Robot 6

Digital comics: Turning the tables

Letterer Jim Campbell takes a run at the problem with digital comics at his blog, and he comes to the conclusion that distributors (such as comiXology, iVerse, and Graphicly) are taking too big a cut.

First, he calculates the cost of labor to produce a single comic, then he looks at the way the various partners take their cut, as described by Mark Millar earlier this year:

1/ Apple take 30% right off the bat.
2/ In the case of Wanted, Comixology then splits 50/50 with the publisher.
3/ Then the publisher pays the agent and creative team out of the remaining cash depending on their deal.

If the comic is priced at 99 cents, then Apple gets 30 cents, the digital distributor takes 35 cents, and the publisher is left with 35 cents (yeah, there’s an extra penny there—I’m rounding, OK?). Under this scenario, the publisher would have to sell over 17,000 copies, Campbell reckons, just to pay their talent—forget the editors, marketers, accountants, and all the other necessities a publisher has, as well as any notion of profit. Looked at from that point of view, it’s pretty hopeless.

Campbell’s great insight is that this process is reversing the traditional model.

With print comics, the publisher sells the comic to a wholesaler (Diamond) for about 50% of cover price and the distributor sells to the retailer for 75% of cover price, so for a 99-cent comic, the publisher makes 50 cents, the distributor makes 25 cents, and the retailer makes 25 cents. (These numbers are approximations.) With digital, Apple is the retailer and the digital app (he calls it GenericComicApp) is the distributor, but the burden of both retail and distributor markups is put on the publisher. Or, to simplify the whole problem, the distributor is taking too big a cut. Campbell figures that the digital distributor should buy the comic for 50 cents, then pay Apple 30 cents and take a profit of 20 cents. (One could argue that Apple is taking too big a cut, but right now it’s very hard to sell digital comics without them.) Anyway, a publisher would only have to sell over 12,000 digital copies to break even under this scenario.

One thing that struck me when looking at these numbers is that publishers that are selling a lot of comics in the direct market have no incentive to let their customers shift from paper to digital, as they get a bigger cut of print comics sales. Their protectionist attitude toward the direct market looks less like sentimentality and more like a hard-nosed business decision in this case.

As is always the case with statistics, the validity of these numbers is based on the underlying assumptions. I see two additional factors at work here. One is price. Campbell thinks $2.99 is too much for a single issue with no added features, and many buyers would agree, but there are always people who are willing to pay a premium for freshness. So you could charge $2.99 the first week a comic is out, $1.99 for six months after that, and 99 cents for the rest of eternity, and the combination of the initial rush and the long tail could be the formula for maximizing profit.

The other thing Campbell doesn’t take into consideration is that most publishers have a stock of comics that have already been paid for. Marvel, DC, and Archie comics have over 50 years worth of comics whose costs were paid off decades ago. The creators should continue to get royalties, of course, but aside from that, every cent a publisher makes on those comics is pure profit, which should offset the costs of the newer comics. And if you look at comments on digital comics, these are the comics people hate to pay more than 99 cents for. My sense is that people don’t mind paying $1.99 for a newer comic, especially one with creators they like and want to support. Resentment kicks in when that extra buck goes to a faceless publisher. (I’m not saying that attitude is right—I used to be a book editor, so I know how much value a publisher adds—I’m just saying that’s what people think.) Eric Burns made a good argument for this from the reader’s point of view at Websnark a few weeks ago.

Ultimately, the solution may emerge from the market itself: A digital distributor that takes less of a cut. It could be Diamond waking up and smelling the digital coffee, or it could be the publishers banding together to freeze the others out, or it could be an audacious startup piggybacking on the accomplishments of others. Or maybe, having covered their startup costs, the existing distributors will eventually ease back a bit. A cut-rate distributor with a slick interface could offer publishers a slightly bigger cut, and readers a slightly cheaper comic, and still turn a handy profit if the lower price induces people to buy more comics. And that would be a win for everyone.

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Comments

42 Comments

Is the Marvel app on iPad using Comixology or does it deal with Apple directly?

I think my comment builds on NB’s … why do the publishers need a distributor? With digital comics I would have no qualms about having an app from each publishing label to directly buy and download the comic, for my use. I would think there is a big profit to be made , from the publishers perspective to run your own app where you have creative and advertising control for your properties.

In the 99cent scenario you laid out, the publisher would now make 64 cents with Apple receiving 35 cents. The publisher would make more than with printed comics. I cant think that the overhead of running and updating a digital app would cost the publisher and its current in house resources more than 30 cents per comic, still bringing them profit.

I say this because I follow comics… i just don’t buy them anymore. I don’t want to collect them, I don’t want to store them, I just want to read stories by good authors, experience the graphics and be immersed in that world for a few minutes. I know I’m not the only one. There is money to be made by offering me a service, That I am willing to pay for, that accommodates my needs. Plus you will probably be able to sell me on something else if you can get in the door.

For mobile digital comics, many people run off iOS and Android, so it might be the only way to distribute comics in a user-friendly way.

However, as for digital comics on a publisher’s own non-mobile website, why use Comixology or any other service? They should hire their own developers to make the digital comic scene on their own servers. NB, I believe Marvel runs their own digital scene and have even implemented HTML5 with a Chrome store. On the other hand, I’ve noticed DC, Image, etc digital comics run off Comixology, so I can see how that would be a problem for profits!

As for independents relying on Comixology or Apple, it should not be hard to run off their own system. Just hire a developer, or they could use a pre-made script displaying digital comics with right-click disabled (while, yes, it would be easy to exploit if you’re familiar with a website’s frontend, the average layman wouldn’t know how to bypass it, and this could be a good, cheap alternate for smaller independent creators). It shouldn’t be too hard to do.

I am absolutely not a fan of Flash, however. Image used to have a nice viewer until they switched to Comixology, which runs off Flash. Actually, all major digital comic viewers seem to run off Flash. Please, make it HTML5 and disable right click and just use something like Amazon’s backend system for displaying images (in other words, the source for the image file is absolutely hidden)!

For the publishers, this seems to be a problem of not understanding web development!

What if you read it on a tablet PC. Obviously, apple isn’t taking a cut from that.

Actually, the publisher ending up with 1/3 of the “cover” price is just about universal. Diamond pays 40% of the cover price (then flips it to the retailer for an average of 50% of the cover price–depending on the size of the retailer’s account). With physical books, you have to remember to add the printing costs–which on a color run of 50,000 costs around 35 cents for the 32-page floppy (and costs are going up). Simplified math gets the publisher about $1 on a comic that costs $3.50 (that is, splitting the difference between the $2.99/$3.99 average cover price). Of course, there’s a little bit of money in ad revenue; and almost every publisher is just as concerned with building the brand as they are with sales of single issues. And on the other side there’s a ton of expenses above and beyond paying talent.

Now, the Printer, Diamond & the DM Retailer do A LOT more work for their 60% of the cover than Apple & Comixology do for 65%… but digital is a market that’s still unsettled.

I need to look at all of this closer later on but at first glance it looks like the numbers for print are missing costs for printing and shipping. It’s great that this is being talked about. The more transparency, the better.

Your numbers are way off. Diamond gets a 60% base discount from cover price. With fees this can go as high as 64% off srp. Expressed as a percentage the amount a publisher gets from their app partners is pretty much right in line with a print equivalent.

I think Dan is referring to the main article’s numbers being off, not mine. But just for clarity, Diamond pays 40% OF cover price (or put Dan’s way: Diamond pays 60% OFF cover price… six of one; half dozen of the other!)

Dark Horse pretty much nailed it when they developed their own app and HTML5 website. Not only are they avoiding distributor costs, but it also enables them to offer discounted bundles to entice potential buyers. Of course, that took a lot of time and effort (and will continue to do so if they plan to release apps on other platforms such as android). Smaller publishers will not have the resources or visibility to make that work.

Great write-up! I think it sheds a lot more light on why the big publishers are shy about digital and why they use the current pricing scheme. I’m on the same boat as everyone else- I’m eagerly waiting for digital to be “really happen.” Getting the books to be 99 cents is the sweet spot but maybe its impossible to reach it with new books.

