August is the cruelest month…
Don’t let T.S. Eliot fool you with his excoriation of April; in the webcomic world, indeed, the online content world as a whole, April is pretty sweet. It’s August and its partners in crime, June and July, that sneak up on you every year and sucker punch you.
The worst is probably the first time you experience it, if you’re the kind of person who monitors your traffic counts as a sign your audience is growing. Yes, various counters will tell you various things, but when you’ve been on the rise and then you suddenly see an across the board dip in people looking your way, and that dip keeps going and going from week to week, you’ll get that sinking feeling in your stomach and wonder just what it was that you did wrong.
You did nothing wrong. To paraphrase Chinatown: “Forget it, Jake. It’s Summer.” It’s the Summer Slump, and it’s a phenomenon that’s been known about by webmasters for years. The kids are out of school, people are going on vacation, and basically, a lot of folks just plain decide they have something better to do than read webcomics, no matter how gripping the cliffhangers you dangle before them are. Hell, if you look into it you’ll find out it’s not even just the web, television viewership also drops during these months to the point networks hold their new seasons of shows until Fall.
This is such a recurring thing that some wecomic creators take a page from the TV and are known to just put their comics on hiatus until Summer ends. Others use the time to experiment with layouts or otherwise do risky business with their sites before the “crowds” return, figuring anyone loyal enough to stick around during slump time is also willing to cut them some slack if there’s a temporary breakdown. As for us, we’ve mostly been holding the course, especially because this year June and July weren’t as bad as they’ve been before. But August? August looks so far to be shaping up as nasty as ever, so it’s probably time to see about some overdue updates. Of course, August in the Los Angeles area also happens to be when it gets so hot it’s really hard to motivate to do anything except lie around in the path of as much air circulation as possible.
The upside you have to keep telling yourself is that eventually it will get cooler, and school will start up again, and you’ll see a lot of familiar faces returning, eager to see how the story has gone since they last checked in. That’s also perhaps when you might find out that they really have abandoned you, but so far Dawn and I have always found September to be the time everyone comes back from “reverse hibernation”, perhaps dragging a few friends along as well.
Summer slump is just something all online creators have to deal with, unless they’re too big or too small to notice. For us here at the Ranch there’s no avoiding it, so we slog through the heat and comparative lack of feedback/commentary until we reach that cool breeze that heralds the migratory return.
That, or maybe next time the slump rolls ’round we should look into doing an ad blitz in places like Australia.