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GPF News Archive

First Post Previous Post Next Post Latest Post May 9, 2011

 

Greetings, everyone. I'm afraid that this latest installment of the GPF News will be a bit more lengthy and somber than most, and for that I'll apologize up front. That said, if you have any interest whatsoever in the future of GPF—the strip, the site, its author, and its community—I ask that you bear with me and read today's post carefully and in full. I know some of you may want to take action based on what I say here, so I want to make sure you have all the information you need before you do.

Early last week I received an e-mail from my second-tier ad supplier—our oldest, most reliable, and most secure ad supplier—that GPF was in "violation" of their current terms of service and that my account with them had been deactivated. This immediately set off massive klaxons in my head; those of you who have known me well over the years should know I would never knowingly or willingly violate a legal agreement. In a mild state of panic, I managed to get past the jarring subject line to the meat of the message: "... in the past, we may have accepted websites that we would not accept for representation today. However, we have changed our acceptance and representation policies." Put succinctly, the ad company changed their policies without notifying its publishers and did so in such a way that I no longer qualify for their services under the new rules. Without any warning or means of appeal, they immediately cut off my account, breaking my ad supply chain and crippling our revenue. I had to make a mad scramble to cut their code from the chain to make sure those ad impressions were being captured somewhere, even if they weren't going to be as financially efficient.

Now, I could easily go off on a tirade here, arguing that it's impossible to "violate" a set of rules when they've been changed without your knowledge. After all, most people learn as early as kindergarten that you don't change the rules of the game after you've started playing, because it isn't fair. (I wish my son would learn this already....) But mounting such a soapbox isn't going to fix the problem, and there's likely some clause in their contract that expressly grants them the right to change the terms of service at any time. (Many online companies do this these days, claiming that updating an obscure URL on their website without further notification is legally sufficient.) A more immediate concern than picking semantic nits is that, in 2010, this supplier accounted for nearly 32% of our advertising revenue, or nearly a quarter (23%) of our total revenue. In essence, I might as well throw away every dollar I've made for the first three months of this year because that would be the net effect.

Before anyone becomes overly concerned about our well-being (which is probably just you, Mom, but it still ought to be said), it's not exactly like GPF is in a huge financial crisis. Your old cartoonist here may not be an MBA, CPA, or some other impressive sounding acronym—sadly, the only one I can legitimately claim for now is BS—but I do have a fair bit of common sense and I tend to be overly cautious when it comes to money. Our ad revenue is diversified, so losing one supplier still means I have several others to fall back on. We still have GPF Premium, the Store, and the occasional Tip Jar donation pulling in a few dollars here and there. I don't have very many expenses aside hosting, domain registrations, and the odd new Tablet PC every so many years. My wife and I both maintain our day jobs which cover all the non-comic expenses such as the mortgage, food, medical expenses, and the like; every dollar GPF makes goes right back into the comic and is not required to put food on the table. No one is going to hungry, naked, or without medical care just because of this one little incident. GPF has been operating with a thin but net profit for the past several years, so we've got a nice little nest egg there that we're currently sitting on that I can dip into as necessary to keep the comic going.

All this said, I will be doing a bit of belt tightening to trim down costs. There's a good chance this will kill any plans (again) for getting back into the convention scene this year. Cons are always a big financial loss for us, with goodwill and fond memories being the biggest things we usually come away with. I've been looking at adding some new merchandise to the Store, but those always require a fair amount of up-front cost. I'll need to re-evaluate my plans and be more cautious with what and how many items we may order. I'll also need to reconsider any riskier new projects I've been investigating and stick to the ones that are proven to work. All in all, we've been in tighter spots than this in the past, so we're not in danger of going offline... at least, not yet. But it does mean I'll be hunkering down for a bit and won't be sticking my neck out quite as often.

If anything, this incident provides only further proof that an advertising-based revenue model is prone to the finicky whims of all those involved: advertisers, publishers, suppliers, and consumers. For any given month, advertising makes up between 66% and 75% of GPF's revenue; this percentage varies wildly depending on the time of year, the national and global economy, consumer trends, and which way a butterfly may flap its wings in Borneo. This variability is our Achilles' heel, as well as the primary reason we keep a buffer of cash in the bank. It has always been my intention and desire to diversify further and absorb these fluctuations into more stable sources of revenue, but to date none of them have come close to numbers we get from ads, even accounting for their volatility. And of course, this may very well be just a blip on the radar of the grand scheme of things; I am already pursuing other advertising suppliers (the few who are still reputable), so we may even eventually come away with a better deal than before this started. That said, I've admittedly been relying too heavily on ads to cover most of our costs, and that's not a business model I should allow to continue.

Now, those of you who have been reading this comic for any measurable length of time know that I'm not the type of webcartoonist who begs and pleads with his readers every month to cover his bills. In twelve and a half years, I have never run a pledge drive or begged for donations. Even in the leanest of times when we had absolutely no revenue coming in, I never held the comic "hostage" or "for ransom" just to make a few extra bucks. I have always treated GPF as a business, and as such I have endeavored to be professional and business-like in its operation. Business are run by balancing revenue and expenses, not by begging for handouts. I know a fair number of you respect this decision and have complimented me on my professionalism in the past.

