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Title text: [Six months later] "Well, our 'worst ladder' subscription series was a surprisingly lucrative success, but was completely canceled out by the losses from the disastrous Home Depot merchandising tie-in."
An always present concern of media industries is consumers shifting tastes or indeed abandoning a medium altogether (such as print newspapers or in-person theaters). This depicts one such scenario prompting a meeting to discuss the problem. The other attendees suspect they are simply shifting to an online platform, but Megan reveals they are instead shifting towards image search results.
Of course, during the age of the internet, there are many sources of free entertainment. YouTube and TikTok provide examples of these services, as practically anyone can choose from a tremendous variety of content. Therefore, this hurts services that require money to see their content, particularly when this content does not have any factors that make it inherently more appealing than the free services. The joke here is that instead of YouTube or TikTok, possible customers are going to the Google Image search page for "worst ladder." The Quibi paid service shut down, just 6 months after it opened, on the same day that this comic appeared.
Searching for images is an unorthodox source of entertainment, frequently only seen when searching for memes (this, in fact, is how Know Your Meme gauges interest in a meme). While this may be entertaining for a short period of time, the page's content remains roughly stagnant from day to day (contrasted with other services that contain new posts nearly every second), and the quality of any Google Images page will decline with scrolling. Therefore, this is not a sustainable source of entertainment, and would be unlikely to compete with the service in this comic.
Search results currently tend to vary widely from person to person, as Google uses the user's search history, IP address, and location to try to find the most relevant result for each person, even if they are not logged in. This provides social opportunities around searching, sometimes exploited by social media posts (which may be how Megan originally found out).
Searching for "worst ladder" at the time the comic was posted allows observing ladders that are comically unsafe or poorly designed (see sample results from shortly after the comic was posted). It is worth noting that, while normally it does not undergo much change, the "worst ladder" page will likely now contain a barrage of results related to this xkcd comic, as happened with 369: Dangers. This is similar to the Slashdot effect. For reference, at the time of posting (0:00 UTC), the comic was the 30th Google image result. From about 0:20 to 1:15 UTC, it was the 18th result; by 1:30 UTC, it had become the third result.
The title text explains that the company actually decided to use the idea, and created a subscription service for these images. The idea was a success and was indeed very lucrative, but the company made a mistake by assuming that wanting pictures of unsafe ladders also meant that the users would purchase Home Depot merchandise. Thus, their profits were cancelled out by that disastrous mistake.
- [Ponytail, Cueball, Hairy and Hairbun are sitting around a boardroom table. Megan is giving a presentation and pointing to a chart behind her.]
- Megan: Our entertainment division is failing. We can't compete with free content.
- [A frameless panel. Only Megan is shown, with her pointer to her side.]
- Off-panel voice: Where are they going? YouTube? TikTok?
- Megan: No.
- [Zoomed in on Megan.]
- Megan: The Google Images search results for worst ladder.
- Off-panel voice: Huh?
- Off-panel voice: Let me see ...
- [Ponytail and Cueball are looking at one laptop, and Hairy and Hairbun are looking at a second. Megan has her arms out in front of her, frustrated.]
- Ponytail: Yikes, look at this one! The stepladder is balanced on --
- Hairy: Wow, they tied a ladder to --
- Hairbun: Ooh, check out the --
- Megan: No!
Don't be a jerk.
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