Tuesday, November 11, 2008

An Interview with KEZ, Part II

From War of Winds

This is Part II of the interview with KEZ, Part I appearing yesterday.

Q: One of my beliefs is that comics people should, as much as possible, be able to manage their site design without relying on outside help, as I have seen many sites vanish when the webmaster moves on. Can your approach avoid dependence on others?

A: I totally agree with you. The internet is an ephemeral thing. People come and go, comics come and go. When possible, it is always best for one person to have all the skills necessary, especially when (as it often is with webcomics), no one has the money to pay anyone else. Most of us who have our own sites are self-taught, gleaning coding knowledge when and where we can.

Free hosting sites like Drunk Duck, Webcomicsnation and Smackjeeves have allowed new webcomickers to post their comics without having any coding knowledge. So yes, it is perfectly possible for people to avoid dependence on a webmaster there, but not with installing ComicPress without any coding knowledge, and especially not with modifying it. Using CP requires no coding knowledge though, since it has a visual and HTML editor. To install it however, one must either host themselves or be on a host that will allow them to you a mySQL database. It is possible to have many levels of dependence with CP, from zero to 100%.

Generally, it is always best for the webcomic creator to have the skills to handle both the site and the comic. The webcomic creator knows best what type of “gallery” best suits his or her work.

Q: You often say that site optimization is as critical as comic optimization.

A: It is important for all webcomic creators to realize that a webcomic is exactly what the word says: half web, half comic. The webcomic site in my opinion is as important as the comic itself when it comes to webcomics as a business—or a passionate hobby. The way I usually explain it to people just starting out is that you must think of your website as an art gallery. The gallery showcases the pieces to visitors. The gallery needs proper lighting and aesthetics. The gallery should not be confusing to walk around, nor should pieces of the gallery be broken-down. It should not be too large, too small, or ugly. The gallery should be welcoming and appropriate to your work. The gallery makes your work BETTER than if it was viewed in your garage. It is complimentary. Above all, the gallery is important!

A poorly put-together site chases readers away and ruins a reading experience. “Poorly put-together” can mean anything from zero aesthetics to incredibly long loading times, to broken templates, massive scrolling, or an inability to find the comic/archive. If the gallery is in the ghetto, will you be going there to view the art gallery? I doubt it. If the website doesn’t work, how can you make any money from EITHER ads or merchandise? You can’t, because you’re not increasing your visitor number, and money depends on visitor numbers. If you can’t correctly display your comic on your site, you have failed. PHAIL.

Q: I'd like your opinion on WYSIWYG editors, because I've heard you talk about DreamWeaver. I've found many of them unsatisfactory, until I found Synthasite, an all-in-one host/builder/editor which I use for most of my sites. They're getting big after receiving lots of positive press, but their staff have always been willing to work with me on every idea and concern, and my sites are easy to manage and options are improving all the time. Your thoughts?

A: I use the 1998 edition of Dreamweaver. It works wonderfully for HTML, though not so great for CSS, but the newest version of the program is wonderfully intuitive. The reason I recommend WYSIWYG editors to artists is because it’s set up the way an artist would want it: visually. What better way for person who loves to draw comics but can’t stand math class? I’ve never used Synthasite, so I unfortunately can’t give an opinion on it.

Q: One of your jobs is working with a comic that is on Keenspot. Most people have heard of Keenspot, but would like to know the public details of how it works.

A: I will say what I can here, as I’m sure many would not appreciate me saying too many secrets. However, too many secrets of making a successful business out of webcomics are kept too close, and it pains me to see people making zilch when they could be making hundreds a year. A couple hundred a year may not pay the mortgage, but it can certainly fund this time-consuming, sometimes costly, hobby.

Keenspot “works” (as a business) by requiring all members to display ads on their sites, much like ComicGenesis. Ads are served through services such as Gorilla Nation, Burst Media, ADSDAQ, and more. For each ad display, Keenspot gets a cent or so. The Keenspot network gets hundreds of thousands of pageviews per day. You can do the math yourself.

Keenspot also works by encouraging the webcomickers there to make money themselves, also with ad impressions. Previously, KS gave the creators a percentage of total revenue generated from the site. Currently, KS uses a new system, designed to increase creator revenue. Here is the press release from it.

Q: Who doesn't love Project Wonderful? Yet, you have talked about hosting "outsider" ads as a way to boost revenue. What can we learn from you?

A: PW is great for the advertiser, but not so great for the publisher. As an advertiser, you can score a great spot on any comic for dollars less CPM (cost per thousand views) than market value. For example, I often pay under 15 cents CPM for any ad. This is wonderful for me, but the person who published the ad could be making far more than my measly quarter. I advertise on PW a lot, but I PUBLISH ads served from ADSDAQ. As an accepted publisher, I set my own desired CPM, and I get ads from companies willing to meet that price. You can choose to set your CPM very high, and get very little ads served, set CPM low and have 100% fill rate, but not make as much as you can, or find that perfect medium.

