Over at his forum, 2010 bestseller Mark Millar urges us to put the brakes on for downloadable comics. This despite his WANTED topping comiXology’s sales list. I’ll take the liberty of posting his objections in full since what he has to say is pretty important:
Okay, I’m loving the fact that Millarworld books account for 8 of the top 10 downloads in 2010. That’s cool, but what superficially looks like a great deal for creators is less so under a little scrutiny. Yes, you’re eliminating paper, printing, comic store and distributor costs, but there’s hidden costs here I haven’t seen highlighted anywhere.
1/ Apple take 30% right off the bat.
2/ In the case of Wanted, Comixology then splits 50/50 with the publisher.
3/ Then the publisher pays the agent and creative team out of the remaining cash depending on their deal.
In hard numbers, the digital comic is normally half the price of the paper comic, but you have just as many percentages to pay out as a creative team to an electronic distributor and publisher. So effectively the creative team is getting half as much money. For creators, this isn’t great and for comic stores this is awful. I don’t mind paying thirty percent to a local store where my friends work and the guys care about the product. But do I want this money going to Apple?
In a nutshell, I’m very, very on the fence with this one. I don’t like the idea of digital replacing paper anyway, but unless sales more than double creators are going to be worse off and the lifeblood of the industry, the stores, are going to feel the pain more than anyone. Y’know, like, the guys who keep us in business? I know lots of stores who weather the economic busts we face periodically because they love comics and will always stick around. Would Apple do the same?
Also, and perhaps the most worrying question of all, how do we know what we’re selling? It’s quite hard to fake what comics are doing as you can check with the printers, distributors and a number of places. Official, quite accurate numbers are printed online. But I checked several sources last night and nobody could tell me what my download numbers were for these supposed record-breaking numbers of mine. Just their chart position. I’m really not liking this at all.
In other words, keep buying paper comics.
Millar’s warnings echo those of Chip Mosher who cautioned that digital comics are still the great white hype:
Right now, the best estimates I’ve gotten are that we have about 300,000 people reading comics in the Direct Market on a month-to-month basis. I think everyone is so wrapped up that we can now reach the other 99% of the U.S. population easier than we ever have been before, that they are missing that we still have a ton of issues to work through. Being a guy whose main currency is hype, the hype on digital comics is pretty astounding and, at least for me, has crossed the line into being counter-productive.
It seems to me, that everyone sees “digital comics” as having this massive change on the industry. “Digital is going to save comics.” Every 5 to 10 years, something comes by that is going to “save comics.” Trades were going to “save comics” before digital. The mass market was also going to “save comics.” To put it simply, this is a very Pollyanna-ish view.
Although we all know deep in our hearts we must be on all platforms, Miller and Mosher are correct to at least ask for some questioning. Every indication we’ve had of actual numbers of comics downloads is, to be blunt, underwhelming. This is an emerging, not a mature marketplace.
BUT, see the next post.