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DC’s New Creator Payment Plan Puts Digital Comics On Par With Print, Offers Colorists Royalties

José Luis García-López

 

A letter from DC Comics Co-Publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee to the company’s freelancers has outlined a new payment policy that offers royalties to the creators of digital-first comics and colorists (previously, payments were just a flat rate), and changes the structure of how all creators are paid. The new plan, which will supplant a policy that has been in place for more than 30 years, goes into effect July 1 and is a direct response to a recent survey DC took of its talent pool.

Specifically, payments (DC doesn’t use the term “royalties” because that implies ownership) will soon be based on net revenue — how much money a book makes after costs — rather than on the cover price. That gives DC “more flexibility to sell our material in new distribution channels that have different pricing models,” according to the letter obtained by ComicsAlliance. That seems to point to digital comics and possible experimentation with pricing there.

So is this a positive or a negative for creators? That’s a little harder to suss out.

One group that will definitely benefit is colorists. The new plan offers up royalty payments and cover credits to colorists, neither of which they got previously — at least, not regularly (DC has often credited colorists on the covers of original graphic novels). According to a few past and present DC employees and freelancers we’ve spoken to, offering those benefits to colorists has been discussed internally for years.

But what about writers and artists? It would appear that those who work on digital-first projects such as Injustice: Gods Among Us and the forthcoming Sensational Comics may benefit. “Digital sales will now be added to print sales and the sum will count towards achieving the sales threshold which triggers participation [royalty] payments,” the letter states. Previously, digital-first creators did not receive any sales participation, and were paid a flat rate for their work.

The move also puts the DC digital office in Burbank on more equal footing with the mainline DCU and Vertigo in terms of power and economics, which makes sense given DC’s plan to move all of its publishing operations from New York to Los Angeles by next year. DC Digital is already creating much of the company’s best material at the moment, and by the time the move is completed DC will have lost a number of key staffers in all departments, which will likely leave the digital office with most experienced employees in the entire enterprise. Now the digital team is in a better position to offer terms to freelancers.

Speaking of thresholds, those are changing, too. It’s pretty difficult to determine from the letter’s language whether those changes will benefit creators or not.

There are no longer separate thresholds and percentages by channel (direct market vs. digital vs. newsstand). We’ve also added a threshold for collected editions. The new thresholds and percentages are designed to generously reward high sales performance.

One other big change is that DC will soon be shifting all its freelancer paperwork –invoicing, payments, and service agreements — from paper to electronic media. One could read that as preparation for the DC offices’ impending move from New York to Los Angeles, or simply a general modernizing effort. Many businesses have gone paperless when it comes to those types of transactions.

Odds are it won’t be entirely clear what the effects of these changes will be until they go into effect next month. Of course, the changes are little more than altered percentages and modifications to a freelance page rate, and not benefits such as health insurance and retirement, which are things many comic creators could really use.

We’ll update this story with creator reactions as they voice them, if anyone speaks up about the changes.

The full letter is as follows:

Thank you for taking the recent DC Entertainment (DCE) Talent Survey.  We know your time is important, and appreciate your feedback.  We truly value the information you provided and your honest thoughts about how we can further enhance our relationship, which is vital in helping DCE maintain the highest standards of excellence as we continue to strive to be the premier destination for top talent.

We have reviewed the findings from our survey partner and appreciate that a very high percentage of our talent took the time to send us feedback.  We heard that you enjoy working for DCE, you take pride in being associated with DCE’s brands and iconic characters and that you appreciate the support and guidance provided by our editors and internal teams.  You also let us know that creative collaboration and open lines of communication with all aspects of the company are vital to you and to your ability to tell the best stories.

Over the coming months, we will be examining the areas of the business that are important to you.  We expect to prioritize the development of new programs to further enhance our relationship with our talent community.

Additionally, we have news to share regarding a project we have been working on for some time, which, we are pleased to report, was validated to a great extent by our survey findings.  We will be rolling out a new, modernized participations payment plan effective July 1, 2014.

DCE’s current participation plan dates back over 30 years and was created for a simpler and very different marketplace.  The current plan no longer reflects today’s business landscape where comics are sold in a variety of formats and through a myriad of sales channels.  Ultimately we made the decision that the best path forward was to create an entirely new plan that covers new work going forward.  Great care and consideration went into building this new participations structure and we feel that it provides both us and all of you with a fair, competitive, and versatile plan for the future.

There are a few significant differences between this new plan and what DCE has offered in the past.  Perhaps the biggest difference is that all participations will now be calculated based upon DCE’s net revenue from a book’s sale rather than on the cover price.   This change gives us more flexibility to sell our material in new distribution channels that have different pricing models.

Also, physical and digital sales will no longer be treated separately.  Digital sales will now be added to print sales and the sum will count towards achieving the sales threshold which triggers participation payments.

We’ve also standardized sales thresholds for all periodicals.  There are no longer separate thresholds and percentages by channel (direct market vs. digital vs. newsstand).  We’ve also added a threshold for collected editions.  The new thresholds and percentages are designed to generously reward high sales performance.

We are pleased to announce the very welcome addition of Color Artists to the participations pool.  Color Artists will receive moving forward cover credit for their work alongside Writers, Pencilers and Inkers.  In addition, Digital First talent will now be eligible to receive additional compensation and share financially in the success of their books.

In addition, DCE is modernizing our systems for both reporting participations and making payments.  Beginning July 1st, all reporting under the new structure will be sent electronically.  Also, those of you who live in the United States will now be able to receive your payments via direct deposit. Information on how to sign up for direct deposit payments will be sent to you shortly from the Talent Relations department. International talent will continue to receive payment via wire.  We’re very happy to offer these upgrades, which will result in getting paid faster.

And last, beginning on July 1st, DCE will begin transitioning to the use of electronic service agreements.  The work-for-hire service agreements that historically have been transacted on paper will now be handled electronically and sent to and from your editor via email.  We are confident this will make the process quicker and more efficient for everyone.

We recognize this is a lot of information to take in, and we anticipate you may have questions.  The DCE Talent Relations team is well-informed in the new participations plan and looks forward to discussing with you any inquiry you may have.  Feel free to reach out to the team at [REDACTED].

DCE is committed to being the publisher of choice for top talent in the industry and to further strengthening our relationship with our talent ensuring that together we continue to create the comics we can all be proud of.  Thank you and we look forward to working with you throughout the year.

Sincerely,

Dan & Jim

DC Entertainment Co-Publishers

 

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