Case study: Girl Genius

How are writers reaching readers?  The case of Girl Genius shows an interesting alternative to traditional publishing.

Girl Genius is a series from veteran comic writers and artists Phil and Kaja Foglio.  I found it on issue 3 and bought back to the beginning.  I’d enjoyed their work on previous projects like the Myth Adventures illustrations, and the Phil and Dixie comics at the back of magazines about Dungeons and Dragons.  They had a track record, a good sense of humor, good writing, and good art.

Yet their new project, Girl Genius, was struggling.  I loved the set-up.  In a world dominated by Sparks — hereditary leaders with the ability to do mad science — one girl discovers she has a much bigger legacy than she knew.  The art, dialogue, world-building, characters, and stories were all good.  Even after switching from black and white to color interiors for more popular appeal, the Foglios continued to report that they were having trouble finding the money to print the comic for sale.

Eventually, and with worry, they decided to take the comic online.  They stopped printing individual issues.  They scanned and put up the previous story, bit by bit, free for online viewing.  They set up new revenue models of online advertising, selling the compilations and related merchandise, and accepting donations, which they rewarded with wallpaper art.

It was not too many months after going online that Kaja reported that they should have done it sooner.  Instead of the sometimes delayed printed issues, new pages of the comic continued to go up very regularly on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  Their complaints changed from not having enough money to print to needing to reprint sooner than expected.  They won awards for the comic.  Over time, they became one of the sources of a new trend in Steampunk decor, costuming, and storytelling.

You can read the story here, and I recommend it:  Girl Genius.

I think this case is very interesting.  Girl Genius is a huge success online, and would have been discontinued if only the print distribution method had been available for it.  Their content is excellent, which definitely helps.  That was not enough for success through traditional distribution.  I think it is also worth noticing that they took their existing fanbase, treated them very well with free content and gifts for donation, and used innovative ways to spread the word like a Twitter feed from one of the minor characters.

There is a lot here that could be of value to someone thinking of distributing their words online.

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