Comic Book Publishing Follies

Fri, October 5th, 2007 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Todd Allen, Columnist

MORE PLATINUM BUSINESS (FORMER) SECRETS

Judging by the response to the last column, there's a lot of you out there with an appetite for Platinum's business dealings. That's great, because last time, we didn't delve into the supporting documents Platinum filed with the SEC and there's some interesting stuff there.

For instance, did you ever wonder what it takes to have your publishing imprint listed in the Image section of the Diamond catalog like Platinum is? Then I'm sure you'd enjoy reading their contract with Top Cow, courtesy of our friends at the S.E.C..

Let me oversimplify the contract for you. For a flat fee of $50,000 plus $3,000 for each comic property listed, plus 10% of "Net Revenues," Top Cow agrees to distribute up to 60 Platinum titles, plus up to an addition 24 Kiss titles through Diamond (although Platinum has its own sales agreement with Diamond, more on that in a bit) and list said titles in the same section of "Previews" as Top Cow; arrange printing for the Platinum comics, using their printer and at approximately the same prices; and provide "forty-four (44) standard-sized pages of standard comic-book lettering" for these Platinum comics.

No, I don't know what the deal with the lettering is. Maybe Platinum was having trouble finding quality letterers, but that's part of the deal and that's what it costs to get listed in the Image section of "Previews," at least for Platinum.

Now speaking of Diamond, have you ever seen a Diamond distribution contract? Would you like to? Here you go.

Not a lot to the agreement, other than the fact that Platinum's base discount to Diamond is the fairly standard 60%.

Now, let's do a little math. Last time I saw one of Platinum's Kiss comics in a shop, it had a cover price of $2.99. That means Platinum would get 40% of that ($1.196) from Diamond for each comic purchased. If we assume Platinum released a full 84 titles, the maximum called for in the agreement with Top Cow, the flat fee comes out to roughly $525.24 per book, so the listing fee per book (and lettering in the case of 2 books/month) would be roughly $3525.24. It would take the full revenue from roughly 2948 comics priced at $2.99 to pay off that listing fee. And that's before the print bill comes into play. More than that if less than 84 comics come out in 2007. Is it worth it? Well, ICV2 lists "Kiss 4K" #3 at 12,783 copies (figure you can pad that number by 10-20% and come a little closer to the real number). By my count there were only eight "back of catalog" books ordered higher in August. It's probably only a fiscal boost if the catalog placement bumped things by over 20%, so the real question is what kind of a boost is that placement worth, and for that I don't have enough data to say.

On the other hand, ICV2 listed sales for "Ghosting" #1 at only 3,548, and "Consumed" #2 at 2,609. Even bumping those estimates by 20%, I'm not sure "Ghosting" sees black ink, and "Consumed" will need a really low printing bill, once that listing fee is accounted for.

Then again, it should come as no surprise that a licensed book outsells the original creations. As Dark Horse, Dynamite or IDW where their bread is buttered and they'll tell you licensed books (although Dynamite had a windfall with the non-licensed "Boys" getting evicted from DC's playground).

But that's not the only distribution contract Platinum has. If you looked here you'd find a contract for magazine/newsstand-style distribution through Ingram Periodicals, Inc. Ingram being one of the major distributors of books (the ones with words in them). Oversimplifying, in this one, Platinum only has to give a 55% discount, but also has the spectre of returns hanging over there head. As with "normal" magazines, if it doesn't sell, it gets returned (or destroyed) and the publisher doesn't get paid. On the other hand, that's got to be significantly upping the print run, so the individual copies will cost a bit less to print. The contract specifically mentions "Barnes & Noble, Inc., Gander Mountain, Hastings, Jo-Ann's" and provides service to other accounts in the U.S. and Canada.

It's worth noting this contract is only for "Kiss 4K." Perhaps licensed titles do better on the newsstand, too?

If you want to take a look at all of Platinum's filings, go here. If you look hard enough, you can even find their lease.

ZUDA REVISTED (AGAIN)

The Zuda contracts are online.

Enough people have gone through them with a fine tooth comb, let's stick to the basics and take it all in from a couple different perspectives.

You're getting $250 per "screen"/strip. You get the copyright and trademark, but DC controls the trademark for the duration of the contract. The key to reversion is not getting a $2K check every two years, so the moral of the story is, if your strip is making money, you're not allowed the option of switching publishers, but if its not, you'll get it back.

While I would like to see some royalties in the contract that speak to high viewership at the website, that's probably something that won't be addressed until somebody has a breakout feature and retains an agent for the contract renewal process. Other than that, we have what I'd call a decent work-for-hire rate with enhanced royalty options for the various flavors of marketing and the chance of all the rights coming home to you (if it bombs). Your biggest concern should be Zuda's ability to create licensed goods on the scale of other successful webcomics.

Yes, it definitely is an Intellectual Property factory. No, you don't get the same royalties you'd get at Image or if you did your own site. For that matter, you don't have a track record for licensing Zuda properties. But if you're looking to be paid and get some exposure, it's a decent deal. If you're already got enough of a following that $1K/month for 4 strips means you're taking a loss on your time, this isn't the deal for you. I'm not expecting to see a John Byrne strip turn up, y'know? But if you're under-publicized, it might be for you.

I had occasion to speak with a lawyer about Zuda. Said lawyer had not read the Zuda contracts, but had an interesting reaction to the thumbnail description I gave him. The idea of DC controlling the trademark and then reversion if it went inactive, sounded very similar to the DC creator-owned agreement to him. He also thought there was definite value to the artist in having someone register the trademark and enforce it, both of which take some financial expenditures to do.

If that's the case, this really underscores the difference between the corporate world of print and the sole proprietor world that the majority of webcomics exist in. What's a good deal to the print cartoonist may make the web cartoonist draw arms.

I suppose there's room for a situation like Neil Gaiman's last "Sandman" negiotiation. DC owns "Sandman," but we all know it isn't "Sandman" if it isn't Neil. Rumor has it, Neil's terms weren't met for an anniversary special and he just walked away. No special, and a lot of potential sales left on the table. I could definitely see something like that happen if Zuda takes off, and then the question would be what DC opted to do.

Then again, there's the on-going saga of Zuda's promotion by way of misinformation. Do we see a plain English explanation of the contracts on the Zuda site, as promised? Heavens, no! They tell you to have a lawyer look at the contracts. (I know two lawyers who witnessed that announcement in Chicago and were highly insulted at the time.) Did several someones not clear that with legal before spouting it on the convention circuit?

Similarly, there was a report of Team Zuda saying there wouldn't be marketing because webcomics are viral. Thankfully, this is not entirely the reality, as Zuda ads have been in DC Comics quite a bit of late. I just hope they continue to have those ads in place when there's content online, as opposed to just the submission rounds.

Zuda should be commended for putting their contract online. While you can interpret it a few different ways, a person should know what they're getting into. I just wish their publicity run-up would have been a bit more consistent with the reality of the situation. While it becomes grist for a column, it does more disservice than good.

Todd Allen is the author of "The Economics of Webcomics, 2nd Edition." He consults on media and technology issues and is an adjunct professor with the Arts, Entertainment and Media Management Department at Columbia College Chicago. For more information, see http://www.BusinessOfContent.com. Todd even did a webcomic. Sort of.

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