Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Economics of Comics

Over the last few weeks specifically (and at many times over the past several years in general) I have had the interesting "pleasure" of hearing gripes from fans at signings and conventions on the timeliness of their favourite independent comics. 

Basically questioning why they are always so late. 

While the conversation this time wasn't about us (at least not while we were standing there), it was about several other companies and creators that we know, work with, or just admire from afar. 

Yes, it is expected by fans and retailers to have books on time... but (upon listening and chatting with some of the fans) we discovered that their view on the industry was - well - skewed. 

Even individuals in their 20's and 30's - who were often griping the loudest and with the most venom and fervor - who knew that many of these books only sold in the 2000 to 3000 range since they were citing the Diamond top 300 list and the numbers of books sold per issue per month ad nauseam - failed to understand (or even consider) that the creators of these books weren't making any money at all on them. 

In fact, many of them are losing money. Which goes simply to explain why a book that was supposed to be monthly, becomes bi-monthly, and then quarterly, and so on. The creators are financing the books from (in some cases) their day jobs and often can't afford to print them until they save up enough money - and not usually from the sales of the book since it takes months from the time the story is written to the time the books hit the stand to the time money is collected from the distributor.

To be fair, an independent book usually needs to sell about 6,000 copies in order for the creators to make anything. If the book is being published through certain publishers, that number needs to hit about 11,000 copies before the creators see a cent because of the overhead of the business. In most cases - at these minimum levels - the publishers barely make anything from the books either. 

So why do these books get made? If there isn't enough of a demand to make money on them as an independent creator,  why bother?  

Most artists and writers love the trade so deeply that they are willing to put their creations "out there" for the chance that fans will hear and see these tales of action, adventure, horror, romance, comedy, and so on; that fans will fall into and in love with the worlds they create, and will relate to the characters they bring to life. For the love of the art and the art form. Others, to build their resume to get work from the top 2 - 5 publishers that pay a day rate for art and writing. 

This industry is pretty much reliant on the comic specialty market retailer channel (which has gone from 6000 retailers to 3000 retailers in the last 10 years) and is also a part of the overall publishing world: i.e. you print copies and hope they sell while trying to get paid for as many copies as possible along the way. If you are wrong, and print too many, you lose a lot on wasting money printing books. If you are wrong, and print too few, you lose out on potential lost revenue. 

So what happened to the guys that griped and complained? Well, here is the biggest sorrow: once the independent comic they were so excited about starts to ship late, they usually stop buying it. Which means the creator loses even more money on the project since less copies are sold. And so it takes them more time to save up to make the next copy. And so it ships late. And then more fans drop off. And then one day, they can't keep doing it anymore. 

But, it is what it is. 


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