TL:DR; Proprietary social media are imposing more and more rules and I, as a webcomic artist, am planning changes to adapt.
Here is a longer than usual blog-post to share with you what I have in mind since the start 2022 and what I have been working on. All started after I have realized that many part of Pepper&Carrot were still designed for Internet as it was when I started the project in 2014 and forgot to evolve and embrace the new rules of the Internet as set by the giant proprietary social-medias of 2022. I'll try to explain at first my diagnosis, and then explain how I plan to adapt and changes I'll put into action.
Diagnosis: a world of boost for adv and deboost
I had an issue in December 2021: the latest Pepper&Carrot episode 36 : The Surprise Attack hasn't received a lot of audience. I can see this metric with multiple tools and indicators. I was very surprised about that and maybe the first time I saw a curve going down in my always growing statistics on Pepper&Carrot. Weird.
This post on social media −but also in general all my recent episode of 2021− felt like deboosted. Was it the thumbnail detected to have a large amount of darkness in it? Was it the expression of the fierce dragon and surprised Pepper? Or the title with the words "The Surprise Attack"? It might be also because the episode was bad too, or 'too long, didn't read'. Anyway, I started to search about the "deboost" thing, and it sounds like it has been normal for proprietary social media to start deboosting posts. Here are the rules as user @hangul observed and shared:
Description: @hangul on Twitter explaining the observed rules of "deboost".
But social media will not hesitate to also do the reverse and boost what they have been designed for: ads. For that, they'll use the post already made by poeple like you and me most of the time: fan-arts of the latest big AAA video games and Disney series or movies to invade your timeline. Someone you know 'liked' it? You'll see it. You like art and an artist made a fan-art about it? You'll see it. This way they'll make you believe that everyone is now interested into these cultural goods (protected by paywall) and will put a social pressure on your shoulder to pay to see them. Because "You haven't seen it yet? you are not on the same page than other!" is a powerful motivator.
Why I'm able to see that? Because I can compare with my timeline on Mastodon, a free/libre social network without this type of algorithm that deboost/boost adv. No one over there on Mastodon tried to sell me Loki on Disney+, Elden Ring or Turning Red, and the interactions with my blog post about the release of the book 4 or the latest episode were consistent with the one before...
All in all, I find that very unfair.
How to comply with rules always changing and without any possibility to know them in advance?
And what if a proprietary painting software suddently ask to pay for deboosting #krita hashtag? This is just pure 'what if' and no accusation, but it eventuality become possible when the rules are hidden... right?... I dislike that a lot.
The algorithm is totally opaque code and some some social media already limits your posts to a part of your subscribers and even not hide that: you have to pay for reaching ... your subscribers .
Adaptation: the comic strip experimentation
After that diagnosis, I decided to do an experiment in January, a small comic strips about the childhood of Pepper, the Todo-list and Imagination. It was a format more compatible and friendly with the diagnosis I had. I was able with that format to seduce the proprietary social-medias platforms:
- Media posted directly on the social media with readability adapted for small device (smartphone).
- Quick time to read it, something that doesn't interrupt scrolling too much (and so, opportunity to be exposed to adv).
- Almost no text, no link and world that works for mulitple region of the globe (Todo list, Imagination).
These two short experiments were done in a production time of less than 48h each and they received twice or more attention than the main episodes. I'm speaking here about Episode who took me 4 months full time at 14h/day without week-end...
I learned a valuable lesson here, but how to continue Pepper&Carrot episode in this new context?
The legal problem of Creative Commons on social media
To that, came another layer of issue: the legal one. I didn't wanted so far to post the full episodes of Pepper&Carrot on any social media because I always thought the license wasn't compatible with them legally. If you look closely: I only post a thumbnail plus link, I made that for blog post too.
Proprietary social media requires in their TOS a full co-ownership of the media you post. It makes sens to run the service; to keep your medias on their machine and not be arrested because having an illegal copy of it. But that's also where it conflict with Creative Commons license.
If a proprietary social media has a contract with a newspaper, or a TV informative show; they can authorize to display the post thanks to their co-ownership; and also give it to the said TV show or newspaper. This one can crop it, do color correction about it, print on news paper and bypass the attribution? The TOS never says: "if a license exist on the media, please respect the license"... That's why I always considered Creative Commons and proprietary social media were not compatible (except CC0) but...
BUT.. all of that was until I read this solution in January on a article on Creative Commons website:
"CC Legal Counsel Sarah Pearson explained that CC licenses don’t allow sub-licensing so uploaders are not granting the platform any rights directly to content that isn’t theirs under copyright. Most social media terms of service require that a user either a) owns the copyright to their posted content or b) has the right to use that content. When that’s the case, openly licensed content is appropriate to share on the social media platform as long as the license requirements are followed by the uploader."
