Skip to main content

Measuring the Webcomic Audience

Let's cut to the chase. Quantity does not necessarily equal quality. Of course, it does not necessarily preclude quality, either. In fact, some might argue that 50,000,000 Elvis fans can’t be wrong. It's certainly a well-worn question in every medium of popular entertainment: "how'd you do last night, kid?"

In almost every other medium there's an established mechanism for counting the audience and providing information on what the audience is watching or buying or reading or clicking on. So why not a bestsellers' list for webcomics, an Arbitron system focused on our particular universe? Regardless of whether we love, like, hate, or are indifferent to the most popular webcomics being produced today, it is information that ought to be available to the interested members of the reading public. It could provide some clues as to where the online audience is today versus six months versus two years from now. It could help to keep score of the growth (or decline) of our overall webcomic reader audience.

Still, this is the Internet. What should we measure, and how do we do it? Let us admit right off the bat that it's probably a given that any effort by the Comixpedia cannot be perfect. This is not the New York Times Book Bestsellers List or the Billboard Music Charts. We do not have infinite resources, and even if we did, we don’t have a settled industry with neat and tidy sales and distribution models to monitor. We have webcomics published on websites. As anyone with a website who has tried to measure the number of visitors knows, you can count a number of things that your server does in response to folks browsing your website, but it is always an approximation when you try to turn that data into a number of visitors, or number of actual comics read each day. More dauntingly, we have an almost infinite number of webcomics from which to sample. We do not have (at present) an efficient way to compare and contrast the actual server logs of any webcomic, let alone all webcomics.

We also have vastly different business models, both those that publish comics for free and those that do so for subscriptions or other payment models. Because this exercise is geared towards examining which webcomics have the largest readership numbers, we would not make any consideration for free versus non-free pricing for the list. We are simply trying to determine which webcomics have the highest audience numbers within a given period of time.

How can one do this? Well, the Internet and the myriad of services it supports is both a curse and a blessing in such regards. It's a blessing because there are so many amazing software tools and webservices available or in development that it's almost inevitable you will eventually find exactly what you need. It's a curse because it's impossible to examine everything that's already out there, let alone in development, while racing to meet a deadline. So we took a shot at developing a list of the Most-Read Webcomics with the tools that we knew were available and had an opportunity to examine. We believe the list we generated with our "beta" methodology is reasonably accurate. We, however, are now waiting for you, the readers, to show us where we're wrong. In fact, we hope you will scrutinize this list, ask questions, offer criticism and suggestions and help us to determine a better way to count the audience for webcomics, or if such an exercise is useful at all.

Our "beta-test" approach consisted of looking to currently available web services such as Alexa and Traffic Rankings to compare and contrast audience shares for webcomics. Both of these services compare the relative audiences of literally millions of websites. We used their treatment of pages and visits to arrive at a composite ranking of webcomics for the two-week period ending this past Friday (May 2, 2003).

One way our list may be skewed has nothing to do with our test software, and here’s where we may need your help the most. Without knowing about the existence of a webcomic, there’s no guarantee we will know about said webcomic's popularity. In other words, there're a lot of webcomics out there, but we don't (can't) know of them all. We have compiled a list of forty webcomics we suspect currently have the largest audiences out there (we call this the "watchlist"). However, we need your help to make sure we’re not leaving out a webcomic with an audience that would be anywhere within spitting distance of those currently on our watchlist. We also need your help to look out for and point out webcomics as they continue to grow, to the point where they, too, should be considered a suitable candidate for the watchlist.

We provide today the compiled beta list that we'll call Edition 0.1. We really want your feedback in order to determine whether to make this a regular feature of the site and how we could improve any aspect of our beta effort today.

So, without further ado, here is our list for the most-read webcomics for May 5, 2003:

List 0.1
1 Penny Arcade
2 8 Bit Theatre
3 User Friendly
4 Sluggy Freelance
5 Player Versus Player
6 Megatokyo
7 Sinfest
8 GPF
9 Angst Technology
10 Real Life
11 Exploding Dog
12 RPG World
13 Mac Hall
14 Bob and George
15 Movie Comics

Below is the "Watchlist" that we used for this exercise. We apologize in advance if we left off webcomics that, upon hearing the name of them, will cause us to collectively smack our foreheads and bellow, "duh."

truenuff.com
acidreflux.com
errantstory.com
bobandgeorge.com
electriksushi.com
elflife.com
everythingjake.com
penny-arcade.com
pvponline.com
userfriendly.org
nuklearpower.com
megatokyo.com
sinfest.net
reallifecomics.com
Dieselsweeties.com
sluggy.com
Explodingdog.com
Machall.com
Inktank.com
Rpgworldcomic.com
Itswalky.com
Schlockmercenary.com
Crfh.net
Gpf-comics.com
Clanofthecats.com
Brunothebandit.com
Avalonhigh.com
Supercomics.com
Faans.com
Goats.com
Movie-comics.com
Ozyandmillie.org
Kevinandkell.com
Inniesandoutties.com
pnes.com
Tmcm.com
Zortic.com
Ashfieldonline.com
Unlikeminerva.com
Wigu.com

Re: Measuring the Webcomic Audience

233,133,... neat! The url to Alexa,.. since I had to search for it, is Alexa

Re: Measuring the Webcomic Audience

It's a cool idea, but the rankings seem whacked. If I go to Alexa and type in a couple of sites where I know the stats for the site (Keenspot stats are all related), there are some glaring errors.

Without going into too much painful detail, Alexa has me ranked higher than some sites which absolutely cream me.

