The Webcomicker

Who watches the watchmen?

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

On the correction of false assumptions.

Apparently, I think too highly of people.

This is not to say that my positive outlook on like has been smashed by a cruel and uncaring world. No, what I'm referring to here is my misconceptions on the apparent popularity of any given webcomic. It seems that my previously held assumptions about the popularity of a webcomic were somewhat misguided, as evidenced by the systematic demolition of said assumptions.

I guess I just kind of assumed that any webcomic which was well made and was a member of a high profile collective such as Keenspot, Dayfree Press, or Blank Label Comics, definitely had readers numbering in the tens of thousands, and probably over the 100,000 mark. In fact, at one point in time I told a friend of mine that the minimum number of readers required for entry into Blank Label Comics was 100,000. And based on what I've been reading, that's quite simply not the case.

Kris Straub mentioned on Starslip Crisis (at least, I think it was on Starslip Crisis. If so, it's not there anymore) about false assumptions of webcomic's popularities being the death of a webcomic. And I know just what he's talking about. When you assume a webcomic is really popular, you assume everyone's heard of it, so you don't need to mention it. You assume that some "other people over there" are doing all the talking and spreading of webcomic goodness, and that you really don't have to do anything but sit back and enjoy the ride.

But the fact is, it seems, that most webcomics, even GOOD ones, don't have a heck of a lot of readers. And the problem, I think, is that most of the readers don't realize how few compatriots they really have. So they don't really do anything to promote the strip. And then the webcomic creator wonders why none of his few fans are ever mentioning the comic to their friends, sharing funny moments, putting the strip's characters in their signatures or whatnot else. And I think the problem is not that the readers aren't interested in sharing, but that the reader's just don't think they need to. So that's a mentality that we've got to break, folks.

Now, HOW do we break it? There's there's the rub. And I think it's just going to take more education of the readers. So, just as my small contribution, I've started a page over at the WebcomicsWiki (I just can't call it Comixpedia. It's too easy to confuse it with the other Comixpedia that way) for a list of creators who make their living off their webcomic. I included in the list all the creators that I know for sure make their living off their comic, and I'd be delighted if more people went and added the creators they knew of to the list as well. I think this would be a good way for people to get an understanding of what's big in webcomics.

Now, what would be better than this would be a page which tracked the number of readers that each individual webcomic has (you just can't count on Alexa ratings). But I don't suppose that will be happening any time soon. So this is the best I can offer right now.


At 5:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If I may ask, what caused this realization? That is, what in particular?

At 7:30 PM, Anonymous Philippe Gaboury said...

I don't know how a list like that one can make thing better for creators who don't have a lot of readership. It can be nice to know that some people out there make a living off their comics as a kind of inspiration to wealth but it doesn't do much for the rest of us. We need something more!

There are options such as the Webcomic List that allow artists to pool their readers together to achieve some visibility. Dave Sherill of A Cultural Void managed to get up to number 72 in a few weeks by getting people to vote through his LiveJournal. It all seems well and nice until you realise that this publicity only reaches people who currently read comics.

Like you stated in a previous post, we need to step outside these boundaries we call our circle of friends and reach out to the rest of the world. But can this be done? I feel we need to pool our ressources together as comic creators to increase our visibility. I propose that we start a union of artists. A banner under which everyone (anyone) can regroup and share. There are hundreds of small-time creators out there. By pooling our ressources it could be possible to buy advertising on national TV on in papers around the world. People would follow a link to our union's website where one member's comic would be shown at random. Perhaps there's an organization out there who already does so but I never heard of them and that's not a good sign.

I can't pull this off alone but I'm willing to move forward with it with your help and your readers.
Last I checked, there were a few pretty good domain names available for that purpose.

Who's in?

At 10:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm gonna stop my lurking for a moment:

What you're suggesting seems to me to be a large-scale collective. which is a decent idea, but it has a couple of problems.

The idea of a large group pooling their resources together to try and get some mainstream exposure was discussed over at Comixpedia.COM many moons ago, but the cost or "real world" advertising was rediculous. It was figured that the only people who could afford it, didnt need it. So you're stuck trying to promote webcomics to other webcomic fans, effectively.

If you take a look at something like, portal sites have the problem that there more items there are, the more something is going to get lost in the crowd. It works for something like Bank Label because it's on a small scale. Keenspot is just on the edge of being unweildy, and ComicGenesis.... forget it.

If you can figure out these problems, I think it's a good idea

At 1:15 PM, Anonymous Philippe Gaboury said...