A sample of Sharing Openly Licensed Content on Social Media: A Conversation with GLAM , by Victoria Heath , June 15, 2020 , CC-By.
So, it's not crystal clear but it sounds like a workaround. To be fair, this rule sounds debatable in court. But I'm just an artist, and if CC Legal Counsel tells it, it mean I have been wrong the whole time in my understanding of CC-By on this topic.
So, good news in a way, I'll be able to post comic directly on proprietary social media, but also Tapas, Webtoons and other platforms that also became central to webcomic despite their TOS that I thought non compatible with CC...
Conclusion and changes
I first went to a radical change in reaction: continue the mini comic strip and stop the longer episodes. I was planning to switch the "patronage support per episode" method to a "monthly support" because I was planning to post a comic strip per week, directly on social media, in English, without translation/transcript system, but still under CC-By.
But... making super short comic strip of three or four panel were at the end not my cup of tea. So, I abandoned the idea. Same about switching to "monthly donation/patronage" as my main model: I abandoned this idea too. I tested to draw storyboards for more single picture and small comic strip, I tried to enjoy it, but I missed the Pepper&Carrot longuer episode format where I could make AND a comic strip joke AND an adventure. Working on the printed book four also made me re-appreciate the work done on the previous episodes format.
Fortunately, doing comic-strip wasn't the only option, as I could find many successful comic author posting directly full multipages stories on social media:
Post of artist @weremagnus successfully sharing comic pages directly on social media and using (1/3) thread
So, my main decision is just stop the super long episode of 9, 10, 14 pages. Also, being absent during 4 month to prepare them is harmful to the project. I'll try to reduce to less than 2 month, every month being my ultimate and utopic goal.
I'm planning to write now only short format: between 5 to 7 pages; similar to what I did when I started the series. It will have hopefully more release and less production time.
The layout of the panels will focus on readibility for smartphone but the series was already optimised for that: the panels are not much complex to read at smaller size, and text of the font was in most case big enough. I'll just make sure it is now a priority.
As you already understood, I'll also post all the pages directly on the social media, including the credits. The social media with not a lot of picture (limited to 4) have a workaround with 'threads':
Translations and post on the website will be linked on a different post to avoid "deboost for external link"; but except that nothing will change on this aspect: RSS, website, translations, transcript. Hosting sources, print resolutions, all the services continues.
News about Episode 37 production:
I'm reaching now my "pre-color step" (as you can see on the screenshot illustrating this blog post). "Pre-color" is −in my own words and process− a rough colored painting pass on the webcomic that I paint under the drawing turned at low opacity. The main purpose of this pass is to follow the cinematography I have in mind and keep a consistent continuation of ambiance and colors from panels to panels. It's really my favorite part of the process.
But at this step, it is still less than half of the full work done on the webcomic episode: polishing, corrections, painting accent are coming later in the process and are the real time consumers. The episode is short (6 pages): so, this polishing shouldn't take more than 2 weeks full time, but don't count too much on a mid-April release.
In fact, the text (in French right now) still require to be submitted to the proofreaders for dialog and lines enhancement, then to enter into string freeze and then get to the English translation before opening to all other languages. It's often a 3 weeks process at its best, and the episode is still not fully 'pre-colored' to enter this process. Because of that, I have in mind a realistic estimated time delivery for end April.
Anyway, I'm really happy to post 'soon' a new episode and experiment all I wrote here.
Whenever I like it or not, hidden deboost/boost rules of algorithm are really shaping the future of Pepper&Carrot. It cost me to admit that, because I thought I made the most independent structure ever with the self-hosted website of Pepper&Carrot and the blog, but it is not enough. Proprietary social medias are manipulating timeline and use your posts and mine to better place their adv in between (or better, to use them as adv). That's why I have to be an in-situ entertainer and not someone trying to attract you on a external link.
That's all, I want to thank your generous support on the latest episode, I could use it to manage the production of the printed book four and do my experimentations and some refactoring here and there (the transcript dictionary system of names migrated from a table using LibreOffice calc to PO/Gettext files and the documentation of translation system was rewritten and simplified). I also could catch up with all the personal todo-list I had to postpone when I had the four month production for episode 36.
Thank you for reading!
To the commenters: This article is not a call here for you to debate in the comment why RSS, self-hosting or Mastodon and free/libre social medias are superior and the "good" while why proprietary social medias are evil and I should quit them. I understand that, we are on the same page. But if I want to expand my audience as an artist and continue to survive for making a living of my art, I don't think I can skip having a presence on them in 2022. Also many example are specific about Twitter here, because this is the social media with the most limitation (4 picture max, text limitation, agressive algorythm for boost/deboost). Once a format adapt for Twitter, it will adapt on every other social medias.
Typo and proofreading special thank to: Dreeg Ocedam and Theremin.