skullkickers variant
Creator Jim Zubkavich (aka Jim Zub) is the writer of SKULLKICKERS, one of Image’s more prominent post-WALKING DEAD, pre-SAGA hits. It’s had early sellouts, multiple volumes, and a treasury edition.

But was it really profitable? In a blog post, Zubkavich lays out the realities of the economics of indie comics. You’ll need to read the whole thing for the retailer/distro split, but here’s the nut graph for creators:

On a print run of 5000 comics (and many, many creator-owned titles sell less than that in the current market), it means $1250 to $2500 remains for those 4 important categories. Guess how that breaks down?

If the advertising cost was ZERO and publisher expenses were ZERO, then the writer and artist of a 20 page comic would still only get $31.25 to $62.50 EACH PER PAGE. Oops, no money in there for the cover art, sorry. Add in more people (inker, colorist, letterer, etc) and the amount would get split even further, but this is a BOGUS number. The publisher has expenses/staff to pay.

Now, some copies sell way more than 5000 copies, like SAGA, say, and Brian K. Vaughan is on record talking about how lucrative this comic was for him and co-creator Fiona Staples. And Robert Kirkman can probably afford a venti pumpkin latte when the urge strikes him. But for the many, many books that sell at or around this 5000 copy level. Zub’s numbers are pretty accurate.

What to do? Zub writes sound practical advice:

Believe it or not, I’m not bitter about all of this. It’s the price of doing business in mainstream comics via retail. That’s how it works. I just want to make it very clear so people understand what I mean when I say I’m not getting rich making my own comic.

That’s why you should
• Support indy titles.
• Support creator-owned comics.
• Pre-order books you’re interested in from your local retailer.
• Tell your friends about books and help build support.
• Support Kickstarter campaigns for great independent comic projects.
• Buy direct from creators at conventions so 100% of the cover price goes into their pocket.

Bitter or not, Zub’s numbers did draw this response from Aaron Diaz, creator of the webcomic DRESDEN CODAK:


  1. I guess this is why its sometimes harder to do something you love versus something that pays the bills. Also, I think its reasonable for someone to struggle at the start of their career or business venture. Especially if they are going it alone. When you decide to self publish for the obvious reason of not wanting to share their future financial successes with a monster like Marvel, you also don’t get to share in any failures or rough starting patches. For every Robert Kirkman there’s a thousand Jim Zubs.

  2. Hey Alex,

    Absolutely agreed. I’m honestly not bitter about it. I think people should appreciate what mainstream retail means for indy-level print runs of comics and the financial realities of it.

    Robert and Brian deserves the success they’ve earned. They’re incredible storytellers who have worked their butts off.

    I intend to keep plugging away, putting out the best stories I can, working towards improving my craft and strengthening my audience bit by bit.

    I’m hoping I can do better than be one of thousands of me’s, but time will tell. ;)

  3. it seems like its not really possible to make a living from creator owned comics unless you are selling Saga or Walking Dead numbers. I mean 5000 copies is a A LOT of widgets to sell and the creators who do all the hard work and are at the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to getting paid. So my question is…is it worth it? Not making the comics, but trying to sell them through the direct market?

    Do you think it would be better if there were an alternative to Diamond who specialized in Indies? Or if you even go digital only for singles and printed collections later?

  4. Skull kickers is awesome stuff. It’s sad it sells so little, but I don’t think the market is really there for a funny, smart fantasy book. It’s really hard to get people to try out new IPs in comics, especially print comics. I’ll continue to enjoy Skull kickers, but it sucks to see the economic reality.

  5. So how does he make a living? Does he have a day job? This news is quite depressing, I hope he makes more from collections and digital.

  6. There’s no way to sugar coat the realities of being an indie comics creator. I don’t think Jim is coming across as bitter… just blunt. And that frankness will be appreciated by those who are actually *serious* about doing this.

    I hate to be a buzzkill, but making it in comics is HARD. [/spoiler]

  7. Mesektet,
    I make a living by juggling three jobs:

    – I teach art/animation courses at Seneca College in Toronto (where I live).
    – I help manage freelance art projects for the UDON studio (also in Toronto).
    – I do freelance comic writing (currently for Dynamite and Namco-Bandai).

    Those 3 jobs get me far enough ahead that I can afford to pay the art team out of my own pocket to produce one arc (6 issues) of Skullkickers per year even if we don’t make any money on the issues. Digital sales, direct convention book sales and trade paperback sales pay some of that invested money back to me in the long run, but right now Skullkickers is still not in the ‘black’.

    I wouldn’t keep doing it if I felt that it would wreck my personal finances, but it is a lot of work to juggle all of it. It’s something I’m dedicated to and my hope is to complete the 36 issue (6 arc) story we’ve been building, bit by bit. Without trying to sound corny, it’s a labor of love.

  8. Serhend Sirkecioglu –

    comiXology has been very supportive and we’ve seen solid growth in our digital comic sales figures, especially when we did some 99 cent promotions.

    That’s also why I’m serializing our earlier issues online for free over at:
    to open up avenues to new readers by broadening our reach without taking on additional print costs.

  9. As I understand it selling on a digital storefront will bring in a significantly smaller percentage of these already small print sales to the distributor.

    Creators not selling enough to make their comic a day job may want to consider the webcomic route, releasing content daily/weekly with an attached store to sell T-shirts and what have you. No guarentees there either, of course, but then again comics like XKCD have been able to do very well with literal stick figure art.

  10. Jim – thanks for this. I’ve been plugging away at my small run self-published title for the past year or so and wondered how other people did it – hiring out the art would certainly help move things along.

    Any marketing or advertising advice for some of us other small-press guys?

  11. I thought from things I’ve seen before that 1/2 of the cover price goes to the retailer (i.e. they generally pay about $1.50 for a $2.99 comic, with varying discount rates at increased quantities and such) and the Diamond cut was around 10% of cover price. Obviously that doesn’t really change the total amount that’s cut off the top (60% vs. 67%), but this is the first place I’ve ever seen the cuts described as 1/3-1/3-1/3…my understanding was that Diamond gets by on tiny fees but high volume.

    And if you think those margins suck, try doing it with the cost of print-on-demand! I’m part of a St. Louis based-comics collective (www.inkanddrinkcomics –plug plug!) that puts out 80-100 page anthologies at $10-12 cover price, and we only make 50 cents or less on each copy sold through consignment at our local shops. It’s brutal.

  12. DEAD ON. most indy comic people make so little, it MUST be a passion project. I love what I do, but I could never live off my Image books. I hope one day for that to not be true though…I am a dreamer.

  13. If you’re not selling T-shirts of your comics then you’re leaving a lotta money on the table. Printed T-shirts cost between $4 to $5.50 depending on how many colors in the print. Most shirts at cons go for $20. That’s roughly a 300% markup.

    Now, you can’t just make a T-shirt and expect it to sell. The shirt really should be so good that even somebody who doesn’t care about your book says “I’ve gotta get me one of those shirts!”

    Some will say “But we’re in the comic business, not the garment business!” Maybe so, but look at the fans and see how many Marvel, DC, and Star Wars T-shirts are worn to cons. T-shirt sales can make a huge difference in your bottom line.

  14. Right on, Cliff–that’s true. I don’t sell tons of Stumptown shirts, but I do sell a few, and they’re free advertising. Make a stylish shirt–particularly one that women like–and people start noticing your product.

    But Jim’s numbers are A) accurate and B) heartbreaking. Simple economics results in creators making next to (or absolutely) nothing. Because the comics marketplace is still substantially addicted to big-company superhero books, orders for indie books are often so small that readers often don’t even know they exist. This is the sad reality of a subscriber-based system and non-returnable stock, where a retailer can only afford to stock one or two copies of something obscure.

