Tuesday, April 10, 2012

[Link] Print Math

by Mark Waid

Some very harsh truths about comics’ current existence and its future burrowed their way into my thick head about three years ago, back when I was Editor-In-Chief of a comics publisher called BOOM! Studios. I learned a lot at that job about the current state of comics publishing--not just from BOOM! but also from comparing notes with friends-turned-bigwigs like Nick Barrucci at Dynamite Comics or Filip Sablik over at Top Cow. Here are two especially big and scary bits of math.

Print Math
Posted on: April 4th, 2012 by Mark Waid 60 Comments

Some very harsh truths about comics’ current existence and its future burrowed their way into my thick head about three years ago, back when I was Editor-In-Chief of a comics publisher called BOOM! Studios. I learned a lot at that job about the current state of comics publishing--not just from BOOM! but also from comparing notes with friends-turned-bigwigs like Nick Barrucci at Dynamite Comics or Filip Sablik over at Top Cow. Here are two especially big and scary bits of math.

One: American comics are distributed almost exclusively by one company, Diamond, which--whether you like Diamond or not--is, in a free market system, madness. Diamond has no serious competition (nor--given various distributor-publisher exclusives and the thin margins in the industry on the whole--will it likely ever). Therefore, it can pretty much set whatever terms it likes with publishers, particularly the smaller ones. The “Premier Publishers” --DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, Image, IDW--can get more favorable terms because they account for so much market share, but the smaller ones have no negotiating leverage. Moreover, Diamond can decline to distribute any new comic it feels won’t make a significant profit or doesn’t show enough “promise,” as is their right. Now, none of this is a condemnation--Diamond’s built its business from the ground up and seems to be very good at what it does, and I’m not suggesting they haven’t earned their status--but because they’re a monopoly, this makes Diamond a very powerful gatekeeper in the industry, and that’s not changing. You want to sell comics to anyone, you sell through Diamond. (Newsstand publishing is a whole blogpost in and of itself, which I’ll do soon, but here’s the short version: it’s a dying racket deliberately designed to pay out less often than a slot machine. No matter how crooked you suspect it is, I’ve seen spreadsheets and can promise you that you’re underestimating by half.)

So...Diamond. Typically, a non-Premier publisher sells its wares to Diamond at 40-45% of cover price. Let’s say 40%. You’re one of those publishers. That means that if your comic is cover-priced at $3.99 (which, at the moment, seems to be the average bottom threshold), you’re making roughly $1.60 per copy. Which actually doesn’t sound too awful, right? Let’s say you’re not a Bendis- or Millar-level sales superstar but neither are you a total unknown, so you’re selling 5000-6000 copies of each issue, very respectable in this day and age. Less if you’re a brand-new creator with no track record among retailers, but for argument’s sake, let’s say 5-6K. That’s, what, eight or nine grand gross?

But here’s the big bite: at those print-run levels, that comic is costing you around a dollar a copy just to print. Maybe a little more, maybe a little less. What’s that? You’ve decided to forego expensive color for cheaper black and white? You’d be surprised how little that lowers the cost. Printing, shipping, and various related charges--that’s where you’re spending more than half your income. More than half. Not on creative, not on marketing, not on advertising, not on all of that put together. On printing the damn thing.

Continue reading: http://markwaid.com/?p=759