Monday, March 23, 2009

Another Look at Webcomic Traffic Trends

On March 5 I published graphs from Google Trends reporting unique visitor counts , and they showed a lot of well-known comics with downward lines. Some comics were flat, or rising, especially newer ones. You might want to pop over and look to get the full effect of what you're about to see.

All the titles selected were based on what I could find in Google's archives. Most webcomics were not available.

Reader comments included some grumbling about data not matching analytics and some conspiratorial assertions, plus a flash of insight from occasional commenter Andrew, in which he pointed out the possible role of feeds in traditional circulation decline. This is a compelling idea, except for one thing: the time periods of the graphs are the same, so if everything is equal, the new comics should show decline too.  Everything is not the same, and more vigorous growth of conventional circulation might hide feed cannibalism for a while, however. Host sites like Comic Genesis also showed major retreats. Who subscribes to a feed for that? But it's possible a different culprit is at work on the hosts: WordPress.

My feeling is that these comics are slipping, and I have more evidence than I can assemble in one column. I think the answer lies in the strategies of many of the creators, as well as in competition that makes many of them seem creatively empty. He who lives by the trend, dies by the trend.

This doesn't apply to absolutely everyone below. There are some titles with very specific issues, like Scary-Go-Round, with lots of long non-events punctuated only by wardrobe changes. I don't know enough about Schlock Mercenary to say anything smart, but it has a good creative/business team and is not to be counted out.

Some people select the celebrity game for their business strategy, especially those who turn on public charm to hide their feverish maneuverings from casual observers.  Others take a collegial, professional approach, less likely to land them in the microcelebrity glamour blogs, but more likely to give them a shot at a lifetime career as a cartoonist. Celebrity is just another pop trend: if you are not famous for a solid reason you will be chewed and spit out. Comics built around newspaper design and cut and paste art won't hold up.

Remember, I am older than the average webcomicker, and I've been drawing longer than many have been alive* (which you would think would make me a better artist). But much more important, I've spent most of my professional career doing creative-oriented business start-ups, mostly for myself but also for others. (I've also worked as a writer/journalist and spent a year overseeing the distribution of government surplus cheese, among other things.) My attitude may seem to lack compassion, but after having compassionate treatment rejected enough times, one stops worrying about people determined to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The lying and swearing and secret cabals of frightened hens also dampens one's concern.

These charts show page views, not visitors, but since they are closely related and we want to see trends, we need not be concerned. When a graph seems unclear, try comparing the first fifth with the last fifth.


Diesel Sweeties


Penny Arcade

Sluggy Freelance


White Ninja

VG Cats


Schlock Mercenary

We'll take a look at the host sites one day soon.


* Only in webcomics would I be old enough to invoke the classic, "I'm older" lecturing strategy. Look forward to it: life really does begin at forty.