    That paucity of demand means that publishers don’t have the money to risk on new ideas that often, but there are tons of people–me included–who are DYING to get their ideas out there. So we’ll work for free. And the cycle continues, as the publishers then don’t NEED to pay more (and this is not an anti-publisher sentiment at all).

  15. Jim, best wishes for your continued success, despite the realities… and as you know, I say that as someone in the same game, enjoying the same highs and the same lows.

    You’ve eloquently reminded us all that you don’t get into comics — even work for hire, which I no longer do — for money. Rather, you have a story to tell, a vision to share, a world to explore.

    Keep on!


  16. I’m very curious–and would really appreciate–comments from everyone as to how they think we might create a better setup for indie comics.

    My own thoughts are incomplete…certainly it helps to buy the books direct from the creators at shows, etc., but that’s certainly not the best business model, particularly when Amazon’s out there and you can get the book right away for a lot less.

    But digital comics direct from the creator–that’s another story. Where there is no split with a distributor. Perhaps if comics news-and-opinion sites draw more attention to ordering materials like this directly from the creator there’d be more income…?

  17. I do my own indie comics outside of my mainstream work. To me it was never about the money, not really. It’s about creating something of my own. It’s about creating stories that I can share with other people that I hope they enjoy. And if ever one of my creations takes off (which is just a bonus), then it’s me and my family that will benefit most from it, and it’s my heirs who will benefit from it.

  18. The numbers go up and down depending on sales. Retailers actually get a bigger cut than that–Diamond gets considerably less. People ask all the time about costs because they’re trying to figure out a budget but it’s really difficult because of all of the variables. The more copies you print, for example, the less they cost per unit. And smaller stores pay more for comics than bigger stores, which buy in bulk. So two people could sell 5000 copies of their book and make a different amount of money based solely on what stores bought their books. It’s maddening for those who just want a simple answer. But self-pubishers have gotten rich and gone broke self-publishing. It can go either way and often–somewhere in the middle.

  19. Matthew Southworth,

    I just posted this comment over at Robot 6, but you asked for ideas so thought I’d share here as well:

    What about a website where someone like Jim could line up beside other recognised, talented, yet underpaid creators and sell their new, creator-owned titles as DRM-free downloads (PDF and CBZ)? No Diamond. No retailer. No publisher. No Apple. No Comixology. Even a reader-friendly 99 cent cover price would see those creators receiving more reward per issue than this current model.

    If six or seven creative teams could put out quality monthly books at a dollar each, I would buy every single one. And I’m pretty sure some free publicity on news sites such as this could quickly find 4999 others willing to do the same.

    Let’s be honest, the only reason it wouldn’t work is if all the comic fans and commentators who are so stunned and outraged by this bit of news didn’t take the opportunity to support such an endeavour.

    Oh yeah, I forgot… everybody likes the feel of paper and the smell of ink and God forbid someone do a job they love AND make a profit!

  20. Hey Erik-

    I knew it was risky posting numbers, even overarching ones, and I tried to make it very clear that this stuff is quite variable and that these numbers are not absolute.

    You’re absolutely right. It’s impossible to nail down an exact accounting beforehand.

  21. I really appreciate this being talked about, as it points to some of the real problems going on with the industry today. Especially when you consider that Jim’s book, Skullkickers, is one of the better (if not one of the best) indy titles out there. Great writing and art. Complete story arcs that ship in a timely manner. Fun. These are the top things I, personally, look for in a comic, so to think that this book might be struggling to pay off for its creators, that really bums me out.

    I think what I find most frustrating, though, is that we’ve allowed the creation of the same thing as we move into digital. Apple and Comixology are the same thing as Diamond and printing costs. Worse, actually, since printing can get less expensive the more units you print, whereas these are a strict percentage. Marvel and DC (and the other publishers in kind) effectively killed competition in the distributor market in the 90s by going exclusive to Diamond (and Heroes World, later Diamond as it folded), and they choose to do the same thing with the online market. Why? Is paying 1/3 cover price an issue worth what you’re getting from Comixology? I just don’t see it. Apple’s stranglehold is understandable, simply because they created the device (arguably), and put their rules in place over everyone. I’d much rather buy a .pdf of a comic and have that money I’m paying go directly to the creators than get the special effect of watching frame-following-frame from a specialized app.

    I just think we had an opportunity to see some real change in comics, for the creators and for the fans, when it came to distribution, and we threw ourselves into the same situation we were already in.

  22. I agree with Corey–that’s the scary part. If these distribution methods, Apple and Comixology, become the obvious sort of digital marketplace insead of creating a habit of checking out the creators directly, then it really doesn’t solve the problem.

    Ricardo–I agree with you, I think that’s a good idea. There needs to be a simple site where everyone can shop for digital work, and preferably something that doesn’t cost the creators so much. However, I don’t know the economics of that–server space, bandwidth, etc.–so I don’t have any idea what even the bottom dollar cost of that would be to creators. Anyone else know?

    I DO know that Chris Roberson and Allison Baker’s Monkeybrain Comics is putting out great digital comics, and that’s a good place to start.

  23. P.S. I definitely believe comics readers would be just as pleased with .cbz and/or pdfs–I like ’em a lot–as with anything more fancy. Moreso, in my own case.

  24. The costs involved in running such a site would be no more than those involved in maintaining a decent webcomic. And many webcomickers are already selling DRM-free versions of their comics to their fanbases. The only real difference is that Jim could potentially start with a fanbase of 5000 rather than having to build from scratch like most webcomics. If he could convince others to share a storefront, running costs would be divided and the potential audience multiplied.
    The only reason I’m not already doing this myself is that I’m still in the early stages of building a fanbase. But one day…

  25. I’d surely be happy with a demand for my book that would require me to print 5000 per month. :-) But since I do everything except color the covers (or draw them, in the case of some guest stars) that would be nicely profitable for me!

    Heck, I even sell the .pdfs at my site!

  26. As a newcomer, producing a creator owned comic is so very, very much like operating a small business in terms of financial risk and reward. I co-created the Image book Hoax Hunters with my friend and writing partner Steve Seeley, and we knew going in the financial reality of what we were up against. We pay our team out of pocket, which meant a significant financial risk for both of us. The numbers Zub presents are pretty accurate, and they aren’t that good. I won’t disclose specifics, but after our first arc, which just finished this month, we’re in the red.

    But, again, we expected this. (Okay, we hoped to sell 10,000 copies a month but we knew that was unnnnnnlikely). The hope, like a small business, is long term sustainability after initial investment. And that’s something, in my opinion, that at least a good enough percentage of indie creators don’t see–they don’t have the patience to play the long game. There seems to be a perception that an Image comic equals either riches or a straight line to Marvel/DC. Neither is very accurate.

    It’s the long game where Steve and I find hope, specifically trade sales (our first is out next month, and numbers, thankfully, have been very strong). You release one trade and, hopefully, compensate for the red from the arc. Then another trade, then those bind into an omnibus, or something. You continue to grow. (And that doesn’t even count digital, which are continuously available.)

