A lot of business models for webcomics have been tried over the past two decades. Not surprisingly, some have worked better than others. Even some that worked better for some people have worked worse for others. Like any other business, what works depends on a number of factors ranging from the audience to the timing to the venue. And event though those might all seem nominally the same from one webcomic to the next, the specifics here can matter a great deal.
One model that has been tried by several creators has been a subscription, where a reader pays a (typically) monthly fee and has access to the body of comics that come out during that period. Patreon can work like that,; however, I don’t believe I’ve seen a creator use it exclusively as such. The subscriber type posts tend to be in addition to their regular, free webcomic and/or simply provide early access to their strips. This is generally done because, unless a creator already has a large and devout following, most readers aren’t willing to set up a subscription without even being able to sample the work somehow. With a printed comic or graphic novel, readers have the option to flip through a book before buying it to see if it might be something they’d like. That’s not possible with a strict paywall in place and it’s why some newspapers and news magazines that try to maintain an online subscription model still allow access to a certain number of articles for free each month. (As an interesting aside, I have yet to see a webcomic try that particular model.)
A curious instance I found recently, though, was where a creator was uploading their work under a subscription model. It was group effort, so one subscription would allow the reader to read webcomics from several different creators. However, most of the creators do not have anything available to sample for free, which suggests to me that a lot of potential readers would be hesitant to pay for a subscription.
Now, the interesting thing is that running a Google search on some of the individual comics leads readers to completely different sites where they are hosted for free. As far as I can tell, it doesn’t seem to be a case of screen scrapers trying to circumvent the system and providing the content available illegally. Nor does it seem to be set up a sample since the entirety of the webcomic is available.
So I have to admit that I’m a bit of a loss at how/why this might be a model worth pursuing. Why provide the webcomic entirely for free AND under a locked-down subscription model simultaneously? The former kind of negates the purpose of having the latter, doesn’t it? I have to wonder what I’m missing here.