Once I find it, I’m going to use permanent marker on the damn thing.

15Jul11

Today I was babbling to myse-thinking about certain topics, and a thought emerged that I’m still trying to unpack. What is the line between a reasonable expectation and entitlement when it comes to webcomics?

In most forms of media, the line isn’t that hard to spot. If I pay 10 dollars for a movie that promises explosions, and I get a romantic comedy with no explosions, then a reasonable expectation has not been met. If it’s a romantic comedy with explosions, then it’s a bit murkier-was the advertising campaign misleading, or did I not pay attention to anything but the things that went boom? But the key point is that I paid money for it. Whether it was cash, credit, or blackmail (that gets complicated), there was an unspoken contract about the goods being sold. Having my expectations thwarted does not mean I get a refund for a movie that deceived me, but any anger I feel about it is warranted, to a degree. Ripping up seats and tossing them at the screen is beyond that degree.

But when it comes to webcomics, for the most part, there is no direct money transaction. You pay money for access by purchasing Internet access, but that’s not tied to the comics at all; I don’t give Penny Arcade 10 dollars a year for a guaranteed connection to their website and no other. They offer a product for free, and willingly check their website on the scheduled days for it. Hell, I’ve bought most of their books, which contain comics that are still available for nothing on their website, so I am giving them money I don’t need to for what they do.  This is a sign of my approval.

Unfortunately, not every webcomic I follow (or followed) matches that rigorous standard. For the most part, that’s fine; these are things people often do as a sideline to their real jobs, and only a few can turn it into their regular job through a dedicated fanbase. So sometimes they’re late with an update due to their regular jobs, or real life intrudes in unfortunate ways. It happens to everyone, and it’s not their fault. But at some point, I stop feeling charitable. The quality degrades, the art becomes stagnant, the writing goes downhill….or most commonly, updates become unpredictable. It could be a few days…or weeks…or months, and nothing goes up.

The question, though, is where the line between a reasonable expectation and entitlement is for webcomics. And that’s where that “free” entry price becomes problematic for me. Because to me, “free” means I don’t get to complain about a webcomic’s cost. I can’t rage about how PvP Online is gouging me for its strips. But if it suddenly didn’t update for three weeks, would I have a good reason to be upset? After all, this is someone’s labor of love, for which I’ve given no money to read. Scott Kurtz owes me nothing. But…he’s created a reasonable expectation that the comic will updates on weekdays. And if it doesn’t, he will give an explanation of why it did not update. So again, where is the line? Is money the only demarcation of when you can be angry about having thwarted expectations? Or can you be dissatisfied with a free service as well?

I’m still trying to decide where I stand on this point, unimportant though it may be.

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One Response to “Once I find it, I’m going to use permanent marker on the damn thing.”

  1. 1 franzferdinand2

    I guess I’ve been burned by enough webcomics just kind of quietly fizzling out that I think any time there’s any kind of update, that’s good enough. Then again, I think this goes back to my system of webcomics: if I remember to check it, I keep up with it. This naturally means I stop checking the ones that don’t update regularly enough.


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