    Point being: Yes, the month to month living is hard. Very. Steve and I still work day jobs, so we’re very lucky in that we can make this investment. And we’re banking on finances that have been kicked down the road. It’s a risky business, though–all business is. But you have to take risk and be creative–like Zub, we also have given issues away, taken risks with marketing, and worked to keep the book fresh and fun in every possible. But we have a long way to go…

  27. Thanks Jim Zub for sharing the numbers.
    It’s a lot harder than people think to make a living wage producing comics. There is a huge profit margin difference between creator owned and self published.
    I used to think I wanted a publisher for my book and spent a long time trying to get one. On the way to finding a publisher I self published.
    I only sell at conventions and on my website, no distribution at all and I made enough money to quit my day job. It was not easy and it still isn’t. I work hard every day.
    I was so afraid to do the work it takes to self publish but now that I have I’m glad I did. If I had gotten a publisher it would have been much harder to make a profit I could live on.

    For me it was about a few key things-
    1) Publishing a graphic novel size book so that I could have a cover price with a nice profit margin. It takes just as long to sell a convention goer on your $3.99 book as it does to sell them the idea of your $25 book. And a convention is all about how many people you can talk to in a day. Your vocal chords get pretty tired.

    2) Plenty of merchandise, shirts, bags, prints, whatever. Someone above talked about the profit margin of shirts. Shirts are good, usually around $7 dollars each but the real profits come with prints.

    3) Do as much as you can yourself. Write your own book, do your own art, learn how to letter. Whatever you can do yourself. There is profit to be had in self publishing but it doesn’t really kick in until after your second or third year if you’re lucky. It takes a while to build up a suitable stock of books to sell.

    4) Live within driving distance of large conventions. This one you might not be able to help. I was able to drive to 11 conventions last year and next year I plan on doing around 13.

  28. Thank you everyone for sharing! Jim, althogh the numbers may be small, luckily the work is yours to do as you please. When you think back at the meager earnings many writers and artists were making in the “golden age” and how much their work is worth now, it really makes the case for owning your own work. Jack Kirby had to threaten to sue to get his artwork back from Marvel- something Jim will never have to worry about. Optioning a spec script, licensing a t-shirt, selling original art. It’s about way more than the short-term turnaround.

    Again, thank you for your insight! Everyone!

  29. Genuine question – isnt the vast majority of ‘creator owned’ work just vanity publishing? If, over time and allowing for initial start up losses, a book fails to find a market, what is the point? It seems that there are a few too many people who really like the idea of being comic creators but just cant cut it in the marketplace.

    Jim Zub is obviously not one of these and is clearly making an effort to develop the commercial viability of the Skullkickers brand. But, if the comics industry accepts the legitimacy of self indulgent wannabes it will be harder for the likes of Jim to stand out from the crowd and move into profitability.

  30. The reality is in the numbers my friends, even with names attached. This market is not so open to new ideas as it should be, especially with other companies with more power and money behind them making the grab for every single cent out there.

    I think the future is to skip initial print, go digital and eventually collect the material, if at all possible, for print. I have learned so much with my monthly Creator-Owned heroes and if I had to do it again, it would all be digital…from my own website, and others as well. I look at the numbers each month and get depressed…but in there, I am learning the hard truth to what the market wants. It is gonna take some time to figure this out…but the posts here come up with some good ideas. No one can afford to have a book doing 4000 copies a month and pay the printing and the fee that publishers charge.

    One day, I will go back to self publishing…I have bought 4 powerball tickets and made a sacrifice in my back yard. We shall see how that plays out.

  31. I had never heard of Skullkicker before reading this article but it seems pretty interesting so I just ordered the first TPB from my LCS. Proof that marketing your indy comic book can be done in many different ways.

  32. It should be pointed out that as bad as the numbers, the Direct Market is the only thing that allows anyone to even try and make a living a doing self-published, creator-owned, ink-and-paper comics. Webcomics will hopefully change the dynamic but without comic shops, where would indy books be sold? Without the existing DM infrastructure, how would they get printed and distributed?


  33. @Mark Fuller–the problem with calling the vast majority of creator-owned work “vanity publishing” is that it presupposes that there’s some sort of proof of legitimacy. How many copies does something need to sell before it’s considered “professional”?

    Is someone selling handmade, silkscreened minicomics not a professional? Or does one need to sell 10,000 copies to be a professional? Or should the mark be higher, say, 30,000?

    Are self-financed independent films vanity projects, or are they projects taken on by an artist who has something to say? What about music? Was Elliott Smith making vanity projects on his 4-track in his home?

    Van Gogh sold exactly one painting in his lifetime. Was it vanity for him to continue? There simply is no correlation between sales and quality whatsoever. The Transformers movies are hugely successful, much more successful than Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood or any number of movies that are attempting greater artistic feats.

    I’m not trying attack you for your question, I’m really not. But the question “aren’t independent comics vanity projects” hints at the core of the problem, that by publishing your book with a larger company you somehow legitimize the work. To me that’s like saying the only good food is at chain restaurants, and anything made at a locally-owned place must be just the chef screwing around, because otherwise, if the almond-encrusted salmon was REALLY any good, McDonalds would be serving it too.

    Obviously that’s not true. So it’s up to people who love comics and want to find good comics to look for them, and they don’t all have a Bat symbol or an X- on them. The heart of the problem is that because of the distribution system and the economics that Jim Z outlines, it’s very difficult to get good work in stores and get it seen by readers, and therefore it’s tough to sell lots of copies.

  34. MBunge,

    So the question becomes:
    Why on Earth are we so obsessed with the ink and paper part of our comics? Isn’t the quality of the writing and art what matters? I can enjoy a movie at the cinema, on my TV, or even on my computer. If someone started acting like the ONLY way to watch a movie is at the cinema, would we not ridicule that person?
    I understand that lots of people prefer reading printed comics over digital, but is it not possible that lots more people could stand to enjoy their comics in whatever format costs less?
    And if the entire creative community is genuinely frustrated with Comixology and Apple driving the price of digital comics up, go around them! There ARE alternatives.

  35. Why on Earth are we so obsessed with the ink and paper part of our comics? Isn’t the quality of the writing and art what matters? I can enjoy a movie at the cinema, on my TV, or even on my computer.

    If a commercial publisher releases something with the intention of making a significant profit, then he’ll promote it, market it, advertise it. Reading superhero comics is more of a hobby than it is a leisure activity because the big publishers don’t promote, market, or advertise their comics.

    If a self-publisher wants income from his comic, then he’ll have to treat the production and distribution of it as a business, with all the work that entails.


  36. This problem did not happen overnight. Several things led to this with the first one being the dumb decisions by the publishers to go exclusive with Diamond. You can see how that effected the market by what happend to the number of comic shops right after that. They went plummeting downhill. It became more expensive to open (or keep open a shop) and the lack of competition hurt the customers (in this case the retailers). Many used to be able to drive over to a warehouse and pick up comics, re-orders etc. This was eliminated.

    The second big problem was the flooding of titles by the big two. Besides watering down the brand, preventing impulse new purchases, and discouraging old readers to keep collecting the titles, the 5+ Spiderman, Batman etc. leaves little money for buyers to try new books. It also eliminates shelf space for indie books. Not to sound like an old man but I remember being able to buy EVERY SINGLE Marvel and DC book with my allowance. That’s not possible for most people now.

    As for me, my favorite part of cons has become Artist Alley discovering new books. Not all are worthwhile but the passions is there, which is refreshing.

    As for the indie digital site, that sounds like a great idea and could work. I’d be more than happy to help out with this with if anyone gets serious about it. But it would need strong support and pushing by the creators for it to work. And would need to be operated in a way so that almost no costs is taken out of the sale of the books so the $.99 goes fully to the creators.

    PM me if anyone wants to discuss this idea further.

