Lots of reaction and ripples from yesterday’s announcement that DC was at long last joining the digital world with their DC Comics apps for iPad, iPhone and PSP. One of the more amusing developments came from the news that DC was definitely including creator royalties for digital sales, as announced in a widely leaked memo to freelancers:
Subject: A message from Jim Lee and Dan DiDio.
June 23, 2010
To our fellow creators,
Today we set in motion arguably the most significant program in the modern history of DC Comics. Through concurrent but separate partnerships with comiXology, the leading digital comics app developer, and the Sony PlayStation Network Comics Store, DC will now, for the first time, be offering for sale to fans all over the world digital issues featuring the world’s greatest characters. We chose the Sony PlayStation Network Comics Store and comiXology as the first two partners to distribute our titles because of their incredible marketing reach and technological expertise in authoring and optimizing the traditional narrative of print comics into digital form. In short, they make digital comics a pleasure to read whether you are reading them online on your computers, on your iPhone, on your iPad or on your PSP.
As we make this announcement it’s worth noting that, although DC is not the first major publisher to enter the digital comics arena, we are the first to announce a participation plan for talent, thereby setting the industry standard in that regard. Details of our initial compensation plan will be mailed to you in hard copy for your records and should be arriving next week. In broad strokes, the compensation is calculated on a net receipts basis in order to accommodate the various reporting structures of our digital publishing partners. Most importantly, we assure you that your participation in these digital works will be equal to or exceed the participation levels that you currently receive under our additional compensation plan for print.
There are other significant ways our digital program differs from those of our competitors and these differences underscore our belief that this new digital channel will improve our ability to better market and sell comic books to several new kinds of comics readers. Whether they be kids or lapsed fans or new fans coming into the art form through their love of comic book characters in film, TV or videogames, we are convinced our digital program will grow the entire business, not just for DC, but for our traditional book channels and also allow you, the creators, to reach more readers than ever in recent memory. To that end, you will see a wide and diverse selection of digital comics being offered in the upcoming weeks–hopefully some of your very own work!
All the best–
Jim Lee and Dan DiDio
Co-Publishers, DC Comics
This was a clear — and welcome — play to creators fretting about making money in this digital era. But meanwhile, across town, Marvel’s CB Cebulski was pooping in the punchbowl on Twitter:
>yawn< (Not because I’m tired, but because I just saw today’s “news”.)
I’m not sniping at DC, just correcting misinformation that’s being sent out freelancers, some who work for both companies.
Sorry, DC, but despite what your nice letter says, you are NOT “the first to announce a participation plan for talent” for digital comics.
I’m thrilled I can read my DC Comics digitally now and this really shows the new age @JimLee00 and @GeoffJohns0 are ushering in for them!
Marvel editor Tom Brevoort joined in the sniping:
So today, DC invented the digital comic and payments for same. Interesting approach, taking a leadership position from the back of the line.
While public ribbing is par for the course for these crosstown rivals, it did raise the question of why DC is comfortable publicly announcing their incentive plans, which Marvel can only do so via passive-aggressive snark on asociel networking platform.
After doing a little digging, we found out what REALLY happened. It seems that on Monday of THIS WEEK, Marvel sent out a letter to its exclusive talent announcing a royalty program for their digital publishing — something that had been missing before. The plan is thus far only the promise of royalties — none have been paid — and hasn’t been announced to non-exclusive talent yet. The timing would suggest that Marvel got wind of DC’s impending announcement and wanted to head off any questioning by Marvel talent.
This does raise the larger question of Marvel’s entire royalty program, however. While Marvel creators we talked to were all happy as a clam with their compensation deals, and Marvel is winning the propaganda war for overall creator satisfaction and talent development, they are definitely wayyy in second place as far as royalties go. Their existing royalty program runs for a few years, as opposed to DC’s which runs in perpetuity. Also, and more famously, Marvel pays NO royalties on foreign sales, despite the huge success of Marvel properties around the world.
DC does. And that’s a very significant amount of income for creators.
The question of Marvel paying digital royalties for digital comics is one that had been uncomfortably bandied around in some interviews with Joe Quesada and others. The fact that Marvel has had to quickly pony up the announcement of a plan with DC announcing theirs shows that both companies consider digital publishing a key component of their future — not including creators in the payout simply isn’t a option for the future pixelated world of comics.
From where we sit, if Marvel and DC want to get into a war over who treats creators better and pays more royalties — it’s one of the BEST thing that could happen for comics.
UPDATE: I’m informed that the announcement to talent
was part of a long planned roll-out which included other information. If nothing else, this proves two things:
a) Marvel is very serious about making sure its creators are paid fairly for digital publishing
b) Marvel freelancers are a lot more tight-lipped than DC creators!
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.