Most Read: Final Version

Back in 2003-2004, ComixTALK ran a series of articles under the banner of “Most Read” trying to work through how to measure the respective audience shares of various webcomics.  More recently, T Campbell borrowed the idea to generate a list of such webcomics for the former version of

I’ve pulled together one more Most Read list, this time relying fairly heavily on Project Wonderful data.  Mostly though I went to the trouble of compiling this to point out how someone else could do a better job of it in the future.

I’ve always thought there was a better way to do this – some sort of clearing house of server data (or verifiable third party data).  I don’t think at this point I’m going to create such a service (or pay someone to code it).  It would be pretty straightforward to do this though — essentially you’d want to create a database where each comic would be given an account and associated with each comic you’d include some basic information about it and then identify the software package/third party service you’re obtaining the data from.  Then for each statistics source you would need to write the appropriate “scraper” code to go out and collect information on a regular basis.  After that you’d just need to write a little PHP (or your language of choice) to pull data per time periods and present it in a nice format onscreen.  If someone did this they would probably be able to continue to tweak how the data is presented to balance out any idiosyncracies between the different data sources.

One great source of such data would have to Project Wonderful which does present all of the data it accumulates from serving ads.  Although not as elegant as the automated system I describe above, one can easily do a quick and dirty search of sites on Project Wonderful to get a rough estimate of not only the order of comics’ readership but some actual numbers of readers (one of the flaws, among others, of using sites like Alexa and Compete). This weekend, I pulled the average uniques for the last 15 days from Project Wonderful and compiled the following list of webcomics:

  1. Questionable Content
  2. Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal
  3. Sinfest
  4. Adventures of Dr. McNinja
  5. Girl Genius
  6. PvP
  7. Something Positive
  8. Dinosaur Comics
  9. Misfile
  10. Sluggy Freelance
  11. Softer World
  12. Phoenix Requiem
  13. Menage a 3
  14. Shortpacked!
  15. Fanboys
  16. El Goonish Shive
  17. Diesel Sweeties
  18. Devil’s Panties
  19. Day By Day
  20. Scary Go Round
  21. Three Panel Soul
  22. Garfield Minus Garfield
  23. The Noob
  24. Wapsi Square
  25. Girls With Slingshots

I think tracking uniques (as opposed to visits or pageviews) is probably the closest data point to “readers”, however imperfect it is in reality.  Project Wonderful data is complicated by the fact that some sites show the ad on all the pages on a single site, some on only some of the pages and others show the ad on multiple sites.  Still it’s a verifiable source based on actual displays of the ad on the site (as opposed to the browser-bar approach of Alexa and Compete)

Looking only at Project Wonderful data, of course, leaves out several webcomics that are probably going to rank highly on any complete “most read” list.  That unfortunately does leave us back in the land of Alexa as the only publicly available source to sort out the audience sizes for these webcomics. (I used to look at, but it in its current incarnation I think it’s usefulness is diminished.  I note that T Campbell also used but it doesn’t seem to have a very large data sample to work with.  It also uses a very similar approach to Alexa, with again a smaller data set.  Whatever flaws come with the Alexa approach it seems are only magnified by Compete.)

Just taking the last list compiled by T Campbell, Alexa seems to sort out a list (using the 7 day measure of “rank”) as follows:

  1. Cyanide and Happiness
  2. Penny Arcade
  3. xkcd
  4. Ctrl+Alt+Del
  5. Looking For Group
  6. VG Cats

VG Cats has a comparable Alexa rank to Questionable Content (the top of our Project Wonderful-generated list) so we can have some confidence in putting these 6 comics at the start of our more complete (if probably less accurate) list.

The attempt to sort out webcomics by website breakdowns very quickly though.  The URL hosts two popular comics: The Order of the Stick and Erfworld.  The Alexa rank of the domain is higher than VG Cats and Questionable Content but what does that mean in terms of readership of the two comics?  Without more data that’s unanswerable.

UPDATE:  I should have been clearer here that almost certainly both The Order of the Stick and Erfworld are on the list somewhere.  I’ve emailed back and forth with Rob Balder of Erfworld and Rich Burlew of The Order of the Stick and they state that based on their server stats that Erfworld has approximately 65% of the audience that The Order of the Stick has.  Another way to put it is that about 65% of The Order of the Stick readers also read Erfworld.  That would put The Order of the Stick between the #5 and #6 spots and Erfworld between the # 8 and #9 spots.  I’ve updated the list to reflect this (I haven’t renumbered it though).

But since this is the last one* let’s do our best to slot in webcomics without Project Wonderful data into the list using comparative Alexa ranks.  I’m not bothering with The Perry Bible Fellowship because it’s not updating (add it in yourself if you feel compelled to include it) and I’m not adding Garfield, Dilbert or any other primarily newspaper comic.  One, they are hard to sort because they appear on various URLs and two, it seems odd to measure their “web” numbers while ignoring their daily audience in print.

  1. Cyanide and Happiness
  2. Penny Arcade
  3. xkcd
  4. Ctrl+Alt+Del
  5. Looking For Group
    The Order of the Stick
  6. VG Cats
  7. Questionable Content
  8. Least I Could Do
  9. Megatokyo
  10. Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal
  11. Nuklear Power
  12. Sinfest
  13. Dominic Deegan
  14. Adventures of Dr. McNinja
  15. Girl Genius
  16. PvP
  17. Something Positive
  18. Dinosaur Comics
  19. Misfile
  20. Sluggy Freelance
  21. Softer World
  22. Phoenix Requiem
  23. Menage a 3
  24. Shortpacked!
  25. Fanboys

Is it accurate?  No more or less than any other time we’ve run this list.  While the order may be imprecise, these 25 webcomics certainly have large readerships.  It is possible that there are other comics (especially ones that just haven’t had a lot of interaction with other webcomics and therefore might be unknown in a narrow sense) that would bump any number of these down the list, but I think it would be highly unlikely to find as many as 25 new comics to bump all of these down the list.  On the other hand I would also be surprised if there weren’t around five or more comics (both known and unknown) that would claim spots on the list if we had better data on them.

Xaviar Xerexes

Wandering webcomic ronin. Created Comixpedia (2002-2005) and ComixTalk (2006-2012; 2016-?). Made a lot of unfinished comics and novels.

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