Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Most Essential New Tool for Webcomics?

This post is directed at creators of mid-range comics -- titles with daily audiences of 500 to 2,500 unique readers/day, or thereabouts. You are mostly uncorrupted and in a good position to exploit this tip.

Take a fresh look at ComicRank. Here's why:

  • It provides critical data that is difficult to collect from other sources
  • It tells you a count of your dedicated readers, as opposed to visitors. This makes it a great addition to the other tools you use
  • Data about trends is better than snapshots, and ComicRank gives you trend data
  • I've gotten to know the owner via email over the past 16 months, and he strikes me as one of the most ethical and steady people running a measuring service
  • Here's a big one: you can list a comic so that it is visible only to you but not to other visitors. You can see your readers without anyone else knowing. Want to test it? My comic, Lil Nyet, is now set on private. Try to find evidence that it is even present, let alone any data about it
  • It's free
  • There are plans to offer enhanced services which I think will make it even more appealing
Consider: a common way of measuring potential t-shirt sales is to count on .5-1% of your monthly uniques.* (This assumes your shirts are appealing, aren't over-priced, and are sold from your own store on your own site.)

Ordering one box of shirts (72 count) can quickly turn into a $350 - 500 order.

Instead of relying on the shaky and controversial unique visitor number, why not use both Comic Rank readers and unique visitors to form your purchase planning?

Another thing that has come to my attention as I have researched webcomics is that some people are not honest, or spin their data to give false impressions. There are, for example, people who claim to make a living from their webcomic, but who actually run so far in the red they need massive subsidies from family. They also make a lot of noise about their professional status, even though they are essentially clueless about how to build a business. They reek of entitlement.

When you do various math models of their performance, you see that their claims do not add up. This can distort your expectations. What you really want is hard data that pertains to you, not bragging.

Another way a comic's "popularity" (visitor count) is distorted is by advertising, which pushes up unique visitors. If you have a pal with a popular comic and they link to you, that will also pump your count. So will trading wallpaper for votes at sites like Top Webcomics, or joining a vote-trading group. There is tremendous value in discovering whether visitors from such sources become readers, and at what rate. False loyalists are like troops that desert at the first shot -- useful only for parades.

Using your own, private data, you can greatly sharpen the development of your comic as a business. By tossing out hype and false claims, you will not be deceived into making a poor decision.

For the record, I am not compensated in any way by ComicRank. I also do not discuss data with the owner, who has enough sense to keep it secure. I am a ComicRank enthusiast because it helps my comic, and because it reveals half-truths and fictions that undermine online comics, especially since many ComicRank members choose the public option to show their progress to the world. I am for anything that outs dishonesty and provides reliable data.

A final note: it takes a few weeks to acquire enough data to present a realistic visitor count on ComicRank. Starting now gets you the data you want sooner. You might consider setting your strip to private for the first few weeks so that if you go public it will have a decent count. I happened to visit on the day Book of Biff joined, and it showed one reader, because he started as public and it had just started counting. To some, it looks like an error. Starting private and jumping to public after a few weeks (as most do) might be a good way to start. Plus, going public provides a nice link to your site. Most people choose to go public to add to their visibility.

If you join ComicRank and you want to talk privately (or publicly) about whether you find it useful, drop me a line. Just because I think it's a great toll doesn't mean everyone will agree, and I am interested in other people's views.

As for highly visible, major titles: there are plenty I would encourage to join, probably in direct conversation where I could offer my specific reasoning. Others must decide for themselves, as they carry baggage and may have higher priorities to sort out before they tackle trying to run like serious businesses. Either way, I'm sure you'll be well-treated. Don't impose. :)

Note: It seems I had comments disabled for a few days. If you care to comment on a post, have another try.

Addendum: Steve from ComicRank read this piece and suggested I add this point, which I have re-worded a bit: Dramatic changes, such as doing something to annoy your readers, don't show up instantly, just as setting up your comic on CR takes a few weeks to compile meaningful data. Again, it comes down to reader trends over time, rather than a snapshot at a given instant.