28 Ways to Make Money Creating Cartoons
Let's explore the various methods of using animation to make money, a few I'm sure you expect and perhaps a couple you haven't yet considered. How long does it take to earn a living making cartoons?
This article is targeting independent artists. Of course you can join an animation studio and earn a living that way, but we're more interested in starting from scratch in your basement and building your own audience. This article assumes that you release your cartoons on a regular basis on a website that you own, slowly building your fan base (or very very fast if you're JibJab and it's an election year).
The amount of time listed for each item is my estimate for how long you will have to work on your cartoons before that particular item will earn you $1000 a month. $12,000 a year is not especially a living wage, I realize, but it's a nice round number that will help you appropriately gauge the amount of effort required.
The easiest and most straight-forward way of earning money is to allow advertisers the ability to place ads on your website. The downside of advertising is how popular you need to be in order to make a living off of it, taking at least three years to become truly viable.
Adsense(Beginner, 36 months, Sign Up for Adsense)
Google's flagship breadwinner is familiar to most people, and quite easy to install. Beginning sites often draw 100% of their revenue from Adsense, and there's nothing wrong with that at first. Once you start to build an audience (likely after a year) it would be wise to branch out into other money making options.
AdBrite(Beginner, 42 months, Sign Up for AdBrite)
AdBrite takes its cue from Adsense in many respects. You register on the site and are given code to add to your website which will in turn display their ads. Where AdBrite differs from Adsense is that you, as the advertiser, can set the price of the ad space that you're selling. This is a great idea and it can work, however you really need to have the traffic to back it up in order to make money with this advertising system.
Project Wonderful(Beginner, 42 months Sign Up for Project Wonderful)
The creatively named Project Wonderful was created with the small media developer in mind. Web comics and animated sites seem to be performing the best. They use an auction model to create a solid supply/demand ad system. Once you sign up and place their code on your site visitors will see what it would cost to display an ad. Pay more than the lowest priced ad and yours will be displayed.
Alert:Text Link Ads
The initial draft of this article included Text Link Ads as a prominent advertising source. However in recent days Google has begun banning sites that use this service. Apparently Google sees this site as an improper pay-to-increase-page-ranking service. I advise avoiding it altogether until this is all sorted out.
There are programs that can be easily added to your website that will pay you if a visitor performs a specific action. For example, if a visitor clicks on an ad and then purchases a product you would earn a percentage of that sale. Unless you find a specific affiliate program that is too perfect to pass up I recommend waiting until you've built some decent traffic before expecting these ads to perform well and reliably earn income. Affiliate marketing sites are generally more complicated to setup than advertising sites though, so they are generally listed as intermediate level programs. The following affiliate programs each offer hundreds of merchants to wade through. It helps if you have an idea of what you're after before starting the search, or you may quickly find yourself overwhelmed.
Commission Junction(Intermediate, 60 months, Sign Up for Commission Junction)
One of the oldest affiliate marketing programs available is Commission Junction. You can apply for many different programs, hopefully finding one or two that will suit your site the best. I would love to give Commission Junction a more glowing review, but their user interface can be daunting to the uninitiated. Their tagline should be "Less is not more. More is clearly more."
ClixGalore.com(Intermediate, 60 months, Sign Up for ClixGalore.com)
ShareaSale.com(Intermediate, 60 months, Sign Up for ShareaSale.com)
ShareaSale.com is one of the newest affiliate marketers and they have done a solid job than their competitors of organizing their site. Also, it doesn't look like it was designed by a 4 year old, so they've got that going for them.
Google Referral(Beginner, 60 months, Sign Up for Google Referral)
Google referral is packaged within their Adsense site, but still offers a deep advertising opportunity just like Commission Junction or the other affiliate marketing programs. Click on AdSense Setup > Referrals, and you'll be presented with many marketing companies that are vying for a spot on your website. Be sure to pick the most appropriate products.
