About two years ago, I began this project to expand from the five comics that I would hit almost every morning while I drank my coffee. Upon finishing with my comics, I wished that I could just view a few more during the day (when I needed a break, of course). At that time, I was still pretty new with advanced programming, but obsessed with databases. So of course… I made a database to sort / filter comics, and the twist was having it find out what kind of READER I was, and what I liked. This took a bit to work out, but is the part that I feel makes ink stand out in the world of webcomic portals. I am still not 100% where I wanted to be with it, but when I sit and read comics, I am always happy with the customized outcome.
Now, when I made this, I had a few buddies who were helping me test. They were never really into webcomics, but with ink they were now INTO their webcomics. This was a huge driving factor when I would hear things like “I never knew there were so many webcomics”, or “This is probably the best 20 minutes of my day”. When you string together what people want, and allow them to block out what THEY dislike you will find a lot of readers will really enjoy their path into webcomics.
Let’s say, for example, that you came to me and suggested your favorite comics, I may like one out of your top 10…. but if I were to go to ink and follow Toonhole, and I am ARG! I would find my queue changing to suggest comics like Bug, Toothpaste for Dinner, The Oatmeal and plenty more that fall alongside my “trends”. Mind you, this doesn’t just click for humor comics, this goes for all tags…. Someone into sci-fi adventure may be suggested Cleopatra in Space, and Spacetrawler.
What happens when that user comes back to ink, it lets the user pick back up where they left off. If their favorite comics updated that day, the comics are in their queue…. If they haven’t read that comic in three weeks, the user starts three weeks back, at a point where the user can browse all the comics and get caught back up. Doing so, makes it easy for a reader to get absorbed into a routine of chilling out with comics and discovering new ones ( Currently there are over 30,000 comics read everyday on ink ).
Now the reason I mention the READERS so much here is there are MILLIONS of people who would read these webcomics…. IF they knew of their existence. I feel the webcomic is not in its infancy, it’s just a hard medium to direct the proper reader to the right comic before the “Yeah I read some comics online…. they just aren’t for me”. In the next year, I really want to find a way to take a reader off the street and spend five minutes to find out JUST what they are looking for.
I rushed ink out the door a bit. I was advertising a very BETA-like website (I would still call ink a beta site if you asked me). Over time though, from the original model, I keep chipping away at what I want it to be. Thankfully, the positive feedback has heavily outweighed the negative. The queue for ink has gone through four overhauls so far, including one massive one in the beginning, about four months after the launch.
Mind you, we were one of the first sites since Stumble that would iframe comics, so ink instantly got mixed in with scraper sites. I received a few cease and desist letters…. which are never easy to take when you have this idea in your mind that you are going to be HELPING webcomics get out there. Well, we also had an ad on our navigation banner during some early days (about a week after starting), due to people telling me “Well how are you going to make any money”. The banner was removed once the first email came in, maybe even beforehand because we found the banner on top to be way too big. Honestly, the day the banner was up top we probably had thirty registered users, and an amazingly low amount of traffic. I remember users coming from Webcomics.com to be one of my biggest days of traffic! I took it all pretty poorly, and kinda thought I should just pack it up. Thanks to support of some friends, and my wife, I decided “I have made something special, I have something unique… I can’t just toss in the towel”.
After the “Cease spike” ( About 8 comics ), I received some great feedback from other creators, and e-mails from a few people who just started reading on ink. I got a bit more motivated to stay with it, and it has always been very hard for me to give up on ink because it’s one of those pet projects that I have put a lot of time into. Hearing that ink has helped creators with finding readers makes it even harder to forfeit.
Most of our exposure came from Twitter, and word-of-mouth in the community. I was always pretty amazed at how much some creators would talk us up to their readers (Like this post by Denis Caron @ LAWLS ). I still remember tweeting 3-4 times a day. “Over 230 webcomics updated today, have you read them all? Discover new webcomics, and follow the ones you love at inkoutbreak.com #webcomics” …. Gosh …. what a spammer.
I never really invested much into advertising for ink (Maybe $50 total in two years). I really have no money when it comes down to it. My friend Daryl is probably one of the most over-looked contributors to ink. He is my best friend, and like an idiot, he believes in whatever I am working on. The “money” part of ink came into play after I developed the banner exchange. This helped ink gain new users, but also allowed creators to swap traffic to ALL others on the exchange, or just comics that they choose to swap with. Which came at a cost….
I remember moving from the typical hosting ($10/month) to a dedicated server ($120/month) because I wanted to have a high ceiling for the exchange, since a lot of users were signing up ( Currently over 500 comics ). The beta was a mess, because I was stretching myself out so thin with work. Thankfully, with a lot of time and help from a lot of great people who love to give input (one of which Mr. John Wigger of Zombie Roomie ), I was able to tweak it to where it is today. The exchange gets over a million pageviews a day, showing off over 500+ banners, and for some people it is their biggest source or NEW readers.
Exposure has always been a big thing with me. I always feel like there are a lot of great comics getting over-looked that deserve so much more praise. I know a lot of webcomic creators are just like me, working all day to pay bills and then chipping away at a dream at night. Sometimes we just don’t have enough time in the day, especially not to be a salesperson for your projects all day.
With the exchange blowing up, I needed more money/month ($210/month). Yeah, we had projectwonderful ads but… man $2 per day is just help, not a solution. I kept turning to Daryl, and he kept popping out money to chip in with me. I cannot tell you how happy I am now that the kid stuck by me. Although it did bring up “SUSPICION” when I was about to be interviewed by a podcast. I remember getting these emails asking questions about ink, and what our goal was and what our “COMPANY” was planning to do. I eventually came off like a liar because the interviewer did not believe that someone would just HELP out a friend. Or maybe it was that my reporting numbers did not match the analytic numbers… and he went off about how it needs to be more professional. When a guy creates a project to help with an issue, maybe it doesn’t need to be professional and 100%, that’s just my opinion. If you were signing my check, I would make sure that things were 100%… until then deal with a bit of tweaking.
I have never PLANNED to make money with ink, so of course the interviewers “business” outlook of ink rubbed me the wrong way. Since I was a kid, I have wanted to work in comics. I have my own webcomics, I love drawing, I feel I can connect with where artists are about their work and getting it out there. Oh, and this was just after the “CEASE SPIKE”…. So I was excited to maybe get a chance to talk about ink in a positive light. I never did do an interview with Comics Coast to Coast, and never really got any press on ink after that…. but I kept going forward.
I started getting away from what people cared about as far as press. The webcomic press, to me, has always been kind of spotty, but to be honest, it’s all people like me putting a bit of time into a project. Because of this, it’s AMAZINGLY easy to overlook whats going on in webcomics. I still had a lot of support from readers and it came heavily from creators; they have always been amazing with mentioning ink in their posts. I have been so lucky to have communication with the artists on ink. In fact, in two weeks when I am at ECCC I will be splitting a hotel room with one of the first artists I ever spoke with about ink (Andrew Gregoire of I am ARG!).
One area that was helping with the bills was a site me and my friends worked together on, Slackstack.com; just a jumble of stupid pictures we found online. We did have pretty decent numbers, somedays hitting 70k, most of that traffic was from Stumbleupon. The best thing about this traffic was it was paying for half of the server…. So it made things REALLY easy to cover. A few months later though, Slackstack was blacklisted on Stumble for being submitted by the same users over and over. The bills headed back my way.
I tried to think of anything that could help raise some money to get me over the hurdle with inks bill. So I ended up raffling off a Kindle fire ( Our winner was Don Garvey of Echo Rift ). Oh boy was that a mistake. The idea was for every dollar you donated you had a ticket, and if you used the banner exchange to promote the raffle, then for every 1000 views you would get 1 entry. In the end of the raffle I was UP money, but barely, I think I MAY have raised $80. Don’t get me wrong, it was great, but I had higher expectations.
