So, Kate Beaton has a marvelous online comic called “Hark! A Vagrant”. Beaton’s comics largely manipulate and parody historical events and figures (note the colorful depiction of Queen Elizabeth below, which will also link you to Beaton’s site), literature, etc. The content on her site is free, and yet she keeps producing content, consistently quality content. Her works are funded by book sales (a combination of new works and reprints from her website), calendars, other merchandise (t-shirts, mugs, bags, etc) bearing her prints, and donations from fans.
This brings to mind animator Nina Paley’s argument that the more shared something is, the large the demand becomes. Beaton’s works became widely shared which made her, in turn, a profitable entity. This demand prompted the publication of two books (“Hark! A Vagrant” and “Never Learn Anything From History”), as well as allowed her to expand as an artist. Recently, according to her website, she had been commissioned to illustrate a children’s book and likely has more work on the back burner. I think this is one of many excellent cases in support of the potential profitability of free distribution and content sharing.