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 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.