Todd Allen has been involved with digital publishing and comics for over fifteen years. He's written for Publisher's Weekly, Comic Book Resources, The Chicago Tribune, and with our friends over at The Beat, where he's a contributing editor. He taught eBusiness at Columbia College Chicago for five years. He also wrote an article dissecting the sales of the DC's New 52 reboot back in early 2013, and I may have, accidentally, at that time, referred to him as a "a virginal shut-in with nothing better to do than obsess over DC comic book characters and continuity" in an article, that, I'm going to tell you to illustrate the difference in professionalism between Todd Allen and Jude Terror, I just fixed a typo in, today, a year and a half later.
For some reason, Todd enjoyed this, and now that he's launching a Kickstarter campaign, he contacted me to help get the word out. If you're a regular follower of the comic book media, you are familiar with the monthly routine where Diamond releases some comic book sales charts with vague rankings and percentages, and every blog on the internet publishes an article acting like they have any idea what any of it means. You'll see intelligent-sounding but ultimately meaningless phrases like "sales are down 8% from the same time last year, but that month saw the debut of Wolverine and the Wolverinemen of Wolverineville #1" and "DC's market share is holding steady around 34% as it has for the past 40 years," but never any kind of actual analysis of the implications of any of it. It's all just bullshit. Even our articles. Except the one with Hitler.
But Todd Allen actually does kind of know what he's talking about, as you'd know if you read some of his columns at Publisher's Weekly, and if you're interested in knowing what you're talking about too, then you might be interested in his new book (well, it's kind of an old book, but a new edition), The Economics of Digital Comics, and also, what the hell are you doing reading this website? The Economics of Digital Comics, in its previous editions, has actually been taught at a real college, though, to be fair, it was the Savannah College of Art and Design, not Dartmouth or anything. It has nine whole chapters, and an introduction by Mark Waid, so you know this is the real deal. I should also point out that, though this might all sound like a lot of high praise, none of it refutes, in any way whatsoever, all that virginal shut-in stuff from earlier. In fact, it probably makes it more likely.
But enough about Todd Allen's sex life. Let's welcome Todd to the Outhouse, clearly the low point of his journalistic career, and find out what he has to say about his Kickstarter project.
You were last featured on The Outhouse when you wrote a biased hit-piece disparaging the good name of our friends at DC Comics, about a year and a half ago. Are you ready to admit you were wrong and the New 52 is a huge success, both financially and critically, and that its success will last forever and ever?
Alas, when I ran the numbers for 2013, the trend was continuing. Now, if you're looking for a silver lining, Harley Quinn is the best "regular series" launch DC's had in a long time. The May issue outsold everything at Marvel not named "Original Sin" (Event) or "Amazing Spider-Man" (just relaunched). This is Jimmy Palmiotti's industry and he just lets us hang around. The Valentine's Day issue was one of the best single issues of the year, too. Batman Eternal looks like it might have some legs. A little early to tell on Futures End. On the other hand, Batman is significantly down from it's old perch at 125K and the last issue of Justice League was estimated at 77.5K and that one used to be a LOT higher. They're putting pressure on the wound, but there's still a lot of bleeding. We'll see if Future's End can hold the first month's numbers and what the reception of World's End is.
Incidentally, Marvel's 2013 reminded me a lot of DC's 2012. I'm not comfortable looking at the charts and seeing outside of the aforementioned Sins and Spidey, they only had one issue (All-New X-Men) above the 60K line.
Now, through Kickstarter, you're looking to publish a book about how digital comics make money and where they fit in the overall market. But you've set a funding goal of only $500, which we both know isn't nearly enough money to publish a book. Isn't that kind of a red flag? Clearly you have no idea what you're talking about.
There's a PW column that hasn't come out as I'm writing this addressing that very topic. I've been working with POD (Print On Demand) for a decade. The beauty of POD is you have some basic setup costs, but you're not having to shell out for a 2000 book print run. It works great for prose-based material. If I was doing a full color graphic novel, yes, I'd need a much higher total and it would be a ~2000 copy print run or bust. If I end up with 1000 people or so wanting a print copy, it will likely end up being offset printing anyway, but there's no need to get greedy and make exorbitant demands.
