- Posted by Johanna on December 3, 2008 at 10:12 pm
- Category: Digital and Webcomics
In this time of economic concern, I wanted to talk with someone about the business of webcomics. Danielle Corsetto’s strip Girls With Slingshots is over four years old, and she’s just released her second self-published book, so she seemed an excellent choice. (And she was willing to address my sometimes nosy questions directly, for which I have immense gratitude.) So let’s start with the big one:
Is GWS your only business? That is, does your webcomic support you?
Almost entirely. I do caricatures on the side for extra money and for the practice, but to be honest, I can’t remember when my last gig was! For at least the past two months, GWS has been my full-time job and my only source of income.
How long has that been the case?
I’ve been living off income from a mix of the webcomic and caricature gigs since June of 2007. I’m still a little shocked that it’s working, although I’m just barely hanging on. I’m breaking even and am able to pay my bills, but my bills have become enormous in the past year (new house, new car, both necessities). I still have a roof over my head, so I see it as a success thus far!
Are you willing to share readership figures?
Sure. I’m averaging between 25,000 and 32,000 unique visitors a day. It’s not Questionable Content or PvP numbers, but it’s pretty high and it’s keeping me alive. That, and I have some of the greatest, most dedicated, and generous readers in the world.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to get to the point of living off their webcomic?
My first piece of advice is ALWAYS to “make a good webcomic.” If your comic appeals to a great deal of people, is well-drawn, well-written, consistent, and updated on time, you’ll likely do well. You also have to be pretty business-savvy, which I’m still working on! And don’t procrastinate on merchandise. Do it early, get it ready, look it over, and THEN sell it. I’ve definitely learned that the hard way.
I think you also have to be patient, and willing to accept the facts if it won’t pay the bills. Your readers are essentially your employers; if they decide you’re worthy of a raise, they’ll make it happen, because they want to continue reading your strip. If there aren’t enough readers to make a career out of it, then you’ve got a really fun hobby, not a failed endeavor.
If you’re going into it with the mantra “eye on the prize,” the prize needs to be “making a great comic strip,” not “making great money off a comic strip.”
What’s your current update schedule? How do you think a schedule affects readership?
I update five times a week, although it’s been rocky the past week due to the holidays and preparations for the second volume coming out.
The weekdaily schedule has more to do with how the story’s told than a direct influence on the number of readers, but at the same time, an increase in readership is bound to happen when there’s more material. I used to update three (sometimes only two) times a week; moving to five per week has allowed me to develop the characters more fully, spend more time on storylines, and throw in stupid stand-alone jokes once in a while without sacrificing precious time. And being consistent with the schedule is a HUGE help. Updating late once in awhile is okay, as long as you keep your readers in the loop about it and don’t make empty promises.
Where’s your RSS feed?
Ha! Yeah, I know. This is the e-mail I get most often, right next to “I spent my entire work day reading your comics and I think I’m getting fired for it.”
There are two reasons that I don’t have a feed yet. One, I simply don’t know how to create and maintain one! But I can learn that. So two, and most importantly, this is my only source of income, and I’m afraid I’ll lose advertising and merchandise revenue if people are ONLY seeing the strip. Even people who never click on ads are helping my advertising revenue by simply visiting the website and increasing the visits to that page (and thus, the value of my ad spaces).
What I’d really like is a feed that allows my readers to see when there’s an update, so they’ll know when to check the website. I’ll be working more on this in January and asking my readers what they want.
I love doing this on my own, at my own pace, without a publisher. My own choices directly affect the amount of money I make, I can affect the sales by selling the books for less or providing a deal, and while I’d probably be making the same amount either way, I don’t have to accept a paycheck after both a publisher and a distributor have taken out their cut. The downfall, of course, is that I have to do all the work on my own, pay for the books upfront, and I can’t afford to pay Diamond to distribute my books to comic shops.
Also, I’m not sure how I’d find a reliable publisher who encourages dick and vibrator jokes.
