One of the cultural mores in our society is that we don’t talk about money. Not specifics at any rate. It’s just a subject that isn’t broached except with the person doing your taxes. What this means in webcomics is that many of the details about how financially sound individual creators are is mostly a matter of speculation. With only a few exceptions, the earnings that come from a webcomic are generally a mystery.
This can make it difficult, then, to gauge how well you might be doing with your own webcomic. Do those banner ads bring in $25 a month for everybody? Is that high? Low? How much profit is reasonable for the printed version of your comic? Crowd-funding sites are a little more transparent, as they frequently show how much a given campaign brings in overall, but since webcomic revenues almost have to come from several different sources, that’s still only a small portion of everything.
Recently, Thom Pratt did put a few cracks in those glass walls by noting publicly that the ad revenue they see from Shadowbinders is a third of what it was two years ago, despite their site traffic being fairly consistent. He noted that it used to be enough to cover their monthly mortgage, but now they’ve had to replace that lost revenue with freelance work. And while the bills are still getting paid, comics are a smaller part of that which almost necessarily means less attention and focus.
He ended with the advice that making online content and hoping an income will follow won’t do anyone much good, and that you need to spend at least some time on finding a paying audience. “Upvotes won’t pay your bills.”
That’s presuming, of course, that you want to make your webcomic profitable. There are indeed other reasons for publishing a comic online, and any reason you might have is indeed a valid one. But you need to be honest with what yourself on those reasons. Don’t say you have a burning need to tell your story and you have to tell it just for yourself… only to turn around and complain when it’s not generating a big income or is even large audiences.
Despite breaking some social norms, there are a few creators out there who talk about the finances of webcomics at least on occasion. Sometimes on their own site, sometimes on Twitter, sometimes on Facebook… But while it might impolite to ask “how much do you make”, it might be worthwhile to ask your favorite creators to talk about how they fund their site, and what sort of considerations they give it when it comes to income. At worst, they won’t answer, but they could very well provide some insightful enlightenment!