Last week John Allison of Scary Go Round and more recently Bad Machinery fame wrote a blog post expressing his fear that, as more and more webcartoonists took to social networking sites like Tumblr, it would be harder for them to make money off their work because even if their work went viral, it would get lost in the shuffle of people’s Tumblr feeds and no one would make the connection to them as the creator of that work. As a result, he fears the decline of the sort of “community” that has so characterized webcomics up to this point.
Personally, I think his fears are overblown; for one thing, I find it hard to compare Tumblr cartoonists with other webcartoonists, in part because most blogging platforms that aren’t modified WordPress make poor places to put up webcomics anyway, mostly due to archive management. As such, I suspect most Tumblr cartoonists aren’t very interested in fame and fortune anyway, and are more of the David Morgan-Mar frame of mind, of just wanting to share their creations with the world. In any case, the question is, would, say, Kate Beaton still have attracted a large following if she’d started out on Tumblr instead of LiveJournal? (After all, the former is essentially an evolved version of the latter.) Since most webcomics got their start through word of mouth, I find it hard to believe that the boom in social networking is anything but good for them (though whether it’s good for the quality of content that becomes popular is another matter, if it means the most popular comics essentially become nothing but meme factories).
But Allison’s broader fear is the notion that, for many, “social media ARE the Internet”, making it harder for web sites like his to catch anyone’s notice. I think this too is overblown, but mostly because of a far larger force reshaping the Internet that’s both largely responsible for that notion and that could end up sweeping both visions of the Internet under its feet, one that does pose a tremendous challenge, but ultimately a tremendous opportunity, for webcomics. I’ll have more on that next week.