Wither Webfiction and Weblit? Reflections on 2013 – A reality check.

As we head into 2014, it’s rather perplexing to find myself wondering if webfiction made much progress this year overall.  Webfiction (or online serials if we follow this year’s fashionable name for this writing format) may have made considerable progress if one looks at the story of Wattpad , Kindle Serials, and Jukepop Serials this past year.  There’s a lot of media energy around those start-ups. Wattpad has brought electronic fiction to the attention of the major traditional publishing houses. Kindle Serials has proven its mettle and seems like it’s here to stay. And Jukepop’s author community has revitalized the Twitter/WFG forums.

The shrinking independent community

Smaller startups like  text-novel.com and fictionaut.com look to be plateauing based on their read /viewer stats on their newest works.  Plympton and Eat Your Serial have evolved into different types of publishing entities altogether.

More worrisome is that a large number of independent  players in webfiction remain silent (novelr.com) or slid off grid.  The publisher 1889.ca/Ergofiction has largely gone quiet in forums and social media channels.  (ETA: Ergofiction’s home page is also gone, replaced by an interior design page.) Fluffy-Seme.com and Weblit.us (originators of the #weblit hashtag)   have gone offline. Novelr.com — one of the more influential blogs on webfiction — went 100% dormant  in 2013.  The podcast Webfiction World lost its mainstay hosts and Webcast Beacon realigned their content to focus more on webfiction readings and allied with the long-running podcast EpiGuide. 

While it is good to see larger more corporate entities participate in digital fiction, there is not necessarily much trickle down effect to other authors. None of the big three are open to advertising or cross-pollination.  So their success hasn’t necessarily reshaped anything for those not within those platforms.

If there is one small branch being offered to the webfic community it comes via WordPress.  Wordpress.com highlighted serial novels/online novels during the month of August (http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/08/01/going-serial-2/) . However, there’s not been a necessarily obvious increase in traffic to a wide group of authors posting under the various fiction tags on their sites.

Therefore the plight of marketing the independent sites seems to be left to those  entities like EpiGuide, Webfiction Guide, and Muses Success.   However, for those who think these are the venues that will bring readers need to be aware that these are not solutions.

EpiGuide celebrated its fifteen year in existence recently. (Congratulations!)  I suspect it will ride out the ups and downs of the digital fiction world for a while longer as they have both the web  video series and webprose to cover (and web series do seem have more viral capability than web prose).

Webfiction Guide and Muses Success Directories: Not your marketing strategy

I have always encouraged folks to use the directories to list their works. But expectations of these directories themselves have to be grounded in some kind of reality.

What is that reality?

I know that website ranking tools are not necessarily reliable. In fact, short of the website owners telling us directly their statistics, we can only use them to guess at a range or magnitude of visits coming to directories (and “how” as you can see hints here at the now quiet novelr.com in a post by the main site maintainer for WFG, Chris Poirier).But spend one or two hours on google trying to look at these sites and you have to realize that, at best, you are getting a few hundred visitors to these websites (with WFG likely outperforming Muses Success). How many of these visitors actually engage cannot be guessed at with this pseudo-data, but there’s no reason to believe that 100% visitors actually stay and browse the directories.

wfgguide-estimate2 webfictionguide1muses-success-websitelooker 2013muses-success1

This, of course, makes sense.  There’s only so much these directories can do because they’re not marketed and the social influence of those who developed these platforms is kind of limited. (Most of the coders/editors are not active on Tumblr, Twitter, Pinterest, or Facebook.)  None of these guys are aligned with bigger names out there in content creation.  Those big names align themselves with the corporate /venture-capital funded entities, after all such as Wattpad or Amazon.

Of interest to me (although it may not be true) is information from TrafficEstimate.com on WebfictionGuide.

webfictionguide-3
My  assumption is that if the data is even partly true, then the lesson is for those who put great efforts into WFG (in terms of ensuring visibility) that the directory may be a decreasingly ineffective platform to “market.” For those who put a lot of stock in directories, this kind of data should be a wake up call.  While we should continue to thank the directory owners and hosts for their support, the reality is that author efforts to market their work should not rest upon these directories.  If their traffic/influence continues to go down  then an author needs to look at other options.   There’s sometimes considerable energy being devoted to worrying about persons’ ranking on the WFG sites (Top Web Fiction, Novels Online) while the data suggests that there are fewer visitors coming in to begin with.   The site itself is operating in a fairly passive mode with few new readers coming into the system through new methods (other than organic search) other than those brought in by other authors. In particular, this year, WFG indices and forums received an infusion of authors from Jukepop Serials.

