Let this be a lesson to all aspiring webcomics creators: This will never happen to you.
If it makes you feel any better you can feel as though Rich Burlew has won the lottery. Or if you want to feel worse figure that Rich worked his butt off for eight-plus years cultivating a community from a field that dwarfs comics by an order of magnitude or two (games). But what you shouldn’t feel is jealousy because this campaign was a one off, a perfect storm of conditions that will not be replicated ever.
Allow me to explain.
First of all, Order of the Stick (second most popular comic on Comic Rocket, after XKCD) is one of the most read webcomics of all time. Alexa ranks the top page at 10,860 worldwide and 3,769 in the US for traffic with over 2,000 sites linking in. It has over 60,000 pageviews a day. Second of all, the comic premiered on a gaming website as a side feature to articles about role-playing games. It also saw paper form in the pages of a Wizards of the Coast Dungeons and Dragons magazine. So it started out with a fanbase out the gate. Third and maybe most importantly the topic of the comic is DnD and role-playing which opens up the readership to a market that’s way over the amount of people that read most genres of comics (as I said above, maybe 10 to 100 times as many fans.) Fourth and finally, there are two webcomics principles at work here: a) The free comic sells the merchandise, and b) 1% of your readership will convert into buyers.
It’s this latter point that is worth examining more closely. How did this guy get 1% of his readers to pay an average of $100 each? (at 14,952 backers we’re going to say he has about 1.5 million readers which makes some sense.) Some argue he made it into a game and his people–avid gamers all–couldn’t help themselves. Others say it’s because he offered exclusives like original art and a one-of-a-kind PDF story at certain high cost levels. Still others maintain that people kept upping their pledges because he continued updating the campaign by adding out of print books and other goodies at various levels that didn’t overlap each other. Several of those books offered are also print-only and not available on the website for free anyway. Another theory is that the cost of the goods is close to what a customer would already pay if they bought the merchandise at retail from Amazon or the like. And a final thought is that Rich spent almost a decade doing a comic for free, three times a week or more, and is finally being rewarded for his hard work, the prototypical Interwebs nu-pay model where the customer spends after consumption. I think it’s all of the above and more. He’s earned every penny.
So, if you want to be like Rich you should:
- Work your butt off for a decade
- Do your comics on a popular topic
- Be really good at what you do
- Gather a following by building a community outside of comics
- Print a small amount of your comics and other merchandise
- Stop printing to create scarcity and demand
- And finally cash in all your good will to make more of the same product available along with never-before-seen exclusives
Yeah, I didn’t think so.