Robot 6

Does Marvel have a stealth digital-royalties plan?

C.B. Cebulski and friend

C.B. Cebulski and friend

One of the most welcome aspects of yesterday’s big DC digital-comics announcement from a creator-rights perspective is that “creator incentive payments” are a part of it. In his interview with CBR’s Kiel Phegley, co-publisher Jim Lee compared the payments to the royalties creators receive for print sales, saying “the freelance community will be happy that they’re being compensated in every way their stories are being sold.” That aspect of the arrival of digital comics publishing has been shrouded in mystery up until now, so DC’s move is a big first step.

Or is it? On his Twitter account, Marvel talent scout C.B. Cebulski took issue with a letter apparently sent out to creators by DC touting the move:

Sorry, DC, but despite what your nice letter says, you are NOT “the first to announce a participation plan for talent” for digital comics. I’m not sniping at DC, just correcting misinformation that’s being sent out freelancers, some who work for both companies.

Putting aside for the moment whether Cebulski was sniping or not, Executive Editor Tom Brevoort took an even blunter approach, as is his wont, when discussing the move with several readers:

So today, DC invented the digital comic and payments for same. Interesting approach, taking a leadership position from the back of the line. I don’t like it when they get press for something that isn’t true. But good on them for entering the digital arena. Not sure what catch-all contract you mean, but yes, Marvel is paying digital incentives.

Meanwhile, Cebulski’s above tweets were subsequently retweeted or replied to by Joe Quesada, Brian Michael Bendis, Andy Diggle, and Skottie Young.

Add it all up and it clearly indicates that some sort of royalty plan is in place at Marvel. But as far as I can tell, aside from Brevoort’s explicit statement, the company hasn’t said word one about it in public, whatever it may be.

The CBR mothership is looking into the story — as soon as they know more, you’ll know more.



Add Jonathan Hickman to the creators who also said they receive Marvel digital royalties. He mentioned it in Newsrama’s coverage of DC’s policy. Also what’s hard to believe that Marvel has a business practice that they don’t publicize the detials of? It could be structured differently than DC’s or whatever. I have never known either company to publicize details. Also it might be very creator specific so that would be another reason it is not publicized.

I don’t get why we need to even know about this. THis should all be stuff that’s in a creator’s contract which none of should care about. Maybe DC announced it because they knew Marvel didn’t specifically say anything when they launched their service first and they wanted to seem like they were the ones offering compensation first?

awww, poor Tom Brevoort.

Sean T. Collins

June 24, 2010 at 9:56 am

Matt: No one’s saying anything’s hard to believe, just that DC announced their plan and various Marvel-related personages said or implied that they had one too but that’s the first anyone else had heard about it.

Mike: I think we should care whether an enormous new revenue stream for the publishers is also going to be an enormous new revenue stream for the people who make the comics that keep those publishers going. As for DC, I guess who was first depends on what your definition of the word “announce” is.

I find it hilarious how people at Marvel over react which just makes them look bitter.

They said it in their press release and Marvel didn’t. Whether or not Marvel actually has had a royalty structure, not only has no one actually mentioned it publicly, but when news sites and blogs have brought it up, I don’t know that anyone has come in to clear the air. Since the leadership of both DC and Marvel seem to exist solely to piss in each other’s Cheerios, it makes perfect, juvenile sense for the folks at DC to tweak Marvel this way.

I’m not saying this as a prejudiced DC fanboy, but I always find it interesting when Marvel leadership gets their noses bent out of shape because DC has used their tactics against them.

I agree that it’s not necessary for anyone to know the details of who-gets-what, but for anyone with interest in comics past their own self-interest as a consumer, I think it’s very reasonable to want some reasurance that talent is being appropriately compensated for their work — and frankly, Marvel has had a comparatively poor record on this, particularly when compared to DC.

It’s no surprise DC made a point of this in their announcement. But this informal Marvel reaction does sort of make it seem like they have something to apologize for.

Stay Classy, Marvel

Steven R. Stahl

June 24, 2010 at 10:37 am

From an interview with Marvel Publisher Dan Buckley in November 2007 —

The launch of MDCU comes at an interesting time, when television and film writers are striking primarily over digital residuals issues. In light of these events in other areas of entertainment, the obvious question is, are digital royalties in place for creators whose work is being sold on MDCU?

Digital comics will become a part of our incentives package in the near future. We are at present discussing the calculations and implementation of this package. It may take several months to implement. However, the first thing we need to do is make sure that the offering is profitable.

It’s reasonable to think that Marvel’s had an incentives package of some sort in place for a while, but that the package is open to revision and that Marvel didn’t want to discuss it publicly.


Maybe Marvel treats digital royalties on a case-by-case basis, making some creators happier than others.