During that time I did get a lot of support from artists, and I started to take donations and bids for the large billboard-like banner ( Seen above ) on the homepage. I am actually now 100% run from donations. Also, I am clearing out ads from all pages, mostly because I have been hit with “You are making money off artists” a couple times, and that’s truly not what I am trying to do. If someone feels that I have helped them out, and they want to help me out, it’s greatly appreciated.
The donations / support is actually 100% going to Daryl right now, he is currently having a tough time and I figured it’s time to turn things around if I can. I doubt anyone would have an issue with this, and I have always been pretty honest when it comes to donations and where they go.
I don’t really know what drove me to post this story. I felt I should share with everyone the road ink has taken me down so far, because I know with a lot of creators you have the same issues with “Projects”. Sometimes they take you down these paths where you have to push yourself a lot further then the typical rat race of life. I think these “Projects” we all take on teach us a lot about ourselves, and what limits we have, and if we are lucky…. we can impress ourselves.
Now I had moved to Vegas about a year after ink launched, and that was quite the change. I went from quiet and boring but beautiful New Hampshire, to sparkly and sinful Las Vegas. Sadly ink took a backseat for a bit as I got adjusted, I would check in to make sure things ran fine…. Occasionally making changes to code to make things better. I have made a few new things while I have been out here, the thumb widget (fixing soon!) and also a mobile verison of ink that still has not been used by anyone but myself.
I attended my first comic-con in September, Comikaze…. It was pretty rad to meet the people I had been talking to for over a year. I spent a lot of time talking to creators, and slacking off at Denis Caron’s (LAWLS / ALT) booth. I also got to meet up with the guys from Toonhole… I got to brainstorm a bit with them about ink, and got some free prints to boot!
The hilarious thing was my friend tells me to bring business cards and schmooze with people… and make business connections…. Well that’s just not me. I am not a business man, I did have cards but they were a joke. I actually had to bum 20$ from a friend to get them printed. I maybe handed out three…. horrible quality…. was just embarrassing. All in all it was a pretty good experience, and a wake up call to get back on ink. So in the last few months I have tried to keep chipping away at my overall goal.
The bill payments of the server were scraping by. I had stopped asking Daryl for any help because I felt that I had taken enough from him… And for the most part we were VERY close to covering the cost. So I stuck it out and just made it a bit tighter on myself. UNTIL I got a second job….
Now this is where a lot has changed for ink. The site I work for now shares the webserver with ink, but they cover 100% of the bill for the server. It’s an amazing perk, and trust me, I work extra hard because to me having no bill for ink, means it’s back to a passion project. Thankfully, the new addition of that site doesn’t take up very much for resources, and it never hinders ink at all. The only thing it hinders is my ability to spend a lot of time on the project. Which for a “working” project is fine for the time being.
So now I’m headed to ECCC. This time I will do the same, attend and brainstorm. Business cards? Meh maybe…. I want to go to have fun. To me, that’s what ink is, my hobby and what I truly enjoy doing (most days). I am hoping at ECCC to meet up with creators, even those who send the Cease letters, and maybe shake hands and show I am not a site with ill intentions. I want to get people excited for what we could do with ink, what we could do as a community, or people who just really dig having “projects”.
Like I said, I have no idea why I wanted to post all this, I just wanted to say……. this is where I am at, and I am going to keep going forward.
Thanks for sticking with me so far,
Brian King ( firstname.lastname@example.org )
p.s. I will be following up this week with more articles about ink, to clarify features / services / Karma
Read more about the following :
Banner Exchange ( http://inkoutbreak.com/creators/blog/?p=21 )
ink Jackpots ( http://inkoutbreak.com/creators/blog/?p=60 )