The idea that other authors also are going to help you market your work has some value.  Other authors can make a difference in terms of raising the visibility of your work via links/tweets.  However, the continued turnover and disappearance of sites I mentioned before (many of which were author-created) should be a warning. You can never rely on the existence of other sites to take up the general cause and make “webfiction” famous so that you, as an author, can benefit.  You are, as an author, ultimately responsible for your own marketing as pages and directories come and go .

It’s not all doom and gloom, however, for the webfiction/serial novel community.  While the ebook field is crowded and appears to have plateaued in 2013, there are small hints at ebooks helping specific authors. While I don’t have data from those folks who have published their ebooks and linked them squarely to their own fiction sites, there’s anecdotal information out there suggesting that it does contribute.  As we evolve into an era of tablets over e-readers, one hopes that going from ebook to website will become a norm.

In closing out 2013, I have to say that I have no new resolutions to offer.  Last year’s post still holds true.   Instead of spending time regurgitating that content, I’ll be revisiting the must-read posts at Novelr.com and mulling the future. 

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10 comments

    1. No worries. As long as you’re not banking on WFG and Muses Success or Goodreads to boost you to the JP Top 30, you’re fine.
      IN fact, most JPers seem to handle the social media stuff really well. I’m impressed by how you guys all RT each other on Twitter and set up places to talk shop independently of the actual JP founders.

      The current state of the non-JP side of the fence is pretty fragmented. I find that there’s really no cohesion anywhere outside of JP in the places I have looked. It’s too bad, spent the evening reading all of NOvelr.com’s backlog and realize that there was once a lot of momentum with the group that generated WFG and Weblit.us but it’s not there anymore. Not quite sure that it can be recaptured…. particularly when there are paying models out there.

  1. I’d strongly caution against assuming that site traffic estimates are useful. I went and checked my own site’s traffic on one of those and it was completely wrong.

    Also, WFG is staying roughly constant with where it’s been in terms of page views/visitors. Top Web Fiction, by contrast, has grown by about a third (or more) in the last year.

    That’s not to say your conclusions are wrong. Marketing solely to WFG would be a bad tactic. Most of my new visitors come from web comics or other web serials.

    1. I’m aware that the estimators are all over the place but I’m curious if the magnitude of traffic estimated is off.(It is possible these tools also do far better with higher traffic sites. I ran w3snoop on a site I have the adobe omniture data for and it isn’t too far off in terms of getting the right range of hits, although it is a bit off by 150k-200k.) The images I posted show inconsistencies in terms of the guessed visitors but notably if you run on other estimators (like SEMRush http://www.semrush.com/info/webfictionguide.com?db=us –> seems like the projected daily traffic is similar.)

      ONe of the problems I have with the obsession over directory listings (and the subsequent forum conversations/author posts about TWF voting) is that there seems to be no context to what the authors seem to be fighting over. I think for the old crew, WFG’s traffic is common knowledge. It seems like the stats were posted a lot more in the early days of WFG (http://www.novelr.com/2008/09/06/the-story-behind-web-fiction-guide) as well as several months into its existence (http://forums.webfictionguide.com/topic/wfg-traffic-stats-compilation-thread/page/2) .

      Muses Success – as I posted last year — sometimes won’t even be classified by a lot of these traffic estimators. But those that do consistently peg this directory to be lower than WFG, sometimes as much as a factor of 10. (For comparison to the report for WFG in this comment — see http://www.semrush.com/info/muses-success.info?db=us)

      Regarding TWF — While it sounds encouraging there is an increase, is that stat based on unique visitors or overall pageviews? (Is it Analytics?) One of the problematic things I discovered that analytics has been improperly counting referrals from my own site (triggered by vote incentives). It wasn’t until Jetpack started providing referral information that I realized what was happening. (link: https://theonlinenovel.wordpress.com/?attachment_id=564). So while it sounds encouraging that TWF traffic is up — I’m not sure how to interpret that given that Jetpack information has changed my impression of what Analytics was saying about TWF.

      Incidentally, I’ve looked at the sites that have PW ads and noticed that WFG is sometimes a push for visitors but more often than not, the superhero ones seem to feed each other traffic. DN sites feed each other views. I myself do much better with fairy tale/fantasy webcomic sites and direct search. I have still yet to see more than a few blips from WFG a month. TWF –> I’ll run the stats in another post now that Jetpack is showing me a lot of interesting stuff but I’m on the fence on that one. I know most of these TWF views coming from other serials are not new readers for the most part.

      All that to say, I would love Chris to do a post about WFG to update the info we have from four years ago but I know it might not be in his best interest to do so since someday he may want to take in ads … so will leave the tools/urls up for people to keep muddling through to do research on their own 🙂

      1. For what it’s worth, Chris has stated in the past that he doesn’t plan to take ads on WFG. In some ways this is too bad, but it does avoid a conflict of interest. So he may be more interested in sharing stats than you’d think.