Tom Brevoort answered this question on his Formspring account weeks ago, confirming that digital sales do indeed count towards royalties.

“Q: Single issues are becoming more readily available for digital purchase recently. There’s some confusion as to how the talent is compensated for digital sales. Are digital sales factored into creator compensation (including royalties) like physical sales?

A: Yes.”

And normally Brevoort doesn’t discuss page rates, hard numbers, etc., but he answered this question with a straight forward answer. The fact that they don’t want to discuss the details of it publicly isn’t really that surprising, is it? Musicians, actors, novelists and their representing companies don’t usually discuss this information either, do they? That being said, it’s nice to know that creators are indeed getting pay for digital downloads.

Also, I wanted to give kudos to Robot 6 for being consummate professionals. You guys are doing the fact checks that other professional websites don’t even bother with. ComicsAlliance and Bleeding Cool both “called out” Marvel on not paying royalties.

Mysterious Stranger

June 24, 2010 at 11:33 am

This is just stupid. “DC announced something that we were already doing. Boo-hoo.”

Dear Marvel Editorial,

Grow up.

The Internet

Mysterious Stranger

June 24, 2010 at 11:37 am

Brevoort said it in his formspring? Well that’s certainly the same as a press release. *rolls-eyes*

@Mysterious Stranger: Did I say it was the same as a press release? Because I must have missed that part of my comment. I just said that he confirmed it, when he could have easily pulled a “Sorry, can’t comment”, or flat out ignored the question completely.

Mysterious Stranger

June 24, 2010 at 12:00 pm

@Matt Duarte Sorry, I should have been more clear. That sarcasm wasn’t directed at you or your post, but towards Marvel. If they think an answer on formspring is the same as DC’s press release then they need to fire their entire marketing department.

Steven R. Stahl

June 24, 2010 at 12:06 pm

I just said that he confirmed it, when he could have easily pulled a “Sorry, can’t comment”, or flat out ignored the question completely.

The answer wasn’t informative, though. Twitter is great for saying very simple things, or for making oneself look like an idiot, but it’s not an information source.


Steven R. Stahl

June 24, 2010 at 12:11 pm

And before anyone points it out, yes, Formspring isn’t Twitter. The same principle applies, though.


Really Sean? “a friend?” Trying to deny you don’t know who Paris Hilton is? :P

Let us know what the mothership uncovers! HA!

Sean T. Collins

June 24, 2010 at 12:33 pm

SRS: Twitter and Formspring are absolutely information sources. This whole story is a case in point.

Burts: I’m glad SOMEONE noticed that picture!

Seriously, why does Marvel always have to be so douchy about stuff like this?

Sean T. Collins

June 24, 2010 at 12:57 pm

Folks, watch it with the name-calling. Even if you feel that the involved parties have dished it out, do two wrongs make a right?

You guys really can’t understand why they’d be upset it was being implied they weren’t taking care of their creators?

I think based on what Cebulski actually said on his tweet, it has to do more with the letter sent to freelancers who do work for both companies than the press release itself. It’s childish for Marvel to take a shot at it, but I think it’s unprofessional for DC to give freelancers misinformation like that. It took DC this long to finally make it to the digital age, and the first thing they do is take a shot at not just Marvel, but all other publishers who have digital. Marvel was just, like always, the only one’s to actually step up and say something.

Well to put my two cents on the table here, I have to say that C.B Sebulsky makes Paris look good.
Could be a new career venture LOL.

Secondly, Its nice to know both companies will do right by their talent, but I am among those that doesn’t feel this is really public news.

Royalties are affected by specific talent, so telling fanboys only helps us to know that if we buy digital, that the Artists will still get paid.

if you read between the lines, Marvel is paying some digital royalties to current and future talent, but not back talent. In other words, it’s the same raping of talent as Hollywood has done with DVD sales of old TV shows. The studio keeps all the money for DVD sales of shows like Happy Days or Hill Street Blues, and the writers and actors of those shows never see a cent from DVD sales

nice careful working of your “incentive” package Marvel guys

Where did DC say they were the first to offer digital royalties? Can’t remember reading that outside of the Marvel responses.

Steven R. Stahl

June 24, 2010 at 1:15 pm

<SRS: Twitter and Formspring are absolutely information sources. This whole story is a case in point.

There’s no comparison between a tweet and a news article on the same subject. A tweet might cause someone embarrassment, or prompt a journalist to do a story on the source of the tweet and/or the subject, but the tweet itself isn’t informative. People who don’t follow the twitterer won’t know he’s said anything until they read about the tweet elsewhere.


