Digital and Print: 1 Year of Skullkickers Online

It’s been one year since I started serializing issues of Skullkickers online so it’s an ideal time to see how the site has done so far in terms of traffic and talk about online outreach as a whole.

If you’ve never read Skullkickers before, let me give you a quick introduction…

Skullkickers is a sword & sorcery buddy-adventure comic about monster mashing mercenaries on the hunt for fame and fortune. It’s The Hobbit meets The Hangover. Skullkickers is published by Image Comics and serialized online via Keenspot.

SKKeenspot1YearStats1

Skullkickers online has garnered just over 5.8 million pageviews and been visited by 272,000+ people over the past 12 months. More than 90 times the number of people who buy our monthly issues have checked out Skullickers online so far. Each month an average of 22,600+ new people come on board the story and the site generates almost 486,000 pageviews. I don’t know how it compares to other webcomics (though I’m sure it’s far lower than a lot of the long running and financially self sufficient sites) but it’s reaching 7-8 times our floppy comic print run worth of new readers every month, building up awareness of the title day by day using content we already had archived and ready to go.

In comic book shops my competition for your hard-earned dollars are worldwide icons like Batman and Spider-Man or massive media hits like The Walking Dead and Scott Pilgrim. Needless to say, standing out with that competition can be tough. Skullkickers’ single issue sales hover just off the bottom of Diamond’s Top 300 titles on any particular month while SK’s trade paperback sales are pretty good.

As we move ahead with our master plan for 36 issues divided into six story arcs (which will end up in print as 6 softcovers or a trilogy of hardcovers) I have to make sure people have an easy way to start at the beginning to get hooked. Online serialization of older content is proving to be a convenient and valuable way to do just that.

Fantasy comics have always struggled in the North American direct comic market. The Venn diagram of people who are reading superhero titles definitely includes fantasy fans, but not all comic shops carry creator-owned titles and not all comic shop regulars are fantasy readers, so our title is trying to appeal to a demographic inside a demographic inside a demographic. Online we’re available to anyone with an internet connection- obviously a much, much larger pool of fantasy fans who could become Skullkickers fans.

Even better, people who might not normally read sword & sorcery at all can still sample the series and be drawn in too. It’s global, it’s convenient and it’s available 24/7. We’re not excluding anyone at any time unless the server goes down.

SK1YearVennDiagram

Without any barriers to entry, new online readers can discover Skullkickers risk-free, reading along as a weekday ritual as I add pages, slowly growing more attached to the characters and their story. Getting these readers to sample is as simple as passing the URL to a friend, posting it on a social networking site or sending a tweet. Readers who wouldn’t have given my title a second glance at a bookstore can explore and enjoy at their own pace. It’s Free Comic Book Day every day at Skullkickers Online.

Okay, it’s all well and good to talk about outreach and an online readership, but the value of amazing comic retailers and print readers comes from their financial commitment to the series. Retailers are the bedrock of our financial viability through Image and our print readers keep us afloat. Our whole creative team works hard to ensure every issue is worth its $3.50 cover price with a fun story, great artwork and enjoyable bonus content. I know a lot of retailers and fans would assume that serializing the older issues online for free would hurt sales, but it hasn’t been the case.

As I mentioned in my post over the summer about convention sales, print and digital are working together pretty harmoniously. Our print numbers aren’t hurting because of online serialization and some of our online readers are becoming print buyers, especially the collected trade paperbacks and deluxe hardcover ‘Treasure Trove’ edition. Retailers who stock the series are benefiting from our online outreach, not hurting from it.

When readers become really attached to the series online they’re willing to buy a print copy, both for their own enjoyment and as a measure of support for our hard work. Sure, the majority of people will casually read it online for free but, by casting such a wide net to potential new readers, I’m able to expand book sales overall, reaching more and more people each month long after individual print issues have sold out. The hard-to-find early issues are absolutely crucial because they’re the entry point for new readers. Thanks to the online site they’re always available. You can start reading Skullkickers right now, right here.

I make it clear that if you’re enjoying the pages you’re reading on the site now, you can read even more of the story any time you want by making a purchase. By serializing older issues I’ve been able to jumpstart print and digital comic sales a bit too. People can catch up to the ‘current’ story any time they want via their local comic shop, Amazon, other book outlets, comiXology, Graphicly or iVerse. We’re banking on the quality of the work to convince people to pay to catch up, collect or own one of our collected editions and it seems to be working.

