There’s a concept in business called disruptors. The idea is that a business can be going along just fine, when suddenly some new variable appears that completely changes how the business has to be run. Think of the iPhone for example. There were cell phones before the iPhone, but when Apple unveiled theirs, it completely upended the cell phone market. They changed who used cell phones, how people used cell phones, how people thought of cell phones… Every other phone manufacturer had to scramble to play some level of catch-up.
The iPhone didn’t only disrupt the cell phone market, though. Suddenly, everyone who bought an iPhone (or one of the other phones who tried to mimic Apple in some capacity) had a camera in their pocket. The casual camera market was destroyed. Professionals were still buying high-end cameras, of course, but anyone who just wanted something to take snapshots with no longer needed a separate device to do so.
In webcomics, there have been a number of disruptors. Ad blockers were a big one. As ad blockers started getting built as extensions for browsers, and got better at what they did, webcomikers saw revenues from their ads plummet. Ads are generally either paid for by the number of impressions (how many times they appeared before readers) or by the number of click-throughs (how many times a reader actually clicked on the link). Ad blockers prevent either of those from happening, so advertising dollars that were going to webcomic sites dropped accordingly.
Roughly in tandem, though, we saw the rise of crowd-funding sites like Kickstarter and Patreon. Those have been a boon to some creators, particularly the ones who’ve been working for a while and built up large fan bases. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you some of the success stories under those platforms. Even if the ad model hadn’t started deteriorating thanks to ad blockers, the crowd-funding model would still be a disruptor to the webcomic market. (Disruptors aren’t necessarily bad, by the way; they just force a change.)
The tricky thing about disruptors is that they generally come out of nowhere fast. That’s why they’re disruptors; people aren’t given much time to adjust to their impact. Patreon is probably the most recent disruptor to the webcomic environment, but it almost certainly won’t be the last. The key for webcomikers will be to keep their eyes and ears open for what might be coming next, and not rely entirely on a crowd-funding model that might get shot down by something else.