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A Philosophical Discussion On Why You Do What You Do

A large component of Web 2.0 is user generated content and leveraging that material with some sort of revenue model. Digg, YouTube, Myspace… we all use them on a day-to-day basis, so their relevance is undeniable. But is this really a new concept? Webcomic artists have been doing this for nearly a decade, with the only difference being the "platform" wasn't some mega-site, but rather this thing called the Internet. Give yourself a pat on the back, because you've been ahead of the curve, creating digital content for the throngs of viewers/readers/listeners out there… but for what? Why do you do what you do?

Someone will set themselves on fire for the camera and upload it to YouTube. 200,000 views! 10 awards! 6 Favorites! Some other guy has 12,000 friends on Myspace – another metric of success! Being the most "connected" person in my firm, my colleagues will ask, "Sebs, why do these guys do this crap? They're giving it away for free, so it's obviously not for money." Well maybe it is and maybe it isn't. Creators may think of the promised land of some producer discovering them on the Internet to give them that big movie/TV/recording deal they've always dreamed of. I've been giving it some thought, and my hyper-scientific models (possibly misguided intuition) have determined less than 5% of user generated content is created with the purpose of "striking it rich."

Which brings us back to the world of Webcomics. It's user generated content. The majority of you aren't living off the proceeds, so you're pretty much giving it away for free. The question is, why? Assuming the same attitudes as other Web 2.0 categories apply, do only 5% of you do it for the possibility of fortune? Maybe you do it as a creative outlet? Perhaps you treat it as one would a Flickr account?

Or maybe… you do it for fame. Fame to your friends. Fame within your peer group. Fame within the community.

Before I delve into that, I want to share with you some pseudo-research I did last year. Over the past five months, whenever I would speak with a webcomic artist about something, I would ask an additional two questions: How big is your monthly audience and how many different webcomics do you read each week? I was pretty surprised at my findings:

It turns out the more successful you are, the more you don't really care about other Webcomics (assuming the number of webcomics you read in a week is correlated with how much you "care"). I will be the first to admit my sample size of 11 artists doesn't really qualify as statistically significant, but there is something to be said for the downward trend regardless.

So the bottom 80% represented in the graph -- why are you doing this? Why aren't you focusing more on getting readers instead of browsing through the archives of your competitor? Well, I don't think you see them as competitors for one. It seems to me you've started to create webcomics to be "famous" in this incredibly insular community (of which 99% read Comixpedia). Getting a small audience from this community is easy, and in my opinion, it's why you do it. It's your "15 minutes of fame," only in Webcomics, you are much less famous than the original saying intended and for a much longer period of time.


Big Picture

Although this discussion is micro in nature and may even seem trivial, it has significant macro implications. Barriers to entry to this small "industry" are extremely low, and in fact are in sync to how easy it is to be a voice in the space. There's still quite a bit of drama and discussion about each other (note the bottom 80% incestually reading each other) with few members taking real action in the outside world. What this says to me is that despite being around for ten years, the medium is still in its infancy.

I predict there will be some major changes in the next five that will likely do away with the motivations of the bottom 80%, carving the top 50% into three different success tiers. As opposed to infighting and talking about personalities and drama, the leaders will be mulling over technologies, platforms and integration. I see slivers of these discussions on Comixpedia now, but they're generally drowned out by the "who can write a longer response" contests that dominate the threads today.

In some ways I wish I wrote this article first to introduce the business advice, but I really didn't really have a true grasp of what the community was like until then. Yes, it's healthy to look at the internal strengths and weaknesses of you, your brand and your company, but don't forget about growth externally. Consider looking at not just your competitors but those that have different types of products, different methods of distribution and different ways of making money. Think of the key learnings from those industries you can apply to yours. There's a lot to learn out there, but you have to stop looking in the mirror before you realize those possibilities.

Good luck everyone.

Re: A Philosophical Discussion On Why You Do What You Do

Scientivore's picture

"I predict there will be some major changes in the next five that will likely do away with the motivations of the bottom 80%, carving the top 50% into three different success tiers."

The reasoning behind that prediction is not terribly clear. It appears to ultimately rest on this statement:

"It seems to me you've started to create webcomics to be "famous" in this incredibly insular community (of which 99% read Comixpedia)."

In turn, this statement appears to combine an illegitimate generalization, a WAG about others' internal motivations and a colonic statistic. Therefore, I don't respect the resulting prediction.


My avatar is from Erfworld by Rob Balder & Jamie Noguchi.


My avatar is from Erfworld by Rob Balder & Jamie Noguchi.

I Draw because I Can

sxilverdragonclaws's picture

Why not do something because you have the skill and the idea, you know? I've always known that one day I wanted to put my ideas out for everyone to see, and what better way then the web. Maybe one day I'll do it in print, but for now this is not only the cheapest but also probably the best way to get a starting on point.

Maybe I'll be famous one day...maybe I won't...but drawing my comic has become a good challenge: it challenges me to complete a project ad hightens my skills through practice. I can think of no better way to help improve my drawing skills!

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Well said, the words of a

mrmerks's picture

Well said, the words of a true artist. Keep on drawing

I can't speak for anyone else

anthroporail's picture

All I know is that I've been drawing cartoons since I was 2 years old. Might as well show them to people if you can do it cheaply on the web.

I figured out that I probably ought to do it regardless of whether or not it's a marketable skill. Maybe it's just part of who I am, maybe it's destiny, maybe I was born to cartoon.

I think that, then I cry a lot. ;)

Because I Can

Danny Way's picture

I do what do because I still entertain the hope that one day I'll be kind of well known. Mainly though I enjoy the process and it's a way to differentiate myself from others.

An Amateur Activity

Small readership = loser?

I'm pretty sure there are many webcomic artists who are quite satisfied with less than gigantic readership numbers. Due to the absence of any real barrier to entry, as has been noted, Webcomics have become a classic amateur activity. Why is this class of producers ok with their station? Well, why do hundreds of thousands of people play musical instruments - even when they have no intention of turning pro?


Isaac G.

Isaac Glovinsky

web 2.0 life?

packrat's picture

the why I do what i do is easy... there is nothing more satisfing. web 2.0 is nothing to me (except big-brother with hunchbacks)

and unless you can do 'the badger song' type of hit generation magic... and getting them back onna regular basis...

you're stuck in the rat race. One winner, 9999 losers.

that's life.


stalking millionaires -the dating game

stalking millionaires -the dating game

I suspect that the main

I suspect that the main reason for drawing webcomics is that the creators love the art-form enough to want to create something worthwhile themselves and know that other people think their stuff's good too. And there's no way that those motives will disappear in five years or five hundred.

"Art if it doesn’t start there, at least ends,
Whether aesthetics likes the thought or not,
In an attempt to entertain our friends." W H Auden


Shishio's picture

I didn't read the whole article, but to answer the question, the reason I do what I do is because I would go crazy(ier) if I didn't.

Like anyone, I hope to be successful in my endeavours, but I do not expect to be, nor does it bother me.

One-liners - New strips on Fridays.


Xaviar Xerexes's picture

I agree that it's not statistically significant (And it would be interesting to do a broad survey of these questions, although I don't know if we'd get enough participants in the higher audience levels to participate) and that's why the article says it's not significant.

My reason for publishing it is that I think Sebastian's thoughts raise some interesting points worth debating and that I liked how Sebastian tried to make sense of webcomics in the larger Web 2.0 world that gets so much coverage these days. (And that Kris Straub mocks/embraces so well with his You.0-style comics). So yes it's opinion, but I hope it's received as thought-provoking opinion...


Xaviar Xerexes

On second thought, let's not go to Comixpedia. It is a silly place.

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

I liked the other articles

I liked the other articles Sebastian wrote, but this one seems less well-reasoned than the others. I have to take issue with the chart. You can't take 11 data points and then argue based on them, saying "I will be the first to admit that it's not statistically significant, but look at that trend!"

If it's not statistically significant you ignore it or get more data - you can't just throw that caveat in and then start treating it like trustworthy information.