  37. Thanks to input from several people (chiefly Chris Butcher and Ryan Dunlavey) I’ve updated the figures and pie chart to more accurately reflect the “real” numbers involved:

    It doesn’t change the result for creators much, but if this article is going to keep propagating I want to try and get it right.

  38. As a young creator just starting out, its frustrating to read this. I respect and love Image and their creators, and love Skullkickers. To read that even a seemingly successful book like that only makes pennies, while everyone else has their hands in the pot is beyond disheartening. Its not about getting rich, but earning a respectable wage for your hard work. Being able to call it a job even.

    I think its up to the prominent creators working in indie comics today to figure out way to move beyond the Direct Market with their work. They are the only ones that have the fanbases and street cred to actually blaze that trail. Selling 5000 units of any product on a monthly basis should be profitable on some level and the fact that its not means something is broken with the system.

    We know the deck is stacked against indies on the retail side. So do you keep choosing to throw good money after bad, or do you start to think up crazy new ways to shake things up? Why does making indie comics have to be an expensive hobby? Why can’t it be a job that you can earn a living from? Put some of that creativity to a different kind of use and figure out a solution to a long identified problem. Unless you guys figure it out soon, the next generation of comic creators won’t be there. (and Yes we need more Thrillbent’s and Monkeybrains in this world)

  39. X100 to Allen’s points.

    Also, with regard to the vanity publishing question: look at Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. A fairly amateurish-looking book when it came out (and that is not a slam or a criticism, I think it looks cool), a parody of other comics, in black and white…how could that possibly be anything but vanity publishing? But not only was it insanely successful, it helped launch a huge success of similarly-produced black and white comics.

    The black and white boom period came to a decisive end after a lot of books petered out and the big companies flooded the market, just as Allen describes. I’m not faulting Marvel and DC for flooding the market–it’s capitalism and that’s what big companies do. I fault readers for buying cruddier titles from those companies just because they were from Marvel or DC instead of buying better work from independent publishers.

    I like Marvel and DC’s books, many of them, and I dislike many independent comics. But for me, there’s just no sense in collecting publishers instead of looking for well-made, stimulating work, whether it’s a hand-stapled Xerox or a $150 art book or a $3.99 full color pamphlet.

  40. Why can’t it be a job that you can earn a living from?

    Part of the problem is the time needed to produce the artwork. When an artist is drawing, he’s not making money doing something else. Publishing a GN is a more expensive proposition for a publisher than putting out a prose book is, and more money can be lost on poor sellers. If someone enjoys the visual dimension of comics, then he might find reading comics more enjoyable than reading prose, playing video games, etc., but TV provides visual entertainment too.


  41. Look no one is owed anything in life and I’d love to watch movies for a living but why should anyone else have to pay for me to do that? So just the fact you want to make a living doing comics is not something you have a right to. Having said that, with the internet being the great equalizer (something that the big companies have tried for years to fight), there should be an equal opportunity for the independent comic creator to at least earn the chance. The DM as it stands now makes it nearly impossible. And the fact that Comixology is becoming the Diamond of digital is not a trend I’m happy about. While it is easier for the buyer somewhat, again too much power in one company.

    Kickstarter is a good start, though I wish it were truly for indie creators and not just people or companies who can afford it, doing it for pre-sales. I dislike seeing top names who make outstanding income working for the big two trying to “get funds” for a Kickstarter project. Again, they have the right to but for me personally, I’d rather see it being used for the ones who really need the help. I believe its what the guys in charge want to and are working to change that.

  42. i don’t think its about entitlement. Its about the creators who do 98% of the work getting 1% of the money from that work. I think something is terribly wrong with the setup illustrated in these numbers. It has more in common with sharecropping than any sort of professional commercial art. freelance writers, designers, illustrators, production artists all get fair pay in other industries, so its not some crazy unprecedented idea here.

    With all due respect to all the talented creators who struggle to earn a living off of their work, the culture of “i do it for the love, everyone else deserves money from my work before me” borders on silly. Is this your profession or a hobby? If you want it to be your job, how do you make that happen? That might sound harsh and i may be speaking out of turn, but i think that continuing to participate in a failed system isn’t that great of a long term strategy for your personal business, career or industry.

  43. Agreed on Christopher’s points–it CAN’T be a hobby or you starve, and you leave the business for something that can pay your bills. Continuing to focus on the current system is bound to leave us all destitute, so it’s prudent for us to all look to better systems of distribution and above all MARKETING. Doesn’t matter how it’s distributed if no one knows about it.

    It’s an exciting and scary time for publishing and creating art/literature/music. It has never been easier to get things into people’s “hands”; just a matter of letting them know it’s there, getting them interested in quality work, and getting them to pay for it.

    Comics have ALWAYS been considered disposable entertainment by the public at large, despite what a core group of fanatics (myself most definitely included) feel about them, and now there is more disposable entertainment than ever available at your fingertips. So the question is: why would anyone pay for it? Not why SHOULD they, but why WOULD they? Why not just save the money and indulge in the immense resources of YouTube or the countless free things online one can read?

    It’s a big problem…

  44. Probably an obvious question, but why not…

    1. Reduce the retailer’s percentage, and
    2. Make books returnable?

    I mean, the only reason the retailer gets so big of a cut is because they’re buying on a non-returnable basis, and reducing their profit margin on product they’re stuck with would just make them less likely to take risks on unproven product or, really, buy any shelf copies, period. But if the only risk to stocking a new indie book is the shelf space, wouldn’t that encourage more risk taking? Even if only a certain percentage (say, half?) of all product ordered were returnable, I think you’d see a lot more of “I only have two pull customers asking for this book, and I’d normally only order those two, but what the heck, I’ll get another two for the rack and if they don’t sell, well, I’m not out anything but the shipping.”

  45. @Jason–the short answer to that is because the distributor won’t let them return the books. Diamond has apparently calculated that for them to make a profit they can’t deal with returnable books. I’m not accusing them of squeezing the little guy or doing anything untowards; I don’t know enough about that end of the business to make any reliable analysis. But that’s my understanding of books aren’t returnable.

    And retailers are going out of business left and right, so if their percentages were reduced, they’d be in big trouble. And probably be unwilling to carry books that offered them a smaller cut of the pie, because of course the real estate that book takes up is valuable, particularly in a market where the big two are producing SO MANY books.

  46. Book returns are a nightmare for a publisher or distributor. Many book publishers especially in the art book/coffee table book world wont’ do returns either. The costs involved with returns, shipping, wharehousing, reselling as used/damaged remainders or destroying is so incredibly expensive that its not worth it. You’d have to dedicate staff just to do that. Same on a distro side. Especially when you deal with high quality product with limited print runs as part of the sales appeal.

  47. But DC got away with making most of their books returnable for months!

    Maybe it’d have to be done on a more isolated basis, especially since (as Brian Hibbs pointed out) most retailers should know after a few issues how many copies of a book they can sell and will buy accordingly, even with returnability, but something has to be done to encourage retailers to order more indie comics.

    My argument isn’t trying to take money away from retailers…it’s trying to take RISK away from retailers. The problem we have is a self-perpetuating one: retailers are the ones who shoulder all the risk if a book doesn’t sell, so they don’t order indie books because they’re riskier (no built-in audience!), so indie books don’t sell very well, so retailers feel justified in not taking risk in ordering any indie books.

    And the solutions we’ve tried so far don’t seem to work. How many publishers put out a first issue for a dollar and see HUGE sales, only to have sales plummet on future issues. Why? Well, obviously more people are going to try out a $1 issue, but the *real* reason is because right from issue #2, that indie comic is back to being the same risk it was before, and the retailers go right back to their conservative ordering habits. Then even people who enjoyed #1 for a $1 can’t find #2 or 3 to drop $3 on them.

