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Posted at 10:45 AM ET, 02/ 8/2011

BOON OR BOONDOGGLE? Working artists react to the HuffPo/AOL deal

By Michael Cavna

For cartoonists accustomed to a paycheck in exchange for their drawn content, will the new AOL/HuffPo deal be a case of "You've got fail"?

Or now that Arianna Huffington prepares to head up Huffington Post Media Group as queen of all AOL content -- and perhaps pockets roughly $100-million cash -- will a significant share of the windfall in the $315-million deal trickle down to content providers?

You'll forgive some top artists if they're both hopeful about potentially reaching a larger audience -- the new "Arianna Online" group said it will reach about 270-million unique visitors a month globally -- yet skeptical over whether the very business model that apparently made HuffPo profitable will fiscally leave illustrators and other intellectual-property contributors curbside.

Many cartoonists these days navigate a professional landscape of busted or hobbled business models. From dwindled print-client lists to tougher newspaper-syndication and magazine sales, some illustrators say there are fewer healthy financial oases for their work. And online media sites offer exposure but often pay pennies on the dollar -- if at all -- compared with old models.

So in light of the AOL/HuffPo buy, Comic Riffs asked eight veteran cartoonists -- some of whom are Pulitzer and Reuben Award winners, and some of whom have experience with the Huffington Post and AOL -- for their take on the deal as working artists. Here are their insights and observations (and yes -- full disclaimer here -- their personal opinions):

(His clients include The Onion, the New York Times, Rolling Stone and the Village Voice)

"As a news junkie, of course I use and appreciate the consumer benefits of Huffington Post. And as a lefty, it's exciting to think that AOL, which has always seemed to have a reactionary/conservative tint to it's news in my view, may begin leaning leftward. But as a cartoonist, writer and illustrator, it's hard to get too excited about this merger.

"I've contributed writing to HuffPost, but of course [have] never been paid, as they generally do not pay contributors. I've inquired about the possibility of creating cartoons for HuffPost, but again, they have claimed to have 'no budget' for such a thing.

"I will be very curious to see if HuffPost, now that they're under the banner of AOL after being sold for $315-million, will be able to find something in their budget for us little people actually creating content. But last year, as I understand it, AOL offered an invitation to a number of illustrators -- myself not included -- to let them use their work for free for the 'exposure,' in turn making AOL look a lot cooler and more 'arty.' So, I don't have a lot of hope, but who knows?"

(2010 Pulitzer Prize winner for his self-syndicated political animations)

"I'm all for the HuffPo/AOL deal if it translates to healthier distribution of quality journalism online. Huffington Post approached me years ago when they were first starting out, but when they explained that they did not pay contributors, I failed to see the point of joining their merry band of anti-Capitalists.

"Apparently I'm missing something, because it seems to have worked out quite well for them.

"I hope more dollars and more eyeballs means more journalists can pay the rent."

(creator of the ever-popular comic "Dilbert" and its surrounding franchise)

"As an artist, [the deal] seems irrelevant. As a business person, I don't get it. The brands feel incompatible.

"That's just a gut reaction. Perhaps the numbers work."

(creator of the alt-political cartoon Slowpoke Comics)

"I lost a paying client -- Working Assets -- after they gave up their newsmagazine format partly due to competition from the Huffington Post, which notoriously did not pay cartoonists or most writers. So it's with a wry smile that I read AOL's statement they are 'big believers in the future of content.' They're acquiring a website whose business model has been utterly destructive for content creators.

"It would be nice if Arianna shared her $315-million windfall with all the unpaid contributors who actually created HuffPo's value, but I expect that money to trickle down about as well as it did under Reaganomics."

(His portfolio includes The New Yorker magazine and the comic story "B.L.T.")

"I don't see how any working artist can be excited about the success of the HuffPo deal. It relates to the whole 'information is free' mantra movement, which I thought was idiotic.

"There are only a few places that will pay artists -- cartoonists, writers, etc. -- a real wage for what they do, but there a lot of places that are all too glad to repurpose an artist's work for their own benefit without committing any money to them. I think it's on us to support the former.

"There are a lot of places that cannibalize New York Times content, but only one New York Times, and they're struggling to make ends meet. This cannot last for much longer, and I'm glad to see papers like the Times and the Wall Street Journal charging for online content, like they should have been doing all along. It is better for us all if the top artists and media people in their fields are being compensated for their work, as opposed to the people who merely can afford to do it, like the Tom Arnolds who attempt to enrich places like HuffPo with their opinion pieces.

"It seems to me like every artist and illustrator I know is working twice as hard for half the money, and so I can't wait for the pendulum to start to swing back in the other direction."

( political cartoonist and syndicator of editorial cartoons)

"Fascinating that content has such a high value on the Web -- but not
for the columnists, whom the Huffington Post doesn't pay."

(Political cartoonist, illustrator and graphic artist)

"I don't think this deal is likely to have much direct benefit to cartoonists, and in general I hate to see more media consolidation ... ever-fewer voices and more likelihood of bland corporate homogenization."

(Political cartoonist for Politico)

"I hope this means Huffington is now maturing into a sustainable media venture that will actually pay its content providers for its content ... especially when it comes to cartoons and animations.

"I remember how for years, the alternative weeklies would always plead poverty and pay us cartoonists peanuts, and then be sold for tens of millions of dollars. It seems like we're now reliving that tragedy as farce with the Huffington Post, where they operate on the Internet economic model that content is free and they can't afford to pay for content. But when they get sold, the price tag is hundreds of millions going to the handful of owners.

"I'm hoping Arianna takes maybe a couple of those megabucks and elects to pay and support a nice stable of cartoonists and political satirists."

THE LINES ARE DRAWN: Satirists take aim at AOL/HuffPo deal

By Michael Cavna  | February 8, 2011; 10:45 AM ET
Categories:  General  | Tags:  Daryl Cagle, Drew Dernavich, Jen Sorensen, Matt Fiore, Matt Wuerker, Scott Adams, Steve Greenberg, Ward Sutton  
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ALEC BALDWIN bails on the AolTitanic.

I'm not sure if the bright bulbs who brought the dot com burst followed by mortgage over valuation are familiar with the worth and value of Huff Post once every writer has bailed ship.

These guys are volunteers. Volunteers do what they do for the love of it.

When you see someone cashing in on their time and effort, why would they continue?

I'm afraid this is AOL:TimeWarner Part II

Worse merger in history Part 2.

This is an inside profiteering deal the consumer as of yet is unaware of. Its an inside deal by and large that makes zero sense.

AOL taking over HUFFPOST is like Coca Cola taking over the Obama Whitehouse.

Posted by: BILDERBERG | February 8, 2011 1:27 PM | Report abuse

Sad. Another independent newspaper falls to the Zionistas.

Posted by: yard80197 | February 8, 2011 2:49 PM | Report abuse

I hate to forecast the future, but am afraid it will look an awful lot like the past. The comments being made by enthusiastic executives are a lot like those made when AOL absorbed Netscape, an internet pioneer that, like HuffPost, had no realistic business model. AOL made big promises, but ended up making Netscape just another clone of its other web portals. Yes, Netscape employees got screwed while executives took loads of cash. The ordinary employees got screwed mostly because they worked hard to start Netscape and got laid off when AOL bought the company and paid off its executives.

So I predict: Huffpost is doomed. AOL will impose its conservative viewpoint on Huffpost's contributors. The contributors will not continue to work for a company they despise, and there is much to despise about the overbearing suits with the "my way or the highway" attitude.

Good luck, guys. Welcome to the breadline.

Posted by: allanm051 | February 8, 2011 4:57 PM | Report abuse

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