Digital comics will never increase in value, can not be traded or resold like a printed monthly. I would never pay 99 cents or higher for a digital comic, but I would totally buy digital comics if they were less than 99 cents an issue. Or even released digitally at a few pages a week. I would buy a lot, easily $30 dollars worht or more a month.
My old LSC wouldn’t even get the comics I requested for my pull list. And they stopped selling new comics at a discounted price, so I stopped collecting monthly comics. I would totally support digital if the price was right.
And publishers could get smart and include hot links in the digital comic where past isues or storylines are referenced, click the hot link to that past issue BAM! another sell.
I have long thought that monthly floppy comics should be reduced in price by printing on cheaper newsprint paper and leaving the higher quality paper for the trades.

I think it’s really odd that he starts with $.99 price point– I don’t think ANY big publishers will price a brand new comic at $.99. Maybe a few years after it’s out, but certainly not day 1. So even raising the price to $1.99 or the more common $2.99 immediately cuts the amount of issues needing to be sold to break even by 1/2 or 2/3.

Most $.99 comics are either
1) Smaller indy-pubs, which don’t pay page rates in the first place. The creators go into it only expecting royalties.
2) Self-published, which means there’s no publisher taking a cut of that 35%.
3) Decades-old and page rates were earned out ages ago. Anything new is just profit.

And while it may SOUND a bit extreme, comics are not alone: You sell an ebook on Amazon’s Kindle for $.99, you get $.35.

And some apps pay creators more than others (some of ours pay 50%, some 70%), for what it’s worth.

As other responders have stated, the inherent problem lays with the various distributors being in the middle of the sale.

As an emerging creator/publisher(who will be using graphicly.com) the idea of 2-3 other “people” being between me and my reader in the sales process is not only ridiculous but actually defeats the purpose of the whole digital first initiative. To me half the point of digital sales/distribution is being able to make a full length comic with a lower new sale cost for the reader($1-$1.50), while maintaining proper profit to cover production, then being able to have a sliding scale price point as an issue ages(free-$1 depending on the issue) Adding in middle men increases overhead which as shown both eats into publisher profit and increases reader cover price, which largely is what’s killing the print direct market. In straight $ and ¢, the goal of any business is to increase profit and distribution while lowering business costs. The print comic industry appears to be one of the only industries with basically a single distributor, which as been told repeatedly from numerous retailer and publisher sources, largely underperforms on a good day.

Digital comics should be the driving force that ushers back in the buying habits of the 50′s-late 90′s, where readers buy their favorite superhero(for example) staple books, but then also purchase(IE: try out) other books based on recommendations, story idea, art or the intrigue of the cover image.

So far the big companies all teaming together seem to be poisoning their own well +shooting themselves in the foot for the future(as the music industry did with cd’s vs MP3)

-J.

The big companies like Marvel, DC, Dark Horse don’t need Comixology. All they’re doing is creating a digital version of Diamond. Marvel, DC, et all can sell their books for a $1 cheaper, and still make more money per issue without Comixology.

A $2.99 book, after Apple & Comixology get their share, makes the Publisher $1.04.
The same book at $1.99, without Comixology, after Apple takes their share leaves the Publisher with $1.39 : that’s a 33% increase in profit, at a cheaper price which will help volume sales.

One problem with all the old stock of comics that Marvel, DC, Archie have? They all have to be digitally re-colored. Even at a base rate of $20 a page for flat colors exactly like what was originally printed, it still works out to a cost of $460 an issue to put online – not including editorial and pre-press/App developer costs. That means they have to sell 657 copies @ 99¢ just to break even, without Comixology, or 1315 digital copies at 99¢ to break even if they’re selling through Comixology.

Multiply that by the tens of thousands of books, and your expenses run up very quickly. So don’t expect a huge rush to turn back-catalogs into digital format.

Brigid Alverson

July 26, 2011 at 10:35 am

@NB: The Marvel app is built on comiXology’s platform.