    And I hate to admit it, but I’m a lazy comics fan…I don’t preorder much of anything, and I don’t make it into the shop every week, and lord knows I’m not alone in that. Now, I’m fortunate in that I shop at Star Clipper in St. Louis, one of the best shops I’ve ever set foot in and a place I love to death. They order a TON of indie comics, but even they don’t have enough depth. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started buying an indie series off the rack and get the first two issues, come in to get issue #3, and it’s sold out…at the shop AND at Diamond. And so I just say “Ah, screw it, I’ll never find that issue, I’ll just get it in trade”…which I end up never doing because by the time it comes out in trade 9 months later, I’ve already moved on to other stuff. It happens to me ALL THE TIME–including such titles as Morning Glories, Near Death, and (you’ll hate to hear this, Matthew) Stumptown (I never have been able to get the 3rd issue of the first mini)–and this is at a *spectacularly* indie-friendly shop. Imagine how often this happens at other shops who stock even more conservatively. Imagine how much it happens to customers who don’t even bother asking if an issue they missed can be reordered.

    Basically, my argument is the comics industry is leaving money on the table my encouraging an environment where books that *could* sell *don’t* because customers never even see them, an environment created because the majority of the risk is borne by the retailer and not (as I think would be more beneficial to the industry as a whole) by the publisher.

  48. @Allen Berrebbi – It’s popular to dump on Diamond exclusivity for the current state of the Direct Market, but there aren’t fewer shops because we lost most of the distributors… we lost most of the distributors because there are fewer shops.

    But it is what it now is. The DM is no longer indie-friendly, and Zub’s figures show why it’d be an up-a-cliff battle to make it that way: the numbers just don’t work. The most DM-friendly comic I’ve made was a superhero/religion parody called Captain Miracle, and even that was a non-starter for Diamond. At least online people have read it. Everything else I want to do is as incompatible with the patrons of the Direct Market as avant-garde stage theatre is to the patrons of the local cineplex. So digital it will be for me, with paper “reprints” if I ever get to that point.

  49. Questions about how to fix the DM are too late or missing the point. That distribution model isn’t going to work for most indie comics. 1) The problems with returnable books are why the DM was created in the first place. 2) Retailers can’t take a smaller cut because they have rent and utilities to pay. 3) Printers won’t take a smaller cut because printing costs aren’t going down. 4) Diamond is probably about as cost-efficient as it can be by now.

  50. “The problem we have is a self-perpetuating one: retailers are the ones who shoulder all the risk if a book doesn’t sell…”

    Also, The publisher who spent tens of thousands of dollars to print the run. The Creators who spent months or longer of their lives working for free and has to hear it from their family. The distributor who has all this unsold stuff on their shelves that they now have to deal with…the retailer loses like $10 bucks if a few copies of an indie book they order for their shelves don’t sell. That money adds up, and i’m not trying to denigrate the LCS, but the argument that retailers take “ALL THE RISK” is kinda flawed. Everyone involved with the comic from creation to sales takes “ALL THE RISK”

  51. @Jason Green–re: the Stumptown thing, I’m sad to hear it but I’m not surprised. I’ve heard similar stories several times, and it’s always a bummer.

    What we’re essentially saying here, in a nutshell, is: creators can’t make money because they sell too few copies and give too much of the returns back to retailers, publishers and distributor. Retailers won’t order books if they don’t know them because times are uncertain for everyone, and of course that means fewer copies sold.

    So this, along with Jim’s numbers, is evidence that making independent comics for the direct market is, unfortunately, something of a hobby. Just like being in a band or doing theatre are for the majority of talented individuals involved in both those endeavors (I hit the jackpot and do all three! hooray!). The only way making independent comics could even possibly be sustainable is if the distribution and sales model changes, and of course digital comics are the best way to do that.

    Readers have to follow suit, and I include myself here. I love comic stores and the Wednesday ritual, and I will continue to shop in stores. But rallying readers and comic artists toward digital only (with an eye toward a later, more deluxe physical collection, perhaps) is inevitable and could be quite positive. Once we remove the need for comics to be physically printed, soooooo many creative options open up, and I hope to learn to properly take advantage of that.

  52. “it’s trying to take RISK away from retailers.”

    The thing is, risk for retailers isn’t really the small idividual titles. You could, for instance, stock every title Image puts out (just the singles) for about sixty bucks a month.

    A bigger risk is buying a lot of one book and not being able to move them. Or not buying enough of another to prevent customers from buying it elsewhere.

    But realistically, the real problem is that comics as single issues are not really designed for the tiny numbers we sell. Simply, the creation of the content costs too much to have such a small margin at such low numbers.

  53. Perhaps if more creators did direct to consumer sales via their own websites, and if there was a central clearinghouse site that listed these creators A-Z or by genre, or even a site like this that had a section dedicated to that. Kinda make it really easy for fans to connect with creators directly for purchasing.

    Also more of a focus on the creator owned indie side on the comics sites. I know the hits aren’t there, but there has to be a way. SO many of the guys that do big 2 books also have great indie stuff that so few care about.

  54. @Christopher: Maybe I should’ve been more specific, as it’s the retailer who carries all the MONETARY risk. Both the publisher and distributors have ways to carry absolutely zero monetary risk: the distributor can order exactly as many copies of the book as they have orders for, and the publisher can order exactly as many copies from the printer as the distributor asked for. And they pretty much already do exactly that, which is why you see books whose sales are dropping issue-to-issue still release press releases touting “sellouts at distribution.” The publisher really only takes a risk if they pay the talent upfront, and that happens less and less these days.

    Now, of course, the retailer has the exact same option to eliminate their risk by ordering exactly as many copies of the book as they have standing orders for. The problem? THAT’S WHAT THEY DO. And that risk aversion goes right up the chain: retailers order the bare minimum from the distributor, so distributors order the bare minimum from the publisher, so publishers print the bare minimum of books, and who knows how many thousands of sales are lost because the books aren’t there.

    So my question is how do we stop this? To me, the clear answer is that someone else has to shoulder that monetary risk because retailers clearly are hesitant to do that.

    And the thing is, publishers already shoulder this risk in some circumstances, mostly in the form of things like $1 issues, Free Comic Book Day samplers, and free overships. But these clearly aren’t altering the retailer’s inherent hesitance to order in indie product that they don’t already have a stated demand for, which is why I threw out the idea of returnability as a potentially viable new option.

  55. @Jason A. Quest. No the distributors fell apart because without the big two, they couldn’t survive. The shops did rapidly decline soon after. But you’re right, it doesn’t matter now except to ensure the lessons aren’t forgotten.

    As for the economics, the bottom line is the more people involved between the creator and the customer, the less the creator will make. You can’t expect Diamond, the shops etc. not to make money otherwise what’s their incentive? The problem is the numbers are not big enough to offset that. With digital there is a chance, and as Jimmy said you’re better off doing digital first than collecting it into trades later. At least with digital there are no printing costs and in theory the distribution costs are less. But if you go to Apple or Comixology, besides being lost in the noise, their cuts hurt too. So unless you sell big numbers or direct, it is very hard.

  56. I love this thread. Very interesting indeed. I like hearing these thoughts from the actual indie creators. Keep up the good work people! You might not be rich yet but we love you for what you’re doing and what you’re trying to do.

    I keep thinking of the investor in the Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. The guy that put up the money and didn’t care about the quality of the comics or anything else besides creating a product that sold.

