I’m absolutely thrilled to be working in comics. I’m even happier that one of my major projects right now is a creator-owned comic series I have control of. Writing/Creating Skullkickers and being published by Image Comics is a thrill and an honor. They give me complete ownership and stewardship of my creation and that’s a rare thing in this industry. I want to make sure that’s all up front and very clear.
(UPDATE: I posted an update in February 2015 about how the comic market has changed over the past two and a half years and the expanded potential for creator-owned comics. A lot of the information in this article is still relatively accurate for low print run books, but I recommend checking out the new article as well to get a sense of the whole picture.)
A recent discussion I had about money making in comics took a weird turn and I realized that a lot of people make assumptions about how the financials break down in the comic business. Being published isn’t an instant key to fame and fortune.
…on a $2.99 cover-priced comic ($3, for simplicity’s sake):
-$1.40: 40-50% of that cover price goes to retailers, the people selling the comics to customers. This amount varies quite a bit based on the publisher and the number of copies ordered by the retailer, but is a base approximation. Retailers deserve their share for selling comics to their local customer base. They buy non-returnable product and take great risk each and every week. In many ways, they’re the distributor’s actual “customer”.
-$0.80: Printing is substantial (and it varies wildly based on the amount printed, paper availability, and press availability so this is NOT an exact figure). 80 cents is a pretty good benchmark for small print runs. On very low print runs (sub 3000), printing can cost more than $1.00 per copy, which really eats into the budget.
-$0.50: 1/6 of that cover price goes to Diamond, the distributor who solicits orders and ships comics to retailers. This varies based on shipping, gas prices, amount ordered and who the publisher is but it’s a good approximation. Diamond deserves their share for soliciting, storing and shipping comics to retail outlets. They’re an international distributor with lots of expenses to keep the system running.
Printing varies wildly, but let’s say 80 cents per issue holds true. With the remaining 30 cents per issue, the following has to be paid:
• Publisher operation/office expenses.
• Money left over for the creative team to actually get paid anything.
On a print run of 5000 comics (and many, many creator-owned titles sell less than that in the current market), it means $1500 remains for those 4 important categories. Guess how that breaks down?
If the advertising cost was ZERO and publisher expenses were ZERO, then the writer and artist of a 20 page comic would each get $37.50 PER PAGE. Oops, no money in there for the cover art, sorry. Add in more people (inker, colorist, letterer, etc) and the amount gets split even further, but this is a BOGUS number. The publisher has expenses/staff to pay for.
The reality is that once the publisher takes their share of what’s left (and they absolutely deserve it), there may be no money left for the creative team, let alone advertising.
Even if the cover price was $3.99 for that same indy comic, the distribution and retailer amounts are percentages, not flat rates. An extra dollar for the comic doesn’t suddenly put an extra dollar in the creative payment pool. It gives about 40 cents more per issue for those 4 categories listed above. It’s quite helpful and can keep a book afloat, but doesn’t magically solve the equation.
Lastly, none of the above considers copies lost or damaged in transit that cost money to print but make ZERO dollars. A small percentage of books don’t make any money for anyone in this chain (except printers) when they’re wrecked or lost. Accidents happen.
The above is simplified. Percentages vary depending on the publisher, special discounts and order volume. Please don’t use these figures to make an exact budget for your future comic project.
Believe it or not, I’m not bitter about all of this. It’s the price of doing business in the mainstream comic industry via retail outlets and international distribution. That’s how it works. I just want to make it very clear so people understand what I mean when I say I’m not getting rich making my own comic. Skullkickers is the most expensive hobby I’ve ever had. 😛
That’s why you should
• Support indy titles.
• Support creator-owned comics.
• Pre-order books you’re interested in from your local retailer.
• Tell your friends about books and help build support.
• Support Kickstarter campaigns for great independent comic projects.
• Buy direct from creators at conventions so that more of the cover price goes into their pocket.
Now you know.
There are other outlets and, when I get a bit more time, I’m going to talk about trade paperback collection/graphic novel sales, digital sales and convention sales. The above is the reality of small print run indy comics competing in the same sales space as mainstream pop culture icons like Spider-Man, X-Men or Batman. Mainstream retail production/sales relies on large volumes sold at deep discount. For every breakout Walking Dead there are thousands of titles that will never make a profit in the same space against that competition.
If you found this post helpful, feel free to let me know here (or on Twitter) and share the post with your friends. Please consider buying some of my comics online, from your local retailer or from me in person if you see me at a convention.