I was talking with David Gallaher over the weekend. We talked about a variety of things, but one thing he said was that he sees some of what I write here about webcomics and recognizes the various trends that I comment on… but he doesn’t do that.
A prime example is advertising. I’ve mentioned here in various ways that advertising used to be the prime income driver for webcomics, but that the rise of both ad blockers and crowd-funding has turned that revenue stream into a trickle. I’ve talked to a number of creators that put little effort into obtaining ads because it brings in so little as to not be worth their time, or their site’s screen real estate. And yet his webcomic, The Only Living Boy, still works with advertisers, and has no crowd-funding attached to it at all!
While Gallaher’s situation may seem like an exception to prove the rule, it isn’t. Not really. The model he’s using is not to have ads run through Google or Project Wonderful or anything like that; he’s looking at more of a sponsorship model, where one company and one company only is basically sponsoring the whole thing, not unlike how old radio and TV programs used to have a sole sponsor. Or perhaps a single sponsor per episode.
Interestingly, in light of recent changes to the advertising program on YouTube, many YouTube channels seem to be picking up on this method as well. Yesterday’s update to the Today I Found Out channel featured three minutes discussing Skillshare at the end of an 11-minute biography of the 19th century pirate Ching Shih.
This obviously requires a greater level of personal and direct interaction over just throwing a third party widget on your site. But it seems that that personal attention is precisely why it’s still considered valuable to advertisers.
As I suggested in my Fanthropology column on Monday, there’s often as much interest in a creator as the creation itself. The audience values what the creator has to say, regardless if it’s in the form of a comic, a Tweet, an Instragram photo, whatever. So if a creator then says, “Here’s this thing I think you should spend money on” it carries considerably more weight than just having a banner running along somewhere underneath the comic. The reader can still recognize that it’s basically an ad, but the personal attention given by the creator—frequently with an upfront admission that someone is sponsoring things—suggests a greater degree of authenticity.
“Sure, it’s an ad,” the viewer thinks, “but it’s what this guy thinks about it, not some marketing huckster in New York somewhere.”
So far this isn’t really a trend in webcomics, but it will be an interesting facet in the medium to keep an eye on, and see if more creators are able to successfully pick up on the idea and make it work for them.