    So I ask myself, why can’t these indie creators do what the Marvel’s and DCs of the world are doing? The answers are simple, it’s the bigger, well-established company that has paid their dues and EARNED the right to get their books out less expensively. They CREATED a loyal following for their characters. Why can’t an indie publisher do this today? Because we are not at the birth of the medium and there are many barriers to entering the market (economical and otherwise).

    How do you break in? Maybe the question should be how you sell your property to a Hollywood studio, as that seems to be the new end game. So I guess the real question is, what are you trying to do? Make money by selling your ideas or telling stories?

    Let’s assume the goal is the choosing the creative “high road” by telling stories. How does one get a small publisher inserted into the game? Working hard and getting noticed is one way. You could also play the lottery. (Haven’t decided which is a better bet yet) Even in this thread of 50+ comments we see several small publishers asking that very question—how do you sell more books? Put simply, you can’t do it like Marvel because you’re not Marvel. The answer is to come at it from a new angle. (Forgive the phrase, “think outside the box.”) I read an interesting story a few months ago about an Israeli company that was able to develop a new cardboard bicycle. This thing was basically made of cardboard covered in hard plastic and the owners planned to sell the bikes for between $30-$70 dollars. And in many countries, where they could get government subsidies, the bikes would literally be given away for free. That’s a new way of approaching that market…a product that has a huge need and they found a way to produce the product AND get it into the hands of people that need it while turning a nice profit.

    Some examples, off the top of my head, for selling comics outside the normal channels: Maybe the US military would like to give soldiers some free entertainment…How about a patriotic soldier comic that could be sold to the army? Maybe educational comics for kids? Parents today throw tons of cash at anything educational, why not comics? (They don’t have to be Classics Illustrated to be educational.) How about English as a second language comics?

    While these might not be the artistic, “fulfilling comics” that you indie creators want to make but if you can sell them and make some money; maybe those dollars could be used to fund a project you’re more passionate about. Remember, those early industry investors cared about the money, not the art, so maybe its wise to follow that proven route to success? I think that’s probably a safe assumption for any business in any industry. By creating a product you can sell, other opportunities will present themselves for the comics you WANT to sell. Just one fat guy’s opinion…

  57. is the direct market friendly towards anything? I don’t mean this as a slam at comic shop owners, as the direct market is the product of decades of behavior by publishers, distributors, retailers and consumers. But when Marvel can barely get a book into the top ten without having a gimmick and DC has 51 variant covers on Justice League #1, maybe the whole system is fucked.

  58. Hey Jim,thanks for the great post. Of all the creator folks I know, you are one of my favorite examples of an artist/editor/publisher who understands the value of constant promotion and marketing. Whether it’s setting up at a con, speaking at a festival-whatever, you are doing what it takes to make the project work. If any body understands the statement that the effort of marketing a book is equal to the creation of it, that would be you. It’s a very long road but the effort will eventually pay off.
    For a few of the the comments there are some solutions.
    Palmiotti is onto a very smart idea: digital first and then sell the collected version as hard copy. Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and Smile: A Dental Drama are perfect examples of this. Both were web comics prior to getting picked up by publishers. Nice thing is, they are still creator-owned properties and the publishers didnt ask for a share of the IP.
    And if you really think about it, Jimmy’s suggestion is basically the same formula as the Sunday Funnies. Doonesbury, Peanuts, Far Side all sell a lot of books because we want to own the collected works. I’d like to suggest another spin on the formula: Digital first, Kickstarter to print the book. Release in a black and white basic for a very cost effective approach then follow up with a full-color edition with bonus features that give the book the value added appeal.

    With a Kickstarter program you HAVE to promote it constantly. Dont expect people to find you make SURE they hear about your project.

    Distribution alternatives: While Diamond does have it’s logical uses, there are other distribution channels to work with. Ingram has a great indie publishing program that will help you get your books into the traditional retail market. Baker & Taylor also services the direct market as well as the traditional. BookMasters is yet another distributor with great support. All provide returnable terms for their clients.

    As creators and self-publishers you have to broaden your horizons beyond, way beyond DM. Yes, DM is and should be part of your business plan but it cannot be the only thing you think of.

    Beyond The Con: Book Fairs and other trade shows. Add book fairs like LA Times Festival of Books, Miami Book Fair International, Boston Book Fair and the rest to your con list. There is a rapidly expanding acceptance of comics in what used to be the world of literature snobs. I develop programming for these kinds of shows and they provide you another channel to grow your audience.

    The main thing is that you, the creator need to work just as hard at promoting your book as you did in the creation of it. It doesnt matter if you self publish or land with a traditional publishing house, you still have to promote your work. The best selling authors are heavily invested in promoting their own books because they know it means more sales. If you dont see yourself in the same light as Patterson, then you need to think again.

  59. Simple question – why are there not (more) ads in the floppies to offset the cost of printing? Are there no companies interested in advertising in comics?

    Are there any ad departments set up at any of the Indy publishers – Dark Horse, Dynamite, Image, Avatar, etc…?

  60. advertising rates in publications are based on circulation so even a 5000 or 10,000 copy print run is a pretty insignificant run to sell ad space in. You’re just not gonna find anyone who’ll want to give you decent money for such a small reach.

  61. I get that point, but there are package deals to be run across several titles. They do it all the time in other industries with similar small print runs.

  62. I agree that there are likely some package deals in advertising, where an entire month of comics from one company will have the same ads. And why there can’t be more, allowing more pages in the comic? No idea, really.
    Indie creators are up against a LOT of competition for the buck, or $5, whatever. I agree with Jimmy P: go digital. Promote your work anyway you can to get awareness. I think we all acknowledge that being an indie comic creator is not a way to get wealthy. But you will be doing what you love, and if people respond, you can try to expand on it. I just don’t think that trying to get comic shops to sell your comic is the way to get it read.

  63. @matthew southworth

    Yes, art for its own sake is absolutely has a merit all of its own and should not necessarily be measured by its commercial success. But that’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about consumer entertainment products listed in a wholesale catalogue in the hope that retailers will carry and market them to the mass market.

    Jim Zub’s funny stories about warrior dwarves have many virtues, but the roof of the Sistine Chapel they are not.

    The comic industry is on the whole about creating and selling mass market product. If that’s not what you’re interested in and you have pretensions to creating great art, then good for you. Go and try your luck in more high minded circles. You may find the barriers to entry there pretty high themselves.

    Good, well marketed, will find and grow an audience – like Saga, Walking Dead, Manhattan Projects and the mentioned TMNT. Over time I suspect Skullkickers will too.

  64. Bill Cunningham: “Simple question – why are there not (more) ads in the floppies to offset the cost of printing? Are there no companies interested in advertising in comics? Are there any ad departments set up at any of the Indy publishers – Dark Horse, Dynamite, Image, Avatar, etc…?”

    Dark Horse does have ads. And actually, a lot of times they take the ingenious route of having the same four ads in every book they publish that month on the same sheet of paper….I imagine they just print hundreds of thousands of copies of that one sheet and then collate it into all the other books. (I should note they are frequently house ads, but they sell advertisements, too.)

    Image is harder because each creator is basically their own self-publisher. They have set up ad accounts before, though…there was a time when Comedy Central was running ads on the back cover of Image books and each book’s creators had the option of running the ad (and getting the money for it) or not running the ad (and keeping full artistic control of their book).

  65. @Mark Fuller–that’s a pretty spectacular mis-reading of both this article and my comment. No one’s talking about art for art’s sake.

    Your optimism for Jim’s book finding an audience aside, the point of his article was to show how little money it makes, and your question as to whether it’s “vanity publishing” to continue to publish that work even if it doesn’t initially makes money directly conflicts with your suggestion that it will indeed find an audience. Which is the point I was trying to make as well.

