Although taking an accurate count is virtually impossible, it’s reasonable to assume that there are more webcomics now than ever before. And, if telecom companies are telling the truth, there are more people online now than ever before. This means two things for a webcomic creator. First, there’s more competition for people’s attention for webcomics. (Not counting all the other content available online!) It also means that there’s more people to potentially try to reach. Which suggests that making it as webcomiker is more difficult than ever before.
In many respects, this is true. One could look at the fact that there are very few, arguably no webcomics created in the last five years that have the reach or influence of Penny Arcade, xkcd, or The Oatmeal. Which suggests that newer comics can’t (or, at least, aren’t nearly as likely to) become as popular as their earlier brethren. Of course, those comics didn’t have the reach they have now after only a couple years either. That’s like comparing how much money a 25-year-old earns against how much a 15-year-old earns. Those comics are doing well now, in part, because they’ve had much more time to reach their potential.
The point about trying to reach a larger potential audience is also misleading. There are more people you could try to reach, but what purpose does that serve? Companies like Coca-Cola and Walmart have slowed their growth rates simply because there’s very few people they don’t already reach. And while no webcomic has the widespread presence of those conglomerates, there is a saturation point where the number of people who might be interested in any given webcomic isn’t going to grow appreciably. What this larger potential audience does afford webcomics is the opportunity to focus their attention on spaces where possible fans are likely to congregate. So rather than trying to market to, for example, every reader of FreakSugar, it might make more sense to narrow one’s focus down to only the readers of this column. That focus means outreach efforts can be made much more effectively since the message only goes to those who are predisposed to that type of material in the first place.
As for the increasing number of webcomics that are out there, there is some good news there as well. Readers do have limited attention and can’t read every webcomic, even if they’re all free. But that also means they’re more likely to be educated and informed about webcomics generally. Not as a formal process, most likely, but through familiarity. They will have seen a wider variety of ways to handle navigation, archiving, creator comments, regularity of updates, etc. That familiarity will allow them to become more discerning readers. While that does mean they could be more critical of a webcomic, it also means the opportunity to stand out is greater if a webcomiker wants to put in the effort to do something well. A really well-done webcomic can stand out more because there’s that much more drek that readers have sifted through.
Creating webcomics has never been easy. Becoming a successful webcomiker is even harder. The challenges they face, however, aren’t necessarily harder than they were in years past, but they are markedly different, and requires an agility that comes with everything online any more.