Webcomic Business Wisdom From Three Smart Women

Dorothy Gambrell updates Cat and Girl three times a week, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. But comparing her sales from the past four years, with that update schedule, to the years when she only updated twice a week shows that she’s not making more money with the extra work. So she’s returning to the reduced schedule this year. As Sean Kleefeld points out,

She can therefore spend the time she has been working on a third comic every week to work on other things that are more likely to help her bottom line. Maybe freelance work, or more hours at a part-time job, or more time promoting her comic instead of creating it, or whatever. The upshot here is that whether she updates two or three times a week has no bearing on her income.

First, kudos to Gambrell for being willing to share income numbers with readers, but more, this provides the lesson to check your effort against the rewards you’re gaining. Your time is precious, and there may be more effective ways to spend it if you’re working on an online business. (That’s something I’m thinking about myself. Last year, there were 970 posts made to ComicsWorthReading.com and its sister sites. I’d like to break 1,000 this year, but that’s just a round number picked to make myself feel good. Maybe fewer but more substantial posts would be of more interest to readers and get more traffic.)

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Meredith Gran announces that Random House has passed on the option to print a second volume of Octopus Pie. However, she’s found a silver lining.

… the sales figures for Octopus Pie: There Are No Stars in Brooklyn fell short in the mind of the biggest English-language publisher on earth but would be considered remarkably good by just about any self-publisher. … I will be comforted in 2011 by the understanding that my fans can support me, without the costly infrastructure and looming expectations of a publisher.

It also occurred to me that I would resume full control of future books, a feeling I’ve missed. Which means the next Octopus Pie book, which will include some of the most beloved stories to date, can be published promptly next year. Had I been signed on for a 2nd volume, we would’ve been able to expect the next book by 2012.

Often, handling your own business, without the expense and expectations of a middleman, can be rewarding, if you’re willing to do more of the work yourself.

Colleen Doran demonstrates the benefit of sticking it out, posting some traffic numbers that demonstrate her visitors in 2010 were almost five times what they were the year before. (Her website was redesigned in 2009 but she didn’t see benefits in terms of traffic for a number of months.)

Most of the traffic on the old website was driven by blog posts. Most of the traffic on the new website is driven by webcomic readers. The more attractive pages later in the series account for much of the site’s appeal. Webcomic readers have short attention spans and are unlikely to stick with a site if the first page they see is unappealing. Earlier ADS pages are less likely to grab new readers and keep them. Later pages show a significant increase in staying power.

Now that her site is self-supporting, she’s able to update three times a week and aims to triple her traffic this year, with the long-term plan of completing the long-running A Distant Soil in 2013. The comment thread is a must-read, with Doran and her readers debating the appeal of long-form webcomics and discussing what kinds of viewership figures are needed to be successful. Also, this is key:

There does not appear to be much crossover between the print and web audiences. If you are in print, that means nothing re the web numbers you get. … I’m seeing two different audiences with two different sets of habits, and it takes a long time to reach one and then the other. As I have found out for myself. It has taken YEARS to find a solid audience online, and I think it’s going to take another year more to turn that into decent income.

That’s a very smart observation that few people are talking about. And experiences may also differ based on expectations and how much patience you have for a long-term creative project to pay off.

5 Responses to “Webcomic Business Wisdom From Three Smart Women”

  1. Grant Says:

    I agree with that last quote by Doran and the entire article makes me think that this new era/sea change to digital format isn’t just around the corner as some (almost inexplicably) seem to think. I think we’re more than a few years away because like Doran says, the print and digital crowd are two different groups for the most part.

  2. Johanna Says:

    I would hope that it would also mean more experimentation digitally, since it may not be the case that cheaper digital sales would cannibalize print sales.

  3. Grant Says:

    I think that’s exactly right. I’d also say that there needs to be some effort to identify and define the consumer base for digital content as the medium grows. There seems to be more focus on who’s making it and less on who’s going to buy it.

    Those who tend to stick with print I would think are a demographic that is less ambiguous than the demographic consuming digital. With print, you basically know there are only so many people making and distributing the product and only so many places selling it. It’s hard to say that with digital as so many individuals getting into the business.

    The price of digital comics, which has the limited range of dirt cheap to free, is going to be a bigger hurdle for digital to overcome than print, as they have to figure out how to make a medium that has more lucrative certainty.

    Those selling print don’t have that handicap as their market is more defined (if dwindling). I doubt the print market will even address the problem until digital sales start booming and start to seriously compete with print sales rather than being simply a cool, abstract concept that everyone hopes will be the next big thing.

  4. The Webcomic Beacon | Episode #154 – Newscast for Jan. 9th, 2011 Says:

    […] Webcomic Wisdom From Three Smart Women (Source: Comics Worth Reading, via Comic Beat) […]

  5. Webcomic Beacon Mention » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] listening. That includes this week-old episode of the Webcomic Beacon, which comments on my post on webcomic business wisdom from two weeks ago. Scroll ahead to the 27:17 mark to hear that article discussion, which only […]




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