Many webcomikers who have finite stories to tell—that is, the ones with a planned beginning, middle, and end—will post their updates on whatever schedule they have until the story is complete. At that time, they’ll collect the story into printed form (as a single volume, or multiple volumes depending on the length) in order to sell. Makes sense, right?
The question, then, is whether or not to keep the completed webcomic online. Most independent creators seem to be content leaving their work available for free, just as when they were working on it. But those who catch the eye of a publisher who offers to print and distribute their work frequently have most, if not all of the story taken down around the time the book is published. Their fear is that readers would be less inclined to purchase a physical copy of the book if they could read it online for free.
Interestingly, this is a similar argument that was used against digital comics in the days before comiXology. Retailers were insistent that if digital comics were made available cheaper than their print counterparts, it would gut their business overnight. Publishers agreed to delay releasing digital copies for a few weeks to get brick and mortar retailers an edge. Yeah, you could buy your comics digitally, but you wouldn’t be able to keep completely current, and would need to spend a lot of time avoiding spoilers.
Until, of course, publishers finally said that was stupid and started releasing comics digitally on the same day they came out in stores. You may have noticed that comic shops haven’t exactly been gutted by the change. In fact, by most accounts, there’s been almost no noticeable impact at the retailer level.
A few years ago, Steve Lieber discovered that his graphic novel with Jeff Parker, Underground, was being digitally pirated. And sales skyrocketed! Several dozem times over the sales bump the book got when it was reviewed at BoingBoing. Other prose authors have had similar findings.
There are absolutely people who are going to take advantage of leaving your webcomic online by reading the entire work and not providing anything back to the creator. They won’t buy t-shirts, or donate to Patreon, or buy a copy of the book. But those people are (generally) also ones who wouldn’t pass along any money anyway. Even if they were only given a preview of the work, they wouldn’t bother buying the printed version. Either because they couldn’t afford it, or they didn’t really enjoy it that much anyway.
And from the other end, a person who really enjoys the story, a person who is downright enthusiastic, is going to try to find a way to support and/or thank the creator monetarily.
So if, by and large, the type of person who wouldn’t buy a copy when it’s available for free also wouldn’t buy a copy based on only a preview, and if the type of person who would buy a copy is likely to buy one even if they’re already read it, doesn’t it make more sense to leave it online in its entirety so that the greatest number of readers see it?