Unshelved's Integrity Questioned?

Librarians see knee jerk reactions in their professions all the time. (WHAT? You need a DEGREE to do THIS?!) Still, this is one for the annals of library history.

Our beloved comic recently came under fire because a storyline had a connection with a product advertised on the site. Mr. Barnes' provided a succinct response to the criticism.


I sent him an email last night:

Had I missed your blog post that explained it I might've wondered what was going on, that's for sure. I can't say it bothers me, but it somehow doesn't seem right, if that makes any sense. I can really see how it would bother some people quite a bit, especially librarians.... Really, you came out and explained it first, but I can only imagine more than a few people didn't see that.

It still somehow doesn't seem right, but I can't really say I know why I feel like that. In any case, it's great that people take the integrity of comics seriously.

If I said "We'll be running a series on posts on anti-theft and self-checkout systems in public libraires next month, does anyone want to sponsor it?" would that bother you?

Sure we love books, libraries, librarians, library blogs, etc., but us publishers/vendors/providers, etc. would like to make a profit. That's why people and professional organizations consider us as 'businesses'. Otherwise it's a hobby.

If you don't make a profit, you're indulging in a hobby. I really love mine, but one of these days, like Unshelved, I'd also make to make a profit, have sponsors and maybe not even have enough time to post on lisnews.org.

Blake: If you did that, it not only wouldn't bother me, it would strike me as entirely appropriate for an ad-supported medium.

I can guarantee that magazines with future editorial calendars--ones that set themes for issues well in advance, which many specialized magazines do--use those editorial calendars to sell advertising. It's not pay-for-play: Good magazines have editorial integrity and firewalls between editorial and business staff. It's realistic--it's a win-win situation.

American Libraries certainly does this: The architectural awards/design issue has loads of ads for library design, architecture, and furnishings firms, most of which can't afford to and don't wish to advertise in all 11 issues each year. So, as far as I know, does almost every publication that accepts ads and has editorial calendars.

I sent Mr. Barnes an e-mail myself. I'm not going to quote it or anything but here's my main idea:

Artists gots ta get paid, son.

We live in an age where I can read comics on the web. These comics are far better than anything, yes anything that ever appeared in syndication with the exceptions of Bloom County, Peanuts, and Calvin & Hobbes. Standard print comics are banal, boring, and stuck in their pasts. But they do have one thing a webcomic artist doesn't always get:

Steady paycheques.

So webcomic artists have to be creative in obtaining their income. If Jim Davis, and PAWS Inc., sells a Garfield book, that's great and that's more money for them. But Davis and PAWS Inc. get paid for the comic. Everything else is bonus. They want to sell merchandise like books and toys and the like.

Meanwhile, a webcomic artist doesn't want to sell merchandise or advertising revenue, they need to. For a webcomic, that's where their income originates. The strip is free. I read Unshelved every day and I don't pay a dime for it. Unfortuantely for Misters Barnes and Ambaum, neither does anyone else. So they need to sell hats, books, jackets, ads, toys, games, anything.

Bill just quit his day job and needs to feed his family. He's going to try and do that on something that may not work out, or at least it's not as sure a thing as having a day job. How many of us have the wherewithal and, quite frankly, the balls, to do that? I sure don't.

So while I believe that the juxtaposition of his storyline and the advertisement was nothing but coincidental, I still wouldn't blame him for doing it if it wasn't. When you're producing a high quality, and 100% free product, you're going to have to make money somewhere.

Scott Kurtz (PVP @ pvponline.com) once said that you're not selling out if you want to make money off your work. As an arist, you have the right to make money off your work. You only sell out when you compromise your own principles for money. To be honest, if I were Barnes, I'd have a life size Dewey cardboard stand-up display for rent to promote events or products. The only caveat is that I'd only let it go to products I actually thought worthy of the promotion.

Some books contain the machinery required to create and sustain universes. Tycho (Jerry Holkins) @ Penny Arcade

I have to admit - - - I read the comic and appreciated the theme.

I noticed that there was an advert, yet didn't make the connection.

I must be immune to subliminal effects - or it was so unoffensive that (to me) it didn't matter that it was a sponsored draw.

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