January 6, 2011
Within the webcomics industry, there is a very special creature. They can be consumers, they can be supporters, they can be entire social networks within and beyond the industry.
They are The Readers.
As a webcomic author, I’m tremendously aware of the statistics of my readerbase. I have around about 1200 people reading this comic each month (That is to say, about 1200 unique IP addresses connecting to Remember each month), with a slight increase recently.
What I don’t know however, and what a lot of webcomic authors never quite realise until it punches them in the face, is the sheer power of their readerbase.
Let me start by saying that readers are not a penis measurement. Questionable Content has a couple hundred thousand readers, Penny Arcade almost undoubtably has several million, and I have a bit over one thousand. Unlike many other industries, the number of people connected to you is not what is important.
You see, Readers are powerful because the webcomics industry does not have “consumers” as such. When you start, say, a hammer company, you start making hammers and buying places at trade shows and consumers come along, see your stuff, and buy it. If you are very lucky, they may refer some of their friends your way, but word of mouth is a very bad marketing strategy here. In the webcomics industry, we are giving away what we make for free and praying to the pixellated gods that someone donates or buys a plushy or something, because unlike other industries webcomic authors almost always start out with little money to their name and few chances of getting any from the webcomic itself.
What decides whether a webcomic becomes financially successful or not is The Readers reading it. Readers will buy merchandise, and they will donate to make such merchandise exist, and they will do this for maybe a dozen or so different webcomics. Then, they will go on their Twitter, and their Facebook, and whatever and tell their friends that they had a laugh from this webcomic or that they really enjoyed the latest story twist in another.
No-one ever goes on Twitter and says “Hey guys, I just bought the most awesome hammer!”.
Word of mouth is not just “a” marketing strategy in the webcomics industry, it is legitimately the strategy for any webcomic attempting to start out. The random-from-selection page ads are unreliable and do not work and if you go out and advertise your webcomic you just look needy and attention-seeking. What really sells a webcomic into prominence is that The Readers network all across the globe and provide that marketing free of charge.
The rise and fall of a company is in it’s consumers, which includes other companies. The rise and fall of a webcomic is in it’s Readers. Readers serve as a marketing team, a consumer base, investors, every aspect of webcomic income is derived from The Readers.
And I’m so lucky to have the 1200 I do, even if they’re a little hesitant to click the shiny donate button at the bottom of very comic page.