On Business: What If You're Not Popular?

By | Monday, January 12, 2015 Leave a Comment
One of the reasons I regularly tout webcomics is their democratizing nature. To get a comic out with an established publisher, whether they're as big as Marvel or someone considerably smaller, you need to gain the attention and favor of their people at those publishers who act as gatekeepers. You can have the best comic in the world, but if Mike Richardson doesn't like it, you will not see it published by Dark Horse. (My understanding is that Richardson himself does indeed have to approve every title.)

But you don't have that on the web. If you want to make a comic, you can put it all together and start throwing pages out online without anyone's okay. If people like it, and respond to it, you'll eventually see traffic increase. If it increases enough, and you're able sell enough ancillary goods associated with the comic, you might even make enough money to quit your day job. Or maybe you can run a Patreon campaign and earn living expenses through that.

However, there are a lot of comics out there that never get much traction. Maybe the writing is bad, or maybe no one likes the art, or maybe they're just working in so small a niche that there aren't enough people who get what's going on in it. Regardless of the reason, people can toil away for years and never see much return for their work.

Not just financially, but emotionally as well. A lot of creators create because of a personal desire to express themselves. To create something that helps them release whatever's rolling around inside their brains. But if no one ever responds to those creations -- if this simply sit idle online without affecting anyone enough to even say "nice job" -- does it make sense to continue?

Obviously, the answer to that is entirely personal and depends a great deal on what the individual creator is hoping to get out of sharing their art. If it were just about the creation, after all, why bother putting it online? If there is a financial "requirement" on the part of the creator, then they should be looking carefully at how long they're willing to go with the comic before it starts earning more than they spend. In typical business plans, it's generally suggested that you plan for at least two years, more like three, without breaking even. I've heard from some webcomickers that four is generally more the rule for them.

But what about the emotional ROI? How little response can you get from your creation and still be satisfied emotionally? There was a lot of talk last week about how Charlie Hedbo was deliberately trying to insult any number of groups, and we know they achieved that goal. But what if no one cared? What if they published cartoons in the hopes of insulting and angering people, and the biggest response they got was, "Meh"? How committed would you have to be to your comic if no one but you seemed to care? How long could you keep working on it if no one ever seemed to have anything to say about your work? I expect, after a while, you'd start to question the validity of continuing. Why bother creating something for people if the people don't care about it?
I expect many cartoonists would love to have problems like so many people hitting the site that you have to pay extra for a more robust server. Or trying to figure out if they can afford to get someone to help moderate their comments section because there are too many conversations for one person to keep track of. But I think most cartoonists know they're not likely to encounter those issues. I think most cartoonists know that they won't ever be as popular as they'd like. The question is not whether or not they're popular enough to receive so much traffic or so much revenue every month; the question is whether or not they're popular enough to satisfy their own ego. And that's a question that no amount of business classes can answer.
Newer Post Older Post Home