You ever think about what makes a business successful? Obviously, there’s some degree of providing people with what they want at an affordable price, but beyond that, how do they get to that? Take a look at Apple as an easy example. Before their first Macintosh, most commercially available computers were driven through a command line interface. You flipped the computer on, and you got a blinking cursor on a blank screen until you typed a command for it to do something. While Steve Jobs didn’t invent the desktop interface, he saw its future potential in personal computing and integrated it as part of the basic operating system. Users didn’t need to remember dozens, if not hundreds, of commands; they simply could point and click. The computer market changed almost overnight.
Years later, they did it again with the iPhone. Previously cell phones were almost exclusively phones. You could maybe play Solitaire or check your email on them, but they primarily used for calling people. Again, Apple came in and turned the tables by making the phone an all-purpose communications tool, not just a phone. The cell phone market changed almost overnight.
In both instances, Apple was not looking to just improve on what was then currently available, but they were looking forward to what’s next. They knew that just making a slight variation on what everybody else was doing was hardly a way to get ahead, so they did something different. It left all their competitors scrambling to catch up because they had become content to simply do variations on a theme. When Apple leap-frogged over them, they weren’t prepared for a new model.
I mention this in the context of webcomics because I think that creators need to keep the same basic mindset. They need to be continually trying to look forward, particularly when it comes to how their material is presented and monetized. I’ve talked about disruptors before and the best way to minimize their impact is by being able to see them coming. By focusing one’s attention forward, rather than simply in the moment or even in the past, it of course doesn’t necessarily mean the webcomic has to be innovative, but it does mean looking for upcoming opportunities that can be capitalized upon before they become too diluted with popularity.
It also implies a more positive attitude in general. It suggests the “good ol’ days” are still ahead of you, not behind. It suggests that, regardless of how good things are going now, they can still get better as new technologies and business models improve efficiencies. As a side effect, this positive attitude trickles down back to readers, who can sense a greater sense of optimism and respond in kind.
I don’t think anyone seriously expects a webcomiker to develop new technologies to make creating or viewing webcomics revolutionary. But by watching for upcoming turns in business, culture, technology, politics, etc., it can allow creators to pivot quickly as needed and keep their income flowing in seemingly increasingly turbulent times.