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 canâ€™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 donâ€™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 hereâ€™s where we may need your help the most. Without knowing about the existence of a webcomic, thereâ€™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 weâ€™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:
1 Penny Arcade
2 8 Bit Theatre
3 User Friendly
4 Sluggy Freelance
5 Player Versus Player
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."