Zorphbert and Fred wasn’t a webcomic when I started it in 2006. Actually, I had no idea webcomics were a “thing”. I figured people may post them online if they, you know, wanted to give their stuff away for free. I had no clue anyone could effectively monetize their comic online, especially without the help of a syndicate. Going it along was a long, hard, and pretty much impossible road. Really, it still is with webcomics and the odds are just as poor… but I was thinking more along the lines of getting an appointment with editors of newspapers and trying to sweet-talk my way in without a syndicate or rep to back me up. But, as I was sending in my Z&F syndicate submissions, I realized a website that I could link to would be helpful- just like my portfolio website. Plus, I could draw & post MORE comics there for the syndicates to browse if they liked the hard copy submission. Suddenly, I was a featured artist on drunkduck.com with an actual readership (not huge, but noteworthy), and going to comic cons to meet more of these “web cartoonists” who did it on their own, without syndicates or big publishers. A whole new world. I have options.

For the next 5 years or so, I studied up on the “webcomic business model”. Growing an online readership, pageviews, unique hits, referrals, advertising and ad revenue, collectives, voting/rating/popularity websites & incentives to GET people to vote, to mirror or not to mirror your archives, self publishing, zazzle & cafepress… the list goes on, and we all know it well. We’ve all done it. We’ve tried each and every tactic, hoping this next endeavor will be the one that gets our comic the exposure it needs to get to the next level. We follow the main rules of the webcomic business (you know, if you’re serious about it):

  1. Be consistent and stick to your schedule. NEVER miss updates.
  2. MORE updates. More deadlines. More blog posts. If you’re sleeping, you’re a slacker… FIVE days a week or you’re not serious! (well, maybe not that harsh, but you know that voice in your head has said it.)
  3. Be a social media whore. Promote, promote, promote.
  4. Guest comics, fanart, share other’s work, comment on their sites… you have to give back, too.
  5. Find/join/create a collective. Network. Start doing comic cons.

I followed the rules. Where’s my success?

Instead, I see a plateau. I have kept the readers I have made over the years. I have a handful of very passionate readers whom I deeply appreciate. I want more of those, but just can’t seem to find where they are hiding. They certainly don’t seem to be the general “webcomic readers” demographic: men & women(to a lesser degree) in their late teens, 20’s and early 30’s. My demographic seems to be mainly.. well… everyone else. Preteen boys, men 30-50 years and men and women 50+. Whu-oh.

Then, I start to do comic cons. And craft fairs. And book festivals. And whatever other events I can that could yield people in my demographic. I sell books. Actually, I do pretty well. Mind you, not well enough to quit my day job, but I notice I’m pretty good at pitching, selling and marketing my comic. (Plus, I have a side project kids book series, to boot). In 2 years of doing a decent amount of conventions, I have seemingly found more success than I have online in 6-7 years.

Recently, I have even decided to make my comic “seasonal”, meaning I post strict 5x-a-week (3 comics, 2 blog posts) for 4 months, and then take 2 months off. This helps with the inevitable burn-out that happens when you have 3 huge projects going on BESIDES your day job. My writing suffered, and I knew I needed to find a way to allow comics to work with my life, not against it.

But even with this, the plateau I have found myself in has lead me to this conclusion:

So, maybe Zorphbert & Fred doesn’t make a good webcomic.

There, I said it. Yes, maybe I’m just not a very good artist, or writer, or both. Maybe the market is just too saturated. Maybe I don’t follow the rules to the tee enough. Maybe I’m just damned unlucky. Or maybe Z&F is a worthwhile comic, just not a WEBcomic. Maybe the audience I need to find just doesn’t exist in big numbers online. Maybe what I need to do is let go of the “webcomic business model” that has been beaten into my brain, and find other avenues with the time I’ll have left over. Maybe I need to focus more on what actually earns me the most cash: the books. How so?

