Syndicates be warned!

Newspaper syndicates may soon be a thing of the past.

Cartoonist Scott Kurtz has one of the most successful comic strips on the web. PVP is a smartly-written strip about the publishers of a gaming magazine. Scott gets about a jillion hits a month to his site, and his popular strip has recently expanded into print (through Image comics), t-shirts, and plush toys. Needless to say he’s making a good living as a cartoonist.

But unlike other successful cartoonists, Kurtz has done it all without the help of a syndicate. In fact, his strip has never even appeared in a newspaper. And now he is poised to revolutionize the funny pages forever.

Syndicates are large companies that purchase cartoons from artists, sell them to newspapers, and then give some of the profit back to the artist. Problem is, the syndicate owns all the rights. So if a strip is truly successful (few are) the syndicate keeps a lot of the money. (Contrary to popular belief, it’s very hard for a syndicated cartoonist to make a good living these days). Another problem: newspaper readership is down and most comic strips are rather bland anyway, so in order to save costs some papers are considering dropping the funny pages altogether (USA Today, anyone?). In other words, if an artist wants to “make it” in the funnies biz, the future looks increasingly bleak.

Enter Scott Kurtz. Thanks to the internet he has been able to build a very successful strip without any help from a syndicate, something that would have been unthinkable a decade ago. And since he owns the strip (not the syndicate), he keeps all the rights and all the profits. At this year’s Comic-Con convention in San Diego, Kurtz dropped a bombshell: He plans to offer his strip free of charge to any and all newspapers for one year. Kurtz would get more exposure (and more money from books sales, merhandising, etc.), and the newspaper would get a successful strip free of charge. Bye bye syndicates.

I sincerely hope at least one large newspaper takes Kurtz up on his offer. If that happens, it will be a huge win-win for newspapers and cartoonists. The paper gets more readers, the artist gets more money, and the syndicate becomes irrelevant. Making a living as a cartoonist is a real challenge these days, but Kurtz’ plan could change all that. I can’t wait to see what happens.