Mo’ money, mo’ stats: Comics printing costs

printing press Mo money, mo stats: Comics printing costs
Re the current discussion following the actual creative costs quoted by Glenn Hauman in a recent post ,Todd Allen reminded me of a piece he wrote for PW Comics Week a while ago breaking down printing costs vs profits. Here’s an excerpt ( but the whole piece is very long and should be read in its entirety.)

Depending on the amount of extras, 192 pages is the equivalent of around 8 issues, so selling out a color run of 3000 copies with a $19.99 cover is about the same net income as 8 issues with a cover price of $3.99 and a circulation in the neighborhood of 2500 copies each. Remember to knock 20% off the net income if you’re with Image (and that 2500 issue floppy probably wouldn’t be making back your $2500 fee, either, were you with Image). Absolute pricing aside, you’re not going to get the printing down to where you’re closer to 8 issues worth of income out of the collected edition until you’re selling much higher than seems like a reasonable short-term goal from the available data. It makes more sense in the independent market to serial and collect, than to do an original graphic novel (and it makes sense that when people do, they like to do a hardcover edition first).

Kirkman likes to throw in the media licensing rights at this point. I don’t personally find that to be a realistically predictable revenue stream. The odds may be slightly better than the lottery, but it isn’t like the creator has a lot of control over this, so in terms of knowing there will be food on your plate, movie money can’t factor into this decision.


As far as that goes, I would like to go on the record and point out that the $60k figure Glenn Hauman mentioned as the creative costs of a graphic novel are about in the ballpark for a few projects I’ve worked on over the years, and back in the day when you quoted that figure to a regular book publisher, they turned white and clutched their rosary; it is very expensive to create a graphic novel from scratch, in book publishing terms. Nowadays most of the publishers are familiar with graphic novels and know we’re looking at a big outlay. Look at it this way, for a beautiful DK book about bees or whatever, there is a lot of existing photography that gets picked up; the costs come in editing and designing. That $60K is probably the salary of 1 and a fraction competent book designers who can turn out x number of titles a year.

And as for a novel…well give me a break. Writing doesn’t cost anything but a dime for a cup of coffee.

Illustrated children’s books have some of the same economic issues as comics, as they must be completed from scratch, but there are fewer illustrations and more time is assumed to be spent on each, as opposed to the page-a-day quota, repeat-160-times of the journey(wo)man comics artist. When you are a superstar kids book illustrator like a Lane Smith or Ian Falconer you undoubtedly get a nicer advance and fee, but in that business, as in all things, I imagine the economics are shrinking.
Tom has a thoughtful and sad post on Comics Economics that ends:

Every day I grow more suspicious that this particular game hasn’t already been lost, and that the comics industry has completed its transformation into an industry that has given up on every modest means of making money independently for the dubious honor of generating the occasional flash flood of money for others, hundreds of people sustained by the hope, no matter how impractical, that they will be one of the lucky, tiny few allowed to benefit.


I would submit that it isn’t just the comics industry but all the creative arts in general that are now hiding in the storm cellar waiting for the savage hurricane of The New Economy to blow through. Finding out if your house was flattened will depend on whether you were in a trailer park or a nice house on bedrock to begin with.

Comments

  1. Tom’s comments (I read his link) hits the nail on the head. Never before have I seen so many hopefuls driven by desire and passion more than the economics. While that’s not uncommon the industry-wide reflection seems to hint that it’s more a lottery system than a modest career path. That even the rock bottom base level entry is akin to a labor of love… until, perhaps, that day if you get a movie option or a hit of interest that even baffles the creators.

    The days of nurturing a title into awareness (Strangers in Paradise, et.) seem far away. Which is odd in this era of information, webcomics, iPhone/iPad apps and social media. Instead of more awareness, we’re treated to such a snow storm that we can’t see two feet in front of us. At times it feels aimless and I think the industry is still looking for a silver bullet that we can all use to build our careers.

  2. “Every day I grow more suspicious… that the comics industry has completed its transformation into an industry that has given up on every modest means of making money independently for the dubious honor of generating the occasional flash flood of money for others, hundreds of people sustained by the hope, no matter how impractical, that they will be one of the lucky, tiny few allowed to benefit.”

