Webcomic Ad History Lesson

Just a few days ago Project Wonderful announce it’s closing it’s doors. It was an excellent service that really helped Sorcery 101 and a lot of other webcomics get the word out. It closing it’s doors is I think a big lose to webcomics just starting out and trying to get the word out. But I’m gonna use this as a jumping off point to discuss all the ads on my website. This is also an explanation as to why I’m not interested in join a site like Hiveworks and while I’m still on sorcery101.net rather than kelmcdonald.com (though the switch to kelmcdonald.com will probably happen before I launch my next big thing.)

Currently, the main point of my patreon is to remove ads from my site. They have been something that used to pay all my bills but have been in steady decline since 2011. And with the exception of Project Wonderful ads, they are ugly and a pain. Being ugly is, well just look sat them. Being a pain is because even though I say no popups they sneak in or there is malware. It’s a pain to track down where the offending ad comes from.

So how do they work and why do I have them?

When I started ads you could easily make a living off of them. In particular with a company called Adsqac. They talked you through making a chain of companies. Basically what that meant was I would tell Adsqac my price. They would fill like 20% of the ad impressions I gave them. Then I’d give them a code that is sends my impressions to a different company Tribal Fusion. Then Tribal Fusion would fill like 60% of that. This process continued until it got to the final company which is google ads. This process is pretty simple to set up. It’s just a matter of copy pasting an html code into your website. But with several different companies serving dozens of ads, you can see why it might be hard to find out when one of them sneaks in something bad.

Now when I say Ads used to pay all my bills I’ll tell you this. In 2010 I made $17933.19 off ads alone. In 2011, made $17,140 off just ads. The $800 less was the start of a downward trend that continued to today. In 2016, I made roughly $4000 of ads for the entire year. I’m not sharing 2017 number because since Sorcery 101 didn’t run in 2017, it’s hard to compare what is from the downard trend and what is from folks who only read Sorcery 101 leaving.

This downward trend is partly because ad companies stopped wanting to work with webcomics in particular. Most companies figured out which ads to put on your site by having spiders take words from your site. It can’t read images so it didn’t have a whole lot to work with. I used to post Sorcery 101’s scripts as hidden text under the comic to give the ad companies more to work with. And Sorcery 101 switched to not having the comic on the front page for that reason too. Or at least that was part of the reason, the other part covered later.

The other reason this downward trend happened is because of ad blocker getting more and more popular. So while views of Sorcery 101 were more or less the same until the last year or so, the people viewing ads is a lot less.

And also in general ads are just paying less across the board. I know several websites have shut down or turned to relying completely on services like Patreon and KoFi to keep going. The main factor being creators wanting more direct control over their income. Ads taking a nose dive are a probably factor. That lower paycheck also means folks are much less likely to put up with the complaints I have about general ads.

But since ads were such a big part of my income they have made an impact on my site for sure. I already mentioned that ads were why the blog is my front page. Another reason was to get people to read my other comics but putting the blog on the front page is killing two birds with one stone basically.

Also, ads companies generally didn’t want more than one ad of each size on your website (the sizes being 728 by 90, 300 by 250, 160 by 800.) I made sure my site could always fit those sizes. Now that that 300 by 250 ad is through project wonderful there are two because it was easier to fit two boxes that one. And they will be going away soon.

Finally, I have my hub site as sorcery101.net rather than kelmcdonald.com is because of ad money. Ad companies like the one I listed above approve you by domain name. Some of those companies are hard to get into or changed their requirements after I joined. The best paying one, Tribal Fusion in particular is difficult. They severely increase the traffic you need to work with them, it’s traffic Sorcery 101 never had. If I had applied to them a year later I wouldn’t be on it. So reapplying with each new comic having it’s own domain or with kelmcdonald.com wouldn’t work. When Tribal Fusion isn’t making me more than my patreon I’m switching to kelmcdonald.com.

This ad stuff and downward trend makes me wary of sites like Hiveworks. Hiveworks is paying folks off ads. And while they are getting better rates because of offering ad space on the whole site, I wonder how long until the downward trend catches up with them. While they do other services, they are all things I’m comfortable handling myself. Also being on Keenspot in the past, taught me something about advertising your webcomic through hub sites like Hiveworks. Which is that mostly it gets you people that are fans of reading something free at work to procrastinate rather than fans of you. And that’s great if you only care about ad views. More eyes are more eyes. But that doesn’t help build a brand or sell a book. Both of those things aren’t bad. That’s just were just why Hiveworks isn’t right for me. I just don’t want to be so focused on ads or on a site so focused on ads again.

Another valuable lesson I learned from my ad heavy past is just how fast the internet changes. Project Wonderful lasted a good chunk of time because it was well made and well run. Patreon is working for people right now, but last December there was a be scare about them trying to get rid of $1 pledges. That would make is useless to a lot of people. And as I’m typing this Patreon is in the middle of accounts being locked for vague reasons related to adult material and an unclear guideline. KoFi just started a competing service and Drip could go public within the next year. All my lessons I was giving people in 2010/2011 about making money on the internet don’t work anymore.

The fast changing internet doesn’t mean don’t set up ads or use patreon or what the next new thing is. It just means you should try not to rely too much on one service that you can’t control. After a year or 2 of being extremely frustrated with ads being so out of my control, I started to focus on getting books out more. You might notice that in the end of 2012 is when Sorcery 101 moved to once a week so I could focus on finishing my redos (therefore have a book sooner) and it’s when I started Cautionary Fables and Fairy Tales. I saw that ads weren’t gonna get better but if I put out more books their sales could make up for some of the lose. Then I started a Patreon. I’ll probably use the next thing too. I just hope for something as consistent and well set up as Project Wonderful.

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