Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Why Asset Bar Looks Like a Dud

I like to analyze business plans. I like to emphasize the positive. Unfortunately, the two are not always compatible.

The product Asset Bar (as everyone calls it), or Fanflow (as the company calls it) has a simple premise: put out basic content for free, and charge several bucks/month for "premium" content. The premium material is isolated on a separate part of your site, and includes a forum plus a platform for loading comics, pictures, etc. Asset Bar takes a 20% cut.

I watched several sites try it. One quit, one (Achewood) is having at least moderate success (at the expense of cutting back public updates), and I can only speculate about the rest but I would be stunned if they are doing well.

Asset Bar is going opposite to what I described yesterday for extracting value from content . They're charging people to view the commercial. They accepted the premise that free content has no value, and attempted to slice off the tender part and charge for it. After observing for months, I see no rush to enlist.

When you accept a salary, you have a boss, and for me, that's the fundamental weakness of Asset Bar. Webcomics are about me not having a boss in exchange for the reader not having to buy anything. If I'm good, I don't need to be chained to my desk. I'll be able to create a brand that transfers to things people want.

Such items range from t-shirts by design powerhouse Toothpaste For Dinner* to paid lecturers like Bill Barnes, co-creator of Unshelved . They have identified a salable commodity that brands well with their comics, and they make a living from it.

I can't tell you how many times during my entrepreneurial adventures people with deep pockets came and offered big money for the right to restructure something their way. I tried a few and all were always embarrassing disasters. I learned to jettison these people by their lapels. Keep control of your content and have faith that a well executed, quality webcomic can do quite well.**

*Notably, Toothpaste For Dinner and its affiliated comics tried Asset Bar, but resigned after a short time. When Asset Bar declined to reimburse subscribers, the TFD people paid them out of pocket. I visited several Asset Bar sites, including TFD, and the good ones required a lot of work. The others were poorly conceived.

**"Now there's a topic!" some of you are thinking. We're getting closer, and I think we'll be able to make everything quite clear by year's end, with examples. No one wants a rush job on something so important. Well, maybe we do, but we must be patient.