Amazon(Intermediate, 42 months, Sign Up for Amazon)
A common advertiser on the internet today, Amazon.com has done a great job of expanding from their initial "online bookstore" premise. They have many products from many sources, and will offer a 4 - 10% commission on referred purchases. It takes a lot of traffic to make this a worthwhile endeavor, but is certainly attainable.
Technically a part of the affiliate programs, t-shirts are specifically called out because animation and t-shirts share a very similar audience. They are also some of the most popular programs available. It helps that they're just plain fun to look at.
Busted Tees(Beginner, 60 months, Sign Up for Busted Tees [via Commission Junction])
Busted Tees is great at having extremely topical products, as this "Don't tase me, bro!" shirt shows. That happened only a couple of weeks ago. Busted Tees is also a good source for movie or TV show t-shirts, such as SuperBad and the Office.
Nerdy Shirts(Beginner, 60 months, Sign Up for Nerdy Shirts [via ShareaSale.com])
As the name implies, Nerdy Shirts has a more geeky bent to it. They specialize in video game and technology related t-shirts and accessories. Pick out a shirt or two that matches your site and you can link to them directly, which will increase the selling rate.
Snorg Tees(Beginner, 60 months, Sign Up for Snorg Tees [via ShareaSale.com])
The most unusual t-shirts of the bunch, Snorg Tees does everything it can to differentiate themselves from other t-shirt shops by targeting the odder sides of life. Most have a retro feel to them, and that can play well on the internet.
Thinkgeek(Beginner, 60 months, Sign Up for Thinkgeek [via Commission Junction])
Thinkgeek is a great source for gaming/geeky/coding t-shirts, in addition to lots of excellent office toys. Considered the premier store to buy swag, Thinkgeek is ideal for anybody with multiple computers (most of us, I believe).
Selling products for other companies is all fine and good, but what about selling your own t-shirts and merchandise? You'll have more creative freedom as well as pricing options. Plus, the first time you see somebody wearing a t-shirt with your logo on it feels pretty amazing.
Cafe Press(Beginner, 42 months)
Cafe Press is very easy to use, but the quality of their products suffers as a result. Their method of slapping a label with your logo or character on it and then shipping it out often feels cheap, compared with their competitors. What you gain in convenience you lose in quality.
Spreadshirt.com(Intermediate, 36 months, Sign Up for Spreadshirt.com)
Creating a Spreadshirt.com store to match the look and feel of your own site is a relatively simple process. There are many options in creating custom t-shirts and apparral that make the process slightly on the complicated side, hence the intermediate rating. They are also laking some basic tracking information. It would be nice to be able to send a custom thank you email to people who make a purchase from your store, but that is not possible.
Sell Artwork(Intermediate, 30 months)
An path that I truly respect is that of selling artwork. You could draw a character, or paint a background for a project and then sell it on eBay, or directly from your site with Paypal. If you create an animation that becomes popular, selling the background plates could become quite lucrative.
Animation Festivals(Intermediate, 36 months)
There are many kinds of animation festivals: online/offline, cash prizes/notoriety only, etc. Clearly for the purposes of this list you should care about the animation festivals that offer money for prizes. As I write this I'm not aware of a definitive list of what prizes are available for which festivals. If you know of such a list, please mention it in the comments. The following sites do offer a pretty up-to-date list of festivals, along with contact information:
Music Videos(Advanced, 24 months)
It's so easy to let music inspire your thoughts. No doubt you've considered creating a music video. I think you'll be surprised how possible this is. If you have a great idea, go to the band's website and contact them (or their manager) and send them a brief message to pique their interest:
My name is [NAME] and I'm an animator at [WEBSITE]. I really enjoy the song [SONG NAME] by [BAND NAME] and I was wondering if I could animate a music video for it.
I've had some success on the internet with the following cartoons:
[LIST 3ish CARTOON URLs]
If interested, I would love to send more details.
You'll get back one of three responses:
- Yes! Please start now!
- Please tell us your idea
- No, thank you
Note that money was not mentioned in this email. You may have to do one or two for free and build your reputation first. Be sure to maintain a professional tone and they will respect you and your work.
