Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Flopping floppies, is there hope in selling single issues to stores?

Here's a simple fact about each and every comic book I have released; based on the numbers of copies I have sold, they would have all been cancelled.

Making single issues sell in the current market seems hard enough for the big companies. Short of a gimmick, a slew of covers or an event featuring only the biggest character names out there, the numbers are way down on even the highest books.

When I started making comics I didn't really have any idea as to what I was expecting, I found an artist, I had a script, I paid some money, and then I printed up copies through a POD service.

I wasn't making any money back, but I wasn't out of pocket and left with a garage full of unsold copies.

The company I used was Ka-Blam. They seemed good, and did good enough work. For hand selling, for selling at conventions, for low risk, and for black and white books, they were about as good as it got for a while.

I didn't expect too much from them, save some books, and they delivered about what I needed.

Cracking into stores was never going to happen though - and here is where the great circle of trouble for indie creators comes about.

In order to make selling direct to comic book stores, along with a viable product, one needs to have a cover price which isn't going to keep people away.

In order to make that cover price attractive, one needs to get books printed at a good enough price to be able to sell the book for at least 50% of that cover price to stores, and still make a profit (otherwise, what's the point?).

A good rule of thumb is to sell your books at 150% of the cost of printing.

Selling a book at $2.99? You better be paying less than $1.50 to print it, otherwise you losing money.

That doesn't even take into account shipping costs, from printer, to stores, etc etc.

So, using the Ka-Blam model, and with a basic 24 page comic book, let's look at the costs to print - 

Black and white comes in at $2.22, with no ad - $1.62 with the ad.

I personally don't like the ad that Ka-Blam asks you to run, but the saving is considerable.

So the cover price on each of those books should be $5.55 with no ad, $4.05 with an ad.

Rounding out to $5.99 with no ad, and $3.99 with an ad, that means for every copy you sell to a store, your profit is $0.77c/$0.37c give or take.

For colour, things change considerably - with the same 24 page book costs are - 

No ad $3.27/with ad $2.67

Using the 150% model you need to be selling your books at $8/$6.99 to get anything like a profit.

Good luck selling those books to the stores, let alone direct to readers, at those prices.

It is a maintainable model for hand to hand sales, through a store or at conventions, and does keep risks down, but to stores, it isn't viable at all.

A few years later I was put onto ICGeeks as a possible POD service. This was around the time of running a Kickstarter campaign for Hero Code. I had the option of fulfilling rewards using a POD service and just about breaking even (campaign costs are a tricky thing!) or going a little out of pocket and using a pretty good looking off-set printer to create a bigger run for the book - giving me a lot more copies than the rewards with which to hope to get into stores for a more reasonable cover price - hopefully making back the costs at a later time.

ICGeeks proved to be excellent - their quality was good, their turn around was excellent and their costs couldn't be beat...

Suddenly there was a chance to possible marry a POD provider with getting indie books into stores...

For black and white 24 page books the cost was $0.85, for colour it was $1.45.

Using the same 150% model those books only needed to have the cover prices of $2.20 or $3.63 to be profitable when selling to stores.

This was almost off-set costs (which would have been about half these costs, but with the bulk up-front needed, and an order of over 2k copies).

It was a game changer, and made the possibilities of selling single issues to stores worth while.

It's hard enough to sell to stores as an independent creator - of the roughly 2000 comic book stores in the US, you'd be hard pressed and luck to get noticed by 10%. My reach has been more like 0.5%.

If you did make it to 10% of stores, and they ordered 10 copies of your book, that is 2000 copies.

It might make a self created book profitable, but probably not a collaborative project with page rates involved.

Of late, I am very sad to say, ICGeeks has been having some difficulties. I haven't been able to reach Noel there for some time, and I genuinely hope he is okay - not just from a creators point of view, but from a personal point of view.

If ICGeeks is off the table, we are back to selling to stores not being a viable option.

Unless I want to invest in off-set printing.

Here's the deal with that, and another little vicious circle... the cost of off-set printing is high, and my sales to stores haven't gotten anywhere near close enough to cover these costs yet, let alone cover the production costs on a book.

If I was to go offset, it would cannibalize my production budget considerably.

I could keep the costs down by producing black and white single issues, but these are harder sales to some stores, so you automatically shut the door on some possible buyers before you start.

Black and white single issues, with colour digital and colour collected editions are another option, but the same hurdles exist.

You can see why more and more indie creators, yours included, are starting to look at digital first models.

Putting a book out digitally, until one has a novel-length amount of work ready, and then mass printing this can be a good move.

Also, there is Kickstarter. Using Kickstarter for collected volumes seems a better ask than for single issues. It is possible that micro-campaigns might work - to use them to pay for a smaller off-set print run of single issues, but then you are once again chasing profit - something all creators at every level are doing!

I hope this posting doesn't come across as negative in anyway, it is more just outlining the thinking behind self publishing, the whys and wheres.

Ultimately I will still be producing the work I am producing right now, it's just working out how and where this work will be available in the future.

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