        The SEMRush statistics don’t look far off, but that gigantic dip didn’t happen so far as I know. I’m not sure how the source you used came up with those numbers, but they’re not right.

        As for Top Web Fiction, it’s grown by views, unique visitors and pageviews–largely, I suspect, due to Worm as Wildbow was pushing it’s use.

        The funny thing is that he was doing it not because it would bring him more views, but because it would bring more people to WFG, and TWF. I try to do the same for largely the same reason.

        I suspect that might be part of the cause of people feeling like traffic from WFG is worth fighting for.

        Another reason is that while there aren’t a massive number of people constantly hitting the site, the people who are going to it don’t to be convinced that online serials don’t suck before they go check one out. Thus, it’s it’s an easier way to begin to get readers than many.

        It’s got to be a piece of the marketing rather than the whole thing though.

        Wildbow got many readers through being active in the writing forum on Reddit, and also through people promoting Worm in online forums, some of which were devoted to fanfiction.

        Personally, I’m not sure what to focus on with regards to the health of the web fiction community. Certainly community sites are one place, but it’s also worth looking at the growth of certain web serials and the new readers that they brought into the community. I’m thinking mostly of Worm. Lots of new readers and writers have appeared as a result of that.

        My take on some of the community sites have been that they may have appeared too soon to be viable in that theree aren’t enough readers for them to be worth it for the site maintainers.

        I think that what ultimately serves the community best is to focus on growing our serials to be as large as we can. At some point there will be critical mass for sites that cover web fiction.

        That said, my take on web fiction is that readers don’t care about distribution methods. They care about stories.

        When we reach critical mass (whatever it is and if ever it happens), people will probably focus on stories and genres they like rather than the medium. It’s the writers that focus on the medium.

        It is too bad that there’s not as much of a community of writers as there used to be though. That said, new people are appearing at WFG and during the last year, the forums have been busier than the last two.

        Accurately or not, I feel like we’re finally recovering from a period of a few years ago when WFG (and web fiction) had a lot of momentum and then it all disappeared.

        The reasons being:
        1. Weblit.us: People intended to create a center for marketing web fiction, but the major effect was to create a second web fiction forum when there weren’t enough people to sustain two.
        2. Twitter: Lots of WFG people took their interaction out of WFG and onto Twitter about the same time.
        3. Novelr slowing down. Eli had a lot to say, but he’s got a right to go do other things. Still, his voice is missed.
        4. Kindle/Ebooks: A lot of people who had been focused on web fiction left to focus their efforts there. Amanda Hocking’s success made it clear that there was money there–more than when Alexandra Erin was making of story donations anyway. Now that people have a more realistic sense of how likely that success is, there may be a little more momentum in this direction again.

        Um… Holy crap. That was longer than I intended.

        1. Trafficestimator: Kind of weird in terms of can’t find a FAQ on their algorithms and their twitter account is dead so can’t ask. (I’ll leave it up as it’s still a provocative image and was disclaimered. )

          So the example of Wildbow is a pretty good one as far as someone who is using his tools and networks well. I’m on Reddit (mostly lurking) and find that Wildbow is a pretty helpful Redditor overall. He is pretty engaged in several of the writing communities and I think, for what it’s worth, is far different from the average author who tries to come in and harness Reddit’s energy (even if they have the same reader demographic). Reddit hates obvious pimping and he’s pretty careful not to do that. That said — I also think his choice to host on WordPress.com was also a great decision (whether intentional or not). It is one of the few places where blogging is still working within the tagging/community framework. (Tumblr remains completely focused on memes, fanart, and fandom.)

          Reading back over Novelr and looking back at the history of some of the more trafficked fictions I think I’d argue that his strategy is similar to the one of Meilin and AlexandraErin who were also well-networked. Erin was a big force on Livejournal and I recall a lot of prose stuff happening years ago (RPGs, flash fiction, fanfic, original fic). While the newbies only look at Tales of Mu as their model, they fail to see other successful fictions such as Captive Prince (which ran for years and years and years with no monetization or publicity really except word of mouth beyond LJ). But there were other moderate successes like Fishbones (whose author’s second work via Tumblr has not fared as well much to her discouragement) and possibly others. THe social aspect /platform was a big factor. But WFG/TWF isn’t big enough and probably won’t ever be without some riskier decisions that mix the WFG eligibility bucket with sites previously excluded from participation like fictionpress and wattpad. (( I suppose btw, we should be funneling some of our comments into a blog post of some sort – if you want to blog something about what you think authors are doing right you are always welcome to take up a guest blogger spot here xD) ).

