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Spinning down the alliance
April 29, 2013 8:12 PM   Subscribe

On April 26, AOL shut down a series of its subsidiary sites: A broad swath of its AOL Music network, including Spinner - whose staff live-tweeted their own termination - and the feature-focused, oft-linked-on-the-blue comics blog ComicsAlliance.

ComicsAlliance was short on news about the industry and reviewed a couple of actual comics a week - if that - but long on essays and opinion pieces about the state of the industry as a whole, dealing with race, gender (both in the comics and in the ranks of their creators) and sexual orientation. It also employed MeFi favorite Chris Sims.

Archives to catch up on before the site goes down for good (AOL has not confirmed when this will be) include Sims' columns, "Ask Chris" and Bizarro Back Issues, their roundtable movie reviews, David Brothers' often-provocative (though sadly short-lived) column "I'm David," and the weekly exhibition of great comics art, Best Art Ever (This Week), with its sidekick, Best Cosplay Ever (This Week), and Hudson's journey through the madness that is "Batman: Odyssey."

As yet, none of the staff have announced future plans. Sims blogs at The ISB and Twenty Percent Cooler, while Brothers contributes to 4th Letter. Site founder Laura Hudson now edits Wired's "Underwire" pop-culture section.

AOL has yet to comment on what prompted the closures, though Hudson has said that "it wasn't performance-related."
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish (61 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Awwww no! Comics Alliance had some fantastic stuff and I don't even like comics much.
posted by Sebmojo at 8:28 PM on April 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


AOL: killing the things you love since 1991.
posted by offalark at 8:32 PM on April 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


They are going to grind up the servers and use them for AOL Trial CDs
posted by hellojed at 8:40 PM on April 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


ComicsAlliance has a post from today, so what part of it is shutdown?
posted by Lukenlogs at 8:47 PM on April 29, 2013


That post was set to go up automatically on Friday; normally there'd be five or six new posts on a weekday.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:50 PM on April 29, 2013


In other news: AOL is still around!
posted by Justinian at 8:55 PM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Previously:
And many more...

TBH I was beginning to feel like I mas maybe too many links to them, on the other hand for every article I posted a link to there were a bunch more great ones... Truly the Rock Paper Shotgun of comics. They will be dearly missed, and though I'm hoping that everyone ends up at good gigs elsewhere I don't think CA itself will easily be replaced.
posted by Artw at 9:22 PM on April 29, 2013 [16 favorites]


This makes me sad, in the same way that all the good writers leaving the AV Club makes me sad. I'll be especially upset when they pull their archives, and I'm sure they'll pull their archives, because Fuck Me, that's why.

Nothing gold can stay.
posted by themanwho at 9:31 PM on April 29, 2013


AOL: killing the things you love since 1991.

You'd be suprised how much old stuff AOL keeps around.

DMOZ
winamp

They hardly ever get rid of anything. Hell, one third of their business is still dial-up subscriptions.

I also wouldn't assume that AOL will pull down the site or the archives. It costs them almost nothing to keep up and they can still put ads on it.
posted by empath at 9:36 PM on April 29, 2013


AWESOMENESS

posted by Artw at 6:22 PM on April 29 [2 favorites −] Favorite added![Flagged]


Fantastic comment. Can we get a sidebar on that baby.
posted by Sebmojo at 9:36 PM on April 29, 2013


And, btw, speaking of winamp -- winamp cloud is in beta.
posted by empath at 9:37 PM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Being recently out if a job, I can totally empathize with those out of jobs, even if AOL properties ain't my particular cup o'tea.
posted by mazola at 9:41 PM on April 29, 2013


I'll particularly miss Ask Chris - bascally the Chris Sim spin on a random subject each week (not all Batman related), usually managing pin down the essence of what makes something work or explore some unexpected aspect of it. I guess it's unlikely to be collected or anything but it deserves to be.
posted by Artw at 10:01 PM on April 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


America Online sucks more every day.
posted by homunculus at 10:09 PM on April 29, 2013


