One thing that impressed me about a couple of comics I read as a kid — 2000AD and Mad Magazine — was that they never carried ads. It took about twenty years to actually realize this, but both of these publications kept afloat on sales alone.
This to me now, is a brilliant achievement. Particularly looking at it from 2019, a time when people refuse to pay for anything, other than devices and data plans, in a society, where the moment you step out your door, or pick up your mobile, your are assaulted by an insidious level of advertising.
Both of these comics had every opportunity to capitalize on their popularity by running ads, thus giving themselves a second income stream — but for whatever reason, moral or otherwise, they chose not to — choosing instead to corrupt young minds with story content, rather than commerce.
The fact that they could survive on their sales alone is the most impressive part; that readers, in this case, kids, enjoyed what they were reading so much, that they were regularly buying issues and sometimes taking out annual subscriptions!
Part of me feels incredibly frustrated now that the value of creative things has almost been completely run into the ground; having aspirations to be a writer or a musician is the equivalent of digging an early grave. Twenty-first century consumers are barely willing to pay for anything in terms of entertainment, unless it’s high-end ‘Hollywood’ content.
And I know that the internet gets blamed for everything, but the problem is that it has set up a terrible benchmark that is almost unique to the 21st century: that you pay for your content by purchasing data.
But the people selling the data are not the owners of the content — even though they use all the ‘endless free information’ of the internet as their selling point. The content of the internet has always been created by wayward individuals setting up bulletin boards, writing blogs and Wikipedia posts, making instructional videos for Youtube, podcasts for iTunes, albums on Spotify. But none of them will make any money back, only a dribble if they attract above average interest.
Immaterial creative things like words, music and moving images, are considered non-essential, as compared to food, cars, devices and mortgages. Yet show me a single person who does not engage with at least a few words of an article, a few bars of music, or a few minutes of moving images on a daily basis, to cheer themselves up.
I think that creative people should not be giving their work away for free; consumers should be paying for it in the same way that they would pay for a sandwich. They wouldn’t expect to get it for free, or think that advertising or data will somehow cover the cost.
Yet, as a creative person making a podcast/writing a blog/recording a song, how can you possibly ask for money, when the value of all these specialist activities has been razed to the ground by a handful of very rich Silicon Valley companies, who in themselves, would never give away their own vital assets — knowledge and IP — for free.
Anyway, going back to the beginning, with Mad Magazine and 2000AD, all I can think is that kids have a natural knack for liking something; and when they do, they are willing to shell out a few of their hard-earned dollars, to get something they care about.
And in turn, there will always be a few companies/creative projects that respect this, and do not seek to take advantage of it. Those companies are successful not because they have gamed the system, but because they have created something worth caring about!
So both Mad and 2000AD have had a lasting impression on me; first for their creativity and entertainment, and now, as companies with creative integrity and a good business model.