The other day we noted that writer Jim Zub had posted some fascinating info about the trade and digital sales of his ongoing series Wayward. Well in a follow up he looked atthe sales of Skullkickers, his Image book which ended in 2015 but left Zub deep in the red on printing and other costs.
But according to this latest study, digital and trade sales have inched the series into, if not profitability, at least not a money pit.
Thanks to slow but steady collection and digital sales, we are truly ‘in the black’. As of mid-2017, I can no longer say that Skullkickers is my lovable-yet-financially-forlorn creator-owned comic. It has finally climbed out of the pit and is holding the bloody detached head of its captor while letting out a triumphant roar.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to be smoking hundred dollar bills or paying off my house with these profits. It’s quite slim right now, but it’s also open-ended; We still have print collections in stock (and our only expenditures on those right now are storage since they’re already printed and shipped to Diamond Distribution) and the digital platform never closes or runs out of copies. In six months we should make a bit more, and then a bit more, and then a bit more, hopefully ever onward into the future until every single person who reads the work I do over at Marvel realizes that the action-packed mirth they enjoy in Thunderbolts and Avengers was there right from the beginning with Skullkickers.
Zub also cites Comixology Unlimited as a means to expose “10s of thousands” of readers to Skullkickers. I’d be interested in knowing of other creators are feeling this “CU Effect”
It’s definitely an interesting case study and you’d think Zub’s transparency and optimistic conclusions would have everyone wanting to spread the good news.
On Tumblr, Zub fielded some hostile, racist questions, and the most civil one asked
You’re a fucking loser with indy books barely making money. Who gives a shit what you think about making comics.
With Canadian civility, Zub took the high road and points out that it’s the middle ground where most can apply these lessons:
Survival bias is a state where people concentrate on only the most exemplary subjects and try to emulate them, not realizing that they’re the exception, not something typical. If you try to figure out how to be a “huge successful writer” by only looking at superstars and big moneymakers, you’re almost certainly going to fail.
Don’t get me wrong, every creative person has tremendous hardships and rejections in their careers at different points, but the level of success a J.K. Rowling, Stephen King or Robert Kirkman now have is highly unusual and not something you can reproduce. Maybe it’s a good idea to get a bit of advice from someone currently in the trenches, someone slowly building their name bit by bit who’s honest about what worked and what didn’t as they go along.
In the comments on my own initial piece someone compared Zub to Rich Tommaso whose recent lament about low sales for his Image book ignited a lot of comment. Tommaso has been selling original artwork to raise money of late, and sales don’t seem to have stabilized.
Of course, both narratives are equally true. Zub is obviously a very organized creator who thinks of things in terms of campaigns and keeps records. Tommaso is a guy who just wants to draw good comics that are meaningful to him. As I noted when I first wrote about Tommaso’s situation, the industry isn’t very convivial for people like that at the moment.
And I suspect its going to get worse before it gets better. However, as Zub shows, we have a lot of sales and marketing tools to help get past the slow times.
Having a backlist of books that are in print and available, and promoting it as such, is a key monetization element for creators. The backlist is what drives traditional publishing – print once make money for years – and digital sales are highly additive. In other words, don’t be a hater. Be a learner and observer and take advantage of the tools that you have access to.