"The Economics of Digital Comics" is a great title because it rhymes. Economics. Comics. Do you have a stretch goal to rewrite the entire book in the form of a limerick? If so, please provide a sample.
The rumors I was born in Nantucket are greatly exaggerated.
Does this book contain a detailed account of how digital comics are destroying the print industry? How much longer do you think we have left before total collapse?
They seem to be fairly separate markets, though I'm not entirely sure the bestseller lists for print and digital mirror each other the way they did a couple years ago. The real question right now is whether or not Amazon's purchase of Comixology (which will be closing any day now) will cause publishers to offer their material in different ways. It's not a given that DC, Marvel, IDW and the like are going to want Amazon running their company sites and nobody is quite sure what Marvel is going to do once they start offering current issues on their Unlimited app. Over on the print side, the indies have been a rising tide for the lower half of the top 300. Really, you need to look at more like the top 400 right now. It would be nice to see another publisher step up like Image has in the last couple years and spread the sales around a little more evenly. Better risk management for the Direct Market retailers that way.
You originally published this book as The Economics of Web Comics, and this is the third edition. Did you take your inspiration from mainstream comics publishers, who also recycle the same material over and over?
Hey, a Kickstarter is like an Event! Don't knock it. It's more like textbook updating than The Death of <insert this fiscal quarter's victim>. I'm restructuring the book to look a little more at the comics ecosystem than the previous editions. The webcomics are a little more like comics strips and have their model, but they still have print editions and turn up at conventions and some comic shops. Print comics now have simultaneous digital releases (can we please stop saying "day and date?"). On that note the digital download/ebook-style format like Comixology and iVerse didn't really exist as we know it today when the second edition came out in 2007, so I'm adding sections on that. We also didn't have crowdfunding in early 2007, so I'm adding a section on that and things like Kickstarter, Indiegogo and Patreon. Keep an eye on Patreon, its fairly new and a possible gamechanger for digital-first material.
Let's lay out the two biggest problems with digital comics as I see them. First, you can't quadruple the sales on one by adding a special edition chromium-plated 3D variant cover, at least with current technology. Second, even if that technology did exist, actual people have to buy digital comics, as opposed to comic book retailers suckered into over-ordering because of said special edition chromium-plated 3D variant covers, before you can send out a press release boasting about selling 500,000 copies of a comic only 90,000 real people will read. With that in mind, why would any publisher want to get into the business of selling comics to actual readers? That seems too hard.
Ah, but if you sell a digital file for print edition's cover price, you don't have to pay printing and you're not necessarily giving up the same discount as you would to Diamond. We'll have to see how the Comixology merger works out, but a publisher-level deal at Amazon is usually a 50-50 split of list price. (Now, with their data transfer fee, you used to need to take the 35% option as an independent operator on Amazon's KDP platform, but I expect Comixology's Submit program to supercede that, which is actually a good deal for the little guy if it happens.) Apple's iBooks is 70-30. If you're selling off your own site, you can figure on around 5% for processing fees. You don't get to juice the number of orders like variant covers, but there are ways you can conceivably make more per copy.
So if I contribute to this Kickstarter and read your book, you guarantee I will become a digital comics millionaire, like, overnight. Correct?
What was that Guns N' Roses album? I remember: "Use Your Illusion."
Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that readers of The Outhouse would actually be able to handle a book of academic caliber. What would you say to them to convince them to read this one?
If you want to know how the industry works, we'll walk you through the math. The print side of the math, too. It's really the new form of comic strip vs. the morphing comic book, not print vs. digital. Different material seems to work better in different formats and knowledge is power.
Well, there you have it. As mentioned, Todd is only looking for $500 to fund this project, and you can get in with a digital copy for as low as nine bucks. Go and check it out here. Here's a video, in which Todd Allen, despite a Masters Degree and a career that encompasses journalism, academia, and technology, doesn't realize that you're supposed to hold your phone sideways when you're filming a video: