One of the limitations of reading and collecting print comics is the cost. Whatever book(s) you’re buying and regardless of where you purchase them, you have to shell out some of your own money to get them. Which means that, for most people, they’re limited in what they can read based on how much discretionary income they have. You can be the biggest Marvel zombie there is, but if you don’t have enough money to shell out for every one of their books—even if you only opt for the digital versions—you’re only going to be able to read a portion of their output.
Webcomics, though, don’t have such limitations. Of course, you can support webcomic creators by buying print copies of their work, or sending them money through some crowd-funding platform like Patreon or Kickstarter, but that’s not typically necessary in order to read the webcomic itself. Those are provided online free of charge to anyone who happens to stumble across them. Which means, in theory, there’s no limit to the number of webcomics you can subscribe to!
However, you might find that theory doesn’t hold up very well.
Because I do a lot of research and writing on webcomics, I subscribe to a lot of webcomic feeds. Currently, I’m a little north of 400 titles. They’re all ones that struck me as interesting at sme level. Maybe I thought the art was really slick, or maybe the theme is one I’m partial to, or maybe it’s an established creator whose work I’ve enjoyed in the past… They’re free to subscribe to, after all, so I throw any that strike my interest into my feed reader as soon as I stumble across them.
As of this writing, though, I have 2,577 individual entries that I haven’t read yet. I expect there’s some posts in there that don’t have comics attached to them, but that’s essentially 2,500 individual comics I haven’t read. The ones that I really like, I’ve kept up to date with, but many of them I haven’t read in… well, in some cases, ever!
The issue is that, while I’m not limited in what I can read based on my bank account, but I’m limited by how much time I have available. I have to eat, I have to sleep, I have to work. I have to do things that aren’t reading webcomics. And even if I were able to spend 24 hours a day reading webcomics, there are so many out there that no one person could possibly keep up with the thousands of people making updates all the time!
The web, by and large, runs on something called the “attention economy.” That means that the crucial resource we, as consumers, have in limited supply is our attention. In a traditional economy, money is the key ingredient that keeps us from getting everything we want. But online, where just about everything is free, it’s the amount of attention we can pay towards things is what is in scarce supply.
So because I had a work project that ate up a bunch of extra time, I fell behind on some webcomics. Because I went on vacation in January, I fell behind on some other webcomics and fell further behind on those previous ones. Because I have a new puppy to take care of, I fell behind on still other webcomics, and fell even further behind on those previous ones.
But in just the same way you might have to be critical of which print comics you buy by giving your hard-earned money up for only the ones you really, really enjoy, a webcomic reader has to be critical of which webcomics they keep up with by spending their hard-earned attention for the ones they really, really enjoy.