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Joe Quesada explains Marvel’s digital-royalties plan

thumbnailDC announced their digital publishing plan last Wednesday, but since then the conversation has focused nearly as much on what Marvel is or isn’t doing with regards to compensating creators for digital downloads of their work. DC announced incentive payments right there in the PR for their iPad app — did Marvel’s failure to do so mean they weren’t doing this, or (as stated or implied by various Marvel personnel) had they already done it on the down low?

In his latest Cup o’ Joe interview column, Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada spoke to CBR’s Kiel Phegley all about this. According to Quesada, Marvel does have an “incentive program” in place, the first checks will go out after the San Diego Comic-Con, the plan applies to all creators (not just exclusive ones, as was rumored), and the reason Marvel didn’t announce it is because they figured they didn’t need to…

[Joe Quesada]: Going pretty far back, in discussions about electronically/digitally distributed comics, our publisher Dan Buckley stated at several convention panels and in interviews that we would be paying incentives for creators of these books. We just didn’t put out a press release about it, and I guess some folks just didn’t catch it when he said these things. But there you go, welcome to the world of the Internet.

Kiel Phegley: To clarify the specifics of Marvel’s plan a bit more, why did the royalty program take longer to get in place than the digital comics sales platforms?

Joe Quesada: Well, that’s just the thing; it hasn’t. Like all incentive programs, whether paper or electronic, sales are tabulated, math is done and then, eventually, checks go out. If you want specifics, okay I’ll give you one: our first incentive checks for e-comics will be going out sometime right after San Diego Comic-Con. Announcing this, now maybe DC can put out a press release saying that they’re going to pay their incentives the week before San Diego. Cool, if they do that, then they’ll manage to be the first at something in the digital arena. [Laughs]

[…]

Kiel Phegley: The talk has been that Marvel’s royalties will only apply to exclusive creators. If true, what’s the reasoning behind this, and will that plan expand out to all creators whose work is sold through Marvel’s digital platforms?

Joe Quesada: Wow, the Internet strikes again. I don’t know where you’ve heard this, but it’s not true. Incentives will be paid on the sale of e-comics regardless of whether a creator is exclusive or not.

Kiel Phegley: I think, really, the question people have been asking most about in terms of this is why Marvel hasn’t been publicizing their plans for royalties in the same way DC did? Is there some specific reason why these issues aren’t made public knowledge?

Joe Quesada: We just didn’t think it was an issue. When we made our announcements that we would have electronic comics on the iPad, iPhone and PSP, that, to me, was the only real announcement that was important for the public to know. Internally what creators make, whether it be their page rate or incentives, wasn’t really an announcement for the general public. The only time I guess an announcement like that would be important to make publicly would have to be if you’re trying to win some sort of public relations war, which I kind of get in some ways.

You really wanna click the link and read the whole interview, as it goes into these topics and more — including the overall creator-rights atmosphere at Marvel, from foreign sales to royalty expiration dates — in detail. And given the advent of day-and-date digital sales with this Wednesday’s Invincible Iron Man Annual #1, my guess is this won’t be the last time we’ll be discussing this stuff as the digital landscape takes shape…

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29 Comments

Is there some reason no one is asking Joe Q about the issues brought up by Len Wein’s wife over at The Beat? Why does he get more for creating Lucius Fox than he does for freakin’ Wolverine?

Chuck Dixon seems to be hinting at the same thing here:

http://jefferyklaehn.blogspot.com/2010/06/chuck-dixon-interview.html

One major company fairly recompenses creators for ancillary money coming in from their work. The other has a limited program that does not include the use of material in movies or for toys or even for foreign sales.

Sean T. Collins

June 28, 2010 at 9:24 am

Chad, Kiel’s a better person to ask than I, but I believe this interview took place before Len’s wife’s post was circulated.

Wein didn’t create Wolverine. He introduced him, Claremont created the character that people know, Wein’s version was something entirely different. In fact wasn’t Wein’s take that Wolverine was one of High Evolutionary’s mutates?

