Weak business models

March 11, 2014

If all you see in an industry are weak stories, look at its business model. Where there’s systematic weakness, it probably means there’s a system that’s broken down.

The anime and American comic industries are good examples. They’re totally broken. It’s not that there aren’t animators, writers, and directors who want to make wonderful anime, it’s that they’re beholden to the BD/DVD-buying demographics that determine their profitability. Likewise, the writers and artists of the American comic industry are shackled to endless superhero reboots because it’s those fans who have proven themselves willing to buy overpriced periodicals.

Movies and manga are a mixed bag. Movies benefit from the movie going experience, and that has value even if more and more movies are consumed in other ways. Manga is twisted by the magazines that publish it, but its low cost relative to anime means that risks can be taken, even if some of the potential stars never get a chance to truly bloom.

Then there’s American TV. Forget the endless police procedurals – when we’re getting shows like Breaking BadGame of Thrones30 Rock, and Mad Men, we’re doing something right. What happened, when Firefly got kicked off the air not long ago? I’m not 100% sure, but I’ve heard rumors it’s because advertisers have learned the value of supporting critically acclaimed shows, and are paying accordingly. The highly motivated fans these series bring in, if they line up with an advertiser’s target market, are marketing gold.

So what about the industry I aim to enter, publishing? If you’re trying to get conventionally published, it’s somewhere South of manga but not quite as weak as American comics or anime. Your chances of getting published are low, your chances of getting supported once published are even lower still, but if you get lucky you can still make money doing it.

But what about independent ebooks? Ahhh, now there’s an industry with a fine business model. Sure, you have to do most of the work yourself, but if you’re willing to do that then there’s no one standing in your way. Write the stories you want to write, find the audience who wants to read them, and fail or prosper on your own terms. That’s the business model for me.

If all you see is weak stories in an industry, look for a weak business model, and if you have a choice, choose to enter an industry whose robust business model will aid you in your success. Humans are only as good as the systems they find themselves in, so do yourself a favor and pick a good one.

As always, thank you for using my Amazon Affiliate link (info).

By Stephen W. Gee

Author of Wage Slave Rebellion, Freelance Heroics, and about two good blog posts out of a hundred.


  1. Reply


    I really enjoy your blog, mostly because of how your perspectives can help me re-evaluate decisions and opinions of my own. I hope that some day I’ll be able to read and more importantly enjoy your stories, along with many other people. But for now thanks, and good luck will have to do.

    1. Reply


      Thank you! And the day is approaching when you’ll get to do exactly that – read my stories at least, and hopefully enjoy them – as long as I get off the internet and get back to work.

      I should probably go do that right now, shouldn’t I? Right. Back to work, nyahaha~

  2. Reply


    The problem isn’t the business model, that’s one of the symptoms. Bear with me.
    People who found companies are visionaries. Henry Ford-car guy, Walt Disney-entertainment, Ray Kroc- Fast Food. They understand the product they want to develop and strive to create it. They need people to help them so they gather people who, while not visionaries themselves see the vision the founder is striving for and want to be part of it. Below them are people who probably just want a job. Over time the visionary retires or dies and the second tier takes over. What happens when they leave? The functionaries who’s don’t have the vision the company was founded on. They’ve risen in the ranks by playing power politics. Often these are financial oriented people. You need them in an organization, but when they lead it they have no gut feel of why the organization existed in the first place. That’s when the company starts to fail. GM tries to shave pennies off of a car part and ruins their reputation, but to the bean counter he managed to boost the bottom line for the next quarter. General Electric is a financial company! How did that happen? Since when finance have anything to do with electrical equipment? Why, it’s what the financial guys know and are comfortable with. Watch how MacDonald’s is beginning to flounder with Ray Kroc gone. Kroc had a vision and loved the business. The financial types just can’t figure out why they can’t manage to keep growing the business the way he did. Hint, they understand the money but don’t really grasp what made McD’s popular.

    Same thing has happened with anime and manga (and most of publishing). It’s not enough for them to make a good product. The people running the business don’t care about that as much as how to extract the maximum return “safely”. Hence, the focus on the otaku market where you can generate high margins with what is perceived as minimal risk. Short term rewards but long term decay. I worked for a company that wouldn’t fix the roof to their building because it would have hurt their Return On Investment(ROI). Roof leaked and managed to destroy an expensive computer system. Wouldn’t upgrade other equipment using the same reasoning. Of course it badly hurt productivity in the long run, but the President looked good for that quarter.

    Notice how the shows you mentioned are unique and different (and popular). Want to bet how many clones pop up? They can’t grasp that their uniqueness is the reason they’re popular. The corporate types only see them as sure things so just give the public more of the same.

    Finally, you mentioned e-books. The internet (if it isn’t destroyed by corporate types) is allowing not only that, but other forms of commerce that is outside of the corporate structured financial system. Sites like “Girl Genius” and “Questionable Content” (for example) have been able to make a go of it in the webcomic/graphical novel realm without dealing with the publishing world. Sites like Kickstarter have allowed people to bypass the finance controlled world and get what they want (the follow-on to Little Witches Academia for example).

    Sorry, I hope this isn’t tl:dr. You managed to hit a button/sore spot. Good luck. Having a dream is special.

    1. Reply


      You’re describing what happens when companies mature and stagnate. This is why it’s the outsiders that often come in and knock off the big dogs, only to become the big dogs themselves and end up ripe for the next insurgents to take them out. See: Microsoft, which was once nimble and innovative, being continually one upped by Google, which has already started its slow dive into bureaucracy and stasis.

      You’re right of course, but this rarely happens to entire industries. It happens to players within all manner of industries all the time – Gainax used to be visionaries, Madhouse used to be competent, KyoAni used to know how to tell a great story – but it’s rare that entire industries go this way unless they’re replaced ala the whip & buggy industry. Cartoons, comics, scripted television/film, books…no matter the delivery vehicle, these will continue on. If we haven’t managed to “evolve” past books yet, I don’t think their cousins will perish anytime soon.

      There is no question that players within all of these industries have become complacent and sluggish. They do, and you illustrated exactly how. But when the entire industry appears to be operating at 1/5th power, slavishly beholden to a small portion of their audience? That’s something more fundamental. That’s a systemic problem.

      Great comment. A treat to read such a detailed one : )

      P.S. Didn’t repair the roof? Sounds like my company sometimes. They’re not that bad, but the amount of shortsighted bullshit… *shudders* I shouldn’t get into it.

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