We’ve been talking a lot lately here about commenting. Now that most sites give their authors access to stats for their stories, one of the natural first places to head in that discussion is to look at how many comments a person receives per number of clicks. I do this myself all the time. My most recent non-Silm40 stories on the SWG received one comment per thirty-seven clicks, and my five most recent stories on AO3 receive one top-level comment per seventy-three clicks. I often wave my hands at such stats and draw sweeping conclusions from them.
At which point, numerous people usually remark on what unreliable, bad data click-comment ratios are. They point out the myriad ways that one user can register multiple clicks on a single reading of a story. I’m which point I’m forced to concede that they’re right because I have no data on visitors, just clicks, and the two can be very different numbers, at least hypothetically.
However, while making a rare appearance on Fanfiction.net, looking for data for a completely different purpose, I realized that in the course of ignoring that site for years now, the data I want is actually right there. Fanfiction.net, if it has one advantage, probably collects the best data of any fanfic archive. Among the data it collects, it tells you clicks and visitors, by month and by story.
Now the main problem here is that I have not used FanFiction.net for years, and their stats only go back to July 2008. However, in 2011, partly as a dare and partly out of morbid curiosity, I did post my Tolkien-Lovecraft crossover Hastaina there, just to see what the reaction would be. So I do have one set of data for a new, single-chapter story on FanFiction.net.
What the data shows is that, on Fanfiction.net, for this story, the average reader clicked on the story 1.3 times in the course of reading it. Or, looking at it another way, if you have three readers, one of them will click twice for whatever reason.
Now this is one story on one site. It doesn’t prove much, and data could look very different on other sites, which are set up differently and may, through the vagaries of design, send a reader more or less easily to the same story twice. (For example, when you leave a comment on a story on the SWG, you have the option of returning to the story, which if chosen, then records two clicks. Of course, that assumes that the reader is leaving a comment …)
It’s also possible that this data has changed over time. Glancing over the Silmarillion section of AO3, my sense is that, if anything, long multi-chapter stories have become more popular, and I don’t see many “ficlets,” much less the once-ubiquitous drabbles, which suggests that perhaps people are reading (and accustomed to reading) longer stories. Although, if true, this could go either way: Increased stamina could mean fewer clicks to finish a story, or a proclivity for longer stories could mean more clicks as readers develop the habit of reading a story over multiple sittings.
However, this story is also on the longer side for a short story. It is 6,049 words as counted by Fanfiction.net. The ten newest one-chapter stories in the Silmarillion section on AO3 as of writing this average 1,675 words, so this piece was definitely on the longer end of a one-chapter Silmfic. This could possibly elevate the number of clicks per visitor as visitors read it in more than one sitting.
But regardless, I think even this single example does show two things: 1) Readers do click more than once on a story in the course of reading it but 2) the number of clicks per reader is not astronomical–it is not even close to double, which is my usual “for the sake of argument” hypothetical–even on a longish story. (So the anecdotes of people who click four and five times on one-chapter story just to read it once do not appear, from this very limited data, to represent common practice.)
Now here is my request: If there is anyone out there who has posted a one-chapter Tolkienfic story to Fanfiction.net since July 2008, would you be willing to share your data with me so that I can get a better picture of this? If you are willing, please send me the number of views and the number of visitors for the first six months the story was posted on Fanfiction.net, as well as the story’s word count and the date it was posted, I’d be super grateful. I may publish the data but will not identify you or your story in any way. I can be reached at DawnFelagund@gmail.com and on all my social media. (Fanfiction.net hides this particular data under Traffic Stats -> Story Stats for your account. Select your story first, then you can look at the data month by month using that dropdown.)
And I can’t believe I’m saying this but I’m thinking as well of crossposting some of my own work to Fanfiction.net, which I’ve avoided for the better part of a decade now. For science, of course. 😉