Profit Sharing Sites
The following sites will share the advertising revenue of your work with you, exposing your cartoons to their huge audiences. It can be rewarding to witness a popular series grow from nothing.
Revver.com(Beginner, 36 months)
Previously mentioned in the 23 Ways to Show Off Your Cartoon article, Revver.com offers a shared percentage of advertising revenue with you, the creator. Easy to use and submit to, they are quickly becoming one of the premier outlets for content creators of all kinds.
Metacafe.com(Beginner, 36 months)
Another video submission site, Metacafe.com will offer a payout once your video reaches a certain number of views. The magic view number is pretty high, and requires that your animation reach a viral status to have a chance. That's not impossible, but it is something you need to plan for. Their audience seems to be more worldwide than Revver.com, which could work in their favor moving forward.
Create eCards(Intermediate, 18 months View eCard Creation Job Offer)
Electronic greeting cards are an intriguing option for animators. CreativeHeads.net occasionally offers such job opportunities, but you are not tied down to a desk. You have the creative freedom to explore messages and animation styles that interest you, and the general public will ultimately decide how much you will get paid. A key aspect of this option is to know your audience. Find out more about the demographic that would send an eCard and cater to those tastes if you want to find financial success in this market.
Sell Your Cartoon
Associated Content(Advanced, 24 months, Sign Up for Associated Content)
Associated Content is a database of syndicated content. Once you submit your animation to them a third party will select it to play and will then pay you for the privledge. Most content here is topical and recent, so be sure your cartoon fits that mold before submitting it.
iStockPhoto(Intermediate, 30 months, Sign Up for iStockPhoto)
Well known for selling stock photography, iStockPhoto recently branched out to include Flash cartoons in their content. The animations that do the best are typically more generic, appealing to a broader audience. The same cartoons that do well as eCards would likely do well here.
Wallop(Advanced, 48 months, Sign Up for Wallop)
Intended to be a social network with all kinds of bells and whistles, developers are making a name for themselves on Wallop. Once you submit your widget and proposed price other members of the community will be able to purchase them from you. An intriguing concept that could have legs in the coming years, Wallop could become a solid platform for your cartoons.
Make a Pitch
Have you considered making a formal pitch to the powers that be? Having complete control over an entire series should be appealing to most animators, and the following options will let you explore those power-hungry dreams.
Aniboom(Advanced, 12 months, Sign Aniboom your Pitch)
Aniboom is doing a good job of positioning themselves as a source of great animated content. Their current competition includes a chance at a $25,000 development deal for a series. If you have a multiple episode idea in your head, this could be your chance to finance it and get it completed.
Atom Films(Intermediate, 36 months, Send Atom Films your Pitch)
Certainly a part of the upper echelon, Atom Films wants you to make a pitch to them for a one-time episode or a series. Many great online shows have made serious names for themselves here, and there's no reason you can't be a part of that legacy.
Contact Niche Sites(Advanced, 12 months)
There are many sites that would love to feature your animations, they just don't know it yet. Are you a sports fanatic? Do you love video games? What if you created a cartoon that featured those topics and then offered it to ESPN.com or Joystiq.com? It would appeal to their large audiences, and could easily turn into its own series if it's well received. Be professional, persuasive and aggresive and they will listen to you.
Create Your Own Pay Per View Service(Advanced, 60 months)
The most daunting item on this list is possibly the most lucrative. Creating your own pay per view service to showcase your cartoons requires a slew of abilities, including coding, marketing and extensive knowledge about distribution. On top of all that, you need a substantial audience to maintain a high level of production.
It's conceivable that this could be the end goal for most small animation companies. After this the next natural step is syndication via more traditional markets (TV, DVD sales), at which point you are no longer a small company.
There are many ways to earn money by making cartoons, and this list is by no means complete. I hope you'll take this list and use it to conquer the world, and get your cartoons in front of as many eyeballs as possible.
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Calico Monkey discusses animation programs, cartoon software and the art of making your own cartoons. Occasionally I release a new cartoon that has inadvertently made somebody chuckle. Such an outburst is purely accidental, I assure you. All animations were created with Toon Boom.
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