Over the last year or so, there’s been an increasing amount of talk in creator circles about the low page rates being given out by independent publishers for some of the smaller books. The last two or three years, publishers have been putting out a lot more titles than they used to and a lot of the growth in the market comes from these small books with a circulation of 5000 copies or less.
Just as valid a question might be “how can the publishers afford to be putting out comics with such low circulations?”
I covered the basic math of print publishing in Economics of Digital Comics, but I didn’t spend a lot of time dwelling on this from the perspective of the publisher, so let’s take a look at that angle. I think we’ll find out where some of the page rates come from at the same time we find out what the publisher is dealing with.
If you’re a publisher putting out 30-60 issues each month, you’re going to have lower printing costs. I’ve been told, not-for-attribution, that the printing cost can get as low as somewhere in the $0.35 – $0.40 per issue range, depending on exactly how many copies if the issue in question.
The raw revenue is simple to calculate. Diamond takes a 60% discount. If the publisher is a Premiere Partner, they might get a 1-2% break, but let’s work with 60%. That means a comic priced at $3.99 is going to bring in $1.596 in revenue for the publisher.
Let’s be conservative and say the comic costs $0.40 to print. That leaves you with $1.196/issue after print costs. For 5000 issues sold, that’s $5,980. For 4000 issues sold that’s $4,784.
Comics writer Alex De Campi recently posted a survey of average page rates for independent comics. These numbers aren’t controversial, in fact the same numbers have been floating around the industry for years. Page rates don’t seem to go up in comics. If we take the low end of those average, this is what we come up with for creative costs for a 22 page comic:
Writing ($25/page): $550
Art ($100/page): $2200
Color ($35/page): $770
Lettering ($10/page): $220
That brings us to a total of $3900 per issue for creative costs.
A publisher has more costs than just creative. Many of these independent comics are licensed and there’s a licensing fee for each issue sold. There are editors to pay. Production departments to pay. Rent to pay. Electricity.
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.
If the printing cost were the lower $0.35/copy, then an issue selling 5000 copies would net $6230 for the publisher. That’s means creative page rates are still more than half the net income and that’s in what’s the best case scenario for many of these smaller titles.
There just isn’t very much money in low circulation titles for the publishers OR the creators.
If you want to bring digital into the equation, the rule of thumb is 10% of print sales, but it can vary widely. Likewise there may be different discounts from venue to venue (Apple pays 70%, but it you go through Comixology submit, that’s only 50%).
If you figure a comic that sells 5000 copies in print would sell around 500 digital copies, that would put the digital revenue somewhere between $1,000 and $1,400. 4000 print copies would theoretically yield around 400 digital sales in roughly the $800 – $1100 range.
Even in the best case scenario, you’re probably still going to have a little more than half the revenue going towards creator costs with a 5000 print circulation comic, and that with the very low end of the average pay rates. It’s close to half, though.
This is the new model: small books keep the lights on and hopefully there are a few better sellers to generate some actual profit. When issues are selling 10,000 copies, there’s considerably more money to negotiate over.
If you’re putting out a print comic on your own, without bulk printing prices, it porbably costs around $0.74 per copy to print with a 5000 print run. Not quite twice the cost as a bundled printing price, but close. If you sold out, you’d make around $4,000.
Of course, you don’t see a lot of self-published comics selling 5,000 copies these days, so the solo route is highly suspect.
If you’d like to get a better understanding of how the Direct Market works and how digital comics plug into it, here’s a like to Todd Allen’s book on the industry: Economics of Digital Comics.
Todd Allen wears a lot of hats. At various times he’s been (alphabetically), a bouncer, college professor, humor columnist, Internet producer and an NBA/WNBA Beat Writer, among other things. He’s the author of Economics of Digital Comics. You should probably read it.