@Dan Vado and @Brandon Montclare: I was trusting Jim’s numbers here, as I am not a retailer and not privy to Diamond’s pricing structure. I understand there are historical reasons why Diamond is a monopoly, although I am a bit surprised no one is taking them on if it’s that lopsided. The situation with digital distributors is different, though. In a sense, comiXology and iVerse took the risks and created the whole category to begin with; as the first digital distributors (along with Panelfly, which is just now getting back into the game) they really shaped what we see now. That involved a lot of research and risk, and I don’t begrudge them that. However, it’s a feature of the free market that someone eventually comes along and builds on that foundation to offer a cheaper product—like generic drugs that come out once the patents run out. The question is when digital comics will reach that stage.

Also, to those of you who think the middlemen are dispensable, my understanding is that app designers are pretty expensive and the cost of entry is high. That is also a situation that should naturally be mitigated over time. The distributors also provide a marketing benefit—people are more likely to see your comic if they are already in the (digital) store.

Brigid Alverson

July 26, 2011 at 10:38 am

@Kingston Wow, that’s pretty bad! If all comics stores were like your old LCS, the whole category would be doomed. However, I think it’s just stores like that that are doomed—and would be regardless of digital comics.

I quit reading comics in 1986 because I didn’t like the way I was treated in a comics shop. I didn’t bother looking for another one, just stayed away for years, buying the occasional graphic novel in stores. Say what you like about digital, it won’t dis you because you’re buying the wrong comics.

@Niki Smith: I thought I’d been quite clear why I started at $0.99 — because I don’t believe that the comic industry is well served by making price a barrier to entry. I think even $1.99 for a straight digital version of a 22 or 24 page monthly book is asking a lot — remember that you’re competing with people who get this stuff off BitTorrent and for whom the base starting price is $0.00.

iTunes proved that if you make digital access to a medium 1) trivially easy and 2) trivially cheap then most people will choose to be honest. If you make it difficult or expensive, it’s off to the pirate sites they go.

Also: the figures for creator rates I specifically noted as being roughly equivalent to a low-mid range US indie publisher, so I’m not drawing direct equivalence with Marvel or DC, but rather asking how *anyone* is supposed to make money, even on piss-poor rates like that.

I suppose I just don’t see why “asking how *anyone* is supposed to make money, even on piss-poor rates like that” is specific to digital, then. Your numbers show how a $.99 comic makes it extremely hard to pay all the creators involved along with the editing team; the numbers don’t change that considerably whether it’s a digital $.99 comic or a paper one.

A TPB is typically, what, 5-8 issues, for $10-20? Paying $1.99 an issue doesn’t seem that outrageous to me.

All the issues of our digital comic sell at $.99, so I’ve seen that side of things first-hand. But we’re a two-person team. We have no editors, publicists, etc who need to make a living too.

I followed this from my Sparks feed on Google+ and it seems you are all just trying to reinvent the wheel. I was at a buddies house a couple of years ago and saw him reading a digital comic. I thought it was cool and asked him what app he was using and he showed me he was using a torrent site and CDisplay. All of these new issues come out each week and are available on the pirate sites. The pirates seemed to have come up with a better system than any of you corporate types and made it free, Pirate the Pirate idea. How hard is it to just cut out Apple and Comixology by using the same model the pirates do or you could even use the old subscription system and email people the .cbr file each week. Then you don’t have to deal with Apple or anyone else for that matter. You keep the profits to be split by the publishers, office and talent. They can’t have the quality that you would have by digitizing from you masters and people would buy direct so the price could be lower.
Problem solved.
Just a simple observation from a married father who can’t afford comics anymore unless it is a TPB on his Bday or Christmas.

@Niki Smith I’m sorry, I don’t quite understand what point you’re trying to make there. I picked $0.99 as a price point that can ONLY work for digital and might actually encourage casual purchasing. I don’t know if you’re only going off the overview of my piece in Brigid’s article above, but I stated this quite explicitly in my blog post.

Unless you were doing print runs in the hundreds of thousands on the cheapest paper available (like the OLD days, and they’re never coming back), you’d lose money on every issue and go bankrupt in short order. I suppose the point I’m trying to make is that if the makers of GenericComicApp took a slightly more long-term view, they might consider $0.35 an issue on a few thousand sales less preferable to $0.20 on tens (or, God knows, even hundreds) of thousands of sales.

Comixology/Marvel runs a new $0.99 sale on issues every week, and Dark Horse has run a number of them on their own app. I’d love to see some numbers from them to see if they really are getting tens of thousands more purchases that way.

Maybe $0.99 will make more sense when more people have tablets. Right now not enough people own them, and even of those, not enough read comics. I don’t think there are tens/hundreds of thousands of sales per issue to be made right now.

On a different point, more frustrating than anything, to me, is Apple’s rule that everything needs a x.99 price. I have a feeling that without that, we’d have digital comics at least $0.50 cheaper.

Looks like Apple is screwing themselves out of the reader market: http://mhpbooks.com/mobylives/?p=34964

@Niki Smith: 25 million iPads and rising, a great many of them in the hands of kids. MY preferred solution would be to produce more content targeted at them, priced at a pocket-money friendly level like $0.99 and open up the market again. Right now, digital comics are a niche corner of a niche market. Fixing that would take more than just a shift in price point, but even that is hampered by the current distribution system.

My point is that we’re right at the start of a new platform here and we’re already *getting it wrong.*

What kid can afford comics at $3.99 each for a story thats not even told in whole each month? And what is the easiest way to reach kids who can’t get to the LCS every wednesday? But that’s assuming the content is all ages.

@Brigid Alverson, I know, it’s bad. I’m left with not much choice but to wait for trades and purchase off Amazon. Which leaves me out of the loop on current stories. Which leaves me with not much to talk about on comic book forums. It sours my take on the whole comic book experience. Part of the fun is sharing in the exchanges with others that enjoy the same media as myself.

Oh dear lord! I guess there needs to be some technical facts mentioned here; Marvel and DC cannot develop their separate app because that would mean hiring a development team to create and maintain that app. This increases cost. Comixology is a more cost effective solution. They develop and maintain the apps and the infrastructure.

What they can do is not bother with apps and branding and DRM and socialweb threepoint1111. They can sell PDFs, EPUBs or CBZs directly to the consumer. These files work on any device you can think of and are far more easier to use than having 900 apps on 500 dollar hipster tech toy.

@Jim
There may be 25 million iPad users, but in January Comixology announced they’d had 1 million Apple apps installed, and in June they reached 1 million with Android.
I just don’t see a way that only 2 million people would buy enough comics, even at $.99, that every issue would sell tens (or hundreds) of thousands…

I think marvel might be an exception to millars numbers. Marvel’s app was developed by comixology, but I have to buy everything through marvel’s account.

Also once you develop the tools for digital it’s not that expensive to maintain. Once marvel pays the upfront cost for proprietary software and publishing tools the cost of digital isn’t that bad.

I wonder if this prices comixology charges are accurate still. There are 3day 99¢ sells on a particular Comic every week and marvel has them twice a week. I can’t see publishers making such a large push for something that brings in such a small amount of money compared to print and trade.

One more thing. Apple will be pushing newsstand for magazine subscriptions soon when iOs5 is released. Maybe that is where comic publishers need to look. I could envision apple improving ibooks and newsstand to take advantage of graphic novels and comics.

“I understand there are historical reasons why Diamond is a monopoly, although I am a bit surprised no one is taking them on if it’s that lopsided.”

When Capital City Distribution was still in business, they got the same terms as Diamond, basically. Roughly 60% off cover, selling to retailers for 40-55% off cover, depending on volume and publisher. (In 1993, the shop I ran got 52.5% off the Big Two.)

Diamond signed exclusivity deals with most of the major publlishers at the time, leading directly to Capital City’s demise. For someone else to get into the game, those exclusivity deals would have to end. There’s little reason for that to happen, especially as the size of the market is so much smaller now than it was in the early 90s.

As for digital, I would pay $0.99 for CBR/CBZ versions of day-and-date comics. Publishers wouldn’t have to do hardly any work at all — they could simply sell me what the pirates have already scanned. Let the pirates do the work for them, with the added bonus of a bit of ‘screw you’ to the pirates. The quality is certainly good enough to sell at a buck a pop, even if it’s not quite the same quality as what is being published officially online.

I won’t pay $2.99 or $3.99 for digital comics, and won’t ever pay for digital comics in a closed, proprietary format at any price.

