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.
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.