    I agree with both you and Heidi on this particular thought . In the film world I see this particular symptom all the time – filmmakers holding out on the idea that they will get to make their magnum opus for the studios, and turning down legitimate opportunities to get something made, seen and profit by it simply because it doesn’t fit in with their glorious vision of working for the studios.

    Never realizing of course, that the studios are only interested in working with those who a) they have worked and profited with beforehand ( The Ridley Scott and Michael Bays) or b) those who bring an audience with them to the table (Example: BlomKamp’s Jo’burg video which formed the basis for DISTRICT 9).

    They will not pluck you off the street and throw you into the corner office. They will not just hand you the golden ticket. There are no series deals (for comics or TV) as soon as you step off the plane.

    So while it may take an extraordinary level of commitment; while it may seem like you can’t go on — go out and just get something made. Get it seen. Never before has it been as easy as right now to get something into the fans’ (and decision-makers) hands. This is your graduate school or your Doctorate program.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vtgmnhRQir4

    There is a whole New Economy out there. You can either be afraid of it, or you can make it work for you.

    In either case wear a cup.

  3. “I would submit that it isn’t just the comics industry but all the creative arts in general that are now hiding in the storm cellar waiting for the savage hurricane of The New Economy to blow through.”

    Thank you! Absolutely. Comics people always think they’re the only ones being picked on. This is just how it works now; we all need to adjust, in our own specific ways.

  4. Rich Johnson says:

    “The days of nurturing a title into awareness (Strangers in Paradise, et.) seem far away.”
    What’s sad is that this doesn’t have to be the case. The reason that Strangers In paradise had their awareness built was because of the intelligence, vision, passion and business savvy of Terry Moore and his wife Robyn (who runs the business end of Abstract Studios). Much like Neil Gaiman – Terry has been a tireless self-promoter. What I find tragic about this – is that there are writers and artists that should be promoted and marketed better, the trouble is they think that all they need to do to promote themselves and their books is to have a signing at a comic book convention. I was talking to an agent who represents several comic book writers, one of whom is has also written several novels and who lives in a city that has a major independent bookstore. We discussed how to turn this author into a bigger presence in both markets. Asked if any of his publisher every tour him – in comic shops and bookstores. He said, “No they haven’t.” I then asked if he has ever signed at this landmark independent bookstore that is in his hometown – a store that I know has a HUGE graphic novel section and an even bigger fiction section. The tragic answer was – “No he hasn’t.”
    While publishers need to do a much better job of building and promoting talent – the talent needs to think like marketing people – or someone needs to think of it for them. That is why Terry Moore was able to build awareness – he and Robyn knew how to market him and his books. And believe me they did it – no one helped them. Terry has appeared at BEA, ALA , TLA as well as NYCC, SDCC and countless signings. It’s time for talent to get involved in how they are handled and how they are marketed by their publishers.

  5. “I was talking to an agent who represents several comic book writers, one of whom is has also written several novels and who lives in a city that has a major independent bookstore.”

    Greg Rucka and Powell’s?

  6. For those not in the know:
    BEA = Book Expo America, a book publishing trade show
    ALA = American Library Association, held twice a year, a librarian convention
    TLA = Texas Library Association, the largest state library association in the U.S.
    NYCC = New York Comic Con
    SDCC = Comic-Con International: San Diego

    You need to spend money to make money. Enroll in continuing studies classes. You can deduct the tuition from your income taxes, and possibly claim it as a business expense as well. Almost every university has a College of Business (if only to produce alumni who will fund future strategic plans).

    If you can’t afford the tuition, then visit your local library. Start with the Marketing For Dummies Series, which covers almost every variety of marketing (guerrilla, Facebook, blogs, Twitter, web, social media). Also peruse the small business books, especially the ones on business plans. Consult with the Small Business Administration and your local Chamber of Commerce.

    Hurricanes, you can usually see them coming. You don’t always know which way it’s going or how strong it’ll be. The trick is to be the guy selling plywood and bottled water.

  7. Army of Dorkness says:

    “Writing doesn’t cost anything but a dime for a cup of coffee. ”

    Nice. Now who is devaluing whom.

    And where are you finding these ten cent cups of coffee?

    Economics is always a sobering topic. Doesn’t stop comics (along with many other things) from costing too much, though.

  8. >> Greg Rucka and Powell’s? >>

    Presumably, if he’d meant to say, he’d have said.

    But Greg signed at Powell’s last year, as part of the launch of the most recent Atticus Kodiak novel, so likely not.

    kdb

  9. I apologize if this is off-topic (though not entirely…) but Rich’s comment about self-promotion to build awareness made me think this is as good a place as any to ask:

    What’s the etiquette for setting up a signing at a local book store for a book’s debut?

    More specifically, is it poor form to approach as many book stores in the same city to set up a signing? In my case, the hardcover collection of my Witch & Wizard mini comes out in mid-October. It’s a James Patterson property, as well as being a YA book, so unlike my indie work there’s actually interest from book store managers. I’ve already set up a signing on the day of the release at one of our B&Ns.

    Should I approach the managers of the other 3 B&N stores and the 2 Borders stores in my city? Or should I wait weeks/months after the book’s launch to do anything at the other stores?

    Torsten, I’m looking at you! (But seriously, thanks in advance for anyone’s insight into this)

  10. Dara:

    My day-job is as a marketing manager in book publishing (an area of publishing far from graphic novels, though), and here’s what I tell authors about in-store events:

    *You* need to drive the audience. The store will do a little — have a sign up in the store, maybe put it in their e-mail newsletter, maybe mention it if they run a regular ad in the local paper — but they’re counting on the author to bring most of the audience there.

    Now, some authors bring an audience by being hugely famous, so the mere mention of their name is enough — but that’s not the case for 99% of authors, in any field. The James Patterson connection will definitely help you in your case, but, to have a successful signing, you’ll also want to beat the bushes and work your contacts (Twitter, e-mail blasts, Facebook, etc.) to make sure the people who know you and your work also know about the event.

    (I may be telling you what you know already; if so, I apologize. But it leads into my next point.)

    Since the author needs to bring the audience, having several events in close physical and time proximity is not often a good idea; those events are drawing on the same potential audience. And having three events in one weekend can mean that the 100 people (let’s be optimistic) are split into three mediocre events instead of one great one.

    I was talking to a colleague earlier this week, and the rule of thumb we agreed on is that about 25% of the people you invite will come, and 10% of attendees will buy something. So, if you hope to sell 25 books, you need to invite 1000 people. (Those are averages; sometimes the percentages are better, but sometimes they’re worse.)

  11. This is a vauable lesson we must all learn at some point. Success is our own responsibility and we must all work hard to achieve it.

    This is true if we are a creator, a publisher, a distributor or a retailer. None of us can expect to just do our part and let the other guys sell the product.

    If everybody involved was equally agressive at promoting and marketing a product we wouldn’t be excited about five digit sales figures.

  12. Store events…

    You shouldn’t overlap markets. A signing at B&N should not be followed by a signing at any other bookstore in the same region.

    However, you could schedule another signing a few days later at a different retailer, such as a comics shop.

    Since comics shops order on a non-returnable basis, you should let them know if you have other events planned, as that will affect the potential sales.

    If doing publicity (such as a local morning show), then advertise both. A person may not be able to make one event, but could make the other.

    Stores need at least one month’s lead time to properly promote an event. Thanksgiving to MLK Day is the dead zone for events.

    Since this is a young adult book, I would also see about setting up school visits. You won’t sell books (unless the library orders copies for the collection), so you can schedule as many visits at as many schools as you have time for. Of course, your visit is an advertisement for the book, so the students might purchase the book afterwards at a store or online. You could also spend the day with art classes, and maybe the school has a small honorarium (or lunch) as compensation

    Oh, and it’s perfectly okay to visit the other stores and offer to sign their stock (and even draw a sketch). An autograph is an extra selling point, especially during the Holiday sales season.

    (I enjoyed the Ghostbuster valentine special. Also, hate to say, but “Lifelike” has been remaindered at BN.com.)

  13. Andrew and Torsten: thank you, your insights are much appreciated.

  14. While publishers need to do a much better job of building and promoting talent – the talent needs to think like marketing people – or someone needs to think of it for them. That is why Terry Moore was able to build awareness – he and Robyn knew how to market him and his books. And believe me they did it – no one helped them. Terry has appeared at BEA, ALA , TLA as well as NYCC, SDCC and countless signings. It’s time for talent to get involved in how they are handled and how they are marketed by their publishers.

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