One other detail I haven’t seen brought up here is server space. It is my understanding that Apple caps just how much content they will store on their servers, So if a major publisher like Marvel (HUGE backlist) reached that cap, they would then need to invest in their own server for hosting or cycle through available content. In essence, it is pretty cost prohibitive for publishers to host their own content, and makes a distributor that much more important. I think this also justifies a distributor getting his cut- they are the ones who dished out for the software/servers and pays the adaptors.

Your price breakdown as to what the store and distributor get are completely wrong. I worked in distribution and they’re getting comics at around 60-65% off. Stores get them at around 50-55% off. Marvel and DC are only getting around 35-40% of the cover price in the current system.

@Paul You’re right, and you’re not the first person to point this out. I made an assumption based on my experience in the wider magazine & newspaper industry here in the UK. I can only say to you what I said to the chap who also brought this to my attention on the Millarworld forums: that figure is daylight robbery and speaks largely to Diamond’s monopoly position rather than any economic reality.

Sorry, just read the rest of the commenst and noticed the dist/store pricing error had already been addressed.

Sigh. Producers love to complain about how much money goes to the middle men- the folks who actually bring the customers and their products together. One has always had the option of selling direct, of course. Marvel does it by selling magazine subscriptions. But to maximize your sales you need to go to the customers, rather than the asking the customers to go to you.

Of course, Marvel is a big enough brand that they CAN sell direct, and it looks like they plan to do that. Creating a decent digital store is a lot more work than people realize though, which is why Marvel has no app for Android. DC is a big enough brand to have their own store too, and Dark Horse with all their licensed properties. But customers aren’t really interested in going to 50 different comic book stores, digital or otherwise. Without a central store, publishers will get a bigger cut, but sales will be much, much lower.

There are small publishers who sell their work directly on the web in PDF format. Why not ask them how their sales are? 150 copies? Less? Enough to justify the time that goes into making them available digitally? I’ll bet you the same properties would bring in a lot more revenue on the ComiXology store, even with the publishers getting a much smaller cut.

@Jim: No, it doesn’t speak to the ‘monopoly’ at all — not even a little — because it was the same discount when Diamond had competition, as I said in my earlier post. The discounts are deeper in the direct market because the books are non-returnable, unlike your experience in the newsstand market, where discounts are lower and books are returnable.

The history of the direct market is well-documented, with a decent article on Wikipedia, too. I needn’t post a primer here.

@James: not sure why the patronising tone is called for. In all honesty, the hefty Diamond cut made more sense in a direct sales (ie – firm sale only) market where there was competition, since their exposure to risk was significantly higher in terms of being less able to control the market and more likely to be left holding unsaleable stock.

Now, with the benefit of their current position in the market, Diamond’s risk is reduced substantially by the fact that so many of the retail outlets they distribute to make their customers pre-order. Add to that the fact that Diamond are also able to control what titles even reach the market at all and I think it’s fair to say that they are able to manage their exposure to risk to a substantially greater degree than a normal distribution company.

Jim, the most perfunctory knowledge of the direct market probably would have made this article never exist in the first place.

Diamond’s “current position in the market” has been held for 16 years. One would think that if the major publishers had any interest in or ability to change their contract terms in the intervening time, they would have.

And I see no evidence that any larger percentage of comics are sold at retail to mandatory consumer preorders today than back then. That might be another supposition based on your personal experience outside the comics industry.

Diamond also doesn’t control what titles reach the market. They have no say over what the majors get distributed, and they’re not the only distributor for indies.

Boiled down: your thesis is that the digital distributors take too big a share, when the conventional distributors take much the same share. You follow up by suggesting that you’re still sorta right because the conventional share is too large. Except that the support for this is a variety of imagined reasons not borne out by fact.

This is not being patronizing; this is error-correction. I’m sure that you would have something to say without regard for my feelings if I blogged about something I know nothing about, like kerning.

Bad example. I know a lot about kerning.

I maintain that the Bigs should just bypass the digital distribution system entirely and keep $0.99 out of every $0.99, but I think they like proprietary formats too much despite the can already being open and the worms being everywhere.

