Periodically, I’ll stumble across a webcomic that’s expressly tied to a site that doesn’t seem obviously predisposed to hosting webcomics. Namco ran a series of original video game based webcomics for a few years beginning in 2011, and Emerald City Comicon started Tales from the Con also that same year as examples. On the surface, there’s usually enough of a connection that readers don’t question it very much. How many “comic” cons are strictly limited to comics, after all? However, they generally don’t wind up as very successful, regardless of the level of quality put into them, and they get cancelled before too long.
In most of these types of webcomics that I’ve seen, the company in question specifically goes out to hire some creative folks to work on the comic for them. And to their credit, they tend to get creators who actually do know a thing or two about creating webcomics. But it would seem these types of comics are doomed to fail.
“Fail” may be too strong a word here. As I said, the quality of the content itself is irrelevant to the end goals of the site hosting it. So the webcomic itself may be very successful creatively, but it’s going to be almost impossible to survive financially.
See, the issue is around the business model. For most webcomics, they’re made available for free and the creators make their money (assuming they’re successful!) in a variety of ways that are directly tangent to the webcomic itself. Some of that may be through sales of printed books, or maybe t-shirts, stickers, and prints. Enamel pins are fairly popular now. Some of that income may come in through crowd-funding like Patreon or Kickstarter. But their revenue stream is directly correlated to the webcomic somehow.
In the cases of these sponsored webcomics, the intent is generally to provide some content of interest that will draw readers back to the site repeatedly, thus exposing them to the main point. Which might be to drum up interest in older video game properties or convince people to attend a particular convention. There are two problems here, though. First, there’s usually not a direct connection between the webcomic and the preferred “call to action.” Instead of going from “reading the webcomic” to “reading the webcomic in print”, the goal goes from “reading the webcomic” to “purchasing a product unrelated to the webcomic” or “attending a convention.” Even in best-case scenarios for webcomics, there’s around at most a 5% conversion rate (that is, only 5% of readers end up spending money on something related to the webcomic) so I expect in these indirect correlation situations, that number drops considerably.
The second problem is that measuring the impact a webcomic has on these indirect calls to action can be extremely challenging. The reader almost has to read one of the comics and then immediately follow through on that call to action in order for the webcomic’s effectiveness to be tracked. If they read the webcomic, left, and then came back later for the follow-through, that’s much more difficult to attribute to the comic. And that’s all assuming the call to action is online; if it’s something that has to be done offline (i.e. a phone call or attendance at an event) attribution is next to impossible.
Both of these mean that, from a business perspective, the company is forking over a good amount of cash to create these webcomics, but doesn’t see much (or even any!) return on them. From the point of view of a ledger, corporate webcomics like these are an unnecessary and frivolous expense. Which may or may not actually be the case, but it’s difficult to prove their worth as a budget line item.
Which is ultimately why they’re almost never successful. It’s challenging under the best circumstances to prove their effectiveness, so in any environment less than that, they’re cancelled for lack of supporting the primary mission of the company: to make money.