As such, I'm not going to break down and resort to such tactics now. Rather, if you feel the desire to really support the comic beyond enduring the odd batch of banner ads, there are a number of options already available through which we both may obtain tangible benefits:

  • There is no way I can possibly express enough the importance of GPF Premium as an effective show of your support. I don't promote the service nearly as much as I should, and unfortunately it shows. According to some very rough calculations, less than 0.5% of our total readership are currently Premium subscribers. That said, each of these subscribers is worth orders of magnitude more the estimated revenue they would earn us if they saw ads alone. (I know the exact value of this increase, but I'm embarrassed to publish it. At times it makes me feel I may be overcharging for it.) If we could increase the percentage of subscribers to just 1.7% we would completely cover all our expenses. I could even remove all ads from the site, just like it was back in the days of yore before we joined Keenspot, something I haven't been able to do for eleven years. For that matter, at a 3% subscription rate I could make minimum wage and theoretically make GPF my full-time job. It's a much tougher goal, but not impossible. The best part of Premium revenue is that there are no third parties dipping their spoons into the pot; unlike our ads, where the revenue is split between many parties and we only see a fraction of that, virtually every cent of your subscription fee goes directly toward the comic. Of course, the benefits to you for a Premium subscription are far greater than what the "freeloaders" get: no ads, exclusive content (High-Def strips, Author's Notes, Jeff's Sketchbook, etc.), special deals and incentives, etc. If you really want to do something to support the strip besides not running an ad blocker, Premium is without question the most effective option.
  • The GPF Store, while Spartan, is also a good way to support us. There may not be a lot there, but many of the items currently in stock cost little for us to produce and are thus fairly profitable. And as overall sales increase, we'll have more capital on hand to investigate the production of newer, more appealing products. If there's a particular form of merchandise you'd like to see that isn't currently available, drop me a line and I'll look into it. I'm always open to product suggestions, although some may take longer than others to materialize. GPF "swag" make for great talking points for promoting the comic to friends, family, and colleagues.
  • While their availability seems to be as volatile as our ad revenue these days, GPF books are also a great way both financially support us while promoting the strip to others. While Books 1-4 are all out of print and Book 5 is in some sort of weird limbo (no, we don't know what's going on with Moonbase Press either), we're exploring all our options to get GPF onto as many dead trees as possible. It's too early to share anything concrete just yet, but I'll keep you posted when something develops. We're also exploring other means of digital distribution, such as eBooks, CD or DVD-ROM collections, etc.
  • As stated above, I have no interest in handouts. Therefore it was with great reluctance that I added the Tip Jar a number of years ago due to pressure from fans. Since then, however, tips have played a small but important role in our bottom line. In 2010, we earned enough tips to cover a few of our minor expenses; not much to cheer about, perhaps, but that's ad and Premium revenue that was applied to more interesting tasks. I do not want, nor do I ask for, donations; if, however, you wish to tip a cartoonist for what you think is a job well done, I won't turn it down. Of course, if you're going to tip often, I'd rather you subscribe to Premium instead and get something more in return for your financial support than warm fuzzies.
  • We have a number of affiliate links scattered throughout the site, some more obvious than others. Clicking any of the Amazon ad banners here on the site will earn us referrals for any purchases you make in that session. If you're looking for Web hosting, using this link to Slicehost will earn us free hosting for a month. (This link is also available in the sidebar on most pages of the site.) We earn royalties on purchases of GPF sculptures through 'N'Toonz. None of these earn us money hand over fist, but incrementally over time they do add up.
  • Last but not least, there's always someone who'll say they have no money. Whether your a teen stretching your allowance, a college student living on ten-year-old ramen noodles, or a working parent struggling to just put food on the table, you don't have to list your excuses; trust me, I've heard them all. It's OK, really. I've never been dirty poor, but I've known what it's like to squeeze as much out of a paycheck as is humanly possible. If you can't financially support us, then you can help us by promoting the comic to your friends, classmates, and coworkers. GPF has always thrived on grass-roots promotion, and it's just as important to us today as it was back in November 1998. If you convert a friend into a Faultie, then at a minimum you've set us a few more ad dollars. The ad money we make off one person in a year may not buy us a decent candy bar, but in aggregate it does keep the server's lights blinking. In the best case scenario, you've set forth a chain of dominoes that may lead to many others reading, sharing, and supporting the strip. Spreading the word about the comic is something anyone can do that won't cost a cent, yet it potentially may bring us the greatest rewards.

I apologize for the length of this post, folks. It went on much longer than I originally intended but, going back and reading over it, I don't see anything I can really omit. Thank you, everyone, for the support you've given me for the past twelve and a half years. I, for one, would like to see GPF continue for many more years to come and I'll do everything I reasonably can to make that happen. Of course, if you'd like to do more to maintaining that goal, I'll be grateful for your continued support, both financial and emotional. If you have any questions or comments, contact me and I'll try to respond as quickly as possible.

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