Periodically (pun intended), it’s useful to take a look at where the sales of a publisher’s titles are clustered.  It helps widen the picture of how things are going.  The idea is to break the sales chart into 10K slices.  How many titles or issues sold 100K copies or more?  How many sold 90K-99K?  How many sold 40-49K?  How many sold under 10K?

The conventional wisdom has been that when things are healthy, DC and Marvel will have a couple titles each selling over 100K and then the bands will fill out with a few titles in 90Ks, 80Ks, etc., etc.  Image is the number 3 publisher for monthlies (although a growing subset of stores report them as #2 or #1) and the chart means different things for them.  But let’s look at the chart first.

And now the numbers:

80K-89K 1
30K-39K 1
20K-29K 2
10K-19K 11
Below 10K 18

With Image, sales can be all over the map.  You’ve got the monster that is Walking Dead selling over 80K and you’ve got smaller titles from newer creators that might not crack Diamond’s top 300.  And in this market, there is no shame in an independent comic selling between 5K-7K.  It’s not very profitable unless it’s part of a bulk printing bundle, but those are respectable sales.  Somewhere between 10K and 15K, creators start matching their DC or Marvel page rate… depending on how high their page rate was.  Over 15K, the creators are starting to do quite nicely for themselves and the conventional wisdom at Image is that the real money comes from when the collected editions hit the shelves.

Image is also a little unusual in that so many of their titles take a 2-3 months off around the issuing of those collected edition books.  For instance, Saga was on break for February or we’d have another title far above the 30K-39K slice.  Things are excellent for Image creators when you see a few issues at the 20K+ level.  That could be a little higher, but these are good to great numbers for an independent publisher.

Image is also in a strange place where they’re an independent publisher that does most of it’s business in a small subset of stores, but it has a few titles like Walking Dead that sell well almost everywhere.

Part of Image could be described as having usurped what we might otherwise think of as the high end Vertigo titles.  Part of Image sells better than Vertigo has in a long, long time.

Prognosis: chart looks fine and it would look even better if more stores were stocking and selling Image.  Always remember, though: Image is at least as much about collected edition sales as they are about the monthlies.  Maybe more about the collected editions.

Want to learn more about how comics publishing and digital comics work?  Try Todd’s book, Economics of Digital Comics or try some fiction.


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  2. Doesn’t the Image model allow Image to make money even if a title doesn’t sell well?

    Correct if false, but I thought creators paid Image to print, market, and distribute the book up front, and if it sells, all money goes back to the creative team.

  3. Torsten it does but the break even is around 5000. Jim Zub and Todd have both run through the numbers in the past. I think at 10K it’s dinner money. Very roughly $1/copy is profit.

  4. The one issue that everyone faces is growth. At my company, steady sales is almost worse than declining sales. Declines you can fix, steady without growth is way more difficult. Doesn’t it feel like there are now “Image Zombies” just like Marvel and DC ones?

    The real question i have is how does Image grow? What’s next?

  5. That’s been my question for a while Joe, after enlisting most of the Marvel “architects” like Brubaker, Hickman, Fraction, etc and getting contributions from DC stalwarts like Snyder and Morrison, the recent announcements over the past few years have really lacked a lot of that same wow factor. With DC having locked up a lot of their talent to exclusives, and Marvel piecing their bench back together, Image is probably going to need to look elsewhere for growth opportunities for a bit.

    There’s a small part of me that wonders what kind of noise they’d make if they relaunched their superhero line with top flight talent across the board ala Prophet.

  6. I think this is where Eric Stephenson needs to be more proactive and be a publisher that seeks out markets, like the YA market or something else. To set out his vision for Image and where he wants it to go then do it. He doesn’t seem to do a lot as a publisher other than gripe about Marvel and DC.

  7. I think there needs to be an innovation or as they love to say in the tech biz “a disruption”.

    Its so fascinating. On one hand we hear about how its all about creators, and then the other says, creators can’t move the needle past a certain point.

    Image’s biggest strength is the logo on the cover is instant cred. The biggest downfall IMO is the fact that creators are bound to their own personal finances. Sooo many books show so much potential only to be cancelled early by the creators because they just couldn’t sell enough. “the financial realities…” Not really able to build something, unless they hit a grand slam with their first at bat. If there was a way to give them the ability to take those 4 issue minis and actually expand them into the 12+ issue concepts they dreamed of, in a way that didn’t cause them to go broke..

    I think Image’s model is good, but there are ways they could expand it to do more publisher things to help and enable their creators succeed in different ways. Some kind of big business pivot or expansion.

  8. *In theory* Image gets a flat fee from the creators and the first… IIRC $2500 after printing costs. If a title doesn’t earn back $2500 after printing costs… one assumes there’s a conversation. However, Image is now giving out a few advances to creators whose books they’re confident will sell. Details on that are a bit murky, but it’s a thing and I’m pretty sure someone like Scott Snyder could get an advance if he needed one. But in general, Image gets a flat fee for each issue. Image makes it’s money with the 20% participation on tpbs and digital.

    Breaking even on print + Image’s fee is going to depend on the exact printing bill on a given month, but 4000 is probably not a bad rule of thumb. 5000 is beer money. Depending on what your DC/Marvel page rate is, you start to see DC/Marvel like income on the single issues somewhere between 10K-15K., although a lot of people earn their money off of the tpbs and the world of foreign language editions that few people talk about publicly.

  9. @Todd Allen

    From what I read multiple times from authors the flat fee is actually flat, a fixed amount of money Image take for an issue independently from the amount of sales?

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