One of the long-standing rules of webcomics has been that a creator needs to figure out how often they can post content, announce that on their site, and then stick to it. Whether the comic was updated daily, weekly, or whatever was less important than making sure the updates were regular. Predictable. The idea was to set up some expectation with readers, and consistently meet that.

Interestingly, Dorothy Gambrell ran a test a few years back. She had been updating Cat & Girl three times a week, but consciously dropped back to twice a week in order to see how much that might impact her income. Essentially, it didn’t. She told her viewers up front what she was doing and why, and once they knew how her schedule was changing, simply accepted it, and carried on. But it still drew on the notion of predictability.

That, however, was a several years ago. Social media was around, but has become much more ubiquitous, as have smart phones. The two combined meant that creators were essentially having real-time conversations with their readers. The use of online tools earlier meant they were already more engaged with their readership than traditional cartoonists, but now readers were able to contact them more immediately.

What’s significant in that is that the converse is true as well; creators are able to contact their audience more immediately. Which means that when they post notifications on social media, readers see that more immediately. (Technically, before social media, RSS allowed for this as well, but for the life of me, I have been unable to figure out why it never really caught on.) This direct-to-reader communication means that it’s less important to maintain a rigid update schedule. It’s not that predictability is no longer important, but it’s that the predictability shifted from a date/time of update to a channel. When someone posted became less important as long as readers knew how/where to expect alerts for an update.

That’s not to say a creator can really afford to slack off, however, by cutting back in their updates. If three times a week slides to twice a week slides to once a week slides to biweekly slides to monthly… well, eventually readers will start pestering the creator about whether or not their comic is on hiatus or dead or what. But a strictly rigid schedule seems to have less importance than it once did.

But it still remains an issue of expectations. So if a creator has a notice on their website stating “Updates every Tuesday & Thursday!” they damn well better have an update every Tuesday and Thursday! The key is open communication between the creator and their audience; if the creator’s schedule changes and needs to be switched to more of an ad hoc situation, that’s fine… as long as they tell regular and new readers that in an upfront manner, and note when/where/how new updates will be announced.

Open communication and setting expectations are key, and more important now than regularity.