Got a great question from a fellow creator the other day, and figured it was worth sharing my response here. So, once again, let’s crack open the Comix Counsel mailbag:
I’ve been thinking about putting out a webcomic. I’m just nervous about the financial end of things. I have an artist and a colorist in mind, and they are willing to go below their normal rate for me.
I want to figure out my frequency (i’m thinking 3x a month) as well as the endgame. Do I want to do this as some sort of online resume/audition to get picked up by a small press indie? Or do I just want to self publish as a trade at some point?
While this is ambitious of me, I need to somehow make it break even down the road. It will do me no good if I put myself in a big hole.
Are there any tips you could give me?
To webcomic or not to webcomic, that is the question.
Actually, there’s a whole lot going on in the above question- webcomics, finances, establishing one’s self in the industry. This question has got it all, folks! Now, a webcomic CAN be a great way to disseminate your comic. Every day, it seems like there’s a new hot webcomic that people are reading. Even pros are getting into the webcomics game. (Speaking of, have you check out Mike Norton’s Battlepug?) Still deciding to launch a webcomic is a big decision, and one you should weigh carefully.
Before you decide one way or another though, go out and buy How to Make Webcomics and read it cover to cover. (It’s now back in print, I believe this is the third printing.) This book is the absolute best primer on the subject, and full of great other tips as well. (The chapter on conventions is worth the cover price alone.) One thing this book will tell you, and I can attest to it from personal experience, is that a three-times-a-month update schedule is WAY too infrequent to ever build any real traction/traffic on your site. It’s simply not enough content. A once-a-week update schedule is the bare minimum I’d recommend, and even that will seriously hamper your ability to build traffic.
I think the question of how to make this project financially successful or even have it break even is a separate one than whether or not to release as a webcomic. From what I’ve seen, very rare is the creator whose first comic project is a financial success. Simply breaking even may be awfully difficult, depending on the costs you’re putting into the book, the ultimate quality of the project, the marketability of it, the other products you make, the margins on those products, and your own and other’s ability to sell those products.
The sad truth is that nobody’s first comic makes money.
But you have to start somewhere…and to get in the game requires some investment. So, how much is this worth to you?
Let me give you an example of one of my own projects. Tears of the Dragon, has been running on a webcomic that updates on Tuesdays, and has been since July 2009. (With many a long hiatus in between weekly updates.) This is a creator-owned project that I write and letter. The artists I’m working with are working for a page rate. I’m retaining all rights to the project. It is solely my responsibility to control the website, create, sell and market the books. To date, I’ve commissioned 53 pages (of what will probably be 150) of story + 4 covers/pinups. And let me tell you, even though my collaborators are giving me a good deal on the page rate, that adds up to a not insignificant chunk of change. How am I going to make that investment back?
Well, there’s books sales of course. Last year, I did a short print run collecting the first 16 page chapter of the book, and released it as a floppy. I’ve almost sold out of this small POD run, though that only only amounts to about 60 copies sold at conventions. I’ve also managed to sell another 50 or so in $0.99 digital downloads. Factoring in production costs here, and also that some of the books were premium “artist editions” at higher price points, I’ve probably netted about $300 in sales of TOTD so far.
For this year’s con season, I’ll be releasing a new volume of TOTD (available for pre-order now), collecting the first 53 pages (first two chapters.) My pricepoint and margin on these will be a bit higher, and my print run will be a bit higher as well. Still, I’ll be happy if I can net $750 in profit from total sales of this next volume. Considering it will probably require another $4,000 in investment to complete the book, that’s a drop in the bucket. Eventually, I’ll collect the entire story into one book and sell that. Still, the break even point from book sales is still several years in the future (if ever.)
But it’s a webcomic, right? What about ad revenue? In the nearly two years the site has been live, it’s been visited by 5,900 unique visitors, and generated 47,000 page views. These are not huge numbers for a webcomic. The infrequency of the update schedule, and lack of advertising has been a big reason for this. My advertising revenue basically covers the cost of the domain name ($10)…that’s about it. I don’t really have any other merchandising options on the table for this property either.
Now, you might think these less than earth shattering numbers would have me down on TOTD and on webcomics in general, but that’s not the case:
- First, I love TOTD, love my team, and am very happy to be making this book, and sharing it with the world.
- Second, TOTD is an “evergreen” story. It won’t be dated. When I eventually have that beautiful finished 150+ full page graphic novel completed, I’ll be able to sell it forever.
- Most importantly, my investment in TOTD, along with the work I’ve done on my own (OVER, Super Seed, etc.) has allowed me to establish myself as a guy who is serious about making comics. While hardly a “big name,” by doing the work and sharing it, I’m slowly building a readership, fanbase, and acknowledgment in the comics world. Sure, it’s one person at a time, but it’s a start. And what this has allowed me to do is attract talent interested in working with me to co-create new projects.
Without TOTD, I’m not sure Matt Zolman would be working with me on EPIC, or Cesar Feliciano would be working with me on THE RED TEN. And without TOTD, I would have never met one of my biggest fans, who buys everything I do, basically because I talked to her about TOTD two years ago at a con when all I had was a print and an 8 page stapled ashcan.
Again, I’m taking the long term view here. Marathon, not sprint.
Now, you also asked yourself, “Do I want to do this as some sort of online resume/audition to get picked up by a small press indie?” This is an important question. The “to pitch or not to pitch” question is always an interesting one, and one a bunch of creators struggle with. The beauty of the webcomics business model is that it cuts out the need for the approval of a publisher before you can deliver your work to the public. I know for me, I decided I wasn’t willing to wait for someone else’s approval or acceptance to start telling stories and building a readership. As a result, I now have completed books that I can sell, stories online that are getting read, and digital versions getting downloaded. For me, that’s far more rewarding than having a stack of pitches that never went any where.
A webcomic MIGHT be the best way for you to get in the game as well. Then again, it might not be. So, let’s just end with a few good reasons to do a webcomic:
- You want to start building a readership NOW!
- You want to reach as large a potential audience as possible.
- You want to get direct, immediate feedback on your work from readers.
- You want to avoid (at least for now) pitching to publishers, Diamond, or any other middle men, and put all your energy into your story.
- You realize that printing without an established readership or market for your work is a gamble with a capital G.
I’m sure there are plenty more. Webcomic friends, help me out! What are some other good reasons to do a webcomic? Hit up the comments with your suggestions, please.
Tyler James is a comics creator, game designer, and educator residing in Newburyport, MA. He is the writer and co-creator of EPIC, a superteen action comedy, and Tears of the Dragon, a swords and sorcery fantasy. His past work includes OVER, a romantic comedy graphic novel, and Super Seed, the story of the world’s first super powered fertility clinic. His work has been published by DC and Arcana comics.
Tyler is the publisher and co-creator of ComixTribe, a new website empowering creators to help each other make better comics.
Category: Comix Counsel