I stopped counting the number of webcomics I regularly follow sometime after I shot past 300. I was adding new ones and seeing old ones fade away often enough that it was just to much work to bother with determining that metric. But, suffice it to say, I read a lot of them.
However, I’ve noticed that, over the past two or three months, many of them have been piling up in my feed reader without being looked at. Now some of that can be attributed to a busy personal schedule, and the comics that I read but aren’t super excited about are easy to let slide for extended periods. But there are webcomics that I actually really like, and would consider myself an active fan of, that are also lying fallow in that same feed reader.
Again, part of that has to do with my personal schedule, but part of it, I realized came from some changes in the office. Namely, the IT department made some modifications to what was and wasn’t permissible viewing on the web. They’ve been blocking some sites for as long as I’ve been there, and much of that is at least somewhat understandable. File sharing sites are blocked to limit the possible leakage of confidential documents. Porn sites are obviously blocked so co-workers aren’t accidentally offended as they walk past your cube. (I should note that “porn sites” for my employers is broadly defined to include Erika Moen’s Oh Joy, Sex Toy and Jennie Breeden’s The Devil’s Panties. I suppose I could make the argument to IT that they’re not porn sites, but I somehow doubt that “so I can read comics” is a strong position to come from.) But towards the tail end of last year, they broadened their scope so that it cuts out many webcomic sites, regardless of the how close it comes to NSFW territory.
Which means that webcomics are less accessible for me. I can’t just take a quick break between meetings to read the day’s Girl Genius or Questionable Content. Those are strips whose format (close to the size of a traditional comic book) are difficult to read on a phone. And while I could check them at home, I’m often running around not sitting in front of a computer of any sort. (Getting dinner together, walking the dog, etc.) And so these strips that I actively want to read have been sitting in my sidelines for months now because it’s not quite as convenient as it used to be to read them.
All of which I spell out to emphasize the ephemeral nature of webcomic fans. Even the ones who actively enjoy a specific title can fall out of the habit of regular reading. Not necessarily because the creator did anything differently, but just because some situation outside both the creator’s and the reader’s control took place. Maybe not even something big. Sure, you’d expect a regular reader to lapse if their house burned down, but even small things can shift a reader’s focus just enough to impact a webcomic’s daily traffic.
This is one of the challenges webcomikers continually face: getting their message out and seen. And though you might think that keeping a readership is fairly easy once a reader becomes a fan, that’s not always a given. Habits can be hard to form, but once they’re broken, they’re almost equally hard to start back up again.