Shoot, digital comic books — is anybody doing this?
**UPDATE: Sorry in advance for the cranky tone of this. Enjoy yourself if you choose to read through it.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the whys and wherefores of trying to sell my comics as digital files (for consumption on your portable devices). Seems like a good idea even knowing that there’s a really small confirmed audience for such things — but people are still resistant! Let me tell you about it.
1. The author says “I don’t like digital books; I just like the way printed books feel and smell, etc — you know what I mean?”
Yes, I know. But this is totally bogus logic. Maybe somebody likes your stuff but HATES the way it smells, and prefers the smell of his hot LCD screen. Sell him that object. David Lynch doesn’t want you to watch his movies on your telephone, but he’s not stopping you.
2. The author says “I love paper books so much that I can’t imagine selling a digital inferiority to my fans. I’d give it to them free or for a dollar, I guess.”
Outrageous! Let’s talk about MAKING MONEY. If you don’t want to make money why do you put a purchase price on your books? Is your work that valueless? People are constanly complaining on the internet that freelancers shouldn’t just work for the exposure, but that’s what you’re doing if you “sell” your digital books for next to nothing. Sure, if the print version is a dollar, by all means make the PDF a dollar, but don’t undercut yourself like a fool.
For the comics buyer: you may or may not know by now that the books I and my friends make don’t earn much money for us. Mini-comics are a break-even endeavor. My deal with Sparkplug gave me a limited number of comp copies and the opportunity to make money should a second printing occur. But I’ve seen all the boxes of Lemon Styles still in the Sparkplug office. With those generalities in mind, should I still want to give away the digital version when I’d get to keep 100% of the selling price (I know it won’t be a lot but it will be more than nothing. Maybe buy the paper to draw the next thing), I won’t ever run out of copies, won’t have to warehouse inventory?
And for you comic book makers: If you think your book by itself wouldn’t be as great in a digital format, consider adding some stuff to the file that you wouldn’t put in the print version, “DVD Extras” as it were. Color photos of artwork in progress, link to the youtube commercial, finished color art that you can’t afford to put in the black & white printed book — the sky’s the limit.
3. The author says “I won’t know how much to charge for something like that since I would never buy it myself.”
Talk about lazy. What brainiac algorithm did you use to price your printed mini-comics? “That ought to be two bucks, I guess.” *
The science I decided on is something like this: imagine what you would charge for a printed copy, subtract the printing overhead, add a generous paycheck for yourself for making this whole comic book on your own and doing a bunch of digital production that was hard to learn, then consider that you’re selling the file to your audience for a generous discount compared to the printed book and when all is said and done, just sell the ebook for half the cover price of the print version. You got a $20 book? Give me the PDF for $10. That’s easy. How much do you make from that $20 published book? two bucks? Less? You get $10 from the ebook. How much profit from your $3 mini-comic? A dime? And you had to waste your time stapling and all that other stuff you and I hate doing?
You think your reader doesn’t want you to get most of the money that he’s spending for your stuff? Your customer gets a cheaper book that will make him laugh just as much as the paperback. (I don’t think I’d charge less than a dollar for anything, though.)
4. The author says “That ebook looks like crap compared to the printed version.”
That’s a possibility, sure. I’ve been trying to figure out the compromise. If you’re not careful the digital version will have an unmanageable file size, it’ll kill on web storage, kill the readers on the download, they’ll have to wait for pages to load; or the other end of the spectrum, it’ll look like a postage stamp that somebody faxed you. But it can be OK, too. We’ll work it out. I got a pretty decent file size on my PDFs of Crime World. Lots of people never notice that stuff anyway, as long as it works in the end. My point is, you can have a high-quality file that works. You see good-looking artwork on the internet all the time, right? Do you stop and think how much better some JPG would look on paper while you’re reblogging it?
Also, the fact is that if a person needs something that looks like a beautiful printed item, such a thing exists in the form of a beautiful printed item. Or if a person wants a laugh and understands he doesn’t need paper to laugh, he can buy the digital version. Just make a good comic book.