Engadget still lives, but their best writers went of to form The Verge. TBH What's left of it is pretty much indistinguishable from Gizmodo.
posted by Artw at 10:12 PM on April 29, 2013


The Chris Sims/Matt Wilson podcast War Rocket Ajax is no longer associated with Comics Alliance and will be continuing. They just got some sponsors, which is fortunate timing I guess.
posted by Artw at 10:19 PM on April 29, 2013


I am stunned. I hope that Sims will continue his Ask Chris somewhere else. That column is something I look forward to every week. His Scooby Doo vs. Liars column that I posted about on the blue was one of the greateat pop culture thinkpieces I've ever read.
posted by KingEdRa at 10:33 PM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


My good friends at the Archive Team are trying to save sites from this as fast as possible - the problem is that while we complain about 30 days notice, some of these sites are now shutting with NO notice - and there's little we can do.
posted by jscott at 1:02 AM on April 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


I hope that Sims will continue his Ask Chris somewhere else

He still has his blog, which was how he broke through in the first place.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:43 AM on April 30, 2013


Yeah, Chris Sims is the reason I spent so much money on Dracula comics. Man that stuff is wonderfully insane.

Still, there's a void to fill, Mefi Comics Peoples. Start typing! I've been hitting the sad wall of 'Only SEO Search Bots Read My Blog' which has sapped my enthusiasm but would happily bring my future reboots/what-ifs over to a new site. More people, more content, more awesome, more eyeballs.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 2:45 AM on April 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


America Online sucks more every day.

It's amazing to realize that was possible.
posted by JHarris at 3:05 AM on April 30, 2013


> Hell, one third of their business is still dial-up subscriptions.

I've been hearing that now and then for the better part of a decade. Can this be confirmed (eg, through their annual financials)?

As far as I can tell, for the past couple years Aol's most noticeable income has come from selling or licensing their patents.
posted by ardgedee at 3:53 AM on April 30, 2013


From their last earnings report:

Revenue (in millions)
Advertising $ 410.6
Global Display 169.8
Search 103.6
AOL Properties 273.4
Third Party Network 137.2
Subscription 174.2
Other 14.7
Total revenues $ 599.5
posted by empath at 4:03 AM on April 30, 2013


To answer my own question:
Page 35 of Aol's 2012 Annual Report:

Revenues:
Advertising:  $1418.5 M
Subscription:  $705.3 M
Other:          $67.9 M

Total:        $2191.7 M


So, basically, 32% of AOL's income is from online subscriptions.

The "Key Metrics" note attached to "Subscription" says, "Average paid tenure represents the average period of time subscribers have paid for domestic AOL-brand internet access. The average paid tenure of hte remaining domestic AOL-brand access subscribers has been increasing, and was approximately..." well, the rest looks better in a chart:

2012: 11.8 years
2011: 10.6 years
2010: 9.1 years

If I had to guess, they're not retaining new subscribers for long, and since the average tenure is going up year-after-year, it means there's a direct correlation between how long somebody has been subscribing and how tenacious they are. Up until they die of old age, I suppose.

Keeping in mind that "subscribers" are not necessarily on dial-up: AOL's been comarketing broadband services too.
posted by ardgedee at 4:13 AM on April 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Fun fact that has even less to do with this thread than everything else I've typed in it is on page 24 of the 2012 Annual Report:

ITEM 4: MINE SAFETY DISCLOSURES: Not Applicable.
posted by ardgedee at 4:15 AM on April 30, 2013


I'm wondering if these subscribers are the tenacious XP/IE6 hangers on as well...
posted by Artw at 4:31 AM on April 30, 2013


I don't understand this move at all; if you're AoL, and you have this property that's making money and widely acknowledged to be best-of-breed (so that even if it weren't making money, there'd be a prestige argument for keeping it around). It just straight-up doesn't make sense to me.

I always had kind of an uneasy mental relationship with CA- they had such talented people, and were obviously better than most of the rest of the comics-blogging world... but even with that, a big chunk of their content was just olé coverage of Marvel/DC news. But maybe that's the game you have to play.

