GPF News Archive

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I have often joked that I should insert a boilerplate apology at the top of every News post, perhaps with a random excuse generator attached to "explain" why it's been so long since I last posted anything. This latest post could be a good example of that. It felt odd adding a new "year" separator in the drop-down list, seeing as Year Nine only had one News post attached to it. What can I say? The past six months or so have been hectic with the exodus from Keenspot, building and maintaining new features here on the new site, and what-not. I'd much rather be cranking out new comics and features you guys can enjoy than giving boring "state of the comic" addresses.

That said, this is a really good time to be making a "state of the comic" address. I wanted to get this up last week (for reasons that will be obvious enough in just a moment), but various things such as work, family illnesses, home maintenance, and just plain laziness have gotten in the way. But I can't ignore this one, in part because there's a number of things to say and in part because there's a tiny little milestone that ought to be mentioned.

Perhaps the astute of you out there may have noticed that the main title graphic on the front page and the archive pages has changed. In case you hadn't noticed, I'll state the obvious: GPF has reached a decade of official existence. On November 2nd, 2008, GPF officially turned ten years old. That's right, ten years. 10 in decimal, A in hexadecimal, and 1010 in binary. Since we humans like to apply greater significance to counting complete solar revolutions at increments that arbitrarily equate to even divisions of ten (which likely has something to do with the number of digits on the ends of our forelimbs), this decennial would be something worth noting. Given the immense churn and turnover in the webcomics world—where comics can be conceived, born, thrive, stagnate, die, and fade into obscurity all within the frame of a single month—this is a virtual eternity. It's been amazing to watch a number of my contemporaries who preceded me in reaching this milestone celebrate their success... as well as a bit depressing to think how many webcomics out there never made it to their first anniversary. But since I'm not in a depressing mode, that's all I'll say about that.

I originally wanted to do some sort of great anniversary celebration complete with thoughtful retrospectives, mushy nostalgia, exciting contests, lots of new bells and whistles on the site... alas, the time to prepare such extras gradually slipped away, ultimately leaving me with an anniversary that came and went while I was away from the computer most of the day. C'est la vie. So I suppose much of this year may be business as usual. You probably should expect a number of this year's stories to look back and reference events of the past ten years, but if you've been reading GPF for any significant length of time, that should be no surprise. Currently the only somewhat official celebration taking place is a thread on the GPF Forum. If you have any GPF memories you'd like to share—how you first found the comic, which strip/story/character is your favorite, what you'd love to see out of GPF in the next decade, etc.—feel free to drop in and share them. I should point out, however, that as of this writing forum registrations from GMail addresses are currently forbidden. We've had lots of problems with spammers hammering us with registrations from GMail addresses and we had to temporarily block them to get a bit more breathing room. This ban will be lifted very shortly, though, but I can't guarantee it won't happen again.

Before I get into the real meat of the State of the Comic, though, I should remind our GPF Premium subscribers to keep an eye on the Rumor Mill page. I've made numerous minor news updates there since the last official News update, stuff that only pertains to our subscribers. One of these updates affects how one of your site options are stored, so you should log into the Account Manager to see how this affects you. As for keeping up with the Rumor Mill, you can always subscribe to the Premium-only RSS feed (being logged into the site automatically replaces the general feed URL with this one) or modify your Site Options to place the latest Rumor Mill post on the front page. I consider the Rumor Mill important not only because it gives me a chance to reveal long-range plans to those of you who are really interested, but it also gives me an outlet for Premium-related news that would be inappropriate to post here in the general News archive. Of course, those of you who aren't subscribers shouldn't feel too left out; subscriptions are relatively cheap and exceedingly easy to obtain. Just check out the Premium portal site for more details.

Since I mentioned the RSS feeds, I guess I'll go ahead and mention the latest addition to our expanding information blitzkrieg. After various attempts to resist the inevitable gravitational pull, I've finally given into to the demands from some of you and I can now be found on Twitter. Like the blog, this isn't strictly GPF related and likely more personal, so those of you who could care less about the "man behind the curtain" (it's OK, I don't take it personally) may feel free to ignore it. It will, however, contain "tweaks" when there's a new comic or News post, so you can in theory use it instead of the general RSS feed to keep track of updates. It won't however, contain updates about Premium exclusives; I may look into a protected Twitter account exclusively for those, but that's not very high up the to-do list.

And now, without further ado, we present...

The State of the Comic 2008

The Financial Report: I mentioned previously that 2008 "will probably be our most profitable year yet." That prediction is continuing to hold true. GPF is certainly in the black; November and December are already accounted for through both hard and projected numbers. We're still not technically clearing enough of a profit to make the comic my sole livelihood—and I definitely won't be quitting my day job anytime soon, since our family current has its medical insurance through my work—but we're a lot closer to that goal than I would have expected. I cannot accurately speculate whether the decision to leave Keenspot was a definitive factor in our current profitability, since I left before Keen finished implementing a more artist-friendly revenue scheme that may have produced similar increases. That said, cutting out just about all of our "middle men" has definitely put more into GPF's coffers this year, and it shows.

