Game designer Jonathan Ying is known for turning big media properties into table-top games. Star Wars, Doom, and Game of Thrones are just a few of the titles he helped adapt while at Fantasy Flight Games. Jon recently Kickstarted his first game. He’s joined us this week to talk design, adaptation, and rain-dispersal systems.
Hot Seat critiques
I’m going to leave the Hitch It / Ditch It Hot Seat open for a few more days, and then I’m going to move on to a new critique series. That being said, is there any topic you’d like to […] ↓ Read the rest of this article...Read more
Using DreamObjects to Back-Up Your Site
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a big fan of Dreamhost for Web hosting — especially if you’re using WordPress. One of the features Dreamhost offers is a cloud-based back-up option called DreamObjects. This service costs 2.5¢/ GB with a 5¢/GB […] ↓ Read the rest of this article...Read more
ComicLab Ep. 8 — How to Handle Patreon-Exclusive Content
Today on ComicLab, we’re taking questions from our Patreon backers: What do you do when you’re more invested than your collaborator? How do you find a good collaborator? When starting a new comic online, is it even worth it to […] ↓ Read the rest of this article...Read more
The New Webcomics Business Model
FREE FRIDAY: You don’t need a subscription to read today’s post! Last year, I shared a story from PageFair that said ad-blocker use went up 30% last year. Ad blockers impacted my site so significantly in 2014 that I completely […] ↓ Read the rest of this article...Read more
ComicLab Ep. 7 — Growing your Readership (feat. Dylan Meconis)
The wonderful Dylan Meconis joins Brad Guigar and Dave Kellett to take a question from a Patreon backer who wants advice on growing their readership. Another backer asks about finding balance between comics and “real life.” BUT FIRST… they grapple […] ↓ Read the rest of this article...Read more
The Ad-pocalypse is upon us
For years, Webcomics.com has been advising members to move away from an ad-supported model and prepare for a crowd-funding future. This may be the week that many get the reason they need to finally make that move: Google’s Chrome browser […] ↓ Read the rest of this article...Read more
Profit & Loss Statement
As we head into tax season, let’s take a look at one of the most useful tools for running a small business — the Profit & Loss Statement.Read more
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a big fan of Dreamhost for Web hosting — especially if you’re using WordPress. One of the features Dreamhost offers is a cloud-based back-up option called DreamObjects. This service costs 2.5¢/ GB with a 5¢/GB download fee. And you get the first 30 days free to make sure that you’re not going to wind up with a bigger bill than you’re prepared for.
My only complaint is that it is — far — from “plug-and-play.” In fact, I was halfway through my own 30-day free trial before I figured out I hadn’t even started the back-up yet!
So, in case you took my advice and bought hosting on Dreamhost, I figured it would be a good idea to pass along some (hard won) installation instructions for DreamObjects.
The content you are trying to access is only available to members.
Today on ComicLab, we’re taking questions from our Patreon backers:
- What do you do when you’re more invested than your collaborator?
- How do you find a good collaborator?
- When starting a new comic online, is it even worth it to start a website anymore — or should everything just be posted to Patreon?
- Can you Kickstart a book containing content that was originally Patreon-exclusive?
BUT FIRST… Dave grapples with his impending old-man-hood when a barber offers to shave his earlobe hair.
This week on Surviving Creativity — Nothing quite like a self-congratulatory press release in the ol’ inbox to help us pick a topic for the show. This week Sony Pictures announced their plans to develop new projects based on the intellectual property of creators exhibiting at Wizard World conventions…
Yeah, we don’t get it either.
But it brings up a topic that we three find ourselves surprisingly divided on — should you sell your media rights?
FREE FRIDAY: You don’t need a subscription to read today’s post! Last year, I shared a story from PageFair that said ad-blocker use went up 30% last year. Ad blockers impacted my site so significantly in 2014 that I completely changed my publishing approach — removing ads from my sites entirely in 2016. I think it’s safe to say that whatever traditional “webcomics business model” there once was is coming to an end.
No ad? Not sad
For starters, let focus on one of the positive aspects of a new approach to webcomics: Removing ads from your site (if you choose to do so) will…
- Make your site run faster
- Give you new areas to promote your own projects
- Reduce the threat malware to your readers
A faster-running site is going to be crucial if Net Neutrality comes to an end (as I’m predicting). And hard-coding promos into your site’s HTML will make them invulnerable to ad-blocking software. And you’re going to need that promo space. That’s because you now have two main income streams to focus on — merchandising and subscriptions.
