I want to talk a little about content aggregation today. Some of you will find this post to just be echoing what you’ve already known for years, but for others it may be helpful – I know some younger artists than I read Pain Train so I figure I may as well put my opinion out there.

Last week, I was invited by a polite person to make an account with the content aggregation site they represented and post my content there in tandem with the other ways I publish these comics. I won’t say which site because I’m going to be a little damming but it’s similar to the Cheezeburger network model. That is, many users posting images with little moderation and zero accreditation in the vast majority of cases. These uploads can be comics, memes, gifs, whatever else, which are then voted on by the other users of the site and the highest rated items are propelled to the front page.

(You might say it’s not technically aggregation because it isn’t automated but when you leave the submission process up to thousands of users, and the approval process is automated, I think we can call that aggregation.)

The goal for the user is to have their account associated with a high number of popular submissions so they can look at it and feel like a taste-maker. There’s nothing wrong with that, we all want to feel that ours is the very best and most legitimate of tastes. What’s important though is that we remember to respect the people who made the thing we want to share in the first place by helping them out with a link back to their site and not messing with the work.

The site owner’s goal is to create a hub with so much popular content that it becomes a user’s primary source of entertainment and translates into all the clicks in the world which of course is transmuted into ad revenue. Therefore, the site owner is focussed on making it as easy as possible for the user to upload an image and have it voted on so as to draw even more users who continue the cycle.

There are a number of problems this causes from the original artist’s perspective:

  • Moderation of what is submitted slows down the submission process which is not in the interest of the site owner, who therefore doesn’t care that the submitter is neither the author or has properly accredited the author
  • The need for fast access to large amounts of content means all images are re-hosted. This often means the submitter will remove the original URL placed within the content by the author if one is present (why is less clear)
  • the very nature of these sites encourages users to consume an image, pass judgement, and move on – meaning even if a submission has some link to the author’s site, the follow-through rate is insignificant in comparison to the number of people who viewed and very likely enjoyed the content
  • In the interest of creating that hub of entertainment we mentioned, the site’s policy is normally to automatically put their own branding and URL on each submission (in case someone steals an already stolen image, because how dare they?)

To bring it back on point, all these things are counter-productive for the artist, who’s goal is to get their work in front of as many people as possible to build up a reader base.

“But these image sharing sites, do that!” you say. You’re right to say that because it’s technically true, but just as a business wants return customers, a content creator wants return readers! These content collecting sites do not facilitate this!

I feel I should point out the difference between sites like 9gag(for example) and places like Reddit and Tumblr, who are built in much the same way.

I post links to each new comic on Reddit. The reason this works is Reddit (depending on the sub-reddit) encourages linking to the content source and discourages re-hosting. So when a user clicks on a Reddit post, they’re not only reading the new content, they’re there on the artist’s site with the whole catalogue readily available to them. While the majority of users will still just head back to Reddit after reading whatever was in front of them, they at least now know where the content came from and are more likely to take a look around and perhaps like what they find enough to become a long-term reader.

Tumblr works in a similar way but emphasises the importance of spreading good work while also providing means for solid accreditation. There are some problems with it’s approach -it isn’t ideal- but it isn’t the worst either and in my experience I’ve found Tumblr users have a better understanding of intellectual property than most other corners of this big ol’ internet.

To summarise, I want to show you part of the argument for joining an aggregation site as posed to me:

“[…] i’ve seen a lot of your content being stolen and posted on there as well as [aggregation site] and [aggregation site], so i was thinking.. why not come join us and spread the funnies?

when i mean join i dont mean quit what you’re already doing, just post some of your work on [the site they work for] as well, thats all

we could even pay you a certain amount for your posts”

And my reply, which I feel could be a good TL;DR version of this post:

“Thanks but as you point out, that whole meme-centric community steals content. Just like [aggregation site] and [aggregation site], they tend to be populated by young people who don’t yet understand the concept of intellectual property or the importance of accreditation and in my opinion, any site where that’s going on is one artists should avoid.

The way I normally find sites like [the site they work for] or say, cheezeburger work, is users consume the content on the front page or whatever is in their feed at that given moment and that’s all. What I’m interested in is building a core reader base and I don’t think these kinds of sites are conducive to that goal.”


What I want to say to others making comics or those thinking of starting, or really to anyone making any content for online audiences is this: Protect your work – put at least your URL on everything to do – and respect your work enough to know where to promote it. Respect it enough to not let other individuals profit from it unfairly. You put in the hours for every update, they wrote some submission code once.

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