    While your snark indicates you somehow see the comics marketplace as divided into two categories: “pretentious” art and “mass-marketed entertainment products”, I don’t see it that way. I’d call most, if not all, comics art and entertainment. Not everything will sell well, not everything that does sell well is good–or sucks.

    The question you raised is whether books that don’t sell well are “vanity publishing”. Your snarky, condescending second comment indicates that “good, well-marketed product will find an audience”. Is the difference between “vanity” and “mass-market product” the marketing effort that went into it? Is that the point you’re trying to make?

  66. @matthew southworth

    Woah there, easy tiger! Many apologies if I came across as snarky and condescending, not my intention at all. I’m posting here as an occasional distraction from work and not really giving a lot of thought to how I’m phrasing things.

    I guess my point is that while some creators are treating their work as a business venture – accepting low returns in the early days but working to develop the viability of their properties over time – their efforts could be hampered by the market being over crowded with work that has little commercial viability, or in some cases, artistic merit.

    And of course value should not be measured solely by commercial success, but that is the name of the game with regards to the comic book direct market. This is a market dominated by Disney and Warner Brothers. Creators entering the arena need to ready to play their game, taking time to develop commercially viable entertainment brands. Some will cut it in this market place, many more wont. And that’s fine, but the industry does itself no favours by artificially propping up failures that, as I said, crowd the market.

    That’s why I raise the point about vanity publishing. I think that the mainstream comics industry is far too accepting of unsuccessful work and holds a ‘everyone deserves to publish comics’ mentality. The result is that the good is often lumped in with the bad.

    However, and in relation to your point about good work that is not obviously commercially viable, the direct market should not be seen as the be all and end all. To use your food analogy, McDonalds is very successful with a particular business model serving a particular market – low cost, mass produced food for people on the go – while a worldwide multitude of restaurants are very successful following a different model – premium priced fine dining. The two exist perfectly well alongside each other. But just as it would be daft to try and sell Almond Encrusted Salmon in McDonalds, it doesn’t make an awful lot of sense to try and market works of singular artistic merit on shelves dominated by superheroes and other genre hokum. Far better surely to seek publishing deals – with premium sticker pricing as opposed to volume sales – in more appropriate markets. This is no doubt a tough call, but necessarily so to separate those producing great work from the well motivated enthusiast.

    Anyway, this a fascinating topic and I’m interested in all the views being expressed.

  67. @Mark–apologies if I misread you or responded harshly. Hard to tell sometimes when it’s a DISAGREEMENT rather than just a disagreement…

    The irony is that I don’t disagree with you here in many respects; I think there is plenty of marginally-professional work published in comics, but it’s not always just by independent creators. My comics shopping habits are simple–I look at whatever catches my eye or that I’ve heard good things about, I pay almost no attention whatsoever to things that don’t interest me regardless of whether they’re the Big Event Everyone’s Talking About or whatever.

    But for me, sales simply does not equal quality. Sometimes it takes a brilliant cartoonist years and years to get the attention his work deserves, sometimes she is an instant success, and more likely, many very talented people just stay in the middle somewhere. The question of whether comic shops are interested purely in superheroes and genre fare is becoming more stark as the economy (and more specifically the comics economy) continues to crawl. So your point that marketing artistically-challenging works in other places is well-taken, one I agree with (though I hope comic stores will continue to carry material not wrapped in spandex).

    One man’s vanity project is another guy’s favorite book that not enough people are reading. And so defining something with that pejorative term, especially using sales in an industry where ALL sales have dropped so precipitously, with even Marvel and DC publishing books in the low teens, is a sketchy proposition, in my mind. There may be other, more salient criteria that one could apply, but I’m more interested in reading that material regardless of its commercial potential, even if I’m only one of 600 people who like it.

  68. I posted a number of thoughts over at Jim’s blog and will post additional thoughts on my blog as well, but I think there are some things worth saying.

    First, in regards to digital, there seems to be this automatic assumption that digital consumption should mimi the patterns of print consumption, in other words, per issue purchase of content or purchases of collections of content. Either way, this seems somewhat wrong headed to me.

    While my print purchases will, damage not withstanding, last my lifetime, my digital purchases are likely to be unusable at some point. I have books that are 20 years old (comics too) that are perfectly readable. But I have 10 year old digital documents that I can’t access because the software doesn’t run anymore.

    Digital rental makes far more sense than digital purchase, but it is definitely playing the long game for creator and for the digital publisher. I’m not arguing that creative teams SHOULD split $32/page for a comic, but let’s look at that for a minute. 32/page * 24 pages = $768 per issue. If that book earns only $0.50/day, every single day, for 2 years in digital distribution, the creative team is almost even with print. And that digital comic can keep earning money for years after.

    Making $0.50 a day shouldn’t be too difficult if your book were carried by a digital comic subscription service on a Netflix like scale (which is what we are working to build at ComicBin). One of the benefits is that you can track which books have interested readers and print a run when there is enough interest. You’ll also have access to market that book to a group you know are interested in it.

    As to the cuts that Apple and ComiXology (and yes us) will take from the creator, we’re all in business to make money. The advantage to working with a digital distribution platform vs. building your own are many. For starters, you don’t have to build it, which takes time and money, raising the risks to you. You don’t have to keep up on the latest trends and technology. You don’t have to provide support to customers when things break. You get to focus on what you do best which is making comics.

    There are a few big challenges with this approach. The first has already been mentioned, fans love print (even if their rejection of digital will kill books that could have lived). That’s fine, you don’t have to read digital, but, as the numbers on low selling books show, low print run comics are going to pop up and die off, because they don’t make money. A book that could be long term profitable in digital form, but if it gets killed due to low print sales, it probably isn’t going to convert to digital only later.

    Second is getting creators to get on board. While it makes sense when you look at the numbers, there is a lot of fear of digital in the market. Will it kill print sales? Will I make any money? Will people copy it and steal it because it is already in digital form? And on and on. And there are definitely creators who are as enamored with printing their books as the fans are about buying print books.

    Third is getting to scale. Running a site is not without costs. You’ve got development costs, hosting costs, bandwidth costs, legal, accounting, etc. Diamond is able to take relatively small cuts of the cover price because they’ve already achieved scale. They’ve got systems in place and enough volume to make that work. And good for them. Any one starting out to compete is going to have trouble providing a similar service for the same cut. Similar holds true in digital.

    Our goal is to pass along as much as we can to the creators while still making it worthwhile to take the risks of running ComicBin, but we’re still working on it. There’s a certain amount you have to bring in every month to cover the fixed costs and every title you carry, much like retail space, costs more to have so you need more users subscribing just to have those books in inventory, even if no one is reading them.

    We’ve always encouraged small press and indies to be part of ComicBin and we will continue to do so. The question is, will readers come to read those books and will they pay to do so. Because at the end of the day, that’s who really decides which books live and which books die. Which books become major movies or tv series and make creators rich and which bleed red ink.

  69. “but without comic shops, where would indy books be sold? Without the existing DM infrastructure, how would they get printed and distributed?”

    Lots of other books get sold without comic shops. Online booksellers, brick-and-mortar booksellers, author websites, etc. sell them too – and they don’t automatically exclude graphic novels and TPBs either. If your indy graphic novel or TPB book has an ISBN, you can sell it the same way you can sell a book without pictures…

  70. As a newcomer myself, I have come to the realization that I need to continue to work towards a “day job” career as well as my writing. I would love to have my own Walking Dead or write a best selling arc on Batman but that’s most likely not going to happen. I’m just happy that we have people like Jim that will bluntly tell you how it works.

