Thursday, March 5, 2009

Webcomic Analytics Are Becoming More Public

ATTENTION: Allow me to correct an important error in the opening text. Google's data source for the graphs is not Google Analytics, and is described in detail here. It's a combination of sources. Thanks to the reader who alerted me to this.

Also worth noting, in comments, is a report from (so far) one reader who says the data is quite removed from their GA data. We did checks before publishing, but less than 15-20, so any reports of significant variation are of great interest here. If you have friends or sites that appear in Google Trends, ask how their data looks compared to Google Analytics and let us know, even if it's anonymously. Remember, Google Trends is reporting daily unique visitors, so be sure to use that same data from GA when comparing. Signed comments and emails carry more weight and priority than anonymous, but do what you must. Thanks, and sorry for the inaccurate statements. I've left the opening "as is" so that returning readers can more clearly see what has been corrected and why. I'll rewrite it after it ages to work in the revisions. Below is the original post.

Google has started releasing Google Analytics data to the public. This should come as no surprise to anyone who read the terms of use. They own the data.

The titles included below are mostly driven by the site being big enough to have data available. Including some industry benchmarks is also obviously of interest.

Of course, sites using other analytics systems are not included.

The numbers are daily unique visitors, meaning you will generally only be counted once per day even if you visit five times a day from the same computer.

It seems reasonable to expect this data to be more reliable than many alternate source, because it is coming from a system deliberately installed on the site and backed by a strong reputation.

Qwantz may be better known as Dinosaur Comics.

Note the bounce from announcement of a notable
new collaboration.

"Girls With Slingshots"

There's a disturbing number of comics with long, steady declines. What's happening? I think there are different answers for different types of sites:

  • Big host sites are losing out to owner operated sites. WordPress and other tools make it easier to be less reliant on hosts. This doesn't mean big host sites aren't able to grow, but without enough good comics calling them home, their all-important social communities will fracture.
  • Some older titles seem burned out and don't compare with robust new efforts
  • As I've written before, video game/pop culture comics with a young reader base are vulnerable to what I confusingly call "cooling down." In this phenomenon, titles that attract youthful readers lose status as still younger readers join in, interested in what the "big kids" like. With many trends, once the fan base penetrates middle school, only the hardcore older readers are left. It's become "uncool." Older readers provide some ballast, but are busier, and if a dated comic falls off their list, they might not put it back. "Imperial overreach" is another possibility: once brand extension reaches a certain point (and especially if those extensions do poorly) it wears out the appeal of the franchise.
  • The video game-related titles are doing especially poorly. The limitations of the genre may be catching up just as the ideas run thin.
  • Talent matters more. The best comics show readers what is possible with humor, drama and presentation.
  • Presentation matters more. We have comics that are simple, or black and white, because that's what works best for them. But some comics seem lazy, and people offering reasons for avoiding color seem to overestimate the challenge and underestimate the difficulty of doing truly masterful black and white work.
  • New comics are targeting established niches that seem popular. Say what you will, but it's obvious that some comics are designed around styles and concepts made popular by others. Serviceable copycats may pull a fragment of readers away from a veteran title, if only by snagging fans who would have landed on the original if they found it first. Because simpler comics are more vulnerable, they would seem to be under threat of glut.
  • Many comics people are not good at business. Unsatisfactory revenue leads to less effort on the comics, and a downward spiral begins. This idea is borrowed from another observer, but as a lifelong comics and business-starting guy, I'd say it's very true.
I don't like to see any comic fail if it has enthusiasts, but there are old guard comics on this list who have appointed themselves leaders of the medium, but have done little but serve themselves, embarrass us with juvenile antics, and park themselves in a quagmire of bad business sense, inferior comics and debauchery. I won't miss comics done by people who want to wear the crown but not shoulder the responsibility. If this data is accurate, I don't see any reason not to regard it as good news for the future of webcomics.