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Debate Over Ignoring Your Audience Versus Pleasing Your Audience

This Keenspot thread shaped up to be an interesting discussion of the relationship between creators and their audience.  Kicked off by a post worrying about a one-week dip in readership numbers (!), Carson Fire and others take the thread into a discussion of doing what you want versus acknowledging  what the readership wants.

It's kind of a perennial debate (and not just for webcomics but all arts) and one for which the answers are always going to be different because people have different reasons for why they make webcomics.

Walk the line

Aleph's picture

Whether you create your own audience or tap into an existing one, you have to be conscious of the audience, it's true. We are in effect trying to communicate something, and so if you fail to communicate that's your failing and not the reader's (unless the reader is a dumbass critic who starts writing the review four pages into reading the comic, failure to read through before forming an opinion is always the critic's fault).

Actually, pandering and living/dying by stats is harmful to your readership, because in an effort to reach everybody you may abandon the core demographic you're best suited to speak to. If you abandon your core audience because it isn't big enough, what you'll end up doing is alienating them, then alienating your newly seduced readers in an attempt to win your core fans back. That's why eleventybillion little projects scramble around trying to appeal to people, outright begging from the panels for people to tell them what's wanted, and remain utterly obscure.

In some sense you have to be able to lead your audience, and convince them that you know what you're doing. People lose interest swiftly when they catch a whiff of uncertainty in the artist, especially in terms of a story-dependant comic. If they get the idea that you're screwing around, and your story isn't going anywhere, they'll disappear-- what's the point of getting involved in a story that's just trying to get you to stick around and keep listening? In terms of a four-panel, if you don't have a strong angle, a strong individual 'voice', there's just not much to set you apart from anybody else and not much reason to read you rather than the cavalcade of others that look like everything else. You need to let them know you have something to offer that the next one in line does not, and you can't do that if you're just trying to find out what they want.

So you have to walk a line between pleasing yourself and pleasing an audience, and that's a line you have to draw in a clear direction. If you know where you're going and how you want to get there, then you can safely make course corrections along the way without losing the momentum you're building and the audience that's headed in that direction with you. But you can't stray too far from your own goals or you'll just get lost in pursuit of ephemeral attention, which will desert you the moment a stronger current sweeps your readers in somebody else's direction.

That's my thinking, anyhow... but it's got me through two arcs and about 2 million hits, even when everybody on God's green earth told me I was going about my work in all the wrong ways, so at the very least it works for /someone/.

 Walk the line Submitted

Xaviar Xerexes's picture

 Walk the line  Submitted by Aleph on Wed, 2006-03-08 12:19.

Whether you create your own audience or tap into an existing one, you have to be conscious of the audience, it's true. We are in effect trying to communicate something, and so if you fail to communicate that's your failing and not the reader's (unless the reader is a dumbass critic who starts writing the review four pages into reading the comic, failure to read through before forming an opinion is always the critic's fault).

I like the way you put this - I think it's what I was trying to say in my comment. 

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Xaviar Xerexes 

I am a Modern Major Generality.

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

It's Complicated and It's Individual

Xaviar Xerexes's picture

I've never believed there's a one-size fits all answer to these kinds of questions.  You ought to be honest with yourself though about what you want and how to get there.  For some people building an audience is as important to them as what projects they actually work on - they don't want to separate the two concepts.  For others it's obvious they want to do what they want to do whether no one reads it or whether it becomes popular they're going to stick to working on what they want to do without considering other input. 

Most people, I suspect, must fall somewhere in between.

For myself I never though there was anything wrong with listening to readers demands feedback but I didn't necessarily agree with them.  But I don't think I was ever that focused on building an audience of readers - if you are you may have to alter course in your work to meet them part-way.

For a positive example of the latter I can think of Brad Guigar's shift from GreyStoneInn to Evil, Inc. which was clearly driven in part by the feedback from his readers.  I understand there was also a great deal of personal deliberation apart from his readers' desires and perhaps Guigar may have inevitably created Evil Inc in a vacuum but it was important for him to create something with the potential for a large readership.  I think, although not for everyone, that's a perfectly valid approach.

 

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Xaviar Xerexes 

I am a Modern Major Generality.

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

Different creators have

Greg Carter's picture

Different creators have different motivations. Some are more interested in telling the most popular story they can than sticking to their original vision. It's not about right or wrong - it's entertainment.

Personally, I want to tell my story the way it's in my head. I think it's mainstream enough to be successful without changing at the whim of the audience. But I do listen to my readers in that I like to make sure they're getting the same story I'm trying to tell. And if they have a good suggestion on presentation or whatever, then I'm not too proud to use it if I like it. Not changing the story though.

Greg Carter
UpDown Studio

Greg Carter - Abandon: First Vampire - Online Graphic Novel