Since I'm in an open and sharing mood (and I especially believe that our Premium subscribers deserve some level on transparency in what they're paying for), I've decided to open up the GPF spreadsheets a little to share a bit about our finances. I reserve the right to hold back actual numbers, but the site's relative growth should be readily apparent. For the sake of perspective, you can keep in mind that (a) our revenues are up significantly from previous years, including our "golden" years of our highest raw traffic and book sales, but (b) I still consider our profits to be low enough that I do not draw a living wage from the comic (that is, the comic is profitable when considered to be a business with expenditures but no salaries paid).

[GPF Income by Source, 2008]
Figure 1: GPF Income by Source, 2008

The graph above gives a relative indication of GPF's income by our four primary sources of revenue: advertising (all sources combined), Premium, the Tip Jar, and the Store. It covers the period of March 2008, when we first left Keenspot, to October 2008, the last month in which we have full financial data. I should point out that March and April are not good indicators of the comic's overall stability. One of our advertising feeds pays 45 days after the revenue was earned, so ad impressions earned in March didn't start paying until May. We also had a massive influx of new Premium subscriptions in our first month, which is why you see March being our second-highest grossing month to date despite bringing in next to nothing in ads. This also does not provide you a picture of our revenues compared to previous years; this is something I'd like to more officially look into, but I don't think I have that data readily available to analyze right now. (Our independence has made me more self-reliant on my own internal record keeping this year, which is why I have more data to work with this time around.)

The main thing to draw from this graph is that while we have had some fluctuations (which is to be expected), the site is definitely profitable. Here's a comparison of our revenue vs. expenses:

[GPF Revenue vs. Expenses, 2008]
Figure 2: GPF Revenue vs. Expenses, 2008

Yes, there's a big difference there, but the good thing is that the two data sets being compared are in the right ratio. :) I definitely expect our expenses to grow in the coming year, especially if we continue to grow in traffic as we have. That said, I've done a lot of things this year that have eliminated a number of recurring costs, making the GPF engine leaner and more efficient. Another thing to consider is the fact that I haven't been to a convention since 2005, before my son was born. Conventions usually drain big chunks of our budget, so not having that line item really kept us from seeing red. I'm hoping to get back into the convention circuit in 2009 and, when that happens, our expenses will spike in those months. The plus side will be that we should have a nice windfall cushion to draw upon on the off chance our expenses ever do exceed revenues.

One thing I would like to point out is the relative strength of our revenue streams. Here's the first graph revisited, this time as percentages of the whole rather than total revenue month to month:

[GPF Income Percentage by Source, 2008]
Figure 2: GPF Income Percentage by Source, 2008

There's a lot you can take away from this graph. One of the first things to note is that the Tip Jar and the Store contribute little to our bottom line. With respect to the Tip Jar, this doesn't bother me at all. In my opinion, anything that comes from the Tip Jar is pocket change, just like the name implies. I earn my keep from the "salary" you guys pay me through ads or Premium, but some of you have requested over the years to have a way to slip me a little extra coin in appreciation. I don't want to belittle the contributions of any of our tipsters over the years; your donations have always been appreciated and they will always continue to be. But as the Tip Jar page clearly states, I'm not looking for nor expecting handouts. The fact that this "revenue stream" shows up on this graph at all is more a testament to your generosity than anything else.

The near total absence of the Store from this chart, however, is dismaying. I would much rather that the Store be a more integral revenue stream for us than advertising; I've always hoped that an effective combination of Store sales plus Premium subscriptions could help us eliminate the ads completely from the site, a long term goal I've always had. That said, the Store barely makes a blip here. (I should point out that several of you have purchased Premium subscriptions via the Store rather than the PayPal-based Account Creator; these purchases have been rolled into the Premium category rather than the Store for, I hope, obvious reasons.) The GPF Store has never been much of a money maker for us. I'm not sure exactly where the problem lies—whether it's a dearth of interesting products, lack of promotion, or you guys just aren't interested in buying anything from us—but it's telling that we've only made a few choice sales here and there over the course of a year. We are always looking for ways to improve our selection, so if you have any comments or suggestions that would help make our Store offerings more appealing, there's a forum thread devoted to that topic that's been running for several months now. Please drop in and let us know what you think.