Still, there's a void to fill, Mefi Comics Peoples. Start typing! I've been hitting the sad wall of 'Only SEO Search Bots Read My Blog' which has sapped my enthusiasm but would happily bring my future reboots/what-ifs over to a new site. More people, more content, more awesome, more eyeballs.

Temmmmmmmmmmpting.
posted by COBRA! at 4:47 AM on April 30, 2013


A couple more notes and I swear I'm letting this go:

To give some context to the subscriber revenue numbers, actual income from subscribers and number of subscribers has been dropping significantly every year: There are 15% fewer subscribers between 2011-12, and some percentage of that $705.3 million dollars has nothing to do with the subscriber base: For example, a few million of it come from selling off access services in Germany.

The hard numbers are on page 38 of the annual report: 2.8 million paying subscribers at the end of 2012. Types of technology for subscriptions is not mentioned, so I have to assume this includes broadband as well as dial-up.

At the same time, Aol's ad revenue has been going up year after year -- in 2012, $351 million (exactly half as much as AOL made through subscriber revenue) of it just from Google text ads and affiliate searches. Given this comes a lot closer to pure profit than maintaining dial-up systems and tech support, it it becomes easier to believe that AOL's subscriber base is declining and aging mostly because it makes enough money to justify itself, but it would cost to much to try to enlarge through advertising and giveaways.

tl;dr: This doesn't really tell us how much of Aol's income come from people on dial-up modems -- at first blush, it looks like a third; in reality it's probably less than that, although still more than sounds healthy, and Aol seems content to let it die a slow death for as long as it continues to be profitable.
posted by ardgedee at 4:54 AM on April 30, 2013


I don't understand this move at all; if you're AoL, and you have this property that's making money and widely acknowledged to be best-of-breed (so that even if it weren't making money, there'd be a prestige argument for keeping it around). It just straight-up doesn't make sense to me.

Go to alexa and plug in engadget, joystiq, comics alliance and spinner in the page views chart.
posted by empath at 4:55 AM on April 30, 2013


Comics Alliance is up for an Eisner for Comics-Related Journalism, which makes this particularly maddening. You'd think AOL would have the good sense to attempt to sell this property instead of shutting it down completely.
posted by almostmanda at 4:58 AM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Temmmmmmmmmmpting.

Think of all the perks of being an ephemeral niche minor celebrity! Literally twos of people will quake at your every word!
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:01 AM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh crap I sure hope Funky Watch continues somewhere. I can only take the crushing malaise of Funky Winkerbean (and Crankshaft!) when is is being slightly diluted by Sims' analysis.
posted by joelhunt at 5:13 AM on April 30, 2013


My good friends at the Archive Team are trying to save sites from this as fast as possible -

Wouldn't normal popular websites be covered by the standard way back machine crawler?
posted by smackfu at 5:18 AM on April 30, 2013


Chris Sims has also done some writing at Wired.
posted by Legomancer at 5:31 AM on April 30, 2013


It's also worth pointing out the shitty way this happened. There seems to have been little to no warning and AOL didn't even let them do a "farewell" message. The site just stopped and you had to find out about its fate elsewhere. Whatever AOL's reasons for shutting the site, they could have done SOMETHING other than "Eh, tired of this. Putting a padlock on the door."

I'm sure this inspires confidence for both creators and readers at AOL's other sites. "Oh, this place could just cease to exist without warning some day? I'm definitely invested in that!"

It's a stupid, shitty, and short-sighted way to do business but hey, that's American capitalism for you.
posted by Legomancer at 6:17 AM on April 30, 2013


The "checks" section of next weeks WRA will be interesting, that's for sure.
posted by Artw at 6:24 AM on April 30, 2013


Surely the Gawker Media Empire could absorb the CA folks into their organization? I feel less bad about it now that they seem to be not entirely awful, and at the very least io9's coverage needs more comix.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:32 AM on April 30, 2013


WRA co-host Matt Wilson was supposed to cover the Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo for CA, and the show notes for this episode say we're going to hear about his trip next week, so...I guess he still went, even though the site was locked up before they could post any of his stuff? That's going to be a fun segment.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 6:41 AM on April 30, 2013


That's really too bad; I resisted CA - primarily Sims, whose comics really aren't my thing and whose persona sometimes rubs me the wrong way - for a long time, but when he isn't doing the Hey Folks Comics Are ZANY! AWESOME!, he's an incredibly skilled and thoughtful writer. David Brothers is just fantastic. I'm sure they'll go onto much better things.

