Let’s talk about hype.

The A Distant Soil comic went online late January 2009. The current traffic is over ten times higher than our traffic in January of last year. We have approximately 9 times more repeat viewers per day.

That is fact, not hype.

Income has increased, largely due to incentives and donations, which I appreciate very much. It’s early days to see a significant increase in sales. I get royalties on the book. Considering I haven’t had a new book out in awhile, that’s a good sign. I realize my expectation of a sales jump on a webcomic anywhere in the first year was unrealistic. The only webcomics I know of which have done well with sales of physical books have been online for three years or more.

There’s an increase in foreign traffic, but it’s doubtful we’re selling a lot of books in Slovenia. That does not diminish my deep appreciation of Slovenia.

I’ve enjoyed learning how to read stat information, especially how to read independent site meters. Many of them are wildly inaccurate, but my linked stat counter sometimes agrees with the info at 7Zoom.com. It’s in the ballpark of a bad day of page views for me.

I’ve compared my traffic to that of other sites, and some people are Liar! liar! Pants on Fire! If their traffic is that low, one wonders where their “millions of fans” are.

They never had ‘em in the first place. Duh.

Anyone can see your book sales, with a little digging. If you run around telling whoppers about how your small press book “sold better than the X-Men”, some gullible blogger may believe you, but the rest of us will wonder where the hell you got those numbers. Especially when we can see that your last graphic novel sold 2,000 copies.

If I had millions of fans one day, and my last book sales dropped to 2,000 copies, I would not be making a public issue of it.

The first time I discussed popularity inflation on the blog, a certain Lying Liar who Lies went to one of those online traffic meters and had their website removed from the system so no one could see that their actual traffic is only a hundred-fifty people a day on one project.

Another who claimed 3,000 unique readers per day showed on their Project Wonderful stats that they got less than 1/4 that traffic. They removed their Project Wonderful ads. One year later, an independent traffic meter indicates the site’s dropping popularity: less than 200 readers per day.

Other sites which show hundreds of thousands of hits per day brag of hundreds of thousands of readers. Hits aren’t unique readers. A single reader can bring dozens of page views per day to your site.

Mr. Hundreds of Thousands of Online Fans really has about 40,000 unique readers. That’s an impressive accomplishment, but it certainly explains why their book sales are less than 3% of their page view count.

Another showed a hit counter with over 30,000,000 hits. I figured their actual total unique readership amounted to no more than 15,000. Independent site analysis came up with an even lower figure.

If your site has been online for years, and you have over 10,000 individual pages (add in chatty message board traffic,) it’s simplicity itself to reach millions of hits, especially if your visible hit counter is set up to show the requests for files from the server, and not actual page views.

I am not naming names here, because I don’t need to rub their noses in it all. If you want to do some digging on your own, feel free. I confess a few friends have had some jolly times passing info back and forth about people who want to seem more popular than they are.

I really must learn to hype me better. Because DAYum, I sell better and get more traffic than the comic with “millions of fans”, and I have a helluva lot more readers than the site which claims 3,000 unique readers per day.

Once upon a time before the internet, lots of publishers and creators lied about their numbers and got away with it. They would add up sales on all editions of all their books and lump that number, and claim huge readerships. And where comics are concerned, we have to wonder just how many of those sales went to shops hoarding books in hopes of selling them at inflated collector prices, and not to individual fans.

Over the course of some 45 books, A Distant Soil has sold upwards of 700,000 copies. Combined. The very highest sales were 40,000 copies for one issue. During my self publishing days, a high average was 20,000, bottoming out somewhere around 7,000.

7,000 copies probably sounds good these days, but at a $1.75 cover price, profits after printing, shipping, etc. were less than $2,000 per issue. Which gave me $1,000 per month income. Ow.

Look at these figures for recently canceled Vertigo books. Fans cry that their faves are gone, but there is Air, not really selling much better than A Distant Soil. How can a major publisher afford to keep paying a penciler/ inker/ writer/ letterer/ colorist on that?

Would my book sell any better with major publisher backing? Hm. I’d have trouble making a living at Air’s sales, and I do all the work on my own book.

The Amazon numbers don’t mean that much. It’s not hard to slip into the Amazon top 100,000 selling only one copy per day. So, you may crow about your ranking, but you can get that ranking on 365 books a year.

Went over my rank on the Diamond sales charts throughout the 1990′s. My book outsold some small press books which claimed “millions of fans” even then. They had to be lying; adding in the sales from trade bookstores would not give them “millions”. It didn’t even give them tens of thousands. It didn’t even give them 5,000.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had millions of fans, but it also had a tv show, movies, and Product Lines of the Gods. If your small press book doesn’t have all that, you don’t have millions of fans.

I understand about the hype machine, and how not letting your project be sprinkled with loser dust makes some people think Hollywood will drop a big check in their lap. But if I can see your website gets low traffic so can Warner Brothers.

While I’m advising my honored readers to question the hype you read online, here’s something to question after San Diego Comic Con when everyone and their cousin Herbert is crowing about a movie deal:

There are a lot of movie deals to be had. You can’t swing a dead cat at a con without hitting a producer. Sometimes I think that’s why we call them “cons”.

I’ve had several movie deals, and one of them helped me buy a nice Donato painting. It’s hanging in my studio. It’s the only time in my whole life I have made what I would consider to be an extravagant purchase.

However, most of these movie deals are hype. There’s no money involved. They don’t mean jack.

The no-money option is a way of getting a blurb in Variety magazine. It’s also a good way of tying up your rights so no one else can use them.

This is dumb.

The whole point of an option is to be paid for the use of your property. If someone is going to take your work off the market – sometimes for years – a serious offer is an offer with some cash to back it up.

Think about the 430 times you’ve heard of this or that movie deal which never seems to go anywhere. While some of these books get stuck in development hell, most of them are just tied up in these loser deals that don’t pay and are only there to tie up the property.

This post isn’t about poking rivals in the eye, because if it were, I’d poke more pointedly. With links.

I hope you will take this as a way to develop a better understanding of the hype machine. Just because someone screams about how popular they are, there are ways to find out the truth for yourself.

Sales are not readers, hits are not readers.

A movie option can be totally bogus.

Lying about your popularity doesn’t make you popular, it just makes you look kind of desperate. Especially when you have yourself deleted from Quantcast.

UPDATE: It’s been some time since I wrote this post, and since I no longer update the blog daily, my traffic has dropped from a high of about 20,000 unique readers a day, to about 1,000. Blogging is more work intensive than I ever dreamed it would be, and I have books to do. Thanks for reading.

PS: I’ve received several complaints the comic is too hard to read online. Someone wrote to tell me to crank up the resolution. Sorry, that would kill my server. I’d love to post larger images, but that would mean redesigning the site as well as re-sizing and re-uploading all 400 previous pages. I just can’t do that right now.