When ADSDAQ doesn’t fill all possible impressions, it sends your ad space to your “default.” If you are a member of other ad companies, you can set up an “ad chain,” so that defaults from each network are sent to more networks, to maximize your revenue. This is where SEO becomes important! Many of these networks used context based ads. They look for text on your site, and display appropriate ads based on that content. If there is no text, you don’t get ads! Again, this is where ComicPress becomes something amazing.

On my site personally, I had my “default” show as a PW slot. In this way, I made money from both places, since my site is currently not large enough to be accepted in other ad networks than ADSDAQ. I should note here a common misconception with putting a PW ad in an ad chain: your stats graph ONLY registers impressions where the PW is actually displayed. The graph does not register impressions of any other ad except itself. I am told that since people do not know this, they do not bid on ads in an ad chain. In my experience, this is true, which is why I stopped, and will now be displaying links to other comics I enjoy as my default ad.

Q: I know some popular titles that net over $600/week from merchandise sales without breaking a sweat. Can ads compare to that?

A: I believe it, but in my experience, 1 in 1000 of visitors to your site will ever buy real, physical merchandise, discounting random donations under 5 dollars a piece. So, to make 600 a week, you'd need (for example) around 60000 readers, of whom 600 make a $10 purchase, purchasing an item for 10 dollars a piece, and be increasing that number of readers all the time. What this turns into is a continuous loop of "advertise for more readers, more readers buy things." But this is how a business, ANY business, works. I would doubt more than 5 webcomics have accomplished this feat of $600/week though with merchandise alone, since 60K is a hell of a lot of readers. Many more comic makers could make hundreds a week with proper SEO, ad impressions AND merchandising.

Q: Is there a point at which a comic should stop advertising?

A: I’m guessing that you mean, “can you stop advertising once your audience gets large enough?” and the answer is no, not if your comic is a business. Another example: let’s say I have a 100 page comic and I advertised, gaining a total of a hundred new readers. That’s 10,000 pageviews I was just paid for, if I’m displaying ads. If I don’t advertise again, and those 100 new readers only come back once a week to check my latest page, I’m getting only 100 pageviews a week, and I’m making no money. By my rule of <.01%, no one will buy anything even if I have merchandise. This is where comics really need to learn to take advantage of long-term, lower-limit bids on PW, link exchanges, forum posting, and increased frequency of updating. All of this is a type of advertising. If this question was asked just generally, it really depends on one’s personal pride/shame. I personally believe that a comic that will not be completed (ie, on indefinite hiatus) should never be advertised. You’re cheating the readers out of an ending, and closure is everything with a story! A completed comic however, is something to be proud of. An in-progress comic guarantees new material at a certain frequency. Whether or not a comic is complete, in progress, or on hiatus, webcomic creators can still make money from advertising on PW and then publishing ads from “outsider” ad companies.

Q: Having heard your tech talk, many will want to see your comic, The War of Winds, which is hosted by the Spider Forest Collective. Care to give us the background first?

A: The War of Winds is an epic fantasy webcomic about a young man named Talon, who is more than he seems. When Talon takes a flat, blue-steeled ring from a dying woman’s hand, he finds himself granted near immortality from mortal wounds, while at the same time, he is dying faster than ever. Talon quickly finds himself on the run, hunted by a mythical race of half-human, half-beasts called the “Ayenroki,” who claim guardianship of what he took. To survive, Talon must find allies before time catches up with him.
I personally describe it as the lovechild of X-files and the Odyssey. It comes across at first as very fantasy, but will quickly start to dive into the realms of sci-fi, despite the pretense. I will have been working on the comic for five years, come April 2009. There is a lot of material, obviously.

Q: What services do you provide, and how do people reach you?

A: Mainly I provide site building and design for webcomics. I have a lot of experience modifying ComicPress especially, but I also have worked with ComicGenesis, DrunkDuck, SomeryC and Keenspot sites. I can be reached at warofwinds@gmail.com, and information on commission prices (with example sites) can be found here.

Q: Please name one comic you highly recommend, preferably one that could use some exposure.

A: Oh my, this is a tough one. There are so many, but your final clause narrows it down quite a bit. I’m going to have to say Family Man, by Dylan Meconis. I don’t know about the stats, but it’s a comic I’d never heard of until stumbling across it on someone’s links page. It is simply amazing, and I’ve been a fan of Meconis since her work on Bite Me.

Q: What do you like to do when you're away from the web and comics?

A: Martial arts, reading, other art, and exercise. I take three styles of martial arts, but so far, my favorite is weapons training. I take Pekiti Tirsia, Filipino stick and knife fighting. My instructor likes to seriously joke that Pekiti is “the complete system of ‘Oh shits’ and ‘What-ifs’,” which is totally true. Hand-to-hand combat is also a favorite of mine. There is nothing like the feeling of hitting someone! I also take my dog to agility training, which is great fun for the both of us. Oh! And Stargate Atlantis. I love to watch Stargate.
 Subscribe in a reader