Still, there's a void to fill, Mefi Comics Peoples. Start typing!

I started blogging about comics again last year, but after two months of posting scans of Alex Nino pages, realized I hadn't actually read any comics in that time. One thing I'd love to read or hear is a comics bookclub/roundtable hosted by MeFites. Something monthly or biweekly.

Get on it, people!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 7:12 AM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have spoken at length on my impressions of the Marvel Unlimited subscription app. I have spoken these words into a paper bag that I have mailed via the round postal bins located at the corner of almost every street. I have yet to see any reviews on iTunes. Apple, what am I doing wrong?
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:42 AM on April 30, 2013


Image Comics: Farewell, Comics Alliance.
posted by Artw at 8:24 AM on April 30, 2013


More rumblings in the comics blogosphere: Valerie Gallaher leaves MTV Geek
posted by Artw at 9:20 AM on April 30, 2013


One last hurrah, I guess: Laura Hudson and David Wolkin will finish their review of Batman: Oddysey.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 10:50 AM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Chris Sims: CA RIP
posted by Artw at 11:34 AM on April 30, 2013


Additional hurrahs: Ziah Grace and Dylan Todd review Valiant Comics' first year.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:21 PM on April 30, 2013


In other AOL news: CIA’s New Tech Chief Hails From AOL (But Don’t Hold That Against Her)
posted by homunculus at 5:12 PM on April 30, 2013


Hitler Learns Comics Alliance Was Shut Down
posted by homunculus at 7:20 PM on April 30, 2013


It's been a rough week for pop-cultural criticism, with a bunch of talented folks leaving the AV Club as well.

I'm in for a comics book club. I've recently been catching up with my 2000's era superhero books to leaven my usual digest of twee arty nonsense.
posted by whir at 8:16 PM on April 30, 2013


OMG. Yes. Comic Book Club.
posted by KingEdRa at 11:11 PM on April 30, 2013


Comic Book Media Past, Present, and Future
posted by Artw at 10:55 AM on May 1, 2013


Comics Press: Who’s next?

Great peice by Comics Beat.

So what’s left: the content and the people. Despite other reports that CA had four employees, there were three: eic Joe Hughes, and senior editors Andy Khouri and Caleb Goellner. Khouri confirmed that all three are still employed by AOL for a while, and even have options within the company.

Meanwhile, though CA alum have been approached by entities inside and outside comics to “keep the band together,” Khouri says but no decisions will be made for a while. The editorial team member have also been offered various individual efforts which they may be pursuing. “Staying together is not necessarily the immediate goal,” he told The Beat.


Interesting.
posted by Artw at 6:33 AM on May 2, 2013


I didn't realize Chris Sims denialism was a thing. Strange world.

(Speaking of which, FunkyWatch!)
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 6:46 AM on May 2, 2013


Chris Sims now reduced to writing for cracked.com.
posted by Artw at 12:19 PM on May 11, 2013


So.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 7:35 AM on May 20, 2013 [7 favorites]


Not dead yet!
posted by KingEdRa at 9:16 AM on May 20, 2013


Hmm...
posted by Artw at 9:58 AM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Autoplaying audio on that last link.
posted by JHarris at 10:44 AM on May 22, 2013


Not on Firefox, oddly.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:06 PM on May 22, 2013


In other news: Man Finds Most Valuable Comic Book of All Time Hidden Inside His House
posted by homunculus at 7:00 PM on May 22, 2013


This is the point where "cryptic hints" overlap with "just screwing with our heads."
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:25 AM on May 28, 2013


HZSF, it's there, and on Firefox too, it takes a while to get started though and it's quiet at first when it does, but I can confirm the audio and that it's that page, it dies suddenly when the page is closed.
posted by JHarris at 2:48 PM on May 29, 2013


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