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Brian Clevinger on the only option for independent comics

Brian Clevinger, of 8-Bit Theater (reviewed here) and the Eisner-nominated miniseries Atomic Robo, recently posted his opinions on the changes in Diamond’s shipping policy (Diamond Comics Distributors being the largest comic distributor in North America):

If you follow print comics at all, then you probably already know about Diamond’s Big News. The short version is that they’re increasing the minimum amount a title must earn in order for Diamond to continue carrying it. This makes good economic sense for Diamond, but it’s unquestionably going to destroy independent comics publishing as we know it. The first third of this article goes into a little more depth on the issue, but basically when the monopolistic distribution system makes it mathematically impossible for the majority of independent publishers (and all yet-to-be-founded independent publishers) to be distributed, that’s it. Game over.

Let me put it plainly. The basic model of getting new independent comics into shops is dead.

Oh, it’ll do fine for Marvel, DC, Image, Dark Horse, IDW, and maybe one or two others. But everyone else? Everyone out there working on a new project for publication right now? The old model no longer applies.

What’s the solution for independent publishers, then? A business model that we’re all familiar with:

I’d been wondering when comics would go digital since around 2002. That’s when 8BT officially became my job. I started going to conventions and the difference between webcomic money and small press money was so obscene it made me feel bad. Seriously. I was making more money by giving away my comic online than everyone I ever saw who self-published their comics or who went through smaller independent publishers and Diamond. It’s a basic question of overhead. If you print, you have to pay to print the comics; to ship the comics; to store the comics; to ship the comics again to Diamond, or the retailer, or the customer. And that cover price? I know the customer feels like $2.99 is a bit much for one issue (nevermind the $3.99 that will become the standard price later this year), but that’s got to go toward paying the printer, the shipping, the storage, the shipping again, Diamond, and the retailer. What pittance is left over is then split between the creative team and the publisher. That’s a lot of ways to slice $3 especially since the retailer alone keeps $1.50. And mind you, this is if you get a sale. Print comics customers are not merely inclined to not buy things they don’t already buy, they actively fight it. Good luck out there!

Let’s compare that to the cost of distributing a webcomic. You pay about $20/year for a domain name and then a monthly fee for bandwidth, the cost of which will range from negligible to obscene. If you don’t have much traffic, then chances are you can afford to swallow bandwidth costs through your own disposable income. That alone is a huge advantage over producing a print run that barely sells (no matter how small the print run) — you’re still out all those printing, shipping, and storage costs that don’t exist for a webcomic. If your traffic starts to increase, then yeah, your bandwidth costs will go up. But it’ll always be a cost you can make disappear by selling sketches, original pages, and/or advertising space. Any revenue beyond covering those costs (plus art supplies where needed) goes straight to the creative team. No retailer. No Diamond. No publisher. And this doesn’t even get into the revenue you can generate through merchandising or print collections once you have an established pre-order-hungry audience. It’s just insane.

Basically: there was no reason to go into print. The only difference is that it’s now official Diamond policy to laugh at you for trying.

There’s more on his post here, including why he decided to put Atomic Robo in print and the parallels between what’s currently happening in comics and the mp3 revolution.

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About El Santo

Somehow ended up reading and reviewing almost 300 different webcomics. Life is funny, huh? Despite owning two masks, is not actually a luchador.

Posted on January 28, 2009, in The Webcomic Overlook, webcomics and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Thoughtful talk from a sober voice. Thanks for bringing it here.

    There are plenty of reasons to pay for bandwidth, though I’ve never paid for it for any site I’ve made. The best free host (SynthaSite, by most opinions,) is quickly becoming comparable to other options. Don’t judge it by my sites, as I’ve been too occupied to design them to potential, just pay attention to it as a possibility — two million users do, and a top rating on a major tech blog has helped.

    Webcomics are strangely behind the curve on this one. I think people remember catches like forced ads and having to pay to get adequate features.

    P.S. El Santo, your funny remark a few days ago did not escape me, though first I took it seriously, and was flummoxed.

  2. If you’re talking about the one about the Columbia coffee growers: heh, yeah, I didn’t think you singlehandedly caused them to see the error of their ways. The timing was just too excellent, though. 🙂

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