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Eric: Where Madison Avenue meets Milholland Drive. *pause* No, I can't believe I made that pun either.

vert.jpgSo. Let's talk about advertising. Yes, I'm going to snark actual webcomics today. Yes, I'm going to poke at more Shortbreads today. But for the moment, let's talk about advertising.

There's always a question, before you advertise, over whether or not it will do any good to advertise your webcomic. You know the conventional wisdom about advertising, but the conventional wisdom is often conventionally wrong. Still... I have a webcomic, alongside Soul Brother Number Nine-Fourteen Greg Holkan. You may have heard me mention it before. And while we've had a solid readership -- especially for a brand new webcomic -- obviously we want more. Lots more.

And that means advertising. Among many other things.

Now, to be fair, we had advertisements before. As part of my compensation for writing articles for Comixpedia, I get a certain number of ad banner impressions each month, and as soon as Gossamer Commons existed, I swapped over to that. (I've never felt a need to advertise Websnark. I'm not sure why. I did it -- with the worst banner ad in existence -- when that was the only website I had, but now that I have a webcomic my ad space went to that.)

But, we've had that from the very beginning. And it works. I do in fact get a number of monthly referrals from that ad. But that won't expand my readership, because we've always advertised there. If I were going to try the grand experiment, I needed to figure the best places to put ads for our strip where there were no current ads.

I was holding off on more general advertising strategy until we had a solid archive of strips for people to read through, as well. And I wanted to wait until I felt like we really had our voice. And the last couple of weeks of strips have hit on all cylinders, so this seemed like the time.

This week, we did this. We put a vertical ad banner on Something Positive, and we advertised on Blank Label Comics. For Something Positive, we took out ads on a few days on the sidebar graphic -- Greg put together a fantastic banner ad to meet the Something Positive size requirements. You see that same sidebar advertisement on this post. At Blank Label, we offered up the same horizontal ad banner we use on Comixpedia -- another excellent Greg Holkan design.

(Greg designs the ads, I pay for the advertising. This to me is way more than fair, since if we reverse the equation the ads would drive people away. You don't want to see what it looks like when I draw Sonata.)

There were two solid reasons for advertising on Something Positive. Pragmatically, Randy Milholland's strip is extremely popular -- not just with people in general, but with the sort of people I hope will actually like Gossamer Commons. The demographic seemed a good fit.

The emotional reason for advertising on Something Positive is because without Something Positive, Gossamer Commons wouldn't exist.

See, I knew I wanted to do a webcomic. Very badly. I knew I couldn't draw it, and that I'd have to find someone who could. But beyond that, I needed a solid idea and a solid premise. For a while, I thought it'd be a webcomic about Trudy Glick, kind of somewhere between Bruno and Girls with Slingshots.

The problem was... I couldn't make it work. I'm not a good enough writer, and Trudy as I envisioned her wasn't a strong enough character to support a webcomic by herself. I needed a Mary Richards, and she was one hundred percent Ted Baxter.

Now, years and years ago, when I was actually living in Ithaca, I came up with an idea for a novel. See, I knew the folklore. I didn't make up the whole "if you see a fairy you're marked for death" idea, though I think my implementation is somewhat different. I first heard about it when I was acting in a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. So, I came up with an idea that a young man saved a beautiful (very much 'age of consent') fairy whose leg was caught in a trap, and so the Fae court decided they wanted to reward him instead of kill him. The joke in this story would be that they weren't very good at rewarding him. Ultimately, of course, the man married the fairy girl -- like I said, totally not Sonata, who is the fae equivalent of three years old -- and fathered children with her, and then died ironically.

As novel premises went, it was okay. The kind of novel you come up with when you're twenty-two years old and spending a lot of your time writing about crappy super heroes. But I never got around to writing it and stuck it in the back of my head. Something about the premise didn't quite work for me, you see.

So, I was casting around for an idea for a webcomic, trying to find something good. Something I could write. Something that -- while an original idea is next to impossible -- would be at least somewhat different.

And then I was rereading the Something Positive archives one day -- I don't even remember why -- and I came across this strip.

And something between the righteous "anti-cute-fairy" sentiment of the strip, plus the darkness of it, plus the phrase "winged harbinger of death" just absolutely clicked in my brain. My old story cropped back up and I was able to completely recast it in a more modern, less clich»d light. In particular, a sense of utterly dark humor that was missing from my original premise -- which was, after all, romanic comedy -- slid in, all Milholland-like. Certainly, Sonata's design was entirely designed around the kind of cute, cuddly, adorable tinkerbellesque fairy that someone like Anna would probably like to meet sitting on a toadstool, giggling and waving and marking Anna for a horrific death in the process.

So, it went without saying I'd advertise with Something Positive. I owed him, even though he didn't know it, and besides it made sound business sense.

Blank Label, on the other hand, was a happy coincidence. I was looking around for other venues -- things that could fit in my budget, which let out most of the Big Guns of Webcomics (the other advantage to Something Positive is it's affordable). But here's Blank Label, just starting up, but with six extremely established cartoonists working for them and extremely affordable ad rates for webcomics creators. Affordable rates that would put our ad banner on Shortpacked, Checkerboard Nightmare, Greystone Inn, Melonpool, Wapsi Square and Ugly Hill, among others. Solidly established strips, among the top tier, with (once again) compatible senses of humor to mine. It made a lot of sense to advertise with them.

Though I did find it morbidly amusing that this meant I was actually advertising on It's Walky. I'm waiting for David Willis to laugh and laugh and laugh at me. And then possibly do me an injury.

The Blank Label ads cost less, but Something Positive is a full day's sponsorship, which means a lot higher percentage of people seeing it. A good tradeoff.

So. The question... back from the beginning of this snark... was "is it worth it to advertise." I mean, we had a solid readership to begin with. Not huge, but pretty damn good.

Holy crap, dude.

Our page views for the past three days have been in six figures. We did as much bandwidth yesterday as we did in April. We've done more bandwidth since May 31 than in the entire history of our webcomic combined times two. We have a huge number of people coming over. And a good percentage of those people are trawling back through the archives. I've gotten e-mail from new readers. We've gotten a passel of new links elsewhere. This has been huge.

The Something Positive referrals have been higher -- but then, as I said, that's a persistent ad. On the days I've sponsored, it's always there. That's huge. Certainly, we've had a solid response from Blank Label as well.

Now, part of the credit goes to the ad banners themselves. Greg Holkan knocked himself out on them -- look at that sidebar advert again. It's great. Visually it strikes you solidly. Hooks you in. Creates a sense of dissonance that makes the viewer want to resolve. It's the same sort of dissonance -- in a different form -- that he did with the vertical banner.

The next step is to let these advertisements run out, and see how many readers stick around. Once we've done that, then it's time to advertise again, possibly in these venues, but definitely in some others as well. Almost certainly, we'll advertise on Real Life Comics -- Greg Dean actually linked to us in his links list, and we get a decent number of referrals from that, so we owe him to begin with. And again, his audience is a good one to shamelessly beg to. When Modern Tales/Joey Manley's Ad Comics Nation spins up, we'll no doubt participate. And I'll start exploring the costs over at Dayfree and Dumbrella, where applicable.

(Why not Keenspot? I can't afford Keenspot. Q.E.D. It's not because I don't feel love. There is the love! See also PvP and Penny-Arcade and Sluggy etc. Frankly, I'm stunned that I could afford Something Positive. S*P is, for right now, one of the best values in advertising.)

In the meantime, advertising has clearly, solidly worked. Now it's our job to actually keep the new readers.

Because... I find I like having people read this webcomic. Go figure.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at June 2, 2005 9:36 AM

Comments

Comment from: Abs_of_Flab posted at June 2, 2005 11:50 AM

Just dropping a quick line to congratulate you guys. I've been enjoying both Websnark and Gossamer Commons, and I'm really glad to see that a larger audience has given the comic a shot. I hope you hang on to every one of the newbies!

Comment from: djcoffman posted at June 2, 2005 11:50 AM

That is a really great ad. Before I even read the post, I noticed the ad and was going to e-mail you about how nice it looked... then it turned out the whole post was about this fact.

I've been meaning to advertise more, and this is a good reminder.

Comment from: Scruffy posted at June 2, 2005 11:58 AM

Odds are it's been mentioned before now, but there's another fairy story floating around in the more "traditional" comics publishing space, called Pibgorn. I use the quotes particularly, because it's created by Brooke McEldowney, who creates 9 Chickwood Lane (published in newspapers), even though Pibgorn itself is apparently Web-only (though published on comics.com along with a ton of other mainstream comics). One good scan through the archives will tell you the art is at times a little too anatomically accurate to likely see the light of the comics page in a real newspaper.

But, whatever. It's a great story about the collision between the fey and the mundane and is one of the better drawn comics, period, on the Web or off.

Just, you know, as a recommendation, in case it needed to be made.

Good luck with Gossamer Commons - I've added it to my MWF tabs and I'm enjoying it so far. I get the idea that you're settling into the medium strip by strip. If I might suggest anything, it might be to economise on the wordiness from time to time. There are times when the conversational scripting reminds me of Phil Foglio (MYTHAdventures, particularly, although I'd have to mention Robert Asprin as the original author of that work) but I think the extra words take the edge off the exchanges at times.

