B&N Week 74: Numbers Game

| May 22, 2012 | 14 Comments

It’s another wonderful Tuesday! We’ve got sunshine, singing birds, and warm breezes carrying the aroma of fresh flowers. For those of you with pollen allergies [which I thankfully am not], I apologize for basking in the cause of your misery. But you’re here, teary eyed and runny nosed, and I appreciate it. I’ll make sure the tissue box gets passed around as I give you even more reason to cry.

This week, I want to get into the Bolts & Nuts of some numbers. You’re looking to get your book published, and want to know as much information as possible, right? Well, I’m going to see if I can provide that for you. Yes, I know that we’ve gone over numbers before, and that its depressing, but as I learn, I want you to learn, too. The more you know, the better equipped you’ll be to handle what you’re getting into.

So, we ready? Let’s go!

Almost everyone reading this has dreams of getting their book into Diamond. Why? Getting into Diamond is the only way to get into the bulk of comic shops around the country. Most comic shops will not look at you unless you’re with Diamond. Even some that claim to be indie friendly aren’t going to look at you—unless you’re local.

Wait. Stop. I said some, not all. There are definitely indie friendly shops that will take your creator-owned book, local or not, and if you’re willing to do the work, they’re willing to go to bat for you. (More work? Really?) [Remember, this is comics. Just because you made it does not mean they will come. You have to show you’re better than the bulk of other creators out there by getting into the club. Diamond is the club.]

Here are the things you need to make a comic, along with their estimated and actual prices. [There will only be one actual price, and that has an * next to it.] This will be for a 22-page comic, plus cover. [Remember, even though it’s 22 pages of story, you still have to account for 24 pages of inside material, plus the covers, which takes up four sides, as well. So, we’re really talking about 28 pages: 22-24 of story, and the cover, which consists of the front cover, inside front, inside back, and back.] This will be in order for Diamond to sell the comic.

Writer= 0 [This is generally you, and you generally don’t pay yourself.]
Penciler= 960 [40/pg, at 24 pages]
Inker= 360 [15/pg, at 24 pages
Letterer= 390 [15/pg, at 26 pages]
Colorist= 560 [20/pg, at 28 pages]
Editor= 1400 [50/pg, at 28 pages] [this is for project management]
Cover= 100
Logo= 100
UPC= 10

Let’s add that up. $3880 for a single issue. [Yes, you can do it cheaper, but remember that you get what you pay for.]

Next is printing. Remember, this is for a single issue, going through Diamond, so print on demand more than likely isn’t going to be an option. This means you’re going to have to go to one of the larger printers, such as Transcontinental.

When it comes to printing, there are two things you want: you want to order only as many as you need, and you want a price break. However, price breaks only come when you buy thousands of copies.

Now, Diamond’s threshold is 1500 units [copies]. If you don’t sell that many, they won’t carry you. [Yes, there is wiggle room.] If you go with an initial quote from Transcontinental for 1500 units, you’ll get a response of $3750, which means your per-unit price is $2.50. (But, Steven, I’m selling my book at $4. If I were to sell it at that price, and sold the entire run of 1500, I’d be making $6000. That will cover the printing.) No, you’d be making less than that. You’d be making $2400, because you’re selling to Diamond at a 60% discount. So, selling out of your print run does not cover the expense of printing.

Now, that’s for just printing the books. That cost does not include shipping! 1500 books are heavy! [I know this firsthand. I used to work for UPS loading trucks, and Tuesday nights were killer!] All of that weight needs to be transported, right? How do you expect it to get to Diamond, anyway? Well, shipping is going to cost you, because Diamond ain’t payin’ for it.

Now, here’s an open secret: Diamond has two warehouses. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll call them East Coast and West Coast. Now, you can have the shipment sent to one warehouse, and then pay a premium to have that shipment split by Diamond in order to go to the second warehouse, or you can have the printer split the shipment itself so it will go to both warehouses. Splitting it yourself will be cheaper. Anyway, for this example, shipping will cost around $350.

At 1500 units, with a cost of $3750 plus $350 for shipping, plus the production cost of $3880, you’re at $7980 in the hole.

And what about Diamond itself, huh?

Previews is an advertising tool. This means, not only do you have to have quality to get in it, but you also have to spend money. A half-page, black and white ad will run you $750 for a one-off, or $700 for six issues. [We’ll say you’re creating a mini-series, in order to make things not as scary.] So, you’re now $8680 in the hole.

You need to sell more comics!

Let’s say that you’ve been getting a lot of good press, and people want to buy your book. Let’s say you get a purchase order from Diamond for 5000 units. Well, the printing cost from that initial quote tells you it would be $4750 to print [which also brings your per-unit cost down to .95.] So, your new total is $5100 to print and ship, plus the production cost of $3880, brings us to $8980. This is what you are in the hole for.

Do you make any money at 5k units? Let’s see!

Your book sells at $4, and you sell it to Diamond at a 60% discount, which means your price per unit after the Diamond discount is $2.4. That invoice for 5k units means that your gross profit is $12000, which means, after subtracting the $8980 it took to get there, you have made a profit of $3020!

What does this mean? It means that, for a full color regular comic, you will break even once you’ve sold around 3750 comics through Diamond.

Let’s put that into some perspective.

