I’m late in commenting on the industry rates survey posted by Fair Page Rates an anonymous industry watchdog. But along with the sales softening I was writing about earlier, it’s part of an industry infrastructure that isn’t as strong as it could be. The survey quotes a lot of page rates based on a survey of 60 freelancers and show many of them are pretty low.
As I do whenever I write about this topic, is must be acknowledged that publishing comics is in no way, no how a license to print money. Some of these low fair page rates may actually be totally fair based on what the publisher makes from putting out comics.
UPDATE: I was reminded of this post by Todd Allen that works out the economics of comics that sell 5000 copies, a pretty common metric for many publishers:
Assuming $0.40 to print, the publisher is likely to make $884 after printing and creative costs for an issue selling 4000 copies and $2080 for one selling 5000 copies. A publisher needs to sell several different 4000-5000 copy titles each month to make payroll and pay the bills. And this is the new model, publishers with 30+ low circulation titles, making just enough off each one to keep the ship moving.
Even some of the most important small publishers fund their lines with a day job, and almost every company has an outside investor or parent company that funds the publishing in return for expected IP development in Hollywood. Although Oni came out on the low end of the spectrum, Zander Cannon pointed out the figure was an advance against royalties for graphic novels:
This post about page rates at the top comic book publishers is being passed around a fair bit, and some of it confirms what I know to be true (or to have been true 5 or 6 years ago), but when my current publisher, Oni Press, comes in dead last for page rates, I have to step in and point something out. That figure, though correct, is for advances on creator-owned work, not work-for-hire. Writing and drawing one’s own work and getting any page rate at all is extremely rare in the comics world, and if you find a publisher that does it, pays on time, gives you a wide berth creatively, and generally treats you with the respect a professional deserves, god damn it, you hold on to them tight.
The survey was also a small sample as some pointed out.
If you do a survey of page rates in comics and not enough people participate, making the results wildly incorrect, don't publish it.
— Gabriel Hardman (@gabrielhardman) January 10, 2016
Valerie D’orazio has a very long post with many, may discussions of the ins and outs of freelancing and editing comics, which can’t be easily summarized so you’ve probabyly alreayd read it if you’re interested. However this line was worth a comment:
Then some young creators will ask me: “but if I turn down this particular gig, I’m afraid they’ll never hire me for anything again!”
Which, in my experience is not true if you’re turning it down because you’re too busy. If you’re too busy fr an editor that usually makes them want you more. My advice is never turn down a gig if you’re too busy to get it done properly. There are reasons for turning down work that can put you on the “do not call” list but usually it’s because it wasn’t a good fit, in which case why would you want to work for that publisher any way?
Janelle Asselin also wrote about it from both sides:
This is all to say that page rates are not the end-all, be-all of what a comic creator should consider when deciding if they want to publish with a particular company. That company’s profile, what they’re offering as support (i.e. full marketing, an editor, etc), and the rights situation are all good things for a creator to keep in mind when negotiating. New creators are often the most eager and the most foolhardy — they either expect too much money or they’re willing to sign away anything for no money just to get into print. Don’t do either of these things. Many of the numbers listed on that survey page match what I’ve heard over the years. It’s a hard time to make a living in comics for pretty much everyone. Imagine you’re a writer and you’re doing one 20-page book a month that pays $25 a page. That’s $500 per issue. You probably spent 20 or so hours — likely more — working on the first draft of that script, and that’s not counting back and forth with the editorial team, revisions, research, etc. Let’s say for 40 hours of work, you’ve made $500. That breaks down to $12.50 an hour. Sure, that’s spread out over a few weeks and you likely can still hold down a day job, but it won’t get you to a place where you might be able to go fully freelance. And because of your day job, you can’t take on more work.
So yeah the numbers are bad, as always. I wrote about this same topic last June used David Harper’s (him again!?!?) own survey on the same topic, which had many of the same responses: Boom! and Dynamite don’t come out very well in either of these surveys, but I know plenty of people who are still craving gigs at both places because it’s a gig.
So I dunno. Maybe this is all wishful thinking for all of us? As always, the book industry is chugging along and while their own advance vs royalties structure hasn’t been subjected to much scrutiny, it does seem that as many people are making a living in that sector as in comics “proper”, at least with the aid of a spouse with a day job and/or a residence in an area where the cost of living is very low. My Facebook feed is filled with more and more cartoonists fleeing New York day by day. The economics of the business are just not great on either end, even though the product is glorious.
Off the top of my head I can think of a handful of publishers who are solvent on the basis of publishing alone: Image, Fantagraphics, Drawn & Quarterly and NBM and perhaps Dark Horse to a lesser extent. Who am I forgetting? You could throw in Dynamite and Archie, who both seem to have had their own methods of making extra cash, including Dynamite’s bundling strategy. Marvel has been steadily cutting rates in recent years to shore up the bottom line, and DC has also had some reshuffling.
Hm, I see now why I put off writing this post. It’s kind of depressing.
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.