Dawn’s New Proposed Z&F Business Model:

  1. Screw page views. SCREW ‘EM. It doesn’t matter. If Z&F isn’t going to suddenly be popular among the webcomic readers demographic, then ad revenue is never going to be a viable source of income. So, page views, unique viewers, stats in general are practically worthless to me. Therefore, anything I do to pad my stats– like shamelessly promote my comic any & everywhere, paying for Project Wonderful ad campaigns, or voting buttons & incentives– is a waste of time and money. I am promoting myself to people who, generally speaking, aren’t going to be interested. I can use this time & energy to promote in different ways.
  2. Goodbye 3-5 days a week updates. The idea behind sticking to strict, multiple updates a week was to keep your online readers intrigued… and coming back for more. And that’s very true, especially for short-form comics. However, if I am focusing more on the book form of the comic, then the concern should be that books come out on a consistent basis, depending only on how fast I can produce the content. Provided I don’t slack off completely, I only need to focus on the bigger project, rather than individual comics.
  3. No need to ditch the website completely, though. It’s always beneficial to have a website to direct people to. And obviously, I still have an online readership I don’t want to disappoint (too much). I am proposing 1 new comic post a week, with a blog post with news, convention appearances, and fanart. Per season, only half the comics I create would be posted online. (see below for more on this)
  4. Don’t give it ALL away for free. This is a key point to my new proposed business model. Successful webcomic creators can give their content away for free, yet still get their readers (or a percentage) to pay for merchandise and books, so the free content is worth it to HOOK their readers. However, Z&F being deemed “NOT a successful webcomic” means I don’t have to or need to give all my content away for free. Posting enough content to A: keep current readers happy, and B: give potential readers a taste of what the comic is like, is a very well-tasted model. iTunes/Android apps have already broken people into this process. Try it, if you like it enough, buy it. The new focus is not on online readership, but on the BOOKS.
  5. New direction for promotion, and possibly book formats. I am no longer a “web cartoonist”. I am a self-published author & illustrator, and need to affiliate myself with that business model. Getting involved with my local community(libraries, schools, workshops, etc.) will help me network in new ways and can lead to a support circle & repeat buyers. Keep doing comic cons, but also expand these events to include even more craft fairs, book festivals and other events that may bring in my demographic. Study up on other similar books/comics like Z&F, see how they format their book line. Consider altering the 200-comic “volumes”, and making them smaller 10-comic books that can be released quicker and make the collection look that much more expansive. Also consider small publishers who could help your books reach a wider audience… see if they’re worth the possible hassles, to reach that audience.

So, there you have it. Feedback, Anyone?

Call it a revolution, call it a pipe dream, call it throwing darts in the dark. Either way, I’ll be the Guinna Pig. In the end however, every comic is different and has a different audience, and in no way am I saying this is the direction all creators should go. Sometimes good comics earn the audience they deserve, sometimes crappy comics find a niche that works for them and earn an audience. And sometimes a wonderful comic never finds its groove and it dies a sad, sad death. I’m hoping to try different avenues before throwing in the towel.

And I need your opinion, fellow creators!

Is the webcomics business model “tried & tested” for a reason- if you don’t make it, blame yourself? Is it outdated? Is it all a crapshoot? What are your opinions on my proposed plan? Would you try something similar yourself?

 

Note: If you are a podcast listener, you may have noted that this topic was discussed prior. However, I wanted to open the discussion to our readers here, to gather opinions and ideas!
 

Dawn Griffin is a self-described “crazy chick”. She likes steak, Cleveland sports, video games and oh yeah, comics. She spent her high school years either playing street ball, pitching, or drawing comics and submitting them to syndicates. Once she –accidentally– discovered the world of webcomics, the sydication route became a pointless hurdle. After all, “Crazy Chicks” do things their *&%$ selves. Dawn is the mastermind behind Zorphbert and Fred, and the illustrator of the Abby’s Adventures kids book series. She can be easily bribed with ice cream.