Doing a free comic on the Web has always been a loss leader for the merchandise we hope to sell to the readers who we cultivate into fans. Your site should be re-tooled to maximize these sales opportunities. For example, comics creators should be reconsidering the free archive. I think the optimum approach is to leave just enough archive material available to help cement reader engagement, and then convert the rest of the archive into eBooks, print books and subscription content. Once again, I think creators of longform comics are going to fare the best under this new model.
Kickstarter will become a central component of this new business model. So it’s going to be crucial to learn to operate a Kickstarter campaign successfully — and then fulfill it quickly and faithfully. Things like Kickstarter math and add-on rewards are going to have to become second-nature.
Your site should promote these projects, certainly, but the entire site, itself, has to be re-thought to funnel readers towards sales. For example, archives must direct readers to eBook and print book options when the reader reaches the end of the free portion of the archive. Webcomic sites, themselves, need to be re-imagined so readers are introduced to this new approach. Our sites will have to indoctrinate new readers and re-educate readers who have been around webcomics for years.
Webcomic sites are going to change drastically over the next two years.
The other part of the new webcomics business model is going to be subscriptions. As I’ve said before, I think envisioning Pateron as a tip jar is missing the point entirely. Patreon, at its best, is a powerful conduit to facilitating monthly subscribers to your content. And — not surprisingly — the way to generate a significant subscriber base is to offer exclusive content to paying customers.
Those archives I mentioned? That’s going to be prime exclusive content. In the same way re-formatted sites should be directing deeper archive material into eBooks / print books, I think partitioning archives off for Patreon backers (or the equivalent under other subscription services) is going to be key. Patreon released its API a long time ago, and I’m still waiting for a WordPress plug-in to integrate Patreon and WordPress seamlessly. It doesn’t seem to be happening very quickly — and I think that has something to do with that fact that the solution has to be very careful of the potential risk of leaking credit-card information. But I’m, confident it will happen sooner or later.
And frankly, even if it doesn’t, it’s pretty easy to combine six months or a year’s worth of comics into an eBook and make that a Patreon exclusive.
Also… I think we’re going to see more and more hybrid comics. This is going to be a comic with two versions — a public version and a Patreon version. For example, Evil Inc continues to be a free webcomic, but Evil Inc After Dark is available only to Patreon backers. Some storylines start in Evil Inc and are continued in EiAD. Other times, EiAD is merely promoted from Evil Inc. The common thread here is this: A public webcomic can be used to generate interest in a for-pay counterpart.
This, of course, will lead to hybrid print publishing. Just think. If you repeatedly tie-in Patreon content with your free public content (and if you’re savvy in how you write both), you could very well have two versions of the same book to Kickstart at the end of the year — one book that collects only the free material and another book that unites the two into a seamless storytelling unit. The possibilities are impressive.
Rethinking the site as “hub”
Speaking of doing 180° turnaround, I’ve even been rethinking an attitude that I’ve had since the very beginning. Your main Web site is still important. I still favor having one place on the Web that you can fully control. I don’t think I’ll ever be comfortable with the idea of publishing all of my work through a social-media outlet such as Facebook.
Your Web site isn’t the pivotal center of your publishing universe any longer.
Here’s what that means. In 2009, I would have never allowed my comics to be published anywhere but evil-inc.com. Seeing my comic posted elsewhere meant stolen ad revenue to me. Comic scrapers got a cease-and-desist notice. Any entity that inquired about running my comics on their platform (without the sharing of ad revenue written into a contract) got a polite “no, thank you.”
Today, I mirror my comic on LINE Webtoons. It’s a great user experience. And, within reason, I’m willing to consider a small number of additional mirrors — like GoComics, for example.
That’s because it’s not about maximizing ad revenue anymore. Under the new system, there’s a real advantage to exposing the work to as broad an audience as possible. That means mirror sites are a net gain. It also means smart use of social media beyond Twitter and Facebook — I’m thinking specifically of Imgur, Reddit and Instagram — is brimming with potential.
The wonderful Dylan Meconis joins Brad Guigar and Dave Kellett to take a question from a Patreon backer who wants advice on growing their readership. Another backer asks about finding balance between comics and “real life.”
BUT FIRST… they grapple with what “Love is…”
For years, Webcomics.com has been advising members to move away from an ad-supported model and prepare for a crowd-funding future. This may be the week that many get the reason they need to finally make that move: Google’s Chrome browser will update with a built-in ad-blocker of sorts.