The other big thing I'd like to point out is our ratio of advertising income vs. Premium. Ignoring March and April for reasons already stated, the average income for GPF this year has been 75% advertising, 25% Premium subscriptions. This is both exciting and frustrating at the same time. I'm excited because Premium has exceeded many of my projections thus far. I knew it was important to continue the exclusive content model that Keenspot quickly abandoned (for valid if inconvenient reasons), so I made it a priority to include it into the new site from the initial launch. The significance of Premium on our bottom line is extremely important. It proves that some of you really want to support us and help us succeed, and you're willing to pony up a little cash to keep us running. The fact that we've had several top-tier Diamond and Eternal subscriptions is extremely heartening because it says that you guys are in this for as much of the long haul as we are. You guys rock.

The frustration comes more from the fact that Premium is stable, but not growing. It is my hope that we haven't hit a critical mass beyond which we can no longer grow. Currently, less than 1% of GPF's total readership are Premium subscribers; if that ratio could increase to 5% annually, I'd be able to yank all the ads and still quit my day job and live comfortably on GPF alone. 11% would bring us to an income level that would wholly support the entire family; we'd reach this same number if every single reader tried Premium once per year at the introductory Bronze level. But despite the initial spike in initial subscriptions, new subscriptions and renewals have been relatively flat. New Premium features and content are being added all the time, so I doubt it's because there's no "added value" to be had.

Of course, every time I start plugging Premium, it's inevitable that there will be the standard flood of complaints of "I would subscribe, but I don't have any money to spare." That, quite simply, is a matter of your own financial priorities and I have no right or place to tell you how to spend your money. No one should ever forgo food, bills, or tuition just to support their favorite webcomic, but where you spend your discretionary income (CDs, MP3 downloads, movies, webcomics, etc.) is a matter of taste. This, therefore, is one of the reasons we still run ads. As long as you guys keep coming and the ads keep loading (i.e. you're not blocking them), we still get paid. You "pay" for the ads by being marketed to by our advertisers, a tactic that we're all so used to through other media that we essentially equate it with "free". As annoying as some advertisements can be, they do provide three-fourths of our site's revenue so their significance cannot be ignored. As much as I'd love to see every single one of you become Premium subscribers and for the ads to go completely away, it's the continued support of our "freeloaders" simply visiting the site that currently pays the bills. Don't forget that if you feel like I'm starting to lay down a guilt trip on you. ;)

The State of the Comic: Now that we're done talking about finances, let's talk comics. You can probably expect the next few years of GPF to be much like the years immediately following Surreptitious Machinations. Look for lots of smaller stories that seem to go out in various directions, often with no apparently link tying them together. You can also look for there to be a lot more humor to be had, much like the smaller bits of Year Nine. I won't say that the days of mega-arcs like Surreptitious Machinations or To Thine Own Self... are over; there are a number of pretty big plot arcs simmering on the back burner that I still plan to resolve, and you can bet your sweet patootie that those "various directions" will likely find a way of weaving back into a strangely cohesive whole. That said, I'm in no hurry to get to these big stories any time soon, as I'm in just as much need of a break on the lighter side as you guys.

Comic production will unfortunately remain at the three-updates-per-week schedule for the foreseeable future. Try as I might, I can't bring my production levels above this, and it's likely due to the two hours lost commuting every day plus the duties of fatherhood that it's not getting any better. Sadly, my buffer has dwindled way below my comfort level in the past few months, but I'm hoping to ramp things up soon to rebuild it. Some time in the future there might be another "interpretations" guest week (or four) to help things along, but there aren't currently any plans in place to implement this.

One topic worth discussing would be the future of any potential Harry Barker sequels. Harry Barker and the Napier's Bones was always intended to be the first of several Harry Potter parodies eventually encompassing the entire series of books/movies. As a fan of the books, I've been sitting and planning on this for a while and I really think my parodies have brought some new geekier elements into this world that other parodies out there don't have. My notes on this have been copious and exhaustive, and right now there's a lot of material in the can such that I can hop on the next two installments with relative ease. That said, a few of you have made it acutely aware that you aren't interested in seeing any more Potter parodies. That also said, much of the actual feedback I've received about the story (from those of you who actually read it) has been positive. So I am officially leaving the fate of the Harry Barker series up to you. There's yet another forum thread—this one with an actual poll attached—where the topic is currently being discussed. Feedback on the forum is easier for me to collate than individual e-mails, so this is the preferred method of casting your vote. It was my original pie-in-the-sky plan to spin this off into its own site independent of GPF (or a subsite of the main site outside the main archive, much like the "Mischief's Night Out" miniseries) but I don't have time to put that together. So any future installments will occur in-continuity, meaning they'll go on the main page in lieu of "regular" comics and they'll be a part of the regular archives. (Don't expect everything to be Sharon's dream sequences, however.)

That's about all I have to share for now. I will endeavor to try to post new News posts more frequently this year, just to keep the dialog flowing so you'll know what's going on here behind the scenes. It wouldn't be a bad idea to review the previous News post, as much of what was mentioned back in April is still relevant.

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