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For as long as I’ve been following the comics industry I’ve heard creators say things along the lines of, “I’m not in it for the money,” and, “I’d be doing this even if I wasn’t getting paid.” Those are statements of passion that drive deep into the heart of a conversation that’s receiving more and more attention lately, and not just in comics. The question that’s been raised is: Should creators have to make comics for free just because they would? And if so, for how long?
When an unknown writer or artist is trying to make a name for herself in the comics industry, one way of doing that is to create work for free. Give away a webcomic. Contribute to an anthology that won’t make any money but may get seen by the right people (especially if you put it into their hands). Work for a small publisher who only pays if the project makes a profit. These are all accepted practices. What’s going on lately, however, is that people are starting to question how accepted they should be.
In response to that line of questioning, defenders of the current system argue from tradition. Alexis C. Madrigal, senior editor of The Atlantic, wrote a long piece on the realities of digital journalism and why it’s often tough to pay journalists anything, much less a fair wage. His basic argument is that funds are limited, even for a digital magazine that’s doing pretty well. “The economics of our business are terrible in some ways,” he writes. “And like everything else, the worst of it falls on the workers, the people making the widgets, doing the journalism, making the beds. The money gets sucked upwards and the work gets pushed down.” He continues, “[E]ven when you have a generous owner who is not trying to make a gazillion dollars and skim the cream, this game is still really, really hard. You still have limited funds. You still can’t pay freelancers a living wage.”
Publishing | Three million-dollar Kickstarter drives, including Rich Burlew’s $1.2 million campaign for The Order of the Stick, make the fund-raising site look like a pot of gold to some folks, but it’s not that easy: Suw Charman-Anderson, who;s contemplating a Kickstarter drive herself, looks at the factors that make the big money-makers so successful. [Forbes]
Editorial cartoons | The New York Times has responded to Daryl Cagle’s criticism of its hiring policy and fees for editorial cartoonists, saying the newspaper will delay bringing political cartoons back to its Sunday review section until editors have had time to revisit their policies. [The Cagle Post]
Editorial cartoons | For those who want a look at the bigger picture, Columbia Journalism Review surveys the landscape of editorial cartooning and in particular, the economics of syndication. [Columbia Journalism Review]
Publishers Weekly has been purchased by one of its former publishers, continuing Reed Business Information’s sell-off of its trade publications.
The magazine, which covers the book industry, releases the PW Comics Week e-newsletter and, until recently, played host to The Beat. PW was bought by PWxyz, a company formed by George Slowik, who served as the magazine’s publisher in the 1980s and 1990s.
According to PW, the new owner will retain all employees and remain headquartered in New York City. Cevin Bryerman will continue as publisher, with Jim Milliot and Michael Coffey serving as co-editors.
Reed’s parent company, global-publishing giant Reed Elsevier, attempted to sell its entire magazine division in February 2008, but withdrew its plans when it couldn’t get its asking price. It tried again in July 2009 to unload the publications as a group, but eventually had to resort to selling them separately.
Just last month Reed sold Library Journal and School Library Journal to Ohio-based Media Source Inc. (the School Library Journal website plays host to the Good Comics for Kids blog). Reed still owns Variety, MarketCast, Tradeshow Week and numerous other trade magazines.
Reed Elsevier also owns Reed Exhibitions, which produces New York Comic Con, the New York Anime Expo, BookExpo America and the Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo.
The layoffs affect about 7 percent of Reed’s staff.
Publishers Weekly is the primary trade magazine of the publishing industry, and parent to The Beat and PW Comics Week. Reed Business Information, a subsidiary of Reed Elsevier, also owns Reed Exhibitions, organizer of New York Comic Con.
As part of the restructuring, Brian Kenney, editor-in-chief of the Reed-owned School Library Journal, will become editorial director of that magazines plus PW and Library Journal.
Nelson, a veteran book reviewer and editor who worked previously for Glamour, Self, The New York Observer and Book Publishing Report, came to PW in 2005. She’s the author of So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading.