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Cellophane or Fame?

In this day and age, starting out in webcomics has become much more difficult in the last two years than in any other time. With hosting services like KeenSpace (http://www.keenspace.com) tipping the scales at around 7325 series hosted, the internet is filled with comic series waiting to be read and noticed by a growing viewing public. It is hard enough finding your voice in this world let alone being pushed into the group of thousands of others trying to do the same. Everyone is fighting to become noticed, and it seems like a competition at times. Many people believe that putting up a webcomic is an instant guarantee to fame and glory, but this conception is false. Many comic artists, including myself, have continued the updating process for well over a year yet only attract and maintain a moderate amount of readers. It is completely possible that this massive inflow of comics expecting instant success will die down when the authors notice they're instant fame isn't coming. The people who continue to fight on could possibly prevail and come to be noticed as a deviation from the others. Many wonder "Why are other webcomics doing better [in readership] than mine?" Well, it could be that the quality of the comics is in question, but quality is relative to the readers. Perhaps it is the marketing that is the key to success. Many comics find a niche to fit into, something that will apply to some group somewhere. You'll find that a lot of comics on the internet focus around gaming, computers, or anime, since that is what most of the main internet audience is into. It is hard to find comics that don't fit into one niche or another, or at least not one that is very successful that started in recent times. Being a fantasy themed comic can bring one the opportunity to be listed in a fantasy webcomic group. Word-of-mouth also spreads faster through people with similar interests. Most of the big names in webcomics started out pre-2000. While this isn't always the case, this is what I have noticed. At that time, many of these comics were revolutionary since this medium was still in its early stages of development. Maybe it was the right place at the right time for these revolutionaries. Starting out in this era is difficult because of this. Why read Go For It! (http://goforit.keenspace.com) when you can read Sluggy Freelance (http://www.sluggy.com), which is much more popular and has been running longer? Why read 21st Century Fox (http://techfox.keenspace.com) when there is MegaTokyo (http://www.megatokyo.com) out there? Who would notice Rae of Darkness (http://raeofdarkness.keenspace.com) when there is a whole directory of popular comics brought to you by KeenSpot (http://www.keenspot.com) to choose from? While these are only small examples of the little obscure comics online, the case can be the same for possibly thousands of web-based comics out there. Comics that aren't able to market themselves easily get lost under the advertisements of others very quickly. While people shouldn't be starting a comic for purposes of only attaining fame and glory, the reason for doing any of this is something one have to figure out for themself. But, if you want to be ambitious and "go for the gold", then by all means, try your hardest and get your name out there any way you can. Sometimes you have to shout to be heard through the noise.

A very salient point. However, I do think there is a growing number of webcomic hobbyists, people who just do it for kicks. For example, I do my own project just to help myself get through the day... I have a job already and am in grad school, so I'm not exactly hurting for income. Besides, often writing a comic is a great creative exercise, much like writing fanfiction!

Still, very good article.

-Seth

[quote:476cdaac63="sethtriggs"]A very salient point. However, I do think there is a growing number of webcomic hobbyists, people who just do it for kicks. For example, I do my own project just to help myself get through the day... I have a job already and am in grad school, so I'm not exactly hurting for income. Besides, often writing a comic is a great creative exercise, much like writing fanfiction!

Still, very good article.

-Seth

Hmm. I should have explored the point of the Hobbyists. They do it for themselves more than anybody, while others do it for a greater audience. So, the content really varies. Interesting point.

I always love stuff talking about the various reasons for doing a webcomic. I've been doing mine since April 2000 (3rd aniversary coming! yeah me!) and I don't know if I can point at a single reason I do mine. I Kota's World because I love art, my friends are entertained, I want to do sequential art as career, and lastly I need something to do in my free time! Thanks for the article though. It's a really great read.

Upon further reflection, there has started to be a debate about whether someone would really be able to make a profit on a webcomic, considering the large number of them. Although with a growing number of people online, it can become easier to get into a niche and be profitable. Of course, within that argument you have the "sellout" versus "non-sellout" arguments. All very confusing I think.

-Seth

Hmm, haven't certain webcomics already been making a profit for some time? A small one relative to the work, I'm sure, but I was under the impression the very highest end comics like Sluggy Freelance pull in a decent profit margin.

Moonstone- You are correct. But it's very rare for a webcomic to make a profit, especially nowadays. It was probably easier in the Ye Olde Days of the Internet, when you had little competition, but now there's webcomics all over the place!

-Seth

Well, one could bring up while there are more webcomics to choose from, and while the audience is also increasing, the percentages of readership really doesn't. I am reminded of the first and second Great Awakenings, where the percentages of Christians in America didn't change, since the population had also increased. (Ahh, people falling to the ground and speaking tounges in hysteria. Funny.)
But, the point is, one has to be pretty popular to make any money, because only a small percentage of webcomic readers, I believe, actually purchase or financially support the comics they read. So, in order to make any money, one needs more readesr so their odds for at least a meager restitution.

That's the problem, isn't it? Trying to get your voice heard above the din around you? How do you do it? How do you say "I'm not one of the thousand dead strips on Keenspace! Read me!" How do you find your audience? I'd love to give some kind of retorohical answer in a zen-like fashion, but I don't have one. I want to know too.
One big question is does linking work? Do you actually get more hits from being linked to another site? I haven't noticed that much a difference myself. My readership continually hovers around 45 to 50 a day and I can't seem to get more to come. There's got to be another way, right?

