Why Some Webcomics (and Some Web Businesses) Are Successful

By Mark Hansen 

Oh, who am I kidding? I’m still a child, and I still love the funnies! I have the good ones all over my wall here in my office, and in my studio at home. I get my news bits from Doonesbury. I went into mourning when Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson called it quits.

But just recently, I discovered webcomics. I especially like them because of the easy access. It’s like in my bookmarks I’ve created my own funny pages. Mostly they’re done by amateurs, artists that just love to draw. Once in a while, one rises above the pack and begins to find financial success. There are a few that have managed to make their webcomic into their full-time living.

Let’s take a look and see what they’re doing right.

First of all, the authors of the comics are passionate. They love what they’re doing. They have to, because it can take a while before a comic is popular enough to make any money.

Second, the sites are focused. They’re not full of scattered nonsense that a visitor has to sort through. The sites are about the strip and the characters.

Third, the sites are updated regularly. Most of the ones that have made the transition from hobby to job are posting new strips daily, sometimes all seven days. Most maintain a commentary or blog alongside the strip. So, there’s constantly new content to bring people back to the site, often on a daily basis.

Ever hear of the 80/20 rule? It says that in any collection, 80% will be garbage, and 20% will be of any quality. That holds true in webcomics, too. The ones that make the living for the artist, though, are all well-crafted. They’re well-written, with good story and character continuity. They’re well-drawn, and they’re constantly improving their art. The point? Fourth, the product they’re selling is quality.

Fifth: They’re innovative in their business models. A web comic is free. People can just log into the website and read it. Why would anyone want to pay for it? That’s just not how it works. So, how do you make a living at it? Merchandising is often a big part of it, as well as advertising. Some are also marketing their art in books, and in the mainstream printed media as well. They’re all about new ways to make their art profitable.

Sixth, they have identified their audience, they’ve courted that audience, and they deliver what that audience wants. Most webcomics are humor-driven, but are also built on multi-strip, often ongoing story arcs, rather than one-strip gags. Since they don’t have editors to please, they often are edgier than newspaper comics, and that allows them to target niche markets, like computer gamers (pvp), or twenty-something pop culture (questionable content-a comic that, in spite of its name, is actually quite tame in its actual content).

Seventh, they tap into existing promotional networks. Virtually all successful web comics engages in reciprocal linking with other web comics. There are lots of vertical portals and directory sites devoted solely to web comics, and the best ones use both. They don’t rely on only one promotional method, including traveling to comic shows and conventions and other F2F (Face-2-Face) strategies.

The bottom line? Whenever you see someone succeeding in their chose line, do two things. First, applaud them. They’re making it work. Second, even if they’re doing things you’re not interested in, study them. Trust me, you CAN learn from them all.

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