There are days I see something out on the web and the only rational response is, “Yep, that’s my lead story.” In this case, it’s information that actually makes good on something I halfway-attempted pert-near four years back.
A 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 math nerd, I put out an open call for confidential data, with the caveat that I would only do the numbers if there were at least 100 respondents (and even that wouldn’t get us very close to statistical significance). At the time, 48 creators were willing to share data (including, it must be said in retrospect, a pretty goodly proportion of those that do make their living from webcomics), but as that fell way short of my threshold, no math.
Enter George Rohac, general fixer for Oni Press, publisher of anthologies, possessor of the worlds most nervousness-inducing grin, perpetual con-scene fixture, and Master’s degree holder. It’s that last one that’s important today, as Rohac has released both his thesis, Copyright and the Economy of Webcomics [PDF], and more importantly — his data set [Microsoft Excel].
There’s nearly 300 survey responses covering unique visitors, comic creation time, business management time, comic longevity, prior projects, copyright/copyright equivalent asserted, merch offered, income derived, and self-assessment of whether or not that income provides a living wage, and it’s all Creative Commonsed, so you can squash numbers to your heart’s content.
Most interesting numbers to me: more than 80% of Rohac’s respondents reported making less than US$8000 per year on the comic, but approximately 7% reported more than US$45,000, and more than half of that number reported more than US$65,000. On the “do you earn a living wage” question (and this one is highly subjective), a few respondents down as far as the US$8000 – 14,999 range answered “yes” (on the other hand, a few respondents in the US$65,000+ range answered “no”, so take that as an example of differing costs of living).
Also, the clearest correlation that I noted on casual inspection? Higher incomes pretty much go hand-in-hand with higher numbers of weekly unique readers. Yeah, I know — no surprise there, but even the most obvious intuitive assumptions work better with numbers backing ‘em up.
Now that we have a first reasonably complete sample of hard numbers (although there are a number of missing responses across the surveys, by accident or deliberate omission, and of course more responses would make any conclusions drawn more valid), it’s time to move onto the “lies” and “damned lies” part of the game. Feel free to draw your own conclusions and remember — statistics has its own set of rules, and if you’re going to argue that “the numbers say x”, you have to follow them.