I’m not saying Wein didn’t have an important role in Wolverine’s existence as a character, but he’s more like a guy who had sex with a woman who then raised the child by herself and he expects to take credit for who that child became. He planted a seed, important, essential even, but certainly not the same as molding the character into what he is today, that’s mostly Claremont with some help from Byrne, Miller, etc. If Wein would have stayed on the character and done what he wanted, the character would likely not be as popular as he is today.

Should Wein be getting something for his part in Wolverine’s creation? Probably. But I keep thinking that these people went into their work knowing that Marvel would own the characters, they signed contracts, they weren’t morons. They can claim they were, but I don’t buy it, either you’re a moron or you’re not. 20/20 hindsight doesn’t mean shit to me. Facts are facts, adults signed contracts knowing Marvel would own anything they created and they wouldn’t get any royalties.

DrunkJack surely you can use a better analogy than comparing Len Wein’s role in “introducing” Wolverine to that of a deadbeat father.

“the first checks will go out after the San Diego Comic-Con, ”

Marvel has been doing digital sales for years now as part of their Digital Comics Unlimited program, long before the iPad app. It would be interesting to learn if any royalties were paid on any the comics available through that outlet, or if these checks finally going out in July are in fact the first digital royalty checks Marvel will be paying.

Who cares? It’s not really the business of comic readers to know the details of an agreement a comic company has with its employees. Does the guy who created the formula for Doritos get a percentage of every bag sold or did he just get paid for the invention by Frito Lay. Who cares? It’s none of my business and its none of your business. If the creator of something doesn’t like the deal he’s getting from a company he can quit and work somewhere else.

These creators were adults and knew what they were signing so crying about it 20 years later when their creations become hugely popular is just sour grapes. These companies sink tons of money and spend tons of time developing these creations into something marketable. Besides, many people contributed to making many of these creations what they are today. DrunkJack was exacly right in his post.

@drunkjack
Was Lucius Fox a fully formed character when introduced? Who knows right? It’s Lucious Fox. I think what gives people pause, despite what a creator signs, is that wild inequity. We will never know what the environment was back then for creators. It was essentially two companies. Now those companies are owned by the wb and Disney who have reaped a fortune off of IP’s create by people who are not, let’s face it, fairly compensated. Is it the deal they signed? Sure is. Is it at all fair and just? I really doubt it. Just look at how marvel treated Kirby. They not only dismissed his contribution to the foundation of the company for years, but they held his artwork. He had to fight for his pages. It was the deal he signed just so he could eek out a living but
by no means was it fair at all.

Bob L
Conversely speaking what would you care if they were compensated fairly? Why does it offend you so? Are you afraid that if they are someone is going to deny you your wolvie and doritos cool ranch?

Is it a fair deal? The creators must have thought so at the time otherwise they wouldn’t have signed the contract. Is it fair and just? Uh…yeah, it is as long as both sides abide by the contracts they signed.

Kirby must have thought it was fair. He was able to provide for his family which was probably his main concern at the time. Whether or not you believe it was fair is irrelevant.

Who cares? It’s not really the business of comic readers to know the details of an agreement a comic company has with its employees.

Except that in this case Marvel has made it my business by coming out publicly and discussing the matter after DC’s announcement rubbed them the wrong way, If they’re going to open the door, I want more questions to be asked.

These creators were adults and knew what they were signing so crying about it 20 years later when their creations become hugely popular is just sour grapes.

I’m not Kurt Busiek, so I can’t speak with 100 percent authority on this, but I’m fairly certain that the issue isn’t as black and white as you’re making it out to be when it comes to some past events. And in this case, when Marvel’s trying to make the case that they’re not bad guys when it comes to royalties, I think it’s perfectly appropriate for creators to make the point that DC acts in a more equitable manner.

And while it might not be any of my business, I’m still interested.

And in DC’s case, unless I’m wrong, they don’t HAVE to be paying out the money they are for past work, but they are doing so, in the interest of fairness. Not saying DC has never done anyone wrong, but I’m interested to hear it, just as I’m happy to hear that Marvel will be paying digital royalties.