5. The author says “I don’t know if this file will work after somebody buys it.”
I say sell a variety of file versions just to cover your bases. Kindles use different files than iPads. EPUBs of comic books look wretched on Adobe Digital Editions on my PC. PDFs display weird in some e-readers. How about I just let you buy a ZIP file that has an EPUB, a PDF, a CBZ, maybe a MOBI for Kindles? All for the same price. What do I care? I know that everybody mainly just wants this stuff to work on their stuff. Wouldn’t it be great if the CD you just bought also came with some MP3s somehow, or DATs or whatever crazy crap you’re into? If I’m making and selling the comics myself why can’t I do that? Save you the trouble of having a thing you can read on your tablet but not on your PC.
6. The author says “I’m scared of all this piracy!”
I suppose that could happen. On the other hand, if we’re talking about mini-comics, there’s only 250 people who give a shit. No big money loss. If you’re worried, just make it really easy to buy the stuff, make sure your name is on it, make sure you are cool.
So anyway, that’s some of my thinking on digital comic books. The bottom line is that I know there’s an indescribably small audience for the comics I do, but I would love to pursue as many avenues to selling them as I can, particularly when’s it really easy to make the stuff available. And seriously, if you’re at a point where you give a PDF file to your xerox shop to make mini-comics you might as well take the five more minutes it takes to make a PDF file that looks good in a web browser or what-have-you and try to make a buck or two off it. I can’t force people to buy these things, I know, but the number of people who might want to buy a digital version of my comic books seems to be getting larger all the time. Why not make it easy for them if it’s relatively simple for me to do?
Here’s my digital comics shop. (you can also still buy some of my comics and those of Levon Jihanian and Tom Neely at the Fork frenzy Shop, too) Give it a try if that’s your thing. It takes a Paypal account and the ability to download files from your browser. I’ll try to add my other comics and new things as time goes on.
Here’s some technical stuff and some links; maybe this stuff might be helpful to somebody or maybe somebody can help me.
•I used a wordpress plug-in called Cart66 Lite for my ebooks webstore.
•I bought a student version of InDesign CS5.5 that really easily exports PDFs and EPUBs from my for-print InDesign files. It takes some figuring out, but afterwards it seems like pretty smooth sailing. I had to save up, I’m not rich.
•I don’t know if it’s possible to make an EPUB that doesn’t just use rasterized versions of my InDesign pages. The PDF will still have vector text, lower-res color art and high-res bitmap line art so they can end up being a fraction of the size of flattened color JPGs in the EPUB. These fixed-layout EPUBs sound cool, but only work in iBooks, I guess. I suppose it would nice to be able to make them and have them for sale from iTunes. Can regular people do that? I haven’t checked into it.
•I tried to use the Comixology app on my iPad but I couldn’t get it to work, maybe I had a bad install or something. I just wanted to look at the free comics they offer to see how they function and look. I don’t think I would ever use that service much personally because of the same complaint as a lot of other people have — that you don’t actually get a product to keep for your money, but rather just the license to read it for an undetermined period (that’s my understanding of the deal, anyway). It also seems like it’s mostly THE NEW DC 52 which I don’t care about, though you can also buy Jim Rugg comics from there. I would certainly try to sell my comics through there if it were a possibility, don’t get me wrong. For the files I try to sell myself I wouldn’t know where to begin to put DRM into the files, nor would I want to. If you pay for it, it’s yours (such as it is).
•There are sites out there that will host your digital files and provide you with a simple to operate shopping cart and storefront interface, but there’s a fee. These things seem like a real ripoff if you consider that you could do the same thing with a free WordPress site and that free Cart66 plugin I linked to. Those paid sites are easy, though, I’m sure, if you think you’ll make enough to cover the charges (I don’t think I will, maybe your sales would be bigger).
•I think it’s ironic and funny that the iBooks app on my iPad goes out of its way to make PDFs look like second class citizens by adding an ugly comb binding to the icons. So far PDFs are the best way that I’ve found to digitally present my comics. It looks like comic books are never going to catch a break.
•Here’s a couple more screenshots from my iPad to show you EPUB vs PDF presentation and what an EPUB looks like on my desktop PC:
(What I want you to see is that EPUBs on iBooks are small, making them not as cool to look at; PDFs look not too bad when they’re full screen; and Adobe Digital Editions makes a comic book epub look like it just fell off the fax machine.)
•Here’s some links:
*Yes, I know that books that actually cost money to print (ie those from a “real” offset press or what-have-you) cannot be priced arbitrarily, but I’m trying to make a point, buzz off.