A common problem webcomic artists stumble into with alarming regularity is the need to see constantly rising viewing figures. The need for validation can be a significant one, of course, and it’s always good to have fans but let’s look at this from a reader’s point of view for a moment.
Jo Reader is a fan of webcomics. He (Jo could easily be a woman but I’m going with ‘he’ for this example because that’s who I envisaged when I typed ‘Jo Reader’) likes finding new webcomics, but most of them don’t go onto his ‘must read’ bookmarks right away. Why is that? Well, it’s the reason so many people give for not investing in new comics: most will die quickly, so why put the effort in as a reader?
Now let’s get back to the point of view of the webcomic artist. You want new readers. You need them if your comic is going to survive, because you know that even though you adore webcomics and love your characters, you can’t face the idea of spending year after year drawing a comic that nobody but your doting mother ever wants to read (even if you had to spend hours teaching her how to use the Internet just so she could see your work.). You need new fans, but every day you go and check Google Analytics and find only two, or ten, or maybe even fifteen readers.
So you start to wonder if producing the next comic is worth it. The deadline looms, and you slap something together. It’s on time, but only just.
The next day, you check your stats, and now only ten people have read the new comic. So you wonder what the point was. You’re slaving over this comic and nobody is coming to read it! That was your fifth episode and so far, nobody cares!
And here’s the rub: Jo Reader knows that’s your fifth episode. Chances are, five of the hits on your comic are from him. He’s read your archive, and then left because there’s nothing else to read. Maybe he’ll be back, maybe not. If you managed to hook him with those five episodes, he’ll chance by in a week or two and read your new stuff, but the chances of hooking someone with so few comics is slim.
There’s a saying on the Internet that Content is King and although it’s a really poor cliché, it’s the truth. All new webcomics are not only battling for a place on the readership’s bookmarks but they’re fighting a long-established truth that most new comics die quickly. Thankfully, you can overcome this truth very easily: you just need to keep going.
Once you’ve got a month or two’s worth of comics under your belt (assuming you’re updating two or three times a week, that is) you’ll have enough content to say “Hey! I’m not one of those other comics that dies young. I’m here to stay!” and you’ll be right. Anyone can make that claim from the outset but readers know the difference between someone who’s all talk and someone who can actually back up their claims. Be in the latter camp, it helps a lot to give you a reputation.
More than that, it means you’ve got more chances to hook new readers. Remember how Jo Reader looked through your archives and then left without bookmarking because you only had five strips and he didn’t yet know if you were worth sticking with? That’s because you only had five chances to prove to him that you had something in your comic worth coming back for. When you have fifty strips, you get ten times the number of chances to prove yourself. Get to a hundred and you double your chances again.
It’s true that each comic needs to give the reader a reason to click on the ‘next’ button but it’s equally true that you can’t be all things to all readers all the time. That’s why you need to keep updating with good content, and update on time. You can’t do that if you’re hooked on your stats.
Stats demoralise. In the early days, they will not be good. If you want to make your comic a success, don’t look at them until you’ve got at least a couple of months of regular, consistent updates behind you. Even then, you should be thinking about advertising before you think about looking at who’s visiting your site.
So here’s the deal: you get thirty or more comics online; then do some advertising; build a reputation for yourself in the community with good comments on other comics and forums; and then you can start looking at your stats.
Until you’ve done the ground work, there’s no real reason for an audience to stick around. Give them a reason, then go looking for them, not the other way around.