I’m not offended. I just think a creator has a choice about whether they work for someone or not. Be responsible for yourself and what you do. Read and understand what you are signing. Don’t cry when you screw up due to your own actions. Pretty simple stuff.

Look! More Didiots making this into a Marvel vs DC thing. Ask Alan Moore how fair DC is.

“Kirby must have thought it was fair. He was able to provide for his family which was probably his main concern at the time. Whether or not you believe it was fair is irrelevant.”

What’s messed up is his family now seem to think they know better than Kirby, who had already created one of the first Creator Owned comics in the Fighting American. He knew exactly what was possible. He chose to work for Marvel.

Seems vaguely disrespectful to claim you know better than the man who had worked in the business for well over a decade at the time and had already worked on a creator owned project.

@bobl
if you ever plan on educating yourself on the matter you would know Kirby wasn’t treated fairly, knew he wasn’t being treated fairly, yet DID everything to support his family. But yknow, like, make mine marvel.

Look! More Didiots making this into a Marvel vs DC thing. Ask Alan Moore how fair DC is.

Maybe you missed this sentence? “Not saying DC has never done anyone wrong, but I’m interested to hear it, just as I’m happy to hear that Marvel will be paying digital royalties.”

As for Alan Moore, that’s comparing apples to oranges. Creative differences, yes — HUGE creative differences — but I’ve never heard boo about them not paying him what they owed him.

What post at The Beat was the Len Wein discussion a part of? I’d like to check that out.

It was here:

http://www.comicsbeat.com/2010/06/24/dc-digital-fall-out-royalty-war/

Christine Valada is Wein’s wife. Also some interesting comments from Charles Vess in the thread.

@Chad – “As for Alan Moore, that’s comparing apples to oranges. Creative differences, yes — HUGE creative differences — but I’ve never heard boo about them not paying him what they owed him.”

Exactly my point. He was upset that he wasn’t paid for the button set, the watch and the original slipcase hardcover but he apparently signed something saying he didn’t get money from that stuff. So DC did pay him what they owed him. Just not what Alan Moore thought they owed him.

I’d forgotten about the Watchmen merchandise. (And given the FLOOD of movie merchandise, the dispute seems kinda quaint now. I remember DC pulling some action figures after Moore objected. Guess once Warner Bros. got involved, they didn’t care as much about appeasing him.)

Sean, it looks as though as long as you’re linking to these things, I’ll be showing up to talk about my process with someone (not that that’s a bad thing!)

Chad, the simple answer here is both that when I drafted my questions and did the interview, those quotes from Len’s wife had not become public so it didn’t occur to me to ask after them, AND even given all that public comment thread talk, I really don’t think asking about that serves anyone very well. The issue at hand here was royalties from sales of the actual comics works in question including whether they’d be paid and who they’d be paid to. As an executive in Marvel’s publishing division, that’s something under Joe’s purview that he can speak to. Royalties on ancillary adaptations are things set by people much higher up the Marvel food chain (and I’m sure those same people have final call on a lot of print royalties as well, but that seems to me a policy set first by Joe and Dan B), and ultimately I don’t think my readership is served well by me if I spend my time talking to Joe trying to hammer away at a point like a jerk where the best POSSIBLE outcome is Joe says, “I just don’t make those decisions.”

When you add that to the fact that even us spending half of one column on digital royalties was met with a big “why should we care?” by a considerable chunk of our readership (if you look at all the threads on this topic over the past week or so, there’s a lot of people like Bob L chiming in), I just don’t see the news value in trying to bring every single little piece of the public discourse into the interviews I do. While there are plenty of bloggers, critics and gadflies out there who see fit to carry the hammer on behalf of creators they feel have been wronged by the corporation (and no slight to them for espousing positions they think are fair), my main concern as a reporter is to get as many of the pertinent facts on the stories of the day out into the open, and I hope I did my job on this one in a satisfactory manner.

Thanks for reading!

Steven R. Stahl

June 28, 2010 at 1:30 pm

I agree with Quesada’s position on digital royalties/incentives being internal financial arrangements that don’t have to be, and probably shouldn’t be, public knowledge.

