If you’re read these columns before, you’ll be pretty confident that I’m in the second camp. The camp that says digital comics will lead only to increased homelessness and vagrancy among the comics creator community. The camp that says digitisation, whilst cutting costs, also reduces prices, so there’s a smaller pot of revenue to go round. The camp that says that the barriers to entry that exist in printed comics – marketing budget, distribution channels – exist in the digital sphere, albeit in slightly different forms. Yep, those are all things that I would say.
Well, let me be devil’s advocate to myself here.
How might you get rich quick (or die trying) in digital comics?
1. Think big. Really, really big.
If you’re just going to work on pure numbers, assuming your digital comic sells for $1 and has absolutely no up-front costs, then the maths is easy. The more you sell, the more you make. Sell a million and away you go.
Yeah, but you can’t sell a million copies of a comic, can you? IDW did: selling a million copies of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic in one year. (Hey, don’t criticise the example. I can only give you facts that the internet gives me.)
So all you have to do is emulate the Pony, sell a million and you’re there.
2. Think wide. Really, really wide.
If you’re not convinced that your one comic will reach the million mark, then how about publishing more? DC issued 129 comics in September 2013 – it was Villains Month and they launched the Forever Evil series – and sold 4.3 million copies. That’s a lot of comics.
So start an empire. Go wide.
Just a note as you’re reading: those IDW and DC figures are retail store sales. Printed copies. Any examples from digital? How about The Walking Dead? According to Wired magazine, 22% of its sales are digital. According to Wired magazine, 22% of its sales are digital. Not bad, pig, not bad.
Another note: IDW, DC and Walking Dead publishers Image have been doing this for a long time, have a large pool of capital to invest, have well-established fan bases and marketing routes and have a roster of characters with a high degree of recognition (I’ll give Image extra kudos for Walking Dead on this last one).
So, from a standing start, how could you do it? How could you sell 1 million digital comics in one year?
3. Give them away
Um, no, that doesn’t help with the getting rich element.
4. Corporate tie-in comics
OK, so this is cheating, but I’m sure the Olympics, World Cup or McDonalds comic would sell a digital million for you. But it relies on some of the same corporate structures as mentioned for the big publishers…
5. Write a compelling story that everyone wants to read and draw it beautifully
Did you believe that one? Did you? Bless.
6. Stop trying get rich quick and get less poor slow(ly)
Getting less poor slow(ly) is probably closest to the truth. Create the comic. Put it out there. Sell some. Create another comic. Sell more. Get the people who bought the second comic to buy the first comic. Create another comic. Build a following. Get noticed. Probably by one of the big publishers or by someone who can bring you slow riches in another way (a nice TV tie-in, perhaps).
Very few of us are going to get rich quick in printed comics. Rich and comics are not words that hang out together very often.
But that applies to any kind of comic, printed or digital.
True. But maybe the strengths of digital – its price point, its global reach, its “try it and see” commitment level, the lack of print costs – accelerate the process of building a market for your work. And by building a market, you start to build “less-poverty”. And if you’re less poor for long enough, perhaps one day, you wake up rich. And if you don’t? Well, you’ve made a shed load of interesting comics along the way and have a global following waiting for your next move.
After all that: what do I really think?
None of us are going to get rich quick in digital comics. Very few of us are going to get rich quick in printed comics. Rich and comics are not words that hang out together very often.
Perhaps, though, enough of us can get less poor in digital comics by working on the plan. Create a comic. Sell some. Create a comic. Sell more. Build a following.
Because whilst the comic in itself is valuable, it’s the following that really attracts attention. Get yourself a good and loyal fan base and you become more attractive to publishers who are making commercial decisions based on whether they can recoup costs and make profits. Digital is unbeatable as the platform for building a fan base: it’s portable, it’s accessible, it’s getting towards universal. So while you might not get rich quick in digital comics, it might be digital comics that helps you to get rich in the end.
Lizzie Boyle is an author, blogger, small press comics aficionado and founder of Disconnected Press. You can find more or writing at lizzieboylesays.wordpress.com or follow her on Twitter @lizzieboylesays