It’s been in the works for nearly a year and Google’s great ad-pocalypse is now upon us. On Thursday, the Chrome browser will begin to automatically filter out ads that don’t meet certain quality standards. Your browsing experience is about to change a little bit. Here’s what you need to know.
In April of last year, the news first broke that Google planned to integrate some form of ad-blocking into its browser that would be on by default. Since then we’ve seen a gradual rollout of the feature, beginning with the ability to mute autoplay videos with sound on the sites of your choosing. Now, Google going all-in with a set of criteria for what ads will be kosher in Chrome.
Along with its fellow ad giant Facebook, Google is a member of the Coalition for Better Ads, an industry group that has performed research on what forms of web advertising annoys people the most. It’s created a list of the 12 types of web experiences that should ideally be avoided by advertisers. Now Google is going to enforce that list with Chrome, which is used by over half of all people accessing the web with a browser.
What does this mean for publishers?
The content you are trying to access is only available to members.
“It’s so hard to get noticed today,” was the comment the webcartoonist made. “It’s impossible to get through on social media, and there are so many webcomics out there competing. It’s almost impossible to rise to the top.”
Wrong, wrong and wrong.
Feel free to file this under “Get Off My Lawn.”
When I was writing this post about the decreased prioritization of daily updates, it required a bit of history. In writing the piece, I reached back over 17 years of daily webcomics experience to contrast publishing then with publishing now.
The upshot is that the two are vastly different, yet most webcomics I see are still doing the things we did Then instead of innovating into the Now.
In writing it, I found myself taking a tangent into another area that requires a bit of compare-and-contrast. It did not aid in making my central point, so I edited it out of the piece. Fortunately, there’s so much there to talk about that it stands very well as its own topic.
The Unspeakable Truth
Let’s get this out of the way, first and foremost:
It’s impossible to hide good work on the Web.
Got it? Print it out — big — and hang it over your workspace.
If your comic isn’t generating the pageviews / social sharing / income that you think it should, then the answer is staring you in the face. Your comic’s not good enough. Yet.
Now, while you’re printing banners, print this:
It’s impossible to get worse at something you do every day.*
*If you’re putting a critical eye to your work.
Those two thoughts, hand-in-hand, sum up my thoughts on webcomics popularity. And it came from hard-won experience. It came from thinking I was “there” for years and seeing other comics — comics that I didn’t think were done very well — outperforming my own. I would look at a comic like xkcd with outrage. Stick figures! He does stick figures! I draw actual images that look like things and he’s drawing stick figures! My comic is way better than his!
But his comic was connecting to an audience, and mine was not.
His comic was impossible to hide. Mine easily filtered to the middle of the heap.
It wasn’t a reason to quit. It was a reason to focus. And work harder.
Everything I’m going to write is second to those two thoughts above.
They are essential.
“Picture it… Sicily, 1912…”
Twitter was launched in 2006. Facebook didn’t become open to the general public until the same year. (Kickstarer and Patreon would follow long after.) The original “How To Make Webcomics” book doesn’t mention any of these. They just weren’t around to be talked about at that time.
This is part of the reason I always cringe when I hear newer webcartoonists complain about how hard it is to get noticed on today’s Internet. Simply put: You folks have no idea. Once upon a time, savvy promotion came in the form of web rings and forming online pseudo syndicates (such as Keenspot and Modern tales).
You know what? You freaking kids have no idea how good you’ve got it.
Unfavorable signal-to noise? There’s always been a tremendous amount of crappy webcomics — and a relatively small number of really good ones.
Hard to get the word out? It has never been easy.
Oh, and here’s the one that kills me: The only way to be a successful webcomic is to have started in 2000? You’re (conveniently) forgetting every. single. day. of hard work between then and now. And by taking your eye off the target, you’re missing your chance to be the success story they talk about in 2030. While you’re looking behind you, the people you’re going to be jealous of in fifteen years are looking ahead.
Social media is a power
I always look at the social-media outreach of the webcartoonists who bellyache about how hard it is to get noticed. And — overwhelmingly — I always see some pretty shoddy social media: Repetitive solicitations to look at the most recent comic, and little else of substance.
I picture them with an electric drill, unplugged, wondering why everybody seems to rave about how well the thing makes holes. Because — clearly — you’ve been drilling all day and you’ve hardly made a dent.
We all say that social media is a powerful tool. But it might be more appropriate to say that social media is a power tool. And as wonderful as power tools are, they’re useless until you provide the power.
