Jim Zub Lays it All Out For You

Jim Zub tells it like it is. It is that simple. The man doesn’t lie.

Consider this…

…on a $2.99 cover-priced comic ($3, for simplicity’s sake):

-$1.00: Approximately 1/3 of that cover price goes to Diamond, the distributor who solicits orders and ships comics to retailers. This varies based on shipping, gas prices, amount ordered and who the publisher is but it’s a good approximation. Diamond deserves their share for soliciting, storing and shipping comics to retail outlets. They’re an international distributor with lots of expenses to keep the system running.

-$1.00: Approximately 1/3 of that cover price goes to retailers, the people selling the comics to customers. This amount varies quite a bit based on the publisher and the number of copies ordered by the retailer, but is a base approximation. Retailers deserve their share for selling comics to their local customer base. They buy non-returnable product and take great risk each and every week.

-$0.50 to $0.75: Printing is substantial (and it varies wildly based on the amount printed, paper availability, and press availability). 50 to 75 cents is a pretty good benchmark for small print runs, which means 1/2 to 3/4 of the remaining money is now gone.

On very low print runs (sub 4000), printing can easily cost $1.00 per copy, which means all the money is gone. The entire cover price has been eaten up just physically printing, shipping and selling the comic.

You can read his entire insightful post over on his blog. But let me take a moment to make a quick note: Zub is being generous.

As we get ready to go to print with Paris in the 20th Century, a few realities have hit us hard. we never expected to get rich. Heck, we never expected to do more than cover our costs. But after looking at the realities of printing our book, even breaking even may be a lofty goal.

Checking with on-line printers, the average cost of printing a 24 page, color comic is about $2.50. That is if you are willing to give your back cover to the company as advertising, make minimum orders, or do something else to lower the cost. The $2.50 does not include the cost of shipping which would eat up the rest of a $3.00 cover price.

Dropping the printing to black and white brings the cost down to approximately $1.50 (again by giving up he back cover, hitting minimums, or some other measure). Keeping the shipping the same, that brings the total cost to approximately $2.00 an issue. Wow! A $1 (or 33%) profit per issue!

Except now there has to be a place to sell it. Going through a distributor like Diamond would eat up all the profit, and the retail share would put the creators in the hole. Like Zub, I’m not blaming either of those groups. They need to eat too. So most self-publishers go for self-distribution. They sell on commission directly to retailers, or they go to conventions.

That is where te rest of the money goes. Small press tables go anywhere from $75 to $400 per show. That means, just to break even, a self-published creator needs to sell a minimum of 75 books just to break even for the space (not to mention cover costs of travel, hotels, food, and antibiotics to keep con-crud at bay!). In short, no one is getting rich quick via independent comics.

I publish this piece so people will keep it in the back of their minds as they wander Small Press and Artist Alley. The people who are sitting there with their books on display are doing it for the love of the medium. So stop by. Pick up a book. Support a creator. They truly appreciate your business.

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2 Responses to Jim Zub Lays it All Out For You

  1. $2.50 per book is an outrageous price. You should be able to do better with a local printer. The biggest challenge is putting the money up front and of course storage. If you can print well in advance of needing them delivered you can save even more by having the print job done over seas.

    • admin says:

      While $2.50 may be outrageous, it is the going rate. I got that figure from the leading on-line printers which most self-publishers use. I agree that getting things printed overseas is cheaper if you can wait. As for local printers, it comes down to building relationships. If you have a relationship with a printer, they may cut you a better deal. Even more likely, if you give them an on-line quote, they will match or beat it.

      The one value that on-line services such as Kablam offer is a digital point of sale & print on demand which allows a creator to have an online sales presence as well as be able to sell without having to store tons of books. But the cut is still the same and you are not making much money on the sale.

      No matter how you slice it, the economics of printing and distributing comics does not add up to creators making much money. I think that is why webcomics are so popular. Creators give away the product for free, then charge for advertising space on the site (either on a per-click basis or flat fee). That is where the real money is made. Then it is just a matter of figuring out how to drive up readership to levels which are attractive to advertisers. Check with the guys over at Penny Arcade or XKCD for tips on how to do that!

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