WHY DO ONLINE COMICS
Issue #8 - Scheduling Conflicts
I've pretty much handled schedules in every form possible when it comes to updating my comics sites over the years. I've done daily, three times a week, weekly, and sporadic. I've done open-ended schedules and schedules for set periods of time, updating at different times of the day or set times of the day. Right now, as an experiment, I'm posting the schedule for the main things on the site every quarter, and then periodically putting up something new at random times as well. After trying it all, I can say one thing with a reasonable amount of certainly.
Web readers are bizarre, neurotic, chaotic people who will defy every attempt at understanding their nature. What you expect them to do will happen, but not at all regularly, and not even enough of the time to be a majority.
Take, for example, a recent discussion I had over at the comicon.com boards about site traffic. I have noticed one real trend in traffic to my site, which is traffic goes up as the amount and frequency of new content goes... down. That seemed genuinely confusing to me! As I put it in my initial post on that thread, "Has anyone else noticed anything like this, or do I just really suck so much that people would rather reward me for stopping doing my work than have to endure any new work from me?" Two things became clear to me from the responses garnered. One, I am not alone. Two, a likely reason for such a phenomenon is when fans want content and you don't provide it, they keep going back over and over trying to fill the void left by your lack of updates. When you actually do provide a constant flow of content and become predictable, people feel less urgently compelled and think they can just go catch up with things at their leisure.
This all brings me back to the first resolution I mentioned last time for webcomics creators; do it for yourself. The only exception I feel exists to this creed is if someone else is paying you for your work. If Nike says they'll pay you a million dollars if you come up with a new logo for them so long as you do it by next Friday, don't get to Friday and tell them you "weren't feeling inspired this week." But with the pennies most of us are making (if that) at this endeavor, I don't think inferior work should be posted just to meet a deadline. Real fans don't want inferior quality, and generally won't mind waiting a bit longer for the good stuff. Jhonen Vasquez, creator of Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, Squee, and Invader Zim used to be considered "prolific" if he put out two books in the same year, and now that he's working on his cartoon he barely has time to draw a character sketch in your notebook at a convention, much less put out a whole book. Yet, fans of Jhonen will and do continue to be fans of Jhonen, and when and if he does put his next book out, his fans will be there to get it. Will you be able to make new fans while being sporadic? Perhaps not as much, but wouldn't you rather they be a fan of work you are proud of rather than work you managed to get on the virtual shelf on time?
I put up a schedule as a courtesy to the people who read my site. If I miss a deadline, I have a reason, and it is accepted and we all move on. Putting out inferior product just because of a deadline is why the PC gaming industry is such a mess right now. How annoying is it to pay $50 for a game that doesn't work, and may or may not ever work?! Let's not go there with comics. Get it done right the first time, at least until Sony buys your comic and dictates your publishing schedule.
Of course, I could be entirely wrong. Please correct me by commenting below, or let me know if you have anything to add. I try to respond to everyone's comments, because one of the primary reasons for this column's existence is to explore how to nurture and grow this webcomics industry of ours.