Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Inside Mount Foob

Last Saturday when I was reading this For Better or For Worse strip, I nearly snorted iced cappuccino out of my nose. Not because the lame gag about computers was funny, but because the strip is so hypocritical. Elly and John may trust April, but the folks at Foob Central sure don’t trust me. Like any sufficiently obsessive-compulsive blogger, I religiously track my visitor statistics. It seems that the Masters of the Foobiverse do too. My very first post about the History Of The Foobiverse drew a visit from Sudbury, Ontario. When I published my Tour of Foob Central, I was getting two or three visits a day for about a week. From my logs, I could practically tell when Stephanie, the site’s pixie-ish webmistress, showed up at work. She hasn’t been by in a while and I miss her. I was kind of getting a webcrush on her.

Normally, I would be flattered by a look from the subject of one of my posts (are you reading this Angelina?), but when Mount Foob pays attention, bloggers tremble. Johnston and Company have a reputation for zealously protecting their intellectual property. At least one site had to shut down because of pressure from Lynn and the Syndicate. The Foobiverse Journal has received cease and desist letters as well. When this happens, other bloggers like Josh from Comics Curmudgeon take notice. [Update: See the comments for the Josh's experiences.]

I try my best to stay just the side of allowable practice under fair-use, because I would hate to lose my comfy free Blooger account because some system administrator at GoogleWorldHQ didn’t want to listen to my side of the story.

Fortunately, people like Ellcee way more familiar with their foobish quirks warned me against “deep-linking” their content. For graphics, I only use a panel or two of a strip hosted on my own account under the fair use review and commentary principle and always include a link to the original source. This hasn't drawn the wrath of the Lynnions, yet.

So why are they so defensive? It’s all about the eyeballs. Their web page is a huge graphics heavy site that gets over 75 million hits from more than 300,000 unique visitors each month. 600 Gigabytes of monthly traffic is a lot of foobs, and it all costs money. Take a look at the number of unique visitors for 2005:

Notice the big spike in September. That is when Lynn refused to renew her online distribution agreement with comics.com. Anyone who used to read the strip from that site had to find a new source, and it seems a lot of them turned to Foob Central.

FBorFW.com, and its mirror site FBoFW.com, are ad-laden destinations. Any links to content that doesn’t include their ads is taking money out of their pocket. The home page doesn’t even include the current strip. Which means you now have to click on Strip Fix and see even more ads. No one ever accused Lynn of being a foolish businessperson. At least Foob Central doesn’t have pop-ups, so it isn’t all bad.

The whole website is very sticky with lots of reasons to click around. Most people come for the strip fix, but the CafePress specials page actually gets more visits. People also love John’s Coffee Break game and hunting for Ned. And if I were Elly, I’d be a little worried about Liz taking over the strip, since Liz's character page is nearly as popular as our potato-nosed retiring heroine.

There are legitimate licensed ways to see the latest strip without risking a diabetic coma from the splash page of the FBorFW site. The Washington Post and Yahoo skin a feed of the colorized strip from uClick. The Houston Chronicle uses the black and white “official” version but host it on their own servers and keeps an archive of old strips. Most other newspapers just provide a link to the homepages of their comics. The Detroit Free Press does that and is the number one source of incoming links to the FBorFW homepage, accounting for 16% of the incoming traffic from external links.

I hope this behind the scenes tour has been interesting and I haven’t annoyed Lynn or Stephanie by revealing too many trade secrets. Here's my open letter to them:

I still have an open invitation for either of you to leave a comment on my blog. If you want to talk to me privately, just say so and I will e-mail you confidentially. I can find the address on the website. And if I’m ever on MacPherson Drive in Corbiel, I hope I can look you up so you can show me Rod’s trains.

See you in the funny papers.


Anonymous said...

Hey yj-

Just so that I don't get an aura of false martyrdom around me: I've never actually received communications of any kind from Mt. Foob. My skittishness about using Foobish graphics on the Comics Curmudgeon site are entirely a result of other sites that ran into legal problems. I've restarted using their graphics again because I get the impression that it's the hotlinking that really cheeses them off, not the use of the comics as such. I mean, I'm sure that they'd object if I just started posting FBOFW comics every day, but they don't seem to care if I do it to mock them every once in a while.

My biggest fear when I started my blog -- and one of the reasons that for the first six months or so I felt very conflicted about my rapidly increasing traffic -- was that I'd get a cease and desist letter from some comics syndicate and have to shut down. Not only has that never happened, but I've received friendly notes from people who work at most of the syndicates -- not writing in an official capacity, but indicating that people at the syndicates are aware of the site and have no legal objections. Mt. Foob, which seems kind of control-freaky, is my biggest fear, but even they seem to have come around to the idea that using a copy of the strip once a month or so for purposes of review constitutes fair use. (To be clear, I am convinced that such use is fair use as defined by law as well, but I don't have the liquid cash to hire a lawyer to argue that in court.)


yellojkt said...

I've revised the post to reflect that Josh has not been the subject of a cease and desist letter as the original post suggested. Clearly though, as his comment shows, the reputation of the FBorFW staff has had a chilling effect. A lot of web-based practices have not been thoroughly tested in court, but fair use review and comment, as well as satire and parody, are well established doctrines in the real world and should apply on the web as well.

paula said...

Happy Valentine's Day!



trusty getto said...

Being a lawyer, the response, "Go ahead and sue me, I don't really care," tends to stop them in their tracks most of the time. The second they sue, they give up a lot of control to a court. I would guess that they probably will only go after "real" abusers, not casual users. The last thing they would want would be a court ruling in your favor which would open them up to letting everyone do it.

archshrk said...

It's nice to see someone admitting that there is a legitamite concern for the creator to want control over their work and web content. Too many people cry foul when they are asked to stop leeching graphics or other content. Your practice of using limited graphics on your own server seems reasonable, especially since you link to the source. It fits a journalistic model of blogging.

Your Mother said...

Wow, who'da thunk it?

Have a good one. Don't forget to smooch the wife tonight too. Happy 'V' Day!

Mooselet said...

I have a love/hate relationship with FBoFW - I read it every day via Yahoo! yet it often drives me mad.

You certainly have done your research on the whole subject, so I don't think you're in any danger. It must be a little flattering to think the minions up on Mt. Foob visit to see what you're up to with their creation.

Happy V-Day! Like the new pic, btw.

Anonymous said...

Well, it looks like the new pic is gone. Sorry Mooselet. That must have been yj's special Valentine's Day treat "for the ladies".

2fs said...

That Stephanie is a cutie. I'd prefer slightly less makeup and less control-freaky eyebrow-sculpting...but hey, I'm not picky.

Anonymous said...

FYI, Foob central is in North Bay, not Sudbury.