And so many of us simply aren’t willing to do that. We expect results without the effort — and we expect them NOW… not five years from now.
How do I know? Heh… how do you think I spent the better part of the early 2000s?
So… how do you power up social media? I’ve written about it before. It’s the Three Cs. (And most of us stop at the first one).
If you’ve already read this, skip down to The Bottom Line.
The three Cs of social media — Commercial, Content, Curation
Here’s the problem: You need to promote your work more often. But if your social-media feed is nothing but you hawking your tawdry wares, you’re going to lose followers (and it’s going to be hard to gain new ones). Let’s face it, people don’t follow creators on social-media for a steady barrage of “buy this” posts. They want to interact with the creator.
That doesn’t mean less self-promotion — that means adding a lot of non-promotion posts so your copious promotion doesn’t overpower the feed.
And, of you can do that well, you can actually get away with posting a ton of self-promotion.
OK… This is why you’re on social media. As a creator, you’re not really interested in sharing cat videos or complaining about politics. You’re not here to take personality quizzes or play games. You know that social-media is the most powerful tool in your arsenal for “getting your work out there.” You want people to read your webcomic, buy your book, support your Kickstarter and back your Patreon. And social media is the best way to make that happen.
So your Commercial posts are just that — overt messages that invite people to do all of those things that will help you build your webcomics business to the next level.
Commercial messages are good. And you can get away with posting a LOT of Commercials if you balance those messages out with posts from these next two categories.
Commercial is what brought you to social media, but to the general public, they’re here for one thing — Content. They don’t mind the Commercial (in reasonable amounts), but they’re there to connect with YOU on a social level. They want to know you better. And that means talking about your work and your life (to the extent that you’re comfortable). They want to see your own cat video. They want to know what kind of brush you use. They want to know what you think about the new Star Wars movie. And they want to talk to you about it.
You should be striving to fill your social-media feed with as much Content as you can reasonably manage. Content is what gets shared. And shared posts bring in new followers. New followers are who you want to expose to your Commercial messages, right? So every time someone shares a post, it’s an opportunity for growth. Content gets shared way more than Commercial.
If you haven’t read this post about curating social-media feed, take some time to do so. It’s a crucial concept to understand if you want to improve your social-media power.
Here’s the problem: You can only post so much content. After all, you might not even own a cat to record on video. You might not have anything interesting to say about the new Star Wars movie. Maybe you’re kind of a private person. Maybe you’re pouring all of your creativity into you comic, and you just don’t feel like you have any left for Twitter.
I’l argue that you really should be posting as much Content posts as you reasonably can, but sometimes there’s just nothing… there.
That’s where the third C comes in — Curation.
Nobody expects your social-media feed to be purely you. In fact, they expect some of the content of that feed to be other people’s work* that you’re sharing with them.
Do you know how many people retweet and share the posts I make about other people’s comics? Maybe it’s a comic that made me laugh out loud. Maybe I’d just like to tip my hat to someone else’s work. Or promote their Kickstarter. Or retweet their book announcement. Retweets, shares, posts about other people doing cool stuff… ALL of that is like GOLD on social-media.
And without fail, those are the posts that get shared, and — in a nice little bit of social-media karma — those shared posts bring me new followers.
I love promoting other people’s work. Of course it feels good to promote someone whose work you think is good. But there’s more to it than that. The dividends are significant.
*…work that is meant to be shared
The Bottom Line: This Has Always Been Hard
That’s why I always cringe when I see a webcartoonist complaining about how hard it is to get noticed. The facts are immutable:
- Good work rises to the top. Always
- Self-promotion has always been hard work
- There has always been a lot of competition for what we do
And the more you convince yourself that one — or all — of the above don’t apply to you, the longer it’s going to take for you to actually succeed. Because you can’t do that by complaining. You can only succeed by improving. And you can only improve by honestly and objectively looking at your flaws.
And here’s the mistake that 99% of you will make…
You’re going to go back to your studios and workspaces, and you’re going to focus on the Three Cs because that’s easier than really addressing the Unspeakable Truth. You’re going to try to game Facebook’s Edgerank system because that’s much easier to grasp than figuring out why your jokes aren’t funny or your stories aren’t compelling. You’re going to continue to find that One Weird Trick — that secret button to push — that will bring millions of readers to your site.
When you should be solving why you haven’t kept the millions of readers who have already been there.
You’re going to miss the point.
Now, get off my lawn.