DC didn’t take a shot at any publisher in this press release. Let’s get that clear. Secondly, DC has always been the better company when it comes to royalties/incentives/etc. This is not a secret. There’s a long list of creators that get royalty checks from the Batman movies – no matter what the amount. DC’s Vertigo line is structured in a way that benefits the creators far more than the Icon line, which for now is completely a boys club of their top writers. It’s almost like you can’t even have an Icon line book unless it’s been prepackaged elsewhere and you have to write 3 Marvel U-centric titles first.

Marvel’s just pissed that they didn’t do a one-day roll out with their announcements to create immediate buzz and excitement like DC did. For Marvel, they’ve been spread out, making readers have to follow them from one platform to the next and the next. This was a strong move on DC’s part plain and simple. And anyone who says DC hasn’t been doing the digital thing, I have two words: Zuda Comics. What do we get from Marvel webcomics? Hit Monkey.

And did Brevoort really say he “doesn’t like when a company gets press for something that isn’t true”? Right – cause Siege was really seven years in the making. Right – because $3.99 comics are what readers want. Right – cause they did the Deadpool/Siege 3 variant program because they were helping the retailers. Right – cause the Civil War delays were cause of Millar’s health. I mean because of McNiven. I mean because of the shift in the tides.

Face it Marvel. You were once the new kid on the block in the 60s. Now you’re just being petulant.

I can understand Marvel’s desire to be vague here, but that’s not always in their best PR interests. Some royalty programs pay a percentage from the first copy sold, for example, while others only kick in after a certain echelon, so confirming that a program exists doesn’t necessarily mean it meets the conditions offered by any other publisher.

And yeah, I think it’s more or less an open secret at this point that Marvel is either not paying royalties on reprints of older material, or at least not paying them consistently. (People with more first-hand experience frequently complain about this.) They’re not contractually obligated to do so, I suppose, but it’s still a shame — particularly given the amounts of older material they reprint (over multiple formats), and that DC handles that situation much more honorably.

This is really perplexing because I am not sure what the argument is. Cebulski and other creators have confirmed that they get paid for digital sales. So is the argument that Marvel didn’t make a public announcement of it? Both companies are paying creators royalties- great! Ok so what’s the big deal?

An excerpt from DC’s letter to talent (via Bleeding Cool):

“As we make this announcement it’s worth noting that, although DC is not the first major publisher to enter the digital comics arena, we are the first to announce a participation plan for talent, thereby setting the industry standard in that regard.”

I can see where Marvel gets mad, but to DC’s credit, they do that they’re “the first to ANNOUNCE a participation plan for talent.” I don’t remember Marvel announcing anything, either.

Mikael is sooooo right about Icon… They’re books have been mostly good, but comparing them to Vertigo is a joke. A writer like Andy Diggle or Jason Aaron for instance, is going to have to do about 2-3 more runs on Marvel U titles before he’ll even get to pitch something to that imprint and I think that’s simply because Marvel begrudgingly knows that those creator names will sell the books at at least a 2nd tier X-book level. Don’t think that fans haven’t noticed the instances when you don’t even bother to put creator names on some books, Marvel. Although, I praise Joe Q for all that he’s done in rebuilding the house, there still has to be someone in charge there who really thinks that characters sell the books, not the creators…

Only one man can settle this debate: Kurt Busiek. Kurt Busiek. Kurt Busiek.

And now we wait.

Sounds like sour grapes for not publicizing something the competition is now getting kudos for.
I’m continually turned off by how catty the cross-town rivalry thing makes professionals sound.

So we won’t get that Green Lantern/Iron Man crossover, then?

No, Marvel, you don’t look bitter at all.

Why does it seem that everybody always takes DC’s side in these arguments? They (DC) put out a press announcement which basically implied that they’re paying their talent royalties while Marvel (and maybe other publishers as well) aren’t. Marvel simply corrected them. Simple as that. I swear, it’s like half the fanboys are constantly mothering DC. “Don’t worry DC, Marvel is just being a bully.” Grow up, people.


As far as incentive (or royalties) for colorists, DC is the one lagging behind, seeing as they don’t pay them and Marvel does. I know most people don’t really pay colorist a lot of attention (including some people in the industry), but it is a fact worth stating.

DC was out of line BIGTIME. Here’s why:

They are implying to creators: writers, pencillers, inkers, etc. that Marvel WILL NOT pay you for digital sales. (When in fact they already do) They are telling creators to “WORK FOR DC, where we WILL PAY you for digital work.” So low class of DC to say something like that. Dirty tactics from a lame comics company.

Bobby H:

DC isn’t saying what you are implying. I think the main bone of contention here is that DC will be paying royalties on digital reprints from older material or new works featuring older characters, where Marvel hasn’t up until this point. That’s not just a message to current creators, but the entire professional and fan industries.

