Dark Horse publisher Mike Richardson continues his round of damage control interviews at ICv2 with more on the recent layoffs:
Richardson believes that news reports about the layoffs were overblown: “We have 150 employees. We let seven people go across three different divisions. What is that 4%, 5%? Our staff was just getting too large. The real reason for the layoffs is that we get worried about the cost of doing business. We’re sitting there looking at the rising health insurance costs, the changes in the cost of doing business. We thought we were going to get some relief in the form of cover prices moving to $3.99, but I guess the market’s made a really strong statement on that price. Meanwhile we’re getting squeezed on paper and printing costs at the same time–and creators certainly don’t want to take any less money.”
There are also some revealing notes:
Richardson was clearly still upset about an article on the Comics Alliance Website in which former Dark Horse employee Aaron Colter was quoted extensively. Richardson was incensed that the article indicated that a one month drop in market share was behind the layoffs: “The market share drop (in March) had nothing to do with it. We just didn’t offer much that month and our competitors did–the companies that passed us had nearly twice as many books on the market. You can’t judge market share by just one month. When you examine it over the course of the full year, that’s when we end up at number three.”
It should be noted that Colter — who was hired at Dark Horse as a “social media” editor and then fired after some inappropriate tweeting — was unusually harsh in his “tell-all” comments, to a degree very, very rarely seen in comics since everyone wants to stay “in the club.” (To his credit, they were business related criticisms and not personal.) Colter was involved in the recent Stumptown show so he hasn’t been blackballed — yet.
As for the rest of the story — well, as we’ve noted several times, we don’t want ANYONE to lose their job but 150 people is a huge payroll for someone in the low-margins comics business. The cost of living in Oregon is much less than in NYC or LA, but the fact that Richardson has been able to build his company to such a level is impressive no matter what.
Moving forward, it’s still pretty clear that several big projects — Janet Evanovich’s TROUBLEMAKER and the Gold Key relaunch — were not as as successful as they might have been. Richardson points to the relaunch of DARK HORSE PRESENTS as a step in the right direction; also, the Dark Horse Digital store opens this Wednesday.
We’d throw in our own note: for several years, whenever we’ve heard various creative types with new projects talking about potential publishers, the name Dark Horse comes up and gets dismissed very quickly — it isn’t seen as a place where a new property is all that viable, given the existing business plan. Of course, most new comics properties fail, but they are also the necessary R&D that every publisher needs. In this regard, the reemphasis on DHP is probably a very good sign.