@James: “Diamond also doesn’t control what titles reach the market. ” I have direct experience that contradicts this statement.

Also: there was a comic industry before 1995. No, really, there was.

I work in the comic industry, I make a living in the comic industry. The traditional distribution model is broken because it is run by a monopoly. Digital platforms promise us the opportunity to find a new way, except that the industry seems hell bent on adopting a broken model there as well.

“I maintain that the Bigs should just bypass the digital distribution system entirely and keep $0.99 out of every $0.99, but I think they like proprietary formats too much despite the can already being open and the worms being everywhere.”

I think there’s merit in this. I’m not trying to say I have the answers, I’m trying to point out that a business model that can’t pay its creators the same hourly rate as they’d get flipping burgers without hitting a price point that kills any potential growth in the market is not a business model the industry should be embracing.

Perhaps I should clarify: I think the current retail/distribution model for print comics is crap and relies on milking a niche market in a fashion which anyone with any business acumen can see has no long term future.

Personally, I would love to see growth in the comic industry spurred by an attempt to reclaim some territory in the mass market but I understand the economics that preclude any significant push on the dead tree front.

I *had* hoped that digital, freed from the constraints that required you to print twice the number of copies you expected to sell and to print them on toilet paper, might have opened up the possibility of expanding the comic market beyond its current limited scope. I assume you have no issue with my assessment of the creative costs of producing a comic, so I hope you can see why I’m frustrated that digital distribution, in its current form, doesn’t appear to offer that opportunity.

@JimCampbell “I assume you have no issue with my assessment of the creative costs of producing a comic, so I hope you can see why I’m frustrated that digital distribution, in its current form, doesn’t appear to offer that opportunity.”
It seems like your frustration isn’t really that the digital distributors are taking too big a cut, but more that creators aren’t seeing a share of the publisher’s cut. I don’t know of too many companies that are sharing their digital proceeds with creators. Most companies that I know, and have worked with, have paid creators either a flat fee or a page rate. Once paid- they’re done. Sounds like you need to start negotiating digital terms in your contracts, which I believe EVERY letterer/colorist/writer should be doing at this point.

@rubyweb: “It seems like your frustration isn’t really that the digital distributors are taking too big a cut, but more that creators aren’t seeing a share of the publisher’s cut.” Have you actually read my piece? Without giving any consideration AT ALL to a profit for the publisher, a $0.99 digital comic sold through Apple’s App store needs to shift over 17,000 copies to cover the pretty modest page rates I outline.

Yes, the elephant in the room is that 30% cut to Apple, but it’s their game; their platform; their rules. There are upwards of 25 million iPads out there and — optimistically — about 2 million Android tablets, so, right now, growing the digital market means getting onto iPads. The current business model makes any serious push into digital economically unviable, leaving us stuck with the current (contracting) market.

@JimCampbell Yes I did read your piece. I believe that canaries in the coalmine are invaluable, but I would have liked if your piece brainstormed a few ideas of how to remedy this problem you see. Creators negotiating digital terms, creators self-publishing digitally first THEN going to print if the book is successful, adding multi-media content to the books… these are all things that can be done to add value so you can charge more than $.99 for a book, ways to circumvent high print distribution costs, and get more of a cut to the creative teams. Digital right now is just gravy to comic publishers due to available backlist and creator pay is coming from print, and we can ALL go on about how messed up direct market distro is- no need to continue flogging a dead horse if nobody has any viable alternatives.
In short- Digital comics are a suplement, not a replacement.

Comics need to get out of the specialty item status that they have had since they left supermarkets and newstands. The model is broken. You cant mass market the product because you rely on comic book stores which are not even around for even 1/3 of north america. The average consumer does not seek for a comic book store either. You need to make it easy and tempting for an average person to take a leap of faith on a comic.

The price is a major barrier for a new customer. No one that is not already part of that fading niche thinks paying 3-4 dollars for a comic is acceptable. Definitely not in todays economic climate. The collector market died long ago as well and sales are constantly dropping. This is not going to turn around any time soon with the current rules.

Comics need to be cheap and widely available digitally and printed. The industry as is at this rate will be dead in the next 10 years. .99 cent comics and wide distribution are the way to go.

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