I can’t claim to entirely know the market for comics, but this story seems pretty significant. An illustrator for Mad Magazine decided to self-publish his collection of caricatures via his own imprint, Deadline Demon Publishing. Given his connection to big time publishing, he likely could have gotten a deal, but he weighed his options and saw self-publishing as the better choice.
Interestingly, what separates comics from fiction is that you can tell on first glance if the book is worth buying. Looking at his cover (and his credits), you can clearly tell that he’s a good artist, which makes comics particularly conducive to self-publishing.
He’s written about the changes in the publishing industry in the past – The Continuing Internet Publishing Revolution:
The thinking behind publishing itself has to change. The old idea that just to have a book/comic/record etc. in print means the creator who’s name is on it does great work is no longer valid. Instead it’s the marketplace that will decide whether the content offered is worthwhile or not. The power to make the decision as to what is worth spending money on is being taken out of the hands of a third party agent/publisher and put directly into the hands of those who consume the work, i.e. the buying public.
Now he puts his new venture in these terms: Why Self-Publish?
1. A core audience to market to- I’ve been branding The MAD Blog for over five years now, and while it would hardly compare to some of the real heavyweights in comics-related sites I do get about 3500 page views a day here. That translates into a fair number of people who would probably buy a book like The Mad Art of Caricature! This is a principal part of how self-publishing works these days… cultivating an audience online and then producing a product for that audience that they would purchase.
2. Willingness to store and ship the books myself- this is a lot of organization and work, but by doing it we cut out another middleman: the distributor… at least for direct sales. That means more of the cover price ends up as profit. There are several “fulfillment” companies cropping up that service self-publishers willing to let them to this work for a percentage of the sale price, but I decided to go it on my own.
3. Amazon and other on-line retailers- One drawback to self-publishing is that your ability to market the book is limited to direct marketing to specifically targeted audiences (via forums, etc) and that takes a lot of time and work. Through retailers like Amazon you can open up your publication to the entire world, and it is only an Amazon search for “how to draw caricatures” away from a potential sale. The bad part is that Amazon buys the book from the self-publisher for 40% of cover price and I have to pay to bulk-ship to Amazon for distribution, but what’s left over is still higher than the royalties you can expect from a publisher. BTW I have not yet listed The Mad Art of Caricature! on Amazon or Barnes and Noble, but will eventually do so when direct sales have dried up.
4. Secondary/reprint publishing rights- Many publishers are recognizing that some self-published books, which generally have a very low number of copies in their initial print runs, have a value with respect to a second printing. One of the big drawbacks of self-publishing is that it is next-to-impossible to market your book to libraries, schools or brick-and-mortar stores. Publishers have been known to buy the reprint publishing rights to a self-published book to take the book into that market, which has great potential. Often the advance for reprint rights is as high or higher than the initial advance would have been, as the self-publisher is delivering a complete book with all design and production done.
About Tom Richmond
Tom did some MAD-like work for longtime MAD clone Cracked Magazine, as well as for bigger better clients like AOL Digital, the Minnesota Twins, National Geographic for Kids and many others. In 2000 Tom finally broke into MAD…In 2011 Tom became president of the National Cartoonists Society.