In the future I’d love to go through a publisher to do a long-form GWS comic, but I’d really like to continue producing the collected books on my own for now.
How do you determine pricing for your books?
I’ve been going through Lulu.com for the past year, which is to say that I didn’t get my shit together early enough to go through a real printer – like I said, I’ve learned the hard way! They’re pricey and they’ve recently raised their rates, but I didn’t want to make my readers pay more, so they’re about the same as they were a year ago, with a special bundle deal for two-book buyers.
I’ve done freelance work off-and-on for the past several years (though significantly less this past year). After a while, I began to price my jobs according to what felt right to me, and that worked very well for me. The economy being what it is, I decided to keep my profit margin on the books fairly low (especially with the bundle deal) so that the prices are about the same as they were last year.
Basically, I pick a number that feels right. So far it’s worked out!
If you’ll indulge me in a little whining, I was surprised by your current special offer (which has one book for $25 or two for $30). That seems like something of a disadvantage to those who bought your first book when it first came out. In the bigger picture, how do you balance keeping both old readers and new in mind for offers?
I’ve been taking hints from some of the smartest small-business owners in my town (coincidentally, most of them are also women). The talented owner of my favorite fancy restaurant has nixed her prices to offer $10 entrees (they’re usually $25+) to accommodate the decrease in customer spending due to the new economic climate. I thought it was a smart move.
I wanted to offer a nice Christmas gift at an affordable price. If I could pick up a double-book set of my friend’s favorite comic (or one they might like) for $30, I’d be all over it.
Now, if I was offering *just* the first volume for $5, I think that’d be a bit much. But the only sweet deal here is the double-book sale. So far I haven’t heard any complaints. People seem to understand that businesses everywhere — including us tiny ones — are hurting a little this year, and we need to make changes in our prices in order to maintain a living.
But to answer your question — keeping old readers vs. new readers happy — I don’t know that I can. It’s a strange situation because you can’t really point out who’s been reading longer; the archives are available to everyone and there’s no real “record” of long-time readers, besides my own crappy memory. If there was a way for me to reward and thank people who have been reading for four years, I’d be open to it.
That said, I’m willing to accept suggestions!
What other outlets have you tried for income? Which didn’t work?
Freelance work. I cringe at freelance work, and that’s why I’ve stopped taking it.
I’ve become spoiled in that I don’t want to create art unless it looks great when it’s finished, so I’ve learned to only take jobs that I’ll enjoy. Luckily, that means that the work I produce tends to be some of my best stuff. In the past year or two, I’ve worked on anthologies for a few editors who I know personally and feel comfortable with, and with most of them, I’ve done the work for free with the hopes of receiving royalty checks in the future. So far it’s been a much better business for me; the work has been satisfying and the pay has been extremely reasonable for both parties.
One thing that really worked well for me in the past, when I was taking more freelance work, is that I started charging according to how enjoyable the job would be for me (as I mentioned earlier, I was charging an amount that felt good, rather than sticking to a pricing formula). That was the best move I ever made. I’d charge one amount for colorful cartoony illustrations, and three times as much for detailed realistic drawings of buildings. Or I simply wouldn’t accept jobs that didn’t suit me — often the hyper-realistic ones — in the hopes that the client would find someone who could do a better job on them than myself.
Weren’t you part of ex-Marvel head honcho Bill Jemas’ 360 effort for a while? What happened with that?
To be honest, while I enjoyed the people I worked with there, I felt like 360ep was a hobby business. In other words, I was relying on them to do all of my merchandising, books, publicity, etc. for GWS, but they weren’t relying on my property for their own income, and that affected how hard they worked for me. The only merchandise they produced for me was a line of t-shirts which were available on a print-on-demand site… something I could have set up myself. After two years of little progress, I bought back my contract and started to create products on my own. It’s possible that 360ep is doing a great job with other properties; perhaps we just didn’t match up. Either way, it was a learning experience.
Thanks again to Danielle for her time!