The webcomics blog about webcomics

Social Networks: Worth The Paper They’re Not Printed On?

Two quick things:

  • Found copies of both the newest Penny Arcade book and DJ Coffman‘s Hero By Night in my pull box this week, so reviews coming.
  • I-CON (now through Sunday) always brings out the webcomickers, so check ’em out if you’re on Long Island. Plus: Kari! Man that’s a great rendering of her.

The real reason for posting today was a recent letter from Shane Mitrovic:

Ok so this question may turn into a research thing or story.

I have a webcomic, but that not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about promotion via social networks. it seems a great deal of artists have Livejournals/MySpace/Facebook/ Comicspace accounts to try and draw in more readers. If you take a look at some of the friends lists, it seems that they were readers before and simply added the artist because of some sort of fanish pride or sense of connection.

Compound this with the typically horrible and all inclusive end user agreements, I want to know if artists have any noticable increase in readers as they add themselves to these networks.

While I was thinking over the question, somebody else published something resembling an answer for me: the fine hacks at El Reg; while they weren’t looking at webcomics particulary, they did run some numbers looking at whether or not social networks (specifically, MySpace) are of material benefit to independent artists (specifically musicians).

Their answer: kinda. You have to be very careful about the terms of service, but ultimately it gives you a chance at building an audience that you can sell directly to, cutting out the middleman (in our world, either a syndicate or distributor). I’ll note, though, that in running the numbers, they considered the effects of building up a friends list (to truly gargantuan proportions), but then actually running distribution elsewhere.

Okay, so you can make money if you can build up a network, but Shane’s question was whether or not such sites can help create that network. The article ran its numbers based on the friends list of one Tila Tequila (warning: audio); much like the young ladies shown above, Ms Tequila’s network seems to have been built largely on the proven technique of partially dressed young adult female(s). It’s not surprising that social networks can build up huge audiences with that bait dangling, since a significant percentage of the planet’s population is kinda hardwired to seek such visuals out.

So can you build up such a network with something that doesn’t involve winners of the genetic Powerball? Yep, but it’s back to the old dilemma — you have to have content that’s more compelling to your audience than what their lizard brain tells them to seek out (a. ways to not die; b. food or sex). If your stuff’s good enough, you can keep those eyeballs, so the lesson here is not to worry about how a networking site can attract an audience — worry about making your webcomic so frickin’ good that the audience seeks you out.

I think “joke a day” style comics may work on a social network as friends pass them around, but I’m working on a semi-serious serial, which has a lot more reader investment.

Add to this the extra time delivering new content for the networking sites (ie posts or updates) and the artist is spreading themselves thin.

I would love to hear from folks like R Stevens or Jeph Jacques about projected or real numbers.

Basically I seem them as a promotional tool, but does the work you put into them have any noticable payout?

On average banner ads on Project wonderful are getting less than 1% click through (for me at least) so Im looking at new ways to get the comic “out there”.

that was a pretty freakin’ good piece Gary

Whaddaya wanna know? I haven’t noticed a huge difference from Myspace, so I stopped looking at it. (it’s too horrible to deal with for no benefit)

I’ve just started looking at Facebook and I think I added more friends there in a week than I did on Myspace in a year. I think that says something about where my readers overlap with their users.

I’ve set Jeph’s currently Facebook network as my goal- he seems to be the perfect cartoonise to exist on there. Not sure I’ll hit it, but it’s nice to have goals.

I view these sites as “the long convention”. You don’t really ADD a ton of readers, but you learn names and faces and make yourself generally available. I think people appreciate the gesture and it’s nice to learn more about the folks who help support you.

My livejournal certainly brought me new readers. Especially things like drawing memes and such. All it takes is a single mention on another blog, someone clicks add, and they’re a daily reader, whether they like it or not.

…and when I started doing the official comic for LiveJournal, that really brought in new readers.

While it’s not comics, I’ve found YouTube to be helpful in bringing new viewers to my show, even though I have to upload crappy squished versions. New people who don’t visit my site, but certainly visit YouTube, stumble upon it.

MySpace, ew. I ain’t touchin it.

Back in the early days of, before they went public, went commercial, got sued, and disappeared into nothingness, then-presidente Michael Sharp would publish a series of articles on the front page extolling the virtues of the long tail (though it wasn’t called that at the time). One of his most insightful (I thought) was called “The Middle Class Musician” where he posited that a solo artist could, over the internet, support him or herself with a middle-class income by selling only 10,000 CDs a year. This was in stark contrast the ridiculous number of CDs you’d have to move for it to go “gold,” and even then your financial future wasn’t assured if you were publishing through a label.

The problem — and this is always the problem — is that you need to find a reliable vehicle by which to move all that product. seemed to be a promising vehicle until they decided they could make more short-term money selling stock and courting big-name bands instead of cultivating their then-loyal indie musician following. And their terms of service were worded such so that they could use the indie musician product as freebie promotional material while neglecting the features that would have helped those musicians meet the “middle-class” status Mr. Sharp had promoted only months before.

Myspace and other social networking sites have similar setups, and like vegas the odds are stacked in favor of them profiting more than you profiting. Which doesn’t mean you can’t, not at all, it just means that you do so at a certain amount of risk — all it takes is for the people running the site to decide they want to maximise whatever profit they are making.

Ever since the days (and the even more traumatic days, don’t get me started on that) I made the decision to be a bit more picky about where I put my content. This has worked against me traffic-wise, I think, but 1999 and 2000 made me a bit gun-shy about such things. I joined Keenspot only because their contract made it very, explicitly clear how much ownership artists retain over their work (in short, Keenspot’s claims on your work are very small, and compared to the music industry practically non-existant).

[…] Gary We had that question last week about using social networks to build audiences, but there’s another issue I’ve been thinking about since then, and that’s converting that first-time visitor (which is what you’re seeking at said social network) into a committed fan. The bulk of your success in conversion will depend on the quality of your product, but there are other things that you can do and some of them are so subtle, the reader almost won’t notice it’s being done […]

MySpace is one of my top 10 referrers every month.

[…] Irregularly updated and only five installments so far, but Shallow Betties is apparently taking the University of Puerto Rico by storm. The interesting part here? Word about the comic is spreading mostly via Facebook, which opens up new questions in that discussion of social networking sites we had a little bit ago. […]

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