I saw a webcomic artist post an update that I really enjoyed earlier this week, so I pinged him about getting the original art from it. I had purchased art from him before, so I knew what the pieces looked like and about how much they cost. But he told me that he had switched over to drawing digitally a year or two earlier and there was no original to purchase in this case. I was a little surprised by this because it had been my understanding that he (and other webcomic artists) would use the sale of originals to help boost their webcomic income.
We chatted a little more, and it turns out that sales on his originals dropped pretty substantially, even after he dropped the price on them a couple of times. It eventually became too much of a hassle to even bother carrying them to conventions where he was tabling and, because he wasn’t seeing any real monetary benefit from drawing on paper, he went digital as that has a number of benefits with regards to the production process.
Coincidentally, I was talking to another webcomic artist who was wrestling with his site design. Specifically, he wanted to drop the advertising he had been running on the site, and was trying to sort out how to work around that space without redesigning the entire site layout. It turns out the revenue he had been getting from advertising had pretty well dried up. Probably largely thanks to readers using ad blockers, that real estate on his site became less valuable and he said revenue from ads had actually zero for a few months now. Not just a slowing trend that we’ve heard about for a while now, but it had finally bottomed out entirely for him.
It’s been said that a couple of years is an eternity in internet time, and these are prime illustrations of that. Here we have two creators who set up the webcomics and were cruising along fine with their respective business models, but within a few years, they found that what had been working not only didn’t work as well, but it had stopped working entirely. This means that, as creators, they have to develop new streams of revenue to replace those that stopped working. Ideally, that would still be through their webcomic and not taking a part-time job at Starbucks.
The first guy I mentioned, as I said, actually ran into his problem a while back. He was fortunate that Patreon had been founded recently, and he was able to capitalize on that, using a completely new business model than anything he’d tried previously. I don’t know how much he’s bringing in now relatively to before, but it seems to be working for him.
The second is just facing his problems now. I don’t know how he’ll adjust, but I suspect the ad revenue declines he’s undoubtedly been seeing for the past couple of years means that hasn’t been a significant source of his income for a while anyway. But both stories are clear reminders that creating a webcomic is NOT just a matter of putting your comic online, but constantly having to innovate your business approach as the environment constantly changes around you.