Thursday, 9 April 2009

The hidden costs of comic production

Tucked away on the 11 o'clock comics forum is a gem from Athena Voltaire creator Steve Bryant. Someone posted looking for explanations for the rising price of comics, and Steve posted this amazing reply which gives a superb insight into the problems facing independent comic creators: 

Many costs go into the production of a mainstream comic. A few are:

• Freelance rate for writer, penciler, inker, colorist and letterer
• Salaries for editorial staff working on each book
• Salaries for production/design/pre-press people working on book
• Printing
• Shipping

Additional costs (invisible on a per book basis, but still factor into the overall costs) include:

• Office space rent
• Utilities
• Office supplies
• Computer hardware
• Software 
• Support staff salaries (warehouse, office, IP)
• 401k and benefits costs for all staff

Now, when you're talking about indie comics, that's a horse of a different color. Let's say you decide to publish an indie comic.

You write and draw it, color and letter it—break your back doing a 3-issue mini-series're done! Now the hard part begins.

You decide to publish your title with a $3 cover price, in an effort to be "competitive" with Marvel and DC.

You jump through all of Diamond's hoops and eventually get accepted and solicit your first issue. When the numbers come back, you're stunned to learn that you have 2,000 preorders—remarkable numbers for an indie book, but even more amazing because this is your first book. Many established indie creators don't do those kind of preorders numbers.

2,000 comics at $3 per book—you're going to make SIX THOUSAND DOLLARS! Right?


The quote from your printer is 1,000–2,999 copies will cost you .65/unit. The cost drops to .60/unit at 3,000. Since 2,000 of your books are presold, you opt to print 3,000 units to cover reorders, convention sales and review copies.

Still, $6,000 minus the $1,800 it costs to print means that you'll make $4,200. Awesome!

Wrong again. Diamond will buy your book for 35¢ on the dollar (65% discount), so you end up making $1.05 per comic. At 2,000 units presold, you'll make $2,100. However you need to ship the books from the printer to Diamond, so that means you'll probably be paying...what? Let's say 3¢ per comic, bringing your shipping costs to $63.

You're making $2,037 from Diamond on your 2,000 preorders. But there's that printing cost I mentioned earlier. That's $1,800.

Okay that brings us to $237. Congratulations! That's what you just cleared on your indie "success!"

Aren't you glad that you overprinted and have copies to sell at cons?

Speaking of cons—airfare, tables, hotels and meals aren't free...

(Did I mention that preorders on the second issue of a series drop and that the preorders on the third issue of a series drop even more?)

Okay, so we've published our first issue and made around $237 off of the preorders.

We also have 1,000 copies that we'll sell on reorders. Let's say that reorders come in at 10% of our preorders, so that's 200 units, not paying for printing because we're in the black now, gives us an additional $200 or so.

Let's say we sell 50 copies per show at 10 shows, so that's 500 units bringing us $1500.

Now we're getting a little closer to making some money.

Let's say that the con expenses were paid for with sketches (in my example, one guy did everything, so he can draw his way to breaking even at a show).

From issue #1, you have now made $1960.

You can see how this will play out with issues 2 and 3 now, right?

Let's say that, overall, you manage to make around $3,000 net after you finish your miniseries.

It's time to publish your trade.

Let's say your trade comes out to 96 pages. You'll want to price it around $13.95 I know it seems pricey. We'd all like to be Vertigo and price a trade at 10 bucks, but we just can't do it on this scale.

It's going to cost you around $2.95 per unit to print 2,000 books, so you need to come up with $5,900 to cover that.

What do your preorders look like? You can probably estimate 300–600, so let's call it 450. Remember, your distributer is getting a 65% discount, so you're getting $4.88 per trade.

Your preorders will then account for $2,196 of your $5,900 printing bill. You need another $3,704. Your floppies netted you an additional $3,000, so you only have to pay $704 out of pocket...add in shipping costs for the books and you're looking at paying a grand for your trades.


Remember the extra money we got from selling those books on reorder and at cons? All profit. That's what your trade will be. You're payed up now.

Taking your trade to shows and selling it at cover price will net you $13.95 per book. Selling 10 trades helps.

Why not go straight to trade? You'd have to come up with an additional $3000 to cover your printing. Ouch.

Granted, you'd be able to increase your numbers a bit if you were doing original material, instead of collecting an existing mini-series, but don't delude yourself into thinking it would cover that additional cost. As a consumer, how many interesting OGNs or one-shots have you passed on because the price tag seemed a little too steep to spend on a new character/series/creator?

The benefit of doing the floppies first are twofold: (1)The revenue generated can lay the groundwork for printing your reorderable evergreen products (trades) and (2) You give new readers a chance to test-drive you at $3 rather than $13.95. Trust me, that's huge.

1 comment:

mr wheatley said...

another dream crushed!