          The loss of Novelr I think is a bad thing. Eli I think was more than a guy who provided thought providing blogs and a neutral space to be part of a water cooler conversation — I think he is/has some visionary traits and is a builder. A lot of creative types aren’t that way (and watching the art/comics world I can see that). Actually a lot of people aren’t builders period. And those who may have had that , as you said, may have been too early in trying to build things — there is not yet enough “stuff” out there to try to pull together. Or rather — it’s being pulled together but in different ways by people aiming for a business model.

          Over the past year of blogging, I have really not singled out startups on what I Think they’re doing wrong but I think a lot of these content providers just don’t have “mass” as you call it or decent marketing.

          But what that mass is I fear might have to be in the range of thousands and thousands of stories… a scale on the level of Wattpad or fanfiction.net/archiveofyourown.org … WFG isn’t there yet and the attrition rate has to be dealt with (i.e., not complete /complete needs to be flagged to make the guide more valuable to readers who are new to web fiction) .

          Unfortunately for the startups I think it’s a losing battle because the commercial opportunities are too great elsewhere to attract people into an independent route (which is largely what WFG seems to stand for). I think a good case study for “too little mass” is the Digitalnovelists site. The PW stats are all over the place. (I check them regularly as I advertise on some of their sites on a periodic basis.)

          As for forums — they are generally dying everywhere with post/comment formats as well as other social media interactions taking precedence. I think WFG forums have done okay the past year because a few of us push them pretty hard as a resource. That said, I’m not sure that the resources/answers are always there. It’s a downward spiral — not enough people with varied experience are participating there.
          One other thing — webfic has a lot of entrances/exists — not much stabililty in terms of its participants. While webcomics are also volatile, there’s a lot more cohesion in that community because a lot of folks have outside interactions /informal business partnerships as a result of fan conventions. In a way there’s more than the idea of traffic sharing /link exchanges driving /bringing people together in the online art world… that may be the other factor or trait missing from the writing one. Writer comms seem filled with a lot more drama (and having been through a few LJ-RPG related meltdowns I can attest to this)…

          And yeah – now this is too long of a comment as well!
          On a random note – other than you, are you the only 1889 person still posting serial works?

          1. I can’t say that for sure, but probably. Anna does post short stories to her blog on occasion though.

            As for the guest blogger spot… i’m interested. I’ve been thinking for a while now that I should revive my non-fiction blogging.

  2. This is interesting reading for me, as I get most of my audience from WFG and TWF. But I think a lot of is has leaked through from Worm, which’s recent ending has already made me consider other areas to gain readers.

    I’ve been getting fairly consistent traffic from the site over the last six months, and it’s my bigest draw of readers. But then again, maybe I should be expecting an increase in traffic as I get more ratings etc.

    1. A couple of things to think about — WordPress has some passive traffic (based on what I can see with this blog) simply based on your activity/tagging/categories and behavior of the people who follow your stuff. I get alerted to a lot of things that other people in my feed do. Make sure you’re tagging your work to be discovered, not only to help your reader flag quickly through certain character posts.

      There’s nothing wrong with trying to continue encourage reviews on WFG and TWF but the pipelines for these are either constant (per Jim’s comment about WFG) or, in the case of TWF, can easily collapse. Google analytics on TWF data for me in the last month shows that only 15% of the visitors I get via TWF are “new”. The majority are returning… either captives I had (via vote incentive directed traffic) or from other fictions. (Yearly average for me in terms of “new visitors” was 20% for this year and last year.) Not sure whether anyone else on that listing has access to their analytics data but if so, I’d like to know whether it’s similarly low, suggesting support for the idea that the same readers are being passed around week after week.

      This is concerning because when one or several large contributor of traffic begins to disappear, the funnel pushing traffic in decreases in size. Another problem with TWF is that other than the people who show up in the top 5 or so, the rest of the community puts in a link and never promotes it. When you see how the rankings don’t shift much, you can sort of see why. Why, as an author, should I promote something that won’t give me much benefit? In that way, the TWF system is probably flawed in that there’s tremendous disincentive to participate if you’re “off the first screen” in rankings.

      One other thing to ponder — visitors and pageviews don’t tell you about engagement. Having high traffic can be good but what’s important is that the traffic isn’t bouncing off quickly. I don’t think Jetpack gives information on bounce rate, pages read, and time on site — which can tell you more about what the value of the traffic you’re receiving has. If you ever decide to invest in advertising, you need more ways to measure these items or you may be throwing dollars at something that appears to be valuable but never gives you real readers.

      If you do end up being able to install somekind of Google analytics plugin (for all I know there is one) that would be a really good investment .

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