FOver the past several weeks, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the future of webcomics. We’re in a period of significant upheaval, and rather than be frightened, I’m focusing on the opportunities that present themselves in such times.
I’ve written how social media has evolved the typical webcomics reader from a forager to a grazer. And I think that the way we handle that issue is going to define our future as content creators.
I’ve also written that I think many of us are going to have to turn to a subscription-based model (such as either Patreon or a traditional subscription-based Web site). Once ad revenue is removed, it just might be the only choice you have, if your goal is to earn an income through your self-published comics.
If you need any real-word examples of how this is playing out against the broader landscape, simply look to the new Star Trek series. It wasn’t available on Netflix or Hulu. Rather, it was exclusive to CBS All Access — the network’s own subscription-based delivery service. Throw in other existing services such as HBO Now— and Disney’s upcoming subscription service — and it’s clear to see that a fantasy/sci-fi fan is going to have to keep several subscriptions going to continue watching shows like Daredevil, Star Trek, Game of Thrones, and so on.
The same thing is going to happen in comics, folks.
And the results aren’t all bad. For example, once we remove ad revenue from the equation, we’re free to rethink many things that were no-brainers for over a decade of Web publishing. And one of the biggies is this…
The archive was once the webcartoonist’s secret weapon. A big archive meant big ad-revenue dollars. Binge-readers generated significant returns on CPM advertising, and long,winding archives means plenty of SEO-based opportunities for a new reader to discover you.
Although SEO discovery is still important, ad revenue is a much smaller factor than it was a few years ago.
As a result, there’s a much smaller reward for keeping that archive readily available to binge-readers. Instead, I’m giving serious consideration to putting the majority of my archive behind a subscription wall. Now that Patreon has released a WordPress plug-in, you can offer that subscription-based archive to your patrons as yet another reward.
I would, of course, keep a healthy chunk of my recent work available for free reading. After all, that’s the best way to turn a new reader into a fan. But my goal now will be to leave just enough free content on my site to convert a fan… and then convince that fan to be a subscriber. After all, only a fan is going to subscribe to get deep-archive access. Finding that sweet spot is going to take a little experimenting. But I think it’s got tremendous promise as a revenue source.