Making Comics: The true cost of breaking even

Making Comics: The true cost of breaking even
In: thoughts, advice

Greetings everyone,

Switching gears for a bit, today we are going to talk about the true costs of pursuing a creator-owned comic book series.

It’s a common held belief that you’ll grow poor making comic books. And rightly so, as comic books can be expensive to both produce and distribute. The subject of how much money is one makes per every comic book sold, both in print and digitally, has been discussed by numerous others, best done by Jim Zub

But no one has seemed to tackle the elephant in the room: “How many comic books do I need to sell in order to break even?”

Answering this question can be daunting, to say the least. With digital, there are numerous marketplaces to target in addition to being picked up by Diamond and selling your comics at conventions. Further, there are additional “hidden” costs (and I say hidden only to imply that they are not readily apparent) that have to be factored in, like preparing the comic book to either the printer of the digital marketplace, costs to attend a convention (including fees, travel, lodging, promotional materials, etc), among others.

We found it so hard to keep track of it all, that we ended up making an excel spreadsheet to highlight how many issues need one needs to sell in order to break even.

Here it is:

We’ve found it so incredibly useful that we are going to share it with the Make Comics community. We’re sharing the file under a Creative Commons Share-Alike license, so you’re free to use, modify and share it, as long as you give us credit for our content and do not charge others for it. If you do find an error in the spreadsheet, please let me know and I’ll update accordingly.

The spreadsheet includes a breakdown of production costs (paying for artists, editors and everyone involved in making the comic book), distribution costs for print (through Diamond) and digital (using Comixology, Nook, Amazon Kindle and iBookstore), as well as the cost of selling your comic book on your own at conventions. The figures we used for production costs are made up, but not too far removed from average page rates. We also made assumptions on how digital sales are distributed based on our observations on how Torchbearer has sold at these marketplaces. The spreadsheet layout was designed to be flexible, so you can add more issues and marketplaces than used here.

I also added the total amount of money one spends in distributors and conventions costs, as another metric to be aware of the true costs involved of breaking even.

In any case, at it’s core we use a very simple formula to get our number of issues:

Sales Price* N – Production costs – N*(Printing costs + shipping costs) – N*distribution costs = 0

Distribution costs are usually a percentage off of the cover price. Solve for N, the number of issues necessary to break even.

Yes, this is one of the reasons why one needs to learn Algebra.

From the onset, there are some conclusions one can make even with these dummy figures.

Digital is not the silver bullet most would like to believe

It’s somewhat heartbreaking to hear this, as the great allure of digital is that one is able to avoid the cost of printing one’s comic. The reality is that, given the current revenue rates at the different marketplaces, the revenue from sales is smaller than you’d think. You could bypass the marketplaces and sell them on your own, and only worry about credit card processing fees. However, what you gain per sale you lose in volume of sales.

Distributors make real money as you break even.

Diamond most of all, given current market rates. Yes, Diamond provides a large (HUGE, really) market for your comic book. But, let’s look at current sales figures of trades for February 2013 . Once you see that, then look at your expected number necessary to break even. And then weep (I did). And while single issue comics are far more promising, don’t forget that the top 10 were established brands that have been around for 40+ years.

Conventions can be very profitable

It does take nerves of steel and a very thick skin to handle the rejection involved in selling your comic book at a convention (and yes, you will be rejected. We all are, at times. It’s unavoidable). However, the payoff is considerable. If you are able to sell to 2% of the total number of people attending a convention, that could be as many as 2600 sales you can generate per convention!

Of course, there are caveats to this: you’re only going to get that kind of number of sales if you’re out on the main floor: not on artist alley, and the fees to sell on the main floor are considerably more expensive. You can mitigate this by partnering with another creative team and share the costs, thus bringing your own costs down.


Personally, if Diamond is willing to pick you up, I recommend you first try to recoup your initial expenses at conventions before going with Diamond. Not only will you be able to have cash at hand, but more importantly you’ll be able to build an audience and fans.

The road to success is hard, I know. And I in no way mean to dissuade anyone from launching their own creator-owned endeavor. But, I feel it’s best to do so with eyes wide open. The risks are great, but so are the rewards.

And, if you’re feeling generous after this, feel free to buy our latest issue of Torchbearer!

Until next week.


-Nick D.

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