One comment, though, re the other major topic in Cup o’ Joe: the summits. It’s likely that the summits are anti-creative, if ideas that elicit sharp reactions are thought to be “good,” and time for thoughtful criticism isn’t allowed. How often do group brainstorming sessions yield good ideas in any field? If creative collaboration was fruitful, collaborations on novels would be frequent instead of rare.

SRS

Thanks for responding, Kiel! But here’s the thing: The point made by Christine Valada over at The Beat is that her husband has never seen a dime from the various reprints of her husband’s work on actual comics, not ancillary properties like movies or toys:

Marvel has reproduced works in various electronic formats for years, and I can assure you that my husband hasn’t seen a goddamned dime for any such use of Giant-sized X-men #1 or anything else he ever created for Marvel.

So here’s my question: Will creators get royalties on digital sales of older works for Marvel? If some of the chatter around the Internet is to be believed, there’s an expiration date on the payment of royalties for print work. If that’s true, does the same hold for digital comics?

Again, not trying to say Marvel’s an evil, evil corporation, I’m just genuinely curious. For all I know, when Ms. Valada says that “Meanwhile, royalties from DC for a relatively minor character got us through the worst of our past 15 months of hell,” she may be referring to movie money. So I’d also be curious to find out if DC pays royalties on reprinted older work. (Not that I’d expect Joe Q to be able to answer that one, mind you.)

I agree with Quesada’s position on digital royalties/incentives being internal financial arrangements that don’t have to be, and probably shouldn’t be, public knowledge.

I’d be OK with that, but once you get into a public pissing match over them, don’t be surprised if folks ask more questions.

I was actually going to mention that part and forgot!

I’m sure some will agree with me, but I really think it’s a waste of time to try and pry the specifics of contracts out of someone like Joe. I asked about the talk around expiring royalties and such in a way I thought got to the heart of the issue (i.e. whether or not the perception that DC had a better deal for creators was a fair one), but beyond that trying to get anyone to cough up the specifics of such programs is a sucker’s game. In recent memory, we’ve asked Joe about contracts with creators in regards to the increase in price on print books to $3.99, and he’s stated point blank that he won’t discuss the finer points of specific contracts for business reasons. Even if you look at the leaked letters from both DC and Marvel to their freelance talent about their royalty programs that have popped up on places like Bleeding Cool, you’ll see that the company spokespeople don’t discuss specifics even in correspondence that’s supposed to be somewhat private or “in house.” The reason for that being (besides the potential for mass e-mails getting leaked) is that without any kind of union, there’s no way for comic creators to come in and negotiate for a standard contract on almost ANYTHING. From page rates to royalties and everything in between, I think a lot of people that work in this biz have completely different terms set to them from company to company and from job to job. And just like I doubt me pushing Joe for a response on people saying contracts on things expire won’t get me anything but frustration, I highly doubt the next time I get on the phone with Jim Lee and Dan Didio, they’d happily cough up the finer points of their royalty deals either.

All in all, the fact that both companies are out and discussing the fact that they’ll be paying royalties on this major new revenue stream at all is good I think for CBR’s consumer readers who care about such things in terms of how they make their purchasing decisions and for our creative community audience in that they have some common ground info on what they’ll go into their very specific contract negotiations with. Regardless of some of the points with less explanation, I’m happy to say that those core facts are in the public sphere now where as last week none of it was in debate at all.

I recall reading an old interview with former Marvel EIC Tom DeFalco where he said that he tried to get Marvel to pay creators for work printed and reprinted in foreign countries during his tenure as EIC.

And I could be wrong, but I think that the only creators the current Marvel regime is interested in paying big bucks to and “taking care of” are those creators who are either (a) currently working for Marvel or (b) are good friends with JQ.

Thanks Kiel, for explaining what you WON’T ask in an interview. unbelievable…

What type of royalties is Marvel paying for the Digital Comics Unlimited? He seems to only be talking about the issues sold through comixology.

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