The webcomics blog about webcomics

Lies, Damn Lies, and Unique Visitors

Via Xaviar at Comixpedia, a discussion by Steven Crowley of Magellan (and other works) on measuring webcomics by the volume of their readers. He breaks it down thusly:

There are probably five levels of readership numbers:

  • Stellar: so many you can’t really count them; 100,000+ readers per day; eg Penny Arcade, PvP
  • Super: high to very high; 10,000-100,000 per day; examples? I don’t know!
  • Maintaining altitude: medium to high; 1,000-10,000 per day
  • Limping along: low to medium; 250-1,000 per day; eg my comics go here!
  • Hello? Hellooo? Anyone?: nothing to low; 0-250 per day; eg many webcomics

This brings to mind a recurring conversation I’ve had with various creators (normally beer is involved) about readership numbers and who is actually seeing what kind of audience. The question is especially interesting because Kris Straub adds a comment to the effect that he once thought that 10,000 uniques/day was:

the magic number where you could honestly monetize your whole site and draw a (meager) living.

But, with the explosion of webcomics, 10,000/day just isn’t the number it used to be. So what is the number that lets you live off your comics? Crowley’s talking about daily readers here, but given that not all webcomics update daily, monthly uniques might be a better measure (and I have one hard number along those lines available: 3.5 million for PA, as cited by Robert Khoo in San Diego this summer).

For every other webcomic in existence, we have but speculation, approximation, (perhaps involving Project Wonderful), and not a lot of reliable data. One way to find out. If you’re a creator and you’re willing to answer some questions concerning readership numbers and being able to financially support yourself, drop me (that would be gary) an email at this website (that would be If I get a large enough sample size, I’ll send out questions, gather answers, and break out my old stochastics textbooks to do some analysis on it. Results (if any) will be published here in the aggregate (i.e.: I don’t mention your comic/numbers by name, but only as part of a larger population).

This will probably work best if we get a majority of those creators who actually have a webcomic (and its immediate offshoots) as a primary source of income, but I’d also like to see information on as many creators who are “semi-pro” or thinking about becoming pros — I’m extremely curious about where the tipping point between “this is my hobby” and “this can pay my rent and feed my family” sits these days. My interest in this is academic, but for you creators out there, think of this as like census data — a common dataset that you may use as you wish to whatever benefit you can. So whaddaya say? Willing to answer a few questions?

good GOD those stats make me sad. Is there any use for data from creators who hold down full-time jobs and then use that paycheck to pretend they’re making it from webcomics?

Gary, sent you an email.

I’m of the opinion that things are a lot more complex than just the numbers. 10k may mean a lot of merch sales to one person, and practically nothing to another.

Without naming names, a know a lot of cartoonists who violate 10k supposition both ways. Some people with relatively low readership make a good amount of money, whereas some people with a very high readership have trouble monetizing.

I think there are a lot of factors, such as art quality, current perception, marketing, and general appeal that determine what 10,000 means for any given artist.

I’d like to point out that Rosenberg didn’t really go “full-time” until after he knew he was moving OUT of Manhattan.

So let’s not forget that cost of living is a huge factor here.

I eagerly await your findings. Woo.

This is all very exciting.

This is very interesting, and it dovetails with a couple of things I’m working on.

The thing that jumps out at me is that you seem to be making an erroneous assumption about number of webcomics driving down the value of readers… I think it drives down the number of readers. Some people talk about “infinite shelf space,” but I know there’s only so much time in my day, and at this point when I start reading a new webcomic regularly it usually means I’m about to stop reading another. Having 10k readers might still be a milestone, but a harder one to achieve.

On the other hand, the total audience appears to be growing, and the percentage of one strip’s readers who are diehard supporters may be shrinking as things go a bit more “mainstream.” So I’m not sure.

I volunteer what data I have and look forward to your results.

Even more than whether or not more webcomics cuts down on the number of readers to go around – it also cuts down on the amount each reader can invest in any given comic.

Especially for the more dedicated readers (whom are often the ones buying merchandise and making donations), the more quality comics they are reading, the less they can really give out to each of them.

The total audience is probably growing, but the total number of webcomics is growing faster, I think. At least, in the sense that the overall attention span of the average reader is dropping.

If there were only 10 webcomics on the entire internet, this whole audience would be divided among them, and I bet they’d sell a lot of books, a lot of shirts, a lot of everything. But if you have a list of 30 to trawl daily (that’s 30 you like, not counting 1,000 others), you’re not going to spend $20 on each one. You probably won’t spend $5 on each one.

So the obvious solution is to cultivate reader devotion and interaction, to get a better result from whatever audience you can manage to attract. You can do this from a niche. But of course the niche matters; if I did a webcomic for transgender theater undergrads, I probably wouldn’t sell merchandise no matter how starved for attention that segment is.

I’m convinced that to be successful now, you more and more have to leave what we consider to be the “webcomics” audience, and look for a place where you can be the only game in town.

I’m with Kris on this one. I knew I was going to make it — I knew I had something bankable — when I surveyed my readers and got 4,000 responses, 80% of which said that Schlock was their #1 or #2 favorite comic.

10,000 responses that put me at #5 wouldn’t be significantly monetizable, because most of those folks would be spending their money with #1 or #2.

I get right around 20,000 uniques per day, and Webalizer’s algorithm puts me just above 30,000 “visits” per day. Into this audience I’ve sold around 5,000 books this year. That’s something like 1 book per year for every 4 daily uniques, which is ridiculously high — nobody who isn’t #1 or #2 with a large number of their readers is going to be able to sustain that (and it’s possible I won’t be able to sustain it — I only have one year of book sales to look at.)

I really like right now for third-party metrics. It’s a two-pronged system. You get general traffic data from a javascript bug you can put on their pages, and you get demographic data from their randomly-selected Nielsen-like panel. My sites actually do better on, say, Alexa, than on Quantcast, but I trust Quantcast more. Don’t know why. So take that for what it’s worth.

If you’re looking to sell advertising, though — and not through some general network like AdSense, but with direct sales to larger advertisers — the demographic data Quantcast provides is very useful. Also might help in generating a merchandise strategy (if your audience mostly consists of upper-middle-class women over 50, you probably won’t sell a bunch of slogan-bearing hoodies, for example).

If you’re making any money writing a webcomic who’s audience mostly consists of upper-middle-class women over 50, you’re doing amazingly well.

If you’re making noticeable money with a webcomic of any kind, you’re doing amazingly well.

[…] Can you make a living doing webcomics? That’s what Gary Tyrrell at Fleen is trying to figure out. He looks at basic assumptions and asks readers who have their own webcomics to send their info along, so he can figure out the “tipping” point between hobby and livelihood. Related: Steven Crowley at Sequential Daze breaks webcomics into five categories based on readership. […]

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[…] little history: In response to an article at Comixpedia, I suggested we try to figure out if there was a magic “break even” number on unique readers that would render a webcomic economically sustaining for the creator. Because I’m a bit of a […]

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