Also, a comic on a site like moderntales, where everything is under one umbrella domain, is still impossible to measure, isn't it?

And I simply refuse to believe that ScaryGoRound isn't a lot higher than alexa says.

Re: Measuring the Webcomic Audience

Also, I happen to think that popularity, in webcomics, has hardly anything to do with quality.

But who cares - it's fun to see the arbitrary rankings anyway.

Re: Measuring the Webcomic Audience

yeah, i agree. It's not terribly useful, especially if not completely accurate, but fun to see!

Re: Measuring the Webcomic Audience

this is way cool, where'd i fit in and how can i make such a list for myself?

Re: Measuring the Webcomic Audience

Xaviar Xerexes's picture

You were actually just beneath the current list (not sure exactly what spot DS would have been) according to the way we added up the numbers. Alexa's numbers are available on their website : alexa.com and Traffic Ranking is at trafficranking.com (pretty sure of that last URL).

I run this place! Tip the piano player on the way out.

Re: Measuring the Webcomic Audience

SexyLosers would be a big absence from your "Watch List" Last I checked ( here ) it has 2,863,360 page views for April (and 559,351 visiters.)
Overall not really any surprises on the list as I glance over it. I'd really like to see how this is refined over time.

Re: Measuring the Webcomic Audience

Xaviar Xerexes's picture

smacks forehead. Duh!

I run this place! Tip the piano player on the way out.

Re: Measuring the Webcomic Audience

I'd actually like to see numbers on "Get Your War On" that would show why you consider it a biggie. While I find GYWO interesting I'm still not convinced that its more than hype. Actual numbers would probably do this though.

As for "Broken Saints" and CrossGen I'd like to see some numbers on these to show their 'biggie' status as well. "BrokenSaints" has 24 episodes and is more of a flash animation than a webcomic. And it shares with CrossGen a bandwidth intensity that I doubt works in its favor. Although CrossGen's effort is nowhere near as bandwidth intensive as "Broken Saints." Saints also takes a great amount of time to view (since it is more viewed than read I'd say this is an example of the web percieved as television)

I doubt whether CrossGen is getting large numbers. Lets take a look at their best selling comic book for march (data is available at http://www.icv2.com/articles/home/2669.html ) Soulus which comes in at 77 on the top 300 comic books with an estimated 27,008 books. By comparison SexyLosers, the most popular comic on Keenspace pulls in a daily average of 17614 visits for March. This is a weekly comic strip so thats something like 123,298 a visits a week. Even if some people make multiple visits in a week this is still a huge difference. I would be very surprised if CrossGen's online site brought them more readers than their store sales.

Not that I don't agree with you on how hard it is to evaluate how many people are reading webcomics and what those comics they're reading are.

I think I'm going to put my question in on the Pete Abrams question thread, I'd like to know what the stats on Sluggy are. Now that might help put things in perspective.

Re: Measuring the Webcomic Audience

An interesting article. I'd never heard of Alexa before this, either. It's a fun tool, although a quick "random" website I plugged in pulled lots of N/A's for its traffic.

Now to check out some comics in the "Top 40" that I've never heard of.....

Re: Acid Reflux

Xaviar Xerexes's picture

I think we actually did examine the right website (acidrefluxcomic.com), just a mistake in the text for the story. You are right though that it is not nearly as active as it once was.

I run this place! Tip the piano player on the way out.

Re: Measuring the Webcomic Audience

Heck, even with the software that's provided for my comic, *I* can't even find out how many visitors I get! (When you get more "unique sites" than you get "visits" you know there's a bug somewhere.) Of course, it's nice to know how many factors of ten I have to catch up...

Re: Measuring the Webcomic Audience

Perhaps somethingpositive.net might deserve a place on that list? It's growing rather big...

Re: Measuring the Webcomic Audience

I think it's safe to say that the Modern Tales comics will never have the biggest audience on the Web. Charging money cuts our readership down to a relatively small (but paying) group. My comic gets the most views on Modern Tales, and I ain't doing Scott Kurtz numbers here.

When I started my webcomic a few years ago, I worried constantly about how many hits I was getting, how I could get more hits, how my audience stacked up to everyone else's. Now I realize that this energy could have been channeled into drawing better comics. Ranking the most popular webcomics is fun and potentially useful, but I'd like to see more focus on good webcomics that aren't getting enough attention yet.

- Shaenon K. Garrity

Re: Measuring the Webcomic Audience

The sampling list of 40 seems pretty skimpy to me. It's definitely missing some biggies like "Get Your War On" and "Broken Saints". Also, really huge sites that feature webcomics like Salon, NeoPets, MoviePoopShoot, news sites with editorial cartoons, etc. aren't represented at all. But I don't know how you would determine what percent of the visitors to those sites actually go to the comics pages. It would also be interesting to see how the syndicated strips being republished on the web fare in the mix. The numbers on CrossGen would be worth throwing in for comparison too. Then there are the Toon-O-Rama strips, and similar ones whose codes are imbedded on numerous other sites to allow the strips to appear. Their readership can't really be determined by number of visits to the actual home website. Nor can strips that rely heavily on e-mail circulation.

Yup, measuring webcomic readership is pretty tricky business indeed.

Acid Reflux

A mistake to note in your list is that you checked acidreflux.com

The webcomic Acid Reflux is www.acidrefluxcomic.com

www.acidreflux.com is an ad website for the drug Nexium.

Of course, Acid Reflux still probably doesn't get that many hits due to not updating in about six months. Surf Rat and Spencer has updated more recently.

Re: Measuring the Webcomic Audience

"ADVENTURERS!" absent. blasphemy!

http://www.adventurers-comic.com/