Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Trends Against Hosting Sites

These particular graphs were made with Alexa data, and Alexa did not have data for ComicGenesis yesterday.

After studying Buzz Comix, and to a lesser degree, other comics voting popularity sites, I concluded that they are dishonest and misleading. So of course I wanted to see how their traffic is running -- maybe spot a trend.

The bottom graph lists Buzz and some similar and less similar sites. They're all looking a bit grim, except for Belfry, which has a fine reputation with me. (They are the surging black line, bottom right.)

The major hosts are doing no better. Things are a bit jumbled now, with ComicSpace, Online and WCN merging... and merging, but the competitors who might have gained from the ComicSpace turmoil have lost ground instead. The merging sites were probably sharp in their day but look awful now, and the sluggish servers break the deal. I stopped updating on WCN months ago.

One thing WCN's owner Joey Manley said that impressed me is that he has learned to give other people involved with webcomics the "benefit of the doubt." That's just another version of the mile-in-your-moccasins saying, but for some reason when he said it, it helped me find balance in my interactions with some webcomics people. It freed me to be open to the possibility that if I saw things their way, I might overlook their faults. This allows me to save my venom for the small number who are real jerks while working more smoothly with the rest. Why an old homily from Joey would influence me so much is hard to say. I guess I was just ready to hear it.

And so Joey Manley and Josh Roberts, proprietors of the new ComicSpace, get the benefit of the doubt from me. With this benefit comes my best wishes for the new company, my inclination to be optimistic and a willingness to talk straight but offer help if needed.

The problem is, I think the comic host concept is in trouble.

People are taking control of their webcomics. They have unprecedented access to tools for analytic data, sites where they can build a beautiful home without knowing how to code, zero hassle free hosts (like Synthasite, for those wanting an example -- a company which is going to be offering what may be the best offer yet to comics, if plans develop).

If the new ComicSpace falls short on customizability, user friendliness, analytics, ad hosting, popular widgets, blogs, easy merchandising, design and anything else you've come to expect (and the prototype front page we've been shown is terrible), then it's not going to be a money maker.

It's possible that if it's reasonably popular, people will co-locate comics there for the publicity they might get, but if CS is not the primary domain then they will be competing with their own customers.

Within months, you'll be able to get a free, ad-free domain that snaps together like Legos, comes with outstanding customer service, offers a big array of features, with zero limits on bandwidth, a graphic editor and more. You can take your coding guy out behind the barn and shoot him. Even if ComicSpace matches that, who is going to provide customer service? I'm sorry guys, but it's not Joey and Josh. You don't even answer brief emails from friends, at least not without donning a mask of pain.

If the business model of webcomics is content + merchandise, your hub has to be tops, it has to be permanent, you have to own the domain, and you have to be able to customize it the way you want. The serious webcartoonists who are following the proven business model are not reliant on host sites, and the increasingly savvy newcomers, even those who see themselves as dark horse candidates for fame and fortune, are leaving nothing to chance. Meanwhile, the complaints of people who feel "stuck" on Drunk Duck and want their own site are being pasted in forums.

Perhaps someone will step forward and argue the case for mega-hosts. I'd be glad to listen.