Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Identity: statistical trends from June

Last month, I did a bit of a look at the hit statistics for Identity, and that's something I want to continue each month hereafter. The statistics for this month are extremely interesting, and while I won't type out the chapter-by-chapter statistics (because, last time, I had to do that by hand...), I will comment on a few general trends.

First, the total number of hits was 3878, about a 15% drop from May. While all the chapters in May had 3-digit hit totals, in June, almost everything after "Sounds of Night" is < 100 hits until "The Last Right," which had been posted at the end of May and was still on its first run. In particular, between "Sounds of Night" and "Doubt," nearly 42% of hits were lost. This, to me, indicates that "Sounds of Night" was particularly weak with readers, something that was similarly indicated in May. A notable exception, however, is that "The Cold Rain" has more hits than "Doubt," which I attribute to reread value.

What's more interesting, though, is the overall change in hit/visitor patterns over the course of this month. In May, I had one particularly good release day, May 14, where Identity received 795 hits from 224 visitors. This was the best release day in terms of hits since I went to the new weekly release format. The other Fridays were in the neighborhood of 300-500 hits and 150-200 visitors. This carried over for the first couple Fridays in June, but midway through the month, I changed the story summary to include a short general summary and a more specific chapter summary for the FFN Ranma page. It was about this time (I imply no direct causation, merely correlation) that the hit/visitor distribution began to change. June 4th saw 532 hits from 197 visitors, but June 18 saw 467 hits from 248 visitors; that's a drastic change in hit/visitor ratio. Since changing the story summary, the hit/visitor ratio on release spikes has dropped below 2:1, where before it was above 2.5:1. In addition, the dropoff from a Friday hit spike over the rest of the week has steepened greatly (it's much more pronounced).

I suspect a couple effects are in play here. First, there's reader saturation: as Identity spends more and more time on the FFN front page, the number of readers who've not already read it or not already decided to forgo it trends toward zero. As that happens, most hits are generated through repeat readers. However, there's still a casual reader component in play--people who don't check FFN frequently may stumble upon the story still. Even so, knowing that this dropoff in hit/visitor ratio occurred in tandem with the summary change, I suspect that the summary is now enticing more repeat readers to read on the first day (which...I did want) while turning off new readers from reading through the story (which...I didn't want). Since new readers, I think, are more important and repeat readers will come to revisit the story on their own time, I'm debating whether to go back to a more general summary. I've never been quite happy with the summaries I've had for the story, as the scope of things really is difficult to capture.

But then, I'm still a little disappointed with the overall reception to Identity. It's clear that the running readership of the story is small compared to other popular stories on the site, and I think this largely stems from something fundamentally amiss with the story and how it appeals to FFN demographics. I mentioned in the commentary for "Water" that I wanted to include more humor. Overall, I think it's a good thing to wonder how to improve popularity of a story, within limits of what you want to do artistically, and wanting to make the story more widely read has made me think more critically about what I can do to better my writing style. So that's positive. But even so, I wonder--I look at the reception to "Before and After" thus far and think that maybe, with the act/chapter restructuring, I've already lost the best time to pick up readers. It seems as if once a story is so long, the willingness for people to jump into it decreases (I know this well; I do it myself), and while number of reviews may prompt some to reconsider, that number certainly must pass some critical threshold before contributing significantly to new readership.

Which would mean, until then, things will be slow. Slow is a relative thing, I know. 2-4 reviews per chapter (on the new ones, anyway) certainly isn't bad. It's better than nothing. But at the same time, I know it could be more, it could be better. The question, then, is how to get there.

But, that's probably enough whining, so to speak. All I can do is keep learning and writing.

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