Overview

The New Runners Universe

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The last time I checked in with Sean Wang, he was taking his comic series Runners down a new path by posting the entire first volume online for free one page at a time (about 3 pages a week) on his new site, Runnersuniverse.com. At the completion of this first series, he would begin the second volume, The Big Snow Job, in the same manner, posting one page at a time entirely for free.

I was particularly interested in Sean’s plan because it follows the business model of prioritizing readership over monetizing the issues as they come out. This strategy is couched in the belief that a greater awareness of the series and a larger fan-base will have greater long-term benefits than the smaller amounts of income that selling printed or digital copies may bring in.

This is a model that’s proven to be successful more often for indie projects than the other method, at least up to this date, but it still takes a lot of guts to commit yourself to because it depends very purely on the audience’s reaction, their appreciation of your work and their commitment to supporting it beyond the online pages they get for free.

I decided to catch up with Sean now that the first issue of the brand new series had been completed to get an idea of not only how well the posting of the first volume had done in drumming up new readers, but also how things have changed now that the brand new material was about to go up.

Sean’s reaction was pretty positive:

“It’s been a great success putting the entire RUNNERS series online for free, and I’m very happy with the results so far…the very open availability of the material online means that anyone can read the series without ever having to spend a dime or even leave the comfort of their home to track it down. I think that online availability is very enticing to people, and the readership is growing every day as more and more people discover the series and really get sucked into its world of alien smugglers, pirates, mercenaries, and mobsters.”

One of the ways that Sean has pulled in readers is by writing commentary along with each new page. This is not only interesting for new readers, but it creates an incentive for those who’ve already read the first volume to come back and read it again online.

As Sean put it,

“Everyone really seems to LOVE the commentary, which is great. I’m a big fan of DVD commentaries, since, as a creator, I’m fascinated by the decision-making process of other writers and artists. But when I started Runnersuniverse.com, I wasn’t sure if other people were into that sort of thing as well. As it turns out, the commentary has been a huge success and a big draw for readers. In my commentaries, I cover everything from how I came up with characters’ names and personalities, to various plot points I considered and/or abandoned, to aspects of the book that I think work well and, in some cases, didn’t turn out so well.”

Before talking with Sean this most recent time, I was sure that he would see a big jump in traffic on his site when the new series, The Big Snow Job, started, but Sean explained that this wasn’t really the case:

“There wasn’t really a huge spike in readers jumping onboard just when the new story started though. I think in general, a lot of the people who picked up the first Bad Goods graphic novel are still old school and are waiting for the eventual graphic novel collection rather than reading the new story as a webcomic.”

For now, the plan remains to keep the new series available only on its own website. Sean says, “I like the idea of keeping the content localized to Runnersuniverse.com so that everyone knows they can find the story and all the extra content there as well, which might not be available on other sites.”

           

As for when The Big Snow Job sees print, the hope is that the increased exposure and fan-base will give the graphic novel a boost in sales. If Sean can get a table for the New York Comic Con in 2010, he’s going to try to have it available in time for that show. If not, it will be released shortly afterwards.

For now, Runners has been nominated for a 2009 Broken Frontier Award for best webcomic. So be sure to read the comic at Runnersuniverse.com and if you haven’t voted for this year’s Broken Frontier awards yet, make sure to do so.

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Tyler Chin-Tanner started his own publishing company, A Wave Blue World, and writes and draws layouts for Adrenaline, its flagship series.
© 2009 Tyler Chin-Tanner.  All rights reserved.
Email: tyler@awaveblueworld.com
www.awaveblueworld.com

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