Why Regular Updates are Bad for Webcomics
Submitted by WillieHewes on July 23, 2006 - 15:27
This is a little rant about webcomics, popularity and storytelling. Or perhaps more of a lamentation than a rant. I'll start with some background.
It's a truth universally acknowledged that webcomics gain more hits on update days; when there is a new page/strip up. A related fact is that updating your webcomic regularly is the key to gaining any audience, let alone a large one. This is because of the nature of the Internet and the way webcomics are listed and promoted, and it leads to a well-ingrained factiod: the only way people are going to notice and read your comic is by updating constantly, and regularly. This is just how webcomics work.
This is fair enough in the case of gag-strips that are basically digital newspaper funnies; you read it on the day it's published, get a little laugh (or not) and the next day you start from scratch. You can start reading the strip at any point, and you'll be up to speed on the characters and situation soon enough. Strips that don't have new funnies on a regular basis aren't as interesting, and drop down the popularity list. Nothing wrong with that.
But it's a bit of a problem when it comes to other types of webcomics; the ones that tell a story, and that need to read from the beginning or you won't get it. Imagine watching your favourite film 5 minutes at a time. I'd drive you nuts, right? Yet that is exactly how comics on the web are published; one page a week. Recently, I was surprised to hear that a lot of people actually read webcomics that way, as well, rather than waiting a few months before checking back. I know I can't read a story at a page a week, but that's how they're published because it's the only way to get a decent audience.
The updating mechanic is even more disastrous for stories that are actually finished, because they don't update at all. I think short comics can be very funny, moving, interesting and just all-around brilliant, but on the web they're hard to find. I think part of the reason is that these comics get overlooked because they don't update. In webcomic terms "stopped updating" means "died" means "not worth checking out", even if the reason they stopped updating is that the story's finished!
And the upshot of all that is that in webcomics world, the vast majority of storylines is and remains unfinished. You read it from the start, you're really enjoying it, and then you're caught up and you'll have to wait however many months, or even years before you can read the ending. :' ( Nobody likes unfinished stories, but all the most popular webcomics are unfinished, simply because regular updates is what makes you pupular. Tragic, huh? How do we find those hidden gems, the comics that are good and dead? How do you promote something that is ten pages long?
I don't really have the answer, but I think it's worth pointing to this little glimmer of hope: Full Story is a blog-style listing of finished webcomics, some short stories, some finished series. There's some good stuff there, even though it's just one person choosing and listing the comics. I think we could do with something like this on a larger scale.
OnlineComics.net now has a "completed" category under "format", which is a good start, but tellingly, the most popular ones were still published as long running page-at-a-time webcomics.
Maybe short stories should band together under one banner, and release each individual story a page at a time as if they were updates to the same comic. Obviously that would only work if the comics all had a common artist or thematic element, but it could be an idea. Maybe there's another answer I don't know about. I'm open to suggestions, because, having worked on two short comics now, I'm starting to develop a taste for it.
Note: This is a crosspost from my blog.