here’s this webcomics viewing app for OS X called “Comictastic.” (There are actually a bunch of them; Comictastic is one which has gotten a lot of press.)
It existed for a couple years without anyone noticing, then it got some press, and then a bunch of people within the “Webcomics Community” got really angry about it. (And some of its users got stridently defensive of it.)
Through the course of this messageboard thread, the authors of the software try to open a dialogue with webcomics people. A bunch of angry people call them “bandwidth thieves” and “copyright violators” for making what is essentially a specialized web browser. The angriest voices seem to come either from righteous folk who are not actually webcomics creators, or webcomics creators who are not actually paying for their own bandwidth or profiting from their own ad sales (that is, they get free hosting on Keenspot, which pushes its ads on people to pay for it). (UPDATE: Actually I may be displaying my ignorance there: I read something subsequently that suggested Keenspotters do get ad revenue.)
I dunno. My limited experience hosting a web site and paying for it myself suggests you’d have to be insanely, INSANELY popular before bandwidth costs bit you in the ass (or else you’d have to be really foolish in your choice of hosting providers). I pay $20/month and use only a minute, tiny fraction of the bandwidth I receive for that. Definitely less than 5%, probably less than 1%. (Yeah, I know, I’m paying too much for my needs, but Dreamhost are cool and let you compile your own software and stuff.) If you’re so popular you’re hurting for bandwidth, then you probably could find ways more efficient than banner ads to parlay that popularity into cash (i.e., merchandising or the like) pretty easily. And that’s what the most popular webcomics all do. I don’t imagine apps like this would make a giant difference one way or another in how many people buy T-shirts. (And either way, the authors of the app want to work with people to allow them to deliver ads and merchandise links via RSS.)
Anyway… The funny part is that one of the best known, most popular webcomic artists on the net, Jeff Rowland (creator of Magical Adventures In Space, the latest in a series of spiffy and whimsical comics), has been participating.
As far as I can tell, he’s the only “A-list” comic artist that’s there. Certainly the only one I’ve ever heard of.
Anyway, at least as far as I’ve read in the discussion, Rowland started out mildly skeptical of Comictastic but not that worried about it, and as the discussion went on he got more and more tired of the righteously indignant protestors and finally declared himself “pro-Comictastic” and happy with the programmers’ efforts.
It’s a super long thread and gets repetitive after a while, so I’m posting about it without even having read the whole thing. Interesting stuff.
UPDATE: the thread ends with a few pages of comment spam. Sad.