
Secondly, Feedly doesn’t run advertisements against other people’s content: their revenue stream is by people directly paying them for Pro features, which are all aimed at business users. Or, you know, “people who aren’t using it for webcomics.”
Third point took a bit more digging, but I was annoyed and I’m nothing if not determined when I’m pissed off. Inserting the images into the RSS feed? Not being done by feedly. That’s happening at the server-side. So it’s not just feedly: anyone subscribing to your (industry-standard) RSS feed will be able to see the full images of your comic without actually navigating to your website. So you’re complaining at people for doing something that you did.
Now, I’m not the type to show a list of problems and not offer a solution, so I’ve prepared quite a few for you. Webcomics is a surprisingly big industry, and it’s almost all advertising-funding, so people have been figuring out how to do this for quite a while.

Option 1: Link Only

The best example I’ve got of this is Penny Arcade. Their RSS feed is just the title of the comic with a link to it on their website. Pretty easy to implement, all told.3

Option 2: In-Stream Ads

And I don’t mean like Daring Fireball or The Loop do, either.4 Look at Jeph Jacques’ Questionable Content.5 The RSS feed includes all the content from the website: the full comic is there, as is the news post that accompanies it. And there at the top, neatly included in the rest of the feed’s XML, is a Project Wonderful ad block. Running it like this might actually decrease his server costs a little bit, because the only thing being loaded from his server is the image, with all the PHP that runs the site being untouched, and the images that make up the navigation buttons never needing to be loaded. And he’s still getting the advertising revenue.

Option 3: Leader Image

This one is somewhat similar to option 1, in that the actual comic isn’t loaded. It’s used by ReadySoup and Strong Female Protagonist,6 amongst others. To be honest, I don’t actually see the benefit of this one over a pure link, but it’s an option.

So, that’s my rant for the day. To the author: don’t be so childish. And you can take me off your list of readers, while you’re at it.

  1. That’s a lie, it’s windy and rainy and gross out. 
  2. And something called Comic-Rocket, which I’ve never used nor heard of, so I won’t be discussing that here. 
  3. Though, admittedly, possibly not on blogspot. I haven’t used that service for a long time – there’s a reason it lost to WordPress. 
  4. Though that, run through The Deck, is still one of the best advertising systems I’ve ever seen. Unintrusive, occasionally helpful, and it works as a method of generating revenue. Of course, that sort of thing doesn’t work for those of us who don’t have millions of pageviews a week, but still. 
  5. The name makes it sound worse than it is: it’s a comic about hipsters in a slightly science-fictionized version of the real world, making coffee and jokes about farts. 
  6. Unrelated to this diatribe, I highly suggest people who enjoy comics go read SFP; it’s a wonderful look at how superhumans might interact with us mere mortals should they start to appear in this world. And, as the title says, it features a female lead, something that more media needs.