In December 2011, as reported by ICV2, Wolverine and the X-Men was number 282, selling 3756 copies.

In December, if you were to sell 5k copies, you would be ranked 256 on the sale chart, above these following titles: Savage Dragon, Spider-Man, Detective Comics [I don’t know what printing of that first issue], and Pigs.

That was December. Let’s look at April, 2012:

At 5k copies of Pen-Man, you’d be ranked 265, and would be above Glory (278), Batman (293), Justice League (300). [The DC’s are not first printings.]

The bigger takeaway is that you’d have cracked the Top 300 comics.

Yes, it would be cheaper to print b/w on newsprint [the numbers I gave don’t take into account the type of paper, which will affect both the printing and shipping cost], and thus, easier to make a profit.

But I also want you to think about this:

The Image Deal has a standard $2500 that comes off the top of sales. [Yes, they will have better printing terms.] With these numbers, going through Image, you only made $520. It’s still a profit, but it’s a much closer thing. Bloodstrike #27 only sold 3529 in April, and was ranked 297. That’s the lowest ranked Image book for the month. You’d be selling around as many books as the team behind Image’s 68 Scars. (Never heard of it.) Me either.

And that’s the point.

Homework: Look over your budget. $9k per issue is nothing to sneeze at. This is why you should look to do graphic novels and mini-series.

See you in a week.

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Category: Bolts & Nuts, Columns

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at stevedforbes@gmail.com for rate inquiries.

Comments (14)

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  1. Tyler James says:

    You’re hearing a lot of talk about “self-covers” in the comics news lately. Marvel recently announced it’d be switching all its books to self-covers. (Self cover means the cover stock is the same as the interior stock.)

    There’s a good reason for this…going self cover will shave 20% off the print quote above for all quantities.

    This makes a big difference. That magic breakeven number gets closer to 2300.

  2. Josh Henaman says:

    Speaking of self-covers, unless you’re dropping below 40# paper, you won’t notice a difference. If you’re sticking with something like a 50#, it will have the same feel and look you’re used to (the true difference between 50# interior and something like 60 – 70 is minor. You can tell the difference when you grab both and give it a slight shake, but the idea of it protecting the interior just isn’t that significant of a benefit at those weights. 40# and below can get a little flimsy, so you may benefit from a higher weight for the cover.) Of course, if you absolutely love the idea of something like a cardstock cover, you’ll see a difference, but you won’t get that “cracking bend” in the spine that you normally would with cardstock. To me, the self-cover truly has the feel of a comic (you could potentially roll it up and put in your pocket… as you start whistling the theme to the Andy Griffith show.) For my two cents, save some money and go with a self-cover.

    • Tyler James says:

      Right. Nearly all of the hundreds of thousands of comics given away at Free Comic Book Day were self covers. Most people don’t pay attention or see a difference.

      (Except of course the beautiful Archaia hardcover.)

  3. I’ve known for awhile that I wont ever be able to afford self publishing. That’s why I’m thinking my future may lie in web comics, written and drawn by me. I just need to improve my art style, and lettering greatly.
    The art in my current web comic, ‘The Return’ is functional at best lol

    • Tyler James says:

      We’re living in an incredible age for story-tellers. There are SO MANY ways to get your ideas out there.

      The web provides a cheap, scalable platform that is especially well-suited for experimentation and honing your talents.

      Sounds like a great place to start, Conner.

    • Phil B says:

      Have you thought about using indie go go or kickstarter?

  4. eli ivory says:

    yeah, the numbers game always take me out of the fun of doing comics. I know business is business and it’s really getting tougher to get noticed. I just figure it’s better to do webcomics too and a few cons here and there. Unless I win the lottery. maybe it’s easier to make a seven year plan to save up enough after all the creative stuff is done.

  5. Margaret Trauth says:

    As a webcomics person moving into print via ~100p collections rather than someone in love with the ~30p comic book, I await the follow-up post on getting GNs into Diamond with baited breath. *grin*

    • Tyler James says:

      Good suggestion, Margaret.

      We’ll be looking to do just that later on in the year, and report back as always.

      On the one hand, graphic novels are easier to get accepted by Diamond…after all, they are a more attractive product for them to sell, the higher price points are nice. And for the creator, the number of copies you need to sell is much lower to meet that Diamond minimum.

      The challenge is on the retailer end. Getting them to order more than one copy of a GN they aren’t sure if there is a demand for is tough. So, again, everything youve seen us do to reach out to retailers is just as important as getting the Diamond green light.

  6. Tim Larsen says:

    “I used to work for UPS loading trucks”

    … same here. Been doing it for 6 years and counting.

    I am very grateful for your site, and follow it religiously. Very user-friendly and informative!

  7. Sean Rutan says:

    This can be extremely daunting when an aspiring creator sees the cold, hard truth of the costs involved. All of us are cocky enough to think that our book will be a hit (otherwise we wouldn’t be doing this), yet when we see the sales figures for HUGE, well-known titles, it can really be intimidating.

    I’ve got a few ideas on how to combat the downsides of comic book publishing, so I will definitely let everyone know how it works out once I implement them in the next 6 months. In the meantime, I will constantly check in here for more tips and information. This site is a treasure chest for would-be creators.

    Thanks, as always!

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