Real world advertising costs too much.
That's true for any individual artist. I don't think there's anyone who can afford to buy some of it by themselves. But I look at some webcomic list with members in the thousands. Say we get 2 000 members to give out 20$, that's 40 000$ that can be invested in reaching out to the real world. I do not propose a campaign advertising such and such comic, just something saying: "Hello, we're out there waiting for you!" I believe that with the pooled monetary and human ressources we can come up with we could score big. Just imagine if 2 000 members decided to use the exact same signature in forum posts or emails saying "We're out there!". We could reach millions in a matter of days. I'd even go so far as hacking my work signature for the cause.

Portal are unwieldly
Absolutely true again. I'd change this by changing up the formula. If you hit up the union's website as I envision it, you wouldn't get a huge list of links, you'd get a top frame saying: "You're out there with us now, why don't you stick around?" and a bottom frame displaying one member's page at random. That means you get a comic straight away. No fooling around. In the top frame there'd be a link to one of those unwieldly indexes and another link to another random comic which would appear in the bottom frame again.
I remember spending lots of time browsing random pages thanks to a link on a search engine specialising in Quebec sites. We could do the same for comics.

Also, most portals do not serve the same purpose as the union would. Portals offer up cheap or free hosting. It would have to be clear that the union's mission isn't to advertise any single comic but rather the webcomics world at large. All of the members money should go towards advertising so we should need a huge hosting package. I'm sure maintaining Keenspot costs a lot of money. One simple site, not expensive means more money to increase exposure.

Let's keep our 2000 creators example. With a website costing 10$ a month to host, that would mean that 19.94$ out of your 20$ goes directly to advertising.

Creators will get lost in the crowd
Absolutely true again but the point is to point out the crowd to all of those who had not noticed it yet, not individuals. Individual readership would not go up on a short-term basis but worldwide readership would and with that, the potential market for everyone.

The union I propose is about selflessness. It's about working for the community so that we may all grow together.

I've always been one to sacrifice a bit of efforts for others and this seems like a mighty good cause to me.

At 2:37 PM, Blogger Gilead Pellaeon said...

In regards to the list of creators who make a living not being terribly helpful, this I already know. However, it is useful to determine where we stand before we attempt to move forward. We need to know who's making it. Who's been a real winner and could be a useful resource. Who's "broken the glass ceiling" so to speak.

You know what I think would really do the most to spread webcomics to the real world? Printed digests. I think the collectives need to start printing a monthly magazine full of the comics of their creators, with additional bonus stuff if possible. These digests can be produced by a service such as Lulu, I've seen it done.

Initially the digests could go out to subscribers only, and then from there they could try to sell them to comic book shops, take them to cons, etc etc etc. If the digest clearly leads the reader online, and if the subscribers leave their digests out on their coffee tables for people to find and whatnot, then I think we'd see a huge growth.

I've had some friends pick up webcomics just because I left print collections in my bathroom as reading material. And if there were more print collections available, I think the spread could happen that much more quickly.

At 3:50 PM, Anonymous Philippe Gaboury said...

Check out Zoinks Magazine, a bi-monthly newspaper about webcomics. It's been out there a while without much impact I'm afraid. I guess there's just too much blah-blah and not enough comic going on in there.

That said, I do have a subscription.

At 12:20 AM, Blogger Gilead Pellaeon said...

I'd never heard of Zoinks before, but it looks like I'm going to have to subscribe to it...

At 8:49 AM, Blogger Mark Mekkes said...

A couple of points to add to this

1) Of that handful, how many are really making a living off their comic vs. supplimenting their income by other webcomic ventures (For example, is Chris Crosby surviving on "Superosity" or "Keenspot")

2) Define "surviving". Even though these people don't have another job doesn't mean they're rolling in money either. Hell, I could "survive" on my comic as long as I gave up food and shelter. If these "giants" of our industry are surviving on mac and cheese, it's still pretty sad to see where webcomics stand in the overall scheme of things.

At 2:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Say we get 2 000 members to give out 20$, that's 40 000$


Let's keep our 2000 creators example. With a website costing 10$ a month to host, that would mean that 19.94$ out of your 20$ goes directly to advertising.

You'd have to hire someone to manage the money as well. And act as an agent. And pay for the bandwidth/ hosting with that money... And even with a random link with each pageview, there's a a pretty god chance you wont get enough visitors to ensure that the 2000 get at least a few hits.

Also, $40, 000 is a day or two in a national newspaper. Maybe a month on a local TV channel. Even B grade Hollywood movies have to spend millions to get their name out there.

Now, $40,000 may get more than a few impressions at, or even slash/dot which would be a better way to spend money. You'd have web-saavy folks who arent the typical gamer/ manga fan who reads now.

Still, gotta figure out a way to get everyone their link time. Random image display on the sites of the members, perhaps?

