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Mark Waid Breaks Down the Problems With Print Comic Publishing

Why are more and more creators turning to the web for creator-owned comics? Perhaps because the financial realities involved in launching a new print comic are heavily stacked against new projects that don’t come from the bigger publishers, something that Mark Waid laid out with some brutal honesty in a recent blog post.Waid, who recently announced plans to create more digital comics (starting with Marvel’s first “Infinite” digital comic, Avengers vs. X-Men Infinite, released today), explained the depressing truth about the high cost of print comics on his newly-relaunched blog, writing that – considering distribution and print costs, “that comic is costing you around a dollar a copy just to print. Maybe a little more, maybe a little less. What’s that? You’ve decided to forego expensive color for cheaper black and white? You’d be surprised how little that lowers the cost. Printing, shipping, and various related charges–that’s where you’re spending more than half your income. More than half. Not on creative, not on marketing, not on advertising, not on all of that put together. On printing the damn thing.”

Not to worry, though, because you’ll make that money back when the book goes on sale, right…? Well… Apparently not so much, because as Waid continues, it’s unlikely that your book will even make it to most stores: “[A high percentage of retailers] use Diamond’s monthly Top 100 listing as a menu and won’t even order most of the bottom 50. That doesn’t make them evil, just necessarily thrifty–they’re buying wholesale from Diamond at maybe a 45% discount if they’re a small store, 53% at best if they have multiple storefronts, and what they ordered can’t be returned to Diamond, so they don’t have a whole lot of leeway to take risks on ‘unproven’ material.” As an illustration of what this means, Waid estimates that Incorruptible, one of his two creator-owned superhero series for Boom! Studios, is stocked by “maybe 500 stores across the world. And,” he adds, “as with most all print comics, fewer stores every month.”

In case this seems particularly harsh, it’s worth pointing out that not only does Waid mention the input of both Dynamite Entertainment’s Nick Barrucci and Top Cow’s Filip Sablik in the post itself, but creators including Strangers in Paradise and Echo creator Terry Moore, former DC Comics exclusive Jamal Igle and writer Nat Gertler echo the sentiments in the comments of the post, with Gertler adding that “the market isn’t there” for black and white comics in today’s comic industry, in part due to Diamond Distributors policy: “The ‘sell less but spend less’ system runs into problems when you have to meet the Diamond minimums to stay in the game.”

Taken in combination with Eric Stephenson’s comments about low orders on any comic that isn’t from Marvel or DC last week, Waid’s blog paints an increasingly clearer picture that — barring dramatic changes sometime soon — large segments of the mainstream comic book industry are becoming less and less invested in (or capable of) pushing new ideas and new creators, and more and more focused on supporting that which is already successful.

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