Friday, April 12, 2002

I’ve been thinking about comics.

The Japanese distribution method for comics is greatly different than the American method. In Japan, you (generally) can’t buy the latest single issue of a popular title. Instead, they’re published in a massive anthology magazine. These magazines are several hundred pages in size, and contain the current issue of a handful of series, all in one publication.

This addresses two drawbacks to the American distribution method, as I see it:

  1. In America, it’s easy to release more issues in a successful title, because those issues aren’t dependent on anything else. A series can drag on. In Japan, there’s pressure on the creators to finish up the storyline, so that the publisher can put another series into that slot once the ratings wane.
  2. In America, because of the cost inherent in starting up a new series, there’s significant pressure for the first few issues to sell well. Moreover, if a series is flagging, there’ll probably be a tendency to “pull the plug.” In Japan, if a series is going through a dry spell, it can be carried along with the more successful series in its magazine. There’s less direct pressure to “succeed or die.”

I realize that the above issues contradict each other somewhat, but they’re addressing different circumstances.

I think that this distribution method would be beneficial to the American comic market. So, I researched a variety of printing options, and came up with the following scenario (please understand that any numbers used are first draft ideas):

I could publish a monthly trade paperback through a print-on-demand company. Each issue would be a little over a hundred pages long, containing episodes for seven different series. Each episode would be 14 full pages (back and front), plus a title page. This is actually more than a traditional American comic book, which is only 11 full pages.

Customers would buy each volume of the magazine directly from the print-on-demand company, which would ship the paperback directly to the consumer in about a week. Each volume would cost USD $13, plus shipping.

I would pay the authors royalties of $.15 per issue sold, paid every month. That’s not too much, but it will add up quickly as we sell issues. A subscriber base of 1,000 readers would provide $150 to each author every month.

Using the above numbers, I could cover all of my expenses if I sold a mere 60 copies per month.

That’s a pretty good arrangement, actually. I see two major potentail problems:

  1. $13 is rather steep, even though that’s much less than you’d pay for seven issues of modern American comics.
  2. I’m not familiar with the comic book field, so I would not necessarily be adept at marketing to that audience. This means it would take awhile to get this off the ground.

If I don’t sell a single copy, I’d have to pay $200 out of pocket each month. That’s not bad at all, but I certainly can’t afford it right now.

So, I’ll think about this, and maybe begin to sock away some money each month so that I can try this out later on. It certainly has potential.

What do you think?

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