The math behind printing and distributing comic books

Mark Waid, a former Editor-In-Chief of BOOM! Studios, crunches the numbers to print and distribute your comic to comic book stores. Probably not a big revelation to this audience but interesting nonetheless.

So…Diamond. Typically, a non-Premier publisher sells its wares to Diamond at 40-45% of cover price. Let?s say 40%. You?re one of those publishers. That means that if your comic is cover-priced at $3.99 (which, at the moment, seems to be the average bottom threshold), you?re making roughly $1.60 per copy. Which actually doesn?t sound too awful, right? Let?s say you?re not a Bendis- or Millar-level sales superstar but neither are you a total unknown, so you?re selling 5000-6000 copies of each issue, very respectable in this day and age. Less if you?re a brand-new creator with no track record among retailers, but for argument?s sake, let?s say 5-6K. That?s, what, eight or nine grand gross?
But here?s the big bite: at those print-run levels, that comic is costing you around a dollar a copy just to print. Maybe a little more, maybe a little less. What?s that? You?ve decided to forego expensive color for cheaper black and white? You?d be surprised how little that lowers the cost. Printing, shipping, and various related charges–that?s where you?re spending more than half your income. More than half. Not on creative, not on marketing, not on advertising, not on all of that put together. On printing the damn thing.

5 thoughts on “The math behind printing and distributing comic books

  1. This argues well for going direct to trade. 5000 80pp color books will set you back maybe $10k, and you can charge $10 each ($4 to Diamond). If we assume that you’re getting Waid’s sales of 5000 copies, you’ll actually turn a profit.

    Of course, getting those sales numbers is the big trick, no matter the size of your book.

  2. His closing comment, “… on printing the damn thing” suggests he’s warming up to digital.

    That’s not the same as warming up to the free content business model most webcartoonists use, but the two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, either.

  3. His observations on how many stores a relatively unknown comic will get into are critical here, and there is a parallel in the trade side with graphic novels and the chain bookstores: In most chain stores, the “graphic novel” section might as well be called the “Marvel section.” Chances of finding anything that doesn’t involve Spandex and things blowing up are just about zero.

    If it’s any comfort, you can’t find much by classic authors that isn’t on everybody’s freshman year reading list there, either.

    Hard to believe that a dozen years ago, people were debating how on earth Amazon would ever show a profit.

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