May 14, 2011
On the streets, advertising is as simple as having a shop front. On the Internet, things are very very different.
In short, the Internet is the domain of the blind.
A user on the Internet cannot see websites neatly lined up side-by-side, or big glaring neon signs demanding attention. They see search engine results, they see suggested links, they don’t see everything inbetween what they are looking for, and they don’t see what they aren’t looking for. In this respect, the Internet is crippled for online advertising.
Of course, the simplest solution is the first that appeared: Ads. Pop-up ads that open a new window to glare at you for emoticon sales, screen-shift ads that demand you watch these kitten videos, and the sanctum of the desperate: the rotating box ads upon which much of the webcomics industry relies.
A rotating box ad is a small cube or rectangle showing a banner for one site or another, based on a random selection from a list of such sites that is chosen from whenever the page the ad is on reloads. “Why is this bad?” you might ask. Well, it isn’t entirely fruitless. Any exposure on the Internet is exposure and will help in building the most powerful of advertising tools, but I’ll get to that in a moment. The downside is in how much you have to pay to get on that list, where you will then only actually be advertised a small percentage of the time on that page. Project Wonderful is a clear example of this type of advertising.
To give an analogy, imagine there is some kind of digital billboard on the highway, and you pay a couple hundred dollars to have your advert on it. In that case, you have thousands of people driving by and seeing your advert 100% of the time. Now instead imagine that you pay those hundreds of dollars to have, say, a 15% chance that any passing traveler will see your advert. Suddenly you are paying the same money for one seventh of the exposure. Now of course, adverts online rarely cost as much as hundreds of dollars, but for anyone starting out that’s a steep expense for little gain, hence it being the sanctum of the desperate.
Penny Arcade deals with matters in a different way. They’re already big names, perhaps the biggest, on the Internet, so they now branch out into other media, such as video games, charity, conventions, etc., thereby attracting increasing numbers to their flagship product: the Penny Arcade webcomic. They can afford to do this because they are already hugely successful, though I can’t say their efforts are much improving the webcomics industry at large…it is still a fair and viable means, if perhaps a heartless one founded heavily on business principles and wish fulfillment.
Ah yes, the biggest advertising tool? That would be you, dear reader.
At the moment, Remember nets approximately one thousand or so unique visitors each month, and on average about a hundred visits each day, usually much more around an update. It doesn’t have much in the way of advertising, because as an unemployed student I don’t have the finance to support the expense of rotating box ads, the website space or viewership to support paid ads, and Remember is (thankfully) already the top result for “remember comic” on Google (Thanks muchly, by the way). Revenue from the donation box would go towards things like this, but as it stands the largest exposure I ever get is shamelessly during the Desert Bus for Hope charity marathon. It really only has two means of advertisement: The banner ads and the word of mouth of those thousand people.
Consider for a moment the metrics. One person reads Remember and decides it’s pretty cool and enjoyable, so they nudge the guy next to them and tells them to check it out. That person gets the same reaction and the chain reaction keeps going. So that one person becomes two, two becomes four, four becomes eight, and so on. Remember has a thousand such readers, so assuming this action is taken upon by all of them, it would in a matter of days have millions of readers. This is the power of the readerbase and of word of mouth.
The power of the webcomics industry has never been in advertising, at least not in paid advertising like search results and rotating boxes, it’s always been in that fundamental element that defines the Internet as a whole: Communication. If everyone talks to one another, word gets out that much faster and that much farther.
I’ve said it before and I’ll gladly say it daily until the last breath leaves the battered and broken lungs in my chest as I lie in some sterile retirement home: The readers have the power in the webcomics industry, and they decide what lives and what dies simply by deciding what to read.