In 2012 I had record-breaking book sales at 5 conventions and even my worst convention was nearly equal to the best shows I had in 2011. I kept asking people how they’d heard about Skullkickers and a ridiculously high number were through good word of mouth and reading the archives online for free.

I wasn’t kidding when I said Everybody wins”.

Serializing Skullkickers online has helped keep us viable and broadened our appeal to much larger audience. Online serialization works with print, works with conventions and even works with other digital platforms. It isn’t an instant fix and doesn’t solve the financial pitfalls of creator-owned comics all by itself, but it’s definitely an important tool more creators should be looking into as they work to create a readership for their work.

I’m a storyteller with a small creator-owned comic trying to build a readership from scratch. There’s absolutely no reason for me to narrow the delivery model for my story. The more channels I can make my content available through, the better.

Leave a comment ?

13 Comments.

  1. Thanks for posting this Jim.

    One of the hardest things we’ve encountered with ComicBin is convincing publishers that making comics more easily accessible will not hurt sales but help them. Especially on longer running series.

    The biggest hurdle for new readers is picking up the story and when the back issues are either out of print completely or just hard to come by, that deters them from getting on board.

    We’re trying to make ComicBin easily accessible to readers AND to publishers so that even independents such as yourself can easily get their comics out to readers.

  2. hehe, that is the same approach i have been using with my own Sunstone series. people have fallen in love with the characters and genuinely want to own printed copies.

    this approach makes it easy to find an audience, and if
    done well , people do appreciate the effort and want to support the creators.

  3. Jim, I’m curious what, if any, promotion of the webcomic version of skull kickers you’ve done? While there are certainly established webcomics out there with bigger readerships and more impressive stats, there are also a whole lot of webcomickers who have been posting their stuff online for longer who might kill for your stats.

    Are you promoting the webcomic actively, or is it largely people finding it through the existing Keepspot community, and by word of mouth?

    • Keenspot has done occasional banner ads and their standard ‘Newsbox’ promotion for the site while I’ve pimped it out through my press list and social media, but the rest of it has been pretty organic- word of mouth and internet sharing.

      Since the content was drawn from our older issues we updated with a ‘new’ high quality page every weekday, which definitely helped. Even though we’ll be switching to a 3-page-per-week update schedule next month, the deep archive of content at the site should keep our pageviews pretty stable going forward.

      Obviously I’m biased, but it’s a fun story with solid art and I think it shows really well to new readers. I’m really happy with the growth so far and am hopeful we can continue to build a stable audience online.

    • FYI, here’s all of the tracked clicks (92,000+) that Keenspot has sent to SKULLKICKERS courtesy of the bit.ly link used in our advertising: https://bitly.com/skheaderbar+

  4. This approach definitely worked on me. After reading online last year I preordered the HC. Can’t wait to preorder the next one!

  5. I found this comic because of the Image website, I was browsing to see if I could find a new title to add to my pull list and Skullkickers caught my eye.
    I already bought the first trade and I do plan on buying the rest of them. It’s a fun and lighthearted book and I like that.
    Best wishes, and keep up the amazing work.

  6. It’s worked for me as well. I’d seen the story in the past but not enough to entice me. Recently I followed a link, read the first issues and it clicked. From there I’ve started ordering via previews since the are no LCS near me. I’ll end up buying the trades at some point as well most likely.

    So, thank you for adding to my thousands of comics 😆

  7. Jim,
    I’m not the kind of person who typically buys comics monthly, but typically wait for the trades. I was introduced to Skullkickers from the website and fell in love with it. Since then I have bought the trades and the treasure trove, as well as some kick ass Munchkin cards.
    Looking forward to seeing you and Edwin at Third Eye Comics in Annapolis. I’ll grab a copy of Savage to get signed! =)

  8. Casting Internets « UnitedMonkee - pingback on February 4, 2013 at 11:51 pm
  9. Does the ad revenue from the webcomic edition generate a significant percentage of total revenue from the property? Is it at least a self-sufficient promotional tool, covering its own costs?

  10. I am also curious if there is any significant revenue generated from the ads on the site hosting the serialized version of Skull Kickers?

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