  71. Zub is spot on!
    I have just written and published my comic Squatters. I paid all the creative team out of my pocket with the knowledge i will never get it back again. My target is to break even. Even more difficult is that i live in the U.K so to convince people to read an original comic book idea is nigh imposable. I certainly don’t have the American distribution and 5000 copies sold is a pipe dream. Financially comics at this level are lose makers and are not solid investments. However making money isn’t always the goal, like Zub said

    “I intend to keep plugging away, putting out the best stories I can, working towards improving my craft and strengthening my audience bit by bit.”

    Sounds like a pretty good place to be for me even if people are missing out on some of the best creators around!!!

  72. Just ran into this thread, and it’s about 2 years off, but I thought I’d throw in a few comments if anyone is still around!

    Economies of scale: I think the main issue is just that. Isn’t this why we are trying to get into digital? I would think about approaching it from a different standpoint / indy work should be collected into more than 1 comic per print run. If 3-4 creators got together to publish a book every month, not only are you getting scale at the printer (it’s cheaper to print 1 book with one cover and 72 pages, than three books with three covers and 24 pages each – as well as 1 run of 15,000 issues instead of 3 runs of 5,000 issues). You also automatically introduce your fan base to the work of other creators, and vice versa.
    In a way, when one is published under Marvel, DC, Image, they are getting the imprint vouching for them (Mathew and Mark’s debate), so this way you have each comic team vouching for the other – this is one of the biggest problems I have at the comic store: I love one book, I have no idea about everything else on the shelf. This way I get more comics that I know someone who worked on the comic I like thought was good enough to partner with. I really loved that I got access to both Cannon brother’s work with their Double Barrel double header.

    Work with retailers: Pinpoint some retailers within a few hours drive of your house, build really good relationships with them, every few issues, or at the beginning of an arc, send them a few free issues (say you have a relationship with 10 stores, send them 5 free issues every 6 months. It will cost you $50). Send them a postcard to put in front of the book that gives a shout out to an award you got, another comic creator you like, a book you worked on in the past… If you get a positive reaction, tell them you want to do an in-store half-day thing: take some merchandise, some comics, and give them a better cut than they would normally get, since now you’ve cut out the distributor. The convention circuit isn’t enough : think like an indy band, you can’t just play the summer festivals, you have to do the dive bars.
    Hell, I would even call 5 that you can’t visit that are known big shops in their towns, find out how many of your book they ordered, and tell them AS THE CREATOR, if they buy 10 extra copies from Diamond instead of 1,2,3/whatever for the next 3 issue cycle, you’ll buy back anything that doesn’t sell. Not only will you have more issues on the shelves, you’ll have a marginally bigger buy from Diamond (about 1% on a 5000 print run). It’ll cost you $250. It’s a marketing expense!

    Merchandise: Someone brought this up earlier. You have intellectual property, expand it beyond the comic. marvel was bankrupt, Hollywood saved Marvel, not comic books. I’m not saying you make a movie, but make a damn t-shirt! Like a few commenters said earlier, a cool t-shirt is a cool t-shirt, I don’t even need to know anything about your comic’s story to appreciate a cool t-shirt. The profit margins are nice. Buy a bunch of blank Dunnys and paint them with your lead character. Sell that sh#t! go onto some Dunny addict blogs and tell them that get your limited edition Dunny and a free comic for $X.

    Direct Sale Bonuses: I’m much more likely to buy your comic at a convention or in the store if you give me something extra with it. Especially if I’m getting a TPB. Use your printer to make 5,000 A5 sized sketchbooks with a cool cover that promotes you without looking to ad-sy. give it away at conventions when you sell a book. Heck, at the last day, give away all the ones you brought. a stack of 5000 sketchbooks will last you 10 conventions. doodle for some who buy more than one issue of your comic. order some pencils from that have a cool quote from one of your books.

    Advertise: A few people brought this up. It’s not dirty. Do it. The term sell-out died with grunge. 5000 eyes is not nothing. I agree with Bill Cunningham above; get together with 5-10 creators and share ad buys. 25,000 – 50,000 is not a bad number of eyeballs, especially with the kind and type of disposable income comic buyers have today. Those consolidated group print runs get big enough, you’ll attract even better advertisers.

    Find Alternative Venues to sell: The comic shop is unfortunately NOT the best place for Indy Comics. There are 50 indy titles in a GOOD shop versus 500 mainstream titles, and most everyone coming into that shop is looking to buy an issue of X-Men, a couple back issues, then that really fancy $50 Batman Hardcover they’ve been eyeing for a few months, then maybe a figurine, and FINALLY, they’ll maybe try an indy comic if it’s a staff-pick. Can you put 5 in a coffee shop? Guitar Store? Taco Shack? Local Used Bookstore? Find a way to get 100 books into peoples hands every month in places NOT comic shops. give it it the shops for free, let them make a few extra bucks for an issue or two, then if it works, tell them they have to buy them going forward. Put a 1/8 page ad for every store that commits to buy 10 issues from you a month for 6 months. If you print in color, those ads just paid for their printing cost, got into the hands of 500 new people and are seen by thousands more. The store on the other hand only had to give you $90 over the course of 6 months.

    Really I think two of the main points I’m making here are, work together with other creators, and get closer to the consumer.

    One thing I would love to see is a site devoted to creator consolidation (for advertising and shared print space, as well as call-outs inside books to other creators), and a site that buys back unsold books from retailers, sells indy books like wine: priced at whatever the market demands at the time. If we trust that even good books get undersold, than it’s just a matter of getting it out to more people, and having it available.

    My 2 cents.

  73. Absolutely terrific info I’m sharing with my Story in Graphic Format class at Columbia College Chicago. The message seems to me … Do it ’cause you love it. And if there’s a serious $$$$ reward, that’s a bonus.

  74. I had enough and said “no mas” 20 years ago. Took the long walk, got a real job. Now, I have properties, a car collection, respect in the community, a retirement plan and benefits . Comics can take a flying leap for all I care.

  75. I wonder if digital has improved things. I wonder how many people have fallen back in love with comics thanks to digital. I hope the margins are better for creators now that Comixology stopped giving Apple a cut.

  76. I have seen this before and it appears people have the wrong idea about the Mainstream Comic Book business today its for EXPOSURE the 90’s are over and ask yourself this IS MY BOOK ABLE TO CROSS OVER MEDIA’S? I can tell you by just looking at this book the answer is NO. We’ll the industry is looking for the next Spawn or Kick-Ass which is the problem. The Industry as a whole is still ruled by DISNEY that is your Go-To either there or JAPAN. You need to do more research on the industry and really think about the state of it also you need to NEGOTIATE with several publishers on a National Level, Network and get someone who know important people in the industry. You see you need National Exposure it is hard to get but you need to realize the CREATOR OWNED CONTACT IS FOR OWNERSHIP JUST IN CASE THE BOOK GETS BIG…A book in color is a NO,NO its too expensive and a Writer, Artist team is a NO, NO…its the day of the single creator my advice to Jim Zubkavich as a Professional Graphic Designer you have exposure apply for Disney or better yet try for multiple publication since you do own it submit to a Japanese contest….Use Image for Exposure only and get o the MAJOR LEAGUES!

  77. 5000!? Lol I think i’d be happy to sell 500!! If you want to be rich don’t do comics is all I can say. As for publishers, forget them, you don’t need them, they pay so little so i’ve read that you’re better off being in control of your own work.

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