Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Getting International Traffic to Your Comic

Illustration by Nathalie Schon. Read on, for the whole story.
I'm going to use one of Pug and my comics as an example again. I know it smacks of self-promotion, but I have a pretty good reason today. Please indulge me.

A fair critique of our title Li'l Nyet might mention the point that the setting -- Soviet Russia -- is not going to appeal to some readers.

Reader mail suggests our audience runs a little older than the average comic, with one or two people recalling Cold War memories in their letters. Quantcast Analytics, which is so out of step with other analytics companies that even they admit their numbers aren't accurate, does offer demographic breakdowns suggesting our audience is in the typical 18-34 webcomics zone, but we can't consider that reliable.

Most comickers I've spoken to report holiday dips in their traffic, often followed by spikes as people catch up. With Li'l Nyet, the holiday dips are getting smaller and smaller, exceeding our average traffic of just eight weeks ago.

One possible reason is that I've been working pretty hard to build international traffic.

Li'l Nyet is controversial in Russia, where a lot of citizens feel defensive about their recent history. Being Russian myself, I am not afraid to ruffle feathers there, but it is apparent that a comic poking fun at totalitarianism hits a nerve.

Former Soviet Bloc countries are another story. We were picked up by a Czech link list, and soon the comic began to spread around the neighborhood. Virtually every former East Bloc country is in our top fifty. The ones with the best internet access are in the top ten, including Germany (remember communist East Germany?), Poland, and Lithuania. Russian neighbor Finland was never an East Bloc country, but its location and affection for comics puts it in our top ten as well. These countries, where English is a second language, push aside traditional top readership countries like Australia and New Zealand. (Canada and the UK are numbers 2 and 3.) A sixth of our readers reside abroad.

How can you build your international readership? I don't have enough experience yet to offer a dazzling idea list, but here are some thoughts:

  • Be aware of the rest of the world, and think about where your comic might find readers based on national interests and your theme;
  • Know which countries have a tradition of comic appreciation. The Netherlands and Finland are two examples. Advertising on a Dutch friend's English-language site has helped us. Hungary also has a significant comics scene;
  • Consider a translated version of your strip;
  • Join Oltre Comics, an Italian comic list/link/review site with a mix of Italian and English comics;
  • Familiarize yourself with foreign language comics, to see what's happening elsewhere. We have a decent archive at Psychedelic Treehouse: Non-English Webcomics ;
  • Familiarize yourself with the Lambiek Comiclopedia , a sort of Wiki of comics artists and jumping off point for historical and international explorations;
  • Use translation tools like Google Languages or Paralink to propose link exchanges with comics and sites abroad. Mention that you speak English, because they might too, and that makes it easier;
  • If traveling in Europe, attend one of the big comics festivals, like Angouleme, France or Stripdagen Haarlem (home of the Clickies Awards) in the Netherlands. There are also festivals in Moscow and Toronto (May 9, 2009);
  • If nothing else, you can pick out some foreign language comics that look appealing and link to them, assuming they will eventually find you and take note of the courtesy;
  • In the East, manga rules, so if that's your style research your options for hooking up with readers in Japan, South Korea and China. You can meet comickers from countries like Malaysia easily on Twitter: Artmaker is a good one to follow, and a really nice guy. Explore India and her 1.2 billion people, many of whom speak excellent English. Actus Tragicus is the main comics collective in Israel. In Africa, we pick up the most readers from South Africa, followed by Kenya.
  • For South America, remember two things: Brazilians speak Portuguese, not Spanish, and not all national Spanish dialects are easily understood from one country to the next. Don't forget about our neighbor Mexico;
  • Native language link lists are hard to find. You have to tinker with your Google settings and learn the national words for "online" and "comic." Please send me any you find so I can develop a list.
I wish I could tell you that picking up readers outside of the US/Canada/UK/Australia/New Zealand regions was easy, but a lot of people speak English as a second language, and any chance you have to include them in your outreach can be worthwhile. Had a close German friend in college? Write a paragraph about the character you've based partly on that person, translate it into German, and post both on your ABOUT page. You get the idea. It's all about taking advantage of opportunities to connect with international readers, and alert them to special meaning in your comic for people from their country. Are you Estonian or Thai or a recent immigrant from elsewhere? Work it in.
One thought about international traffic is that if you run or are planning a merchandise operation, you might want to plan as though the US and Canada were your only readers. There are several reasons: Shipping complexity and expense; the tendency of some credit card processors to reject certain areas due to high fraud rates; and lower average disposable income to buy and ship single items from America.
While writing this, I wondered, what about our other comic, Scratchin Post ? Without looking, I decided that it has the best prospects in France, because it parodies many of the things the French find amusing about Americans. Sure enough: France is 6, behind the five big English-speaking nations. I swear I don't recall noticing this fact previously. I can't explain Brazil's presence in the top ten, buleitores brasileiros bem-vindos!
By lucky coincidence, the day before I posted this, we received a nice letter from French cartoonist Nathalie Schon, expressing enthusiasm for Pug's art and sharing her own. The only unfortunate part is we're not sure which title she is referencing, so I don't know if it supports my France guess for Scratchin Post or not. If I find out, I'll let you know.