Word of mouth?
I honestly have no clue. Thus my own problems. XD
It really depends on who plugs you or links you. Sometimes a mention on a popular site can get you a HUGE amount of hits. I've learned that quite a few of the more popular comics were just mentioned on the main page of a widely-popular comic and they achieved good readership themselves because of it.
Guest strips and fanart have worked for some.
But, sometimes I wonder if I'm an exception to these rules and doing anything isn't going to do anythin'. =P

I've gotten *many* hits from linking. Never underestimate the power of linkage. Just getting links at two sites got me about 1,000 hits a month. If you get a link at a popular comic site (especially on the forum) you could get around 500 hits easy. That can add up over time.

I'm even (thankfully) getting some hits from Comixpedia!

Word of mouth is good, but nothing's faster than a link.

-Seth

But, I have found that word of mouth gets more repeat readers. A link can get a one-time view, but personal endorsements can get permenant readers more easily. Although, a large influx of readers gives a good probability of repeat readers as well.
It really depends on the site and how the link is shown and displayed.

Hmm, post something really horrible and then submit your own comic to somethingawful.com as an awful link of the day. Then remove the horrible part the instant they link to you providing thousands of hits. . .

Nah, I've submitted some truly awful sites about a really S**tty band that my imaging class had to make a CD cover for.
They're pretty selective about stuff like that. And it would also be really dishonest.

Twas meant as a joke, even if it was an honest thing to do the risk of losing your whole fanbase due to whatever horrible thing you put up would be excessive.

After trying to figure out the popularity thing for a while, the only conclusion I can arrive at is there is no easy answer. It almost seems to be just a cosmic fate thing or something.

While almost every webcomicker wants to be read, one should be happy that they have the ability to create. If you're not that popular, at least the bandwidth is cheap. ;)

Ehh, I guess! It generally just depends on what you're doing it all for, really... at least in my opinion!

-Seth

Agreed, Seth. It does depend on why you're doing it.
I've considered advertising on Something Awful before, but I don't know that I'd want that clientel. Anyone remember the "Pupkin" fiasco?
Oh. Thursday I started getting links from http://megidoth.keenspace.com by a guy I met through Drunk Duck. My readership has gone up by about ten so far. Then I read what he said about me.

Quote:
Todays plug is Kota's world ,because there isn't enough of this kind of comic.

Shucks. :oops:

It's really random why some things are successful (although, if you enjoy doing what you do, you already ARE successful). I think some of the big ones are big today because they came in much earlier.

Hello all.

If you have some money to blow(not even a lot), then you can easily gain a fanbase.
Megatokyo offers that tiny banner thingy, and its not that much for the amount of people you get going to your site.
Also, you could possibly put up a contest of some kind, where the prize is cash related.

As for linking, too much people are in on it to be viable. Only the link systems with prestige(forget the name, but its the one with Strings of Fate and Ghost Hunters), really offer any good publicity, and most of those already had publicity to begin with.

I'd disagree. Linking is a GREAT way to gain readers, 'cos they're permenant. Sure, advertising at MT will get you a lot of readers, but only for a few days. After that, you're just waiting to see how many you kept. Links from other people are good 'cos people will always know how to get to your site from other sites. Also, the hits will keep on coming for as long as the linking site is online, not for just a few days. Course, you can buy your way into a large readership; but you have to build a fanbase, or your readership could well die off again soon after your ads come down. However, if you're linked from a few sites, someone may see your banner, remember when they once visited you from an ad, and visit you again. Links are essential.

Quote:
I've considered advertising on Something Awful before, but I don't know that I'd want that clientel.

Yeah, I'd seriously worry about promoting my comic on a site that promotes and takes the piss out of things that are crap. 'cos that's what they do. :/ I've heard Mac Hall is one of the best sites to advertise on.

Personally I value the referrals I get more than the actual hits. Like Kota said, it's really rewarding when someone takes the time to link to your comic and say that they like it. :D The "unique visitors" counter is just an abstract number that doesn't really mean anything, imo.

[quote:5617d560a5="chi"]Yeah, I'd seriously worry about promoting my comic on a site that promotes and takes the piss out of things that are crap. 'cos that's what they do. :/

Surely the answer to this is not to be crap. ^^ Or to be the kind of crap people love; that's equally valuable.

For what it's worth, from the perspective of a consumer: context is everything. A link from a set of decontextualized buttons, an ad, a dropdown menu; these things do nothing for me. I filter on these things, because I filter on all things I perceive as pure advertising. A recommendation, a personalized endorsement (something where I at least get the impression that the author has considered their opinion, or put effort towards a positive recommendation -- thoughtful, not puffy), even a unique description in the voice of the artist; these things remain. I take them as meaningful, particularly when I've come to trust the taste and sensibilities of a given artist. It's really important to me to have trust and context. Why do I want to read this? What sorts of people does this comic attempt to appeal to; am I among them? Do personal relationships render the opinion valueless? (Seen too damn much of "it's good because my buddy from Boy Scouts draws it." Sod that.)

I don't know how you get there; I just know what it takes to get my interest. I get the impression (this from reading way too much Jakob Nielsen) that this is not an atypical response to online advertising or that which might resemble it; how many randoms have developed a selective blindness for the standard banner areas, for example? What would make comics any different?