It’ll be interesting to see how this all shakes out over the next week or so, to see what kind of counter-attack Marvel will launch, or if they’ll announce a restructuring of their digital royalties system to better respect older creators.

I know everyone has a favorite publisher between Marvel and DC here. I get it. But most of these blog posts have been snarky “I’m a Marvel” and “I’m a DC” crap. Seriously, let’s be happy that both companies are actually paying creators for the new revenue stream, something 15 or 20 years ago most publishers would have probably laughed in their creator’s faces before doing.

The ICON deal is fantastic to it creators, amazingly so. They own and control their creations and see the windfall for it.

No one place is perfect and neither are creators but very glad to have them both out there paying royalties on digital. The war of words in the end is not here nor there. I say congrats to BOTH of them for paying on digital.

Best to all
Dean White

“Secondly, DC has always been the better company when it comes to royalties/incentives/etc. This is not a secret.”

What about shelving the Showcase Presents collections of Suicide Squad and Secret Society of Super-Villains several years ago (the former was resolicited only a few months ago) due to not paying royalties to their creators?

As for Icon, I completely agree with you. It seems that Marvel’s plan is to offer this creator-owned private club only to creators who already established themselves as big Marvel talents. That’s a shame.

Vertigo, though, is not perfect either. Sure it’s open to almost anyone, but not all the creators maintain full rights of their properties. And I don’t even mean Vertigo versions of classic DC properties. It indeed more open than Icon, anyway.

“ComicsAlliance and Bleeding Cool both “called out” Marvel on not paying royalties.”

I have spoken to a number of Marvel creators, none of which are receiveing or who have been told about any digital royalties.

Robot6 quoted a couple of tweets.

There is more to this, and Bleeding Cool is investigating.


June 25, 2010 at 6:27 am

Mr. Cebulski & Mr. Brevoort:
If you could provide links to your announcements (predating DC’s) regarding digital royalties, I would be happy to publicly apologize for ever doubting you.


Maybe you could ask DC Publisher Barbara Marcus what she thinks of all this, Rich.

I’m addressing this to Bobby H but it’s really for everyone since several people have made this basic point: I don’t think DC was being deceitful at all, or trying to imply that no one else had any plans to pay royalties for digital sales. They simply said they were the first to announce such a plan. Now, you can debate the semantics as to whether or not Marvel announcing it (maybe?) to some (?) of their talent constitutes “announcing” it the same way that DC putting it in its big press release upon the launch of their entire digital publishing initiative does–clearly the letter DC sent attempts to get some rhetorical mileage out of that–but even if you think DC was wrong on the facts, calling it a deliberate act of deception strikes me as overreach.

Finally, I just had to unapprove a couple more comments, so I’ll say again: No name-calling. You can disagree with one another, strongly in fact, but this isn’t the playground at recess. A good rule of thumb is that if you’re saying something to which a second-grader could conceivably reply “sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me,” don’t say it.

“What about shelving the Showcase Presents collections of Suicide Squad and Secret Society of Super-Villains several years ago (the former was resolicited only a few months ago) due to not paying royalties to their creators?”

I’m not sure you understand what the situation was there.

Those books would have been covered under contracts that pay a flat page rate for a reprint (I think it’s about $75 per page), which is shared among the pool of eligible contributors. (If I’m not mistaken, this is a plan that Jenette Kahn put into place when she came to DC in the 1970s, and it was probably designed with foreign licensed reprints in mind.) This isn’t the first material covered by those contracts to be reprinted, but the problem with these particular projects is that when you have a 500+ page book, that’s an *enormous* reprint payment that has to be made, one that may never be adequately covered by sales of the book itself.

What DC has been doing is to ask eligible contributors to waive the terms of that contract and instead agree to a standard royalty payment (as is common today, calculated based on the actual sales of the books). Admittedly, yeah, they’re asking the talent to agree to less money than they might have received in most cases. But if the alternative is that some material is just not reprinted, because the costs will never be adequately covered (particularly with a low-margin format like the SHOWCASE books), well, then they’ll get nothing either way.

There was, I’ve been told, an internal miscommunication within DC that led to those SHOWCASE books being solicited before the revised contracts were signed. When DC couldn’t persuade some eligible contributors to agree to the revised terms, the projects had to be cancelled. Not out of spite — as I said, in all likelihood, they just wouldn’t have been profitable.

Some creators don’t even get royalties for books that are reprinted as trade paperbacks over at Marvel. If they don’t get paid on reprinted books, what’s to say they’ll get paid with digital sales?

Comic-Reader Lad

June 27, 2010 at 7:29 pm

Who the hell is Barbara Marcus and when did she become DC’s Publisher?

Do both Marvel and DC pay Jack Kirby’s estate for digital versions of his work?

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