But it does seem like you're finding your sea legs, so to speak, so I'm in, regardless. :-)

-Scruffy

Comment from: ItsWalky posted at June 2, 2005 12:23 PM

You had me and I lost you, and then I had you.

Comment from: ItsWalky posted at June 2, 2005 12:27 PM

Man, seriously, there needs to be an edit-delete here. Totally didn't get to fix my pronouns before I accidentally sent it. Oh, the fates!

But to make up for it:

"I had you and I lost you, and then I had your mom."

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at June 2, 2005 12:37 PM

Scruffy -- the absolutely worst overwordy strip in Gossamer Commons comes... er, tomorrow. I have learned my lesson from it. Never again. Unless I screw up.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at June 2, 2005 12:38 PM

Willis -- yup, pretty much.

Well, except the part about my Mom. Dude. My Mom could so kick your ass. You have no idea.

Comment from: Suzanne posted at June 2, 2005 2:43 PM

I'm still holding out. Don't know why. I consider myself a true webcomic junkie, but something about G.C. just isn't pulling me in.

I'm still trying to put together the pieces of this particular puzzle.

Comment from: Arachnid posted at June 2, 2005 4:13 PM

Those are truly wonderful ads. Not only do they look fantastic and eye-grabbing on their own, but they completely buck the trend of god-awful flashing moving annoying brightly colored ones (not that I believe for a moment you'd do that anyway). My only reservation would be that the top banner ad looks (to me) too much like the top of the site, so I don't really percieve it as being an actual _ad_. But then, I'm already an addict. ;)

Comment from: gwalla posted at June 2, 2005 5:29 PM

I still haven't seen the GC banner on IW or Shortpacked. I only get the Kade's Coffee ad.

Comment from: Scruffy posted at June 2, 2005 6:01 PM

Well, then - here's to lessons learned. :-)

-Scruffy

Comment from: ItsWalky posted at June 2, 2005 6:32 PM

I've seen the GC ad on Shortpacked!. ....right now, actually. I haven't really paid attention to It's Walky!, so I can't honestly say I've seen it there.

Let me check to confirm.

*refreshrefreshrefreshrefreshrefreshrefreshrefreshrefresh*

...hrm. Well, they're all the same ad code between my two pages, so yay, randomness hates us.

Comment from: Phalanx posted at June 2, 2005 7:06 PM

Now how about a link section on GC with link buttons so we who do not need mercenary incentive may link to you, Mr. Burns?

(Because if there is one, darn me if I can find it)

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at June 2, 2005 7:21 PM

It's coming Phalanx. We have a link button now, but it's not currently on the site. It will be soon. In the meantime, if you happen to read this, this is a standard link button you can use.

And thank you!

Comment from: Karacan posted at June 3, 2005 8:25 AM

For some reason, the ad actually does nothing for me. It reminds me too much of the Elf Life ad, albeit with much nicer colors, and for some reason - though I highly appreciate fantasy comics - I can't seem to see the big fuss about Elf Life.

I like Gossamer Commons, but it's more like "like" like, not like "love" like. (Uh, does this sentence make a vague sense? :))

Comment from: gwalla posted at June 3, 2005 5:27 PM

I used to love Elf Life. But Carson got too obsessed with pandering to increase his readership, the story went off the rails, and I've never been able to get back into it.

Comment from: Tangent posted at June 3, 2005 7:11 PM

Loved today's Gossamer Commons, Eric.

But then, you know that already. *chuckle*

Rob

Comment from: Meagen Image posted at June 3, 2005 7:11 PM

Sonata's supposed to be *cute*? Um... don't mean to insult your artist or anything, but the impression I got was that fairies without glamour on just look really weird and disturbing. (But maybe I'm biased by reading Pratchett's works.)

The faux-anime-style, next to the realistic main characters, just looks... wrong. Not unlike the "catgirls" in S*P, in fact.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at June 3, 2005 7:21 PM

She should be about equal levels of cute and disturbing. Your take on her is perfectly valid, Meagen. ;)

Comment from: ZeoRanger posted at September 13, 2005 11:16 PM

As a friend of Greg's, I've known about and been reading Gossamer since he got the "artmonkey" position. While he is occasionally showered with praise for his work, I've not taken the opportunity to comment on the other creative aspects of the comic until now.

I'm biased anyway, but what the hell, right?

Eric, I must say that I really enjoy what's going on with your writing. I'm really impressed so far with the development of the characters, and the overall plot in general. While Greg's artistic flair gives the piece it's personality and style, the writing you're doing is it's soul.

Awesome strip, to both of you - keep 'em coming!

-z-

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