At 2:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Problems with printed digests are in dsitribution. How do you get them out, and to whome do you send them?

The direct market has a lot of limitations, and Diamond may not even advertise this digest.

Magazine distributors probably wouldn carry it unless it was dome in a magazine format. And that doesnt guarrantee the the store owners will order it to place on the racks next to things they know will sell like Playboy.

There's always the grocery store or Walmart, but they place limits on content they'll allow in. The digest would have to be censored.

At 3:20 PM, Anonymous Philippe Gaboury said...

I was thinking of web-based publicity as well. We're running on a global media so we might as well run ads on a global media. That 40 000$ can buy us plenty of advertising online. Slashdot is a great example. I'd try for A survey among members would be a great way of figuring out where the money should go.

The rest is about selflessness. Hiring a manager can be circumvented with someone out of the bunch volunteering. I'm studying management at the moment. I'd volunteer. Bandwith shouldn't be a problem either if all we're running is text. Most of the bandwidth would come from the framed comics pages. That would keep hosting costs low. Biggest problem I see is finding someone to program the whole thing. But even then, seeing as a lot of the webcomics community is made up of techgeeks that should be doable.

And once again, it's not about individual hits. It's about the community reaching outside its boundaries. As I've stated before, your hits may only rise by 10 but multiplied by 2000 and that's 20 000 new readers for you to reach out to.

Once someone comes into this community, they'll find the rich world of which I knew nothing just a few months ago myself. I'm hoping a few will stay.

At 3:39 PM, Blogger Mark Mekkes said...

The other challenge to all of this is finding 2000 quality comics that you want your work associated with. If it's an "open call" type of community the odds are that you're going to have a fair percent of comics that aren't going to generate public interest because of a lack of quality.

So, is it worth contributing $20 to a site that is going to be scaring away viewers half of the time? Isn't that part of the problem with Comic Genesis? The great strips there are so buried in not-so-great strips that it's meaningless to boast about being a "Comic Genesis Comic".

It would have to have some kind of editorial control in order to insure "quality", and 2000 creators who share the editor's taste. (I'm not trying to shoot down any ideas, just trouble shooting/brain storming)

At 4:02 PM, Anonymous Philippe Gaboury said...

This whole thing is about brain storming. As I've said before, I'm relatively new to the webcomics world so if anything's been debated and shot down before, let me know.

Now, I thought about this editorial stuff and herein lies a huge potential problem. It is true that I may not want my comic associated with a lot of what's out there. I see two ways of going about it: 1- Run a survey with members and pick out a top 100 to represent the community as a whole. 2- Screw that and just let everyone get their fair share. Whether or not they scare away people.

I would tend towards number 2 myself and just make "It's free so give it another try" part of our ads. There is no accounting for taste and anything elitist displeases me. But I'd leave it up to the community to decide. If we can figure out an easy polling method, this thing would manage itself.

What concerns me most content-wise is the offensive nature of some comics out there. I really like what Robin Bougie puts out most of the time but I can see how people could find it offensive. Some comics I wish I had not previewed at work...

To settle that, I propose to use cookies. Let people decide when they first come on the site what, if anything, they wish to avoid and serve pages up with those preferences in mind. Again, a programming problem more than anything else.

Anyone know a cool programmer? Gilead? Anybody?

At 5:41 AM, Blogger Gilead Pellaeon said...

I do have a great deal of programming skills, but they're more on the application level than the widescale networking level. Still, that's not a bad idea. I still think that no webcomic collective or grouping yet has done a good job of creating a sense of cohesion and really mutually shared energy, although Blank Label Comics has come CLOSE.

Getting back to the idea of a print "magazine", in response ot William G's rebuttal, obviously you've got to know your demographic. You can't expect to go out and sell this at a newsstand. In my opinion, you've got to hype it up to comic book stores. Webcomics first have to spread throughout the world of comic book fandom, and really get that fanbase working for us. It's a larger base than most people think. Then the next logical step in my opinion is to hit major college campuses. Find people on campuses who will stock a few stands every week and really try to spread something among college students. And from there we move out into the general public.

At 7:29 AM, Anonymous Philippe Gaboury said...

And then... THE WORLD!!!


Sorry, couldn't help myself...

At 2:31 AM, Blogger Kristofer Straub said...

Thanks for taking what I said the right way. Some people thought I was whining that I didn't have enough readers. (I think any webcartoonist would say that they don't have enough readers, but I meant that webcomics can have deceptively small audiences, and it makes people complacent -- "aw, he's doing fine, he probably has 50,000 readers." 10,000 is a rarity. 2,000-3,000 is more like the "I've heard of that strip!" average.)


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