In a follow-up to his hit post on the economics of print comics, Jim Zub is back with a look at digital comics metrics, including the percentages taken by each step in the pipeline complete with PIE…charts.

A lot of people have talked about the need for cheaper digital comic prices to drive impulse buying in casual/new readers. Right now most of the digital comics available are selling at a similar price to their print counterparts. Outside of sales and special promotions, a $2.99 print comic is selling for $2.99 digitally. People assume that digital content should be much cheaper because it has no physical component, but there are development and infrastructure costs that go into creating and maintaining a digital platform. It’s hard to say whether they’re equivalent, but right now the pricing is relatively equal.

After running through the equivalence, Zub even mentions the unmentionable, his digital sales…as a percentage of print.

The only remotely solid numbers I have are my own. I’ve done quite a bit of promotion about my comic Skullkickers being available on comiXology, iVerse and Graphicly. We have a free zero issue and we’ve had a couple 99¢ sales, so some of our early issues have sold quite well digitally but, if you count 99¢ copies as a 1/3 sale money-wise, we’re selling at about the 15% range of our print sales on early issues. Later issues are sitting at around 8-10% of print sales right now. Admittedly, the 99¢ pricing has expanded our audience much faster and that’s nothing to sneeze at. They’re not blockbuster sales numbers but at least I know that as our exposure increases back issues will keep selling without any fear of ever being out of stock.


Meanwhile, here’s another equally seismic piece by Dawn Griffin of Zorphbert and Fred called Open For Debate: Ditching the Webcomic Business Model

I followed the rules. Where’s my success?

Instead, I see a plateau. I have kept the readers I have made over the years. I have a handful of very passionate readers whom I deeply appreciate. I want more of those, but just can’t seem to find where they are hiding. They certainly don’t seem to be the general “webcomic readers” demographic: men & women(to a lesser degree) in their late teens, 20′s and early 30′s. My demographic seems to be mainly.. well… everyone else. Preteen boys, men 30-50 years and men and women 50+. Whu-oh.

It’s a pretty thorough rundown of why the webcomic model hasn’t worked for this particular comic.

To her credit, Griffin also addresses the fact that maybe webcomic readers just aren’t that into her. She goes on to propose a new model based on boosting print sales, and opens it up for debate.

I haven’t read the strip in question, but at a quick glance we field it under a certain demographic on our brain. As we’ve mentioned here many times, comics are the most inclusive industry on earth, and the bar to entry is unbelievably low. Put up a tumblr and get a table at a con and you’re in the club. But not everyone is a superstar, a star or even a “veteran creator.” Sometimes it isn’t just the business model.



  1. Most comics cultures have had some form of serialization as the initial taste for new readers. Webcomics just happens to be one another one of those serialization options. It’s probably best suited for comics that are aimed at the demographics that wouldn’t be caught dead in a comic book store – midwestern housewives that enjoy gay porn, to pick a random example.

    The money, however, is usually in the collection of those serialized pages into something that can be sold at a show. If you’re going to make the transition from web to print, it’s probably a good idea to give the reader an incentive to buy the book in print – a value add of some kind. A really good option is presenting the work in black and white on the web and color in print. It’s simple and obvious and almost nobody does it.

  2. _Today_ you could do B&W online and color in print, but that wasn’t viable until the Print On Demand situation switched this fall. Color strips online get you much higher readership and to get decent pricing a color book, you were looking at 750+ copies for the initial order. 1000+ being MUCH better for pricing. That’s a lot of money to throw down and you need a big existing audience for it. But… the pricing has changed and it’s conceivable now.

    I’m just not sure that you get the audience with the web version in B&W.

    I _would_ say that aiming for the book on what appears to be a gag-a-day-ish strip is very odd. I could see that for a story strip, but we’re getting into another conversation there.

  3. So if I’m reading this right, Apple takes 30% of the sale price, Comixology takes 50% of what’s left, and then the rest goes to the publisher.

    So that means that if a publisher chose to sell their comic for $.99, Apple would be perfectly happy with only getting $.30 of that, Comixology would be perfectly happy with only getting $.35 of that, and the publisher would take the remaining $.34. So really, what’s driving the price is the publisher, who is the only person in the process who seems to be depending on a minimum price point to meet expenses.

    This is as opposed to some situation where Apple and/or Comixology had a set minimum $ rather than % they were looking for.

  4. I’m not sure what changed about print on demand this year – I’ve been using print on demand to make short run graphic novels for five years. The prices haven’t really changed all that much, just the customer service.

    I agree that color strips drive larger readership, but what is the point of the webcomic – online readership or successful print turnover?

    One of the weird things about print on demand is that as the page count goes up, so does the potential profit margin. It is possible to print 500 copies of a 48 page perfect bound glossy book at magazine size for $3 a book that sell for $12 at a convention. There’s even room for a retail discount. I just don’t see that kind of earning power in the periodical market.

  5. The webcomic business model works, just not for traditional non-offensive comic strips of the like you used to find in the newspaper. The most financially successful ones as far as I know are for gaming (tabletop and video) and tech nerds. See Penny Arcade. It also doesn’t hurt to go crazy detail oriented to suck in the kind of OCD internet dwellers that added their life story to TV Tropes somewhere. See Homestuck.

    That said, I’m wondering why independent creators would even bother to go through a publisher for digital. It’s not like you need them to do printing for you. Wouldn’t it just be easier to go directly to Comixology or Amazon and collect all of that remaining 30% yourself?

  6. hello, Dawn of the Webcomic Alliance here. Just wanted to say thanks for sharing my article. It’s in no way a new idea, nor something that’ll work for everyone. It’s simply the new route I’m going to try, to find more of the audience I already have… most of which tends to NOT be the webcomic reader demographic. I have considered ending my comic and starting a new one that’d edgy, PG-13+, and more aimed at that demographic, but I have realized that I simply do not write that way… it would seem forced and pandering.
    At some point, I may just have to accept that the problem isn’t the model or not working hard enough, but a lack of talent… but I still enjoy what I do, and maybe I’ll continue to improve.. and who knows what I’ll stumble on. If it’s not “all about the ride”, what’s the point? ;0)
    (not that selling really well at cons or getting good reviews doesn’t help the “ride” feel justified, heh)

  7. Dawn, thanks for sharing your thoughts, and in true comics community fashion I’ll say, as long as you are enjoying what you are doing, you should keep doing it.

  8. Some really great ideas here. We’ve been considering whether or not it makes sense to start offering our longform story-driven comic in ebook issues, and I’m starting to think we should do that sooner rather than later. Two ways of selling that I’ve wanted to try are selling the whole issue before it updates online and releasing only the first 1/3 of the issue online and offering an ebook for anybody who wants to read the rest of the issue. I do wonder how much of an audience you need before attempting this, or if being on comixology will bring in its own while new set of readers.

  9. The key point in the entire article and the real reason digital prices should be much lower:

    They’re not blockbuster sales numbers but at least I know that as our exposure increases back issues will keep selling without any fear of ever being out of stock.”

    There is a very real potential here for a never ending stream of revenue from every single issue.

  10. The figures contained in the pie chart were surprising. I struggle(d) to understand how a business model like that can succeed. 65% of the retail price for a comic sold on a mobile device go to the distributors? Wow.
    There must be a cheaper method for indie creators, to get their work to readers via digital means. The ‘store’ is charging $1.95 out of every $3 to rent out a comic file to the reader?

  11. Well AI, thats how Apple operates, they are greedy and because they own the platforms, basically dictate the fee to the market. Just look at iTunes and the whole iCloud they commercialize. Want to deal with us, sell us your soul!

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