Zuda, Contracts, Platinum, and Money

Zuda, DC Comics’ web-based initiative to find new properties, has posted its proposed contracts (link no longer available), leading to the expected discussion.

Longtime webcomic creator and journalist T Campbell comments. He calls the royalty package “easily the most generous I’ve seen from a major publisher.”

Internet gadfly Chris Butcher has (as expected, and we love him for it) a more jaded take.

It’s nice to be paid a page-rate for your work and all, but that $14,000 salary cap ($1000 purchase price plus 52 weeks @ $250/strip) seems to be pretty limiting, in terms of the potential revenue that could be generated off of a successful webcomic. It’s not bad money I guess, but here’s the thing… It’s less than the money you would make doing a half-page of comics art at DC or Vertigo even, and it also involves selling off the intellectual property for your work for an unlimited amount of time…

The thing is, both of those can be true. The best deal available to an unknown creator may still be not very fair in the long run.

The problem with analyzing this situation is that no one knows. The publisher wants to find another Superman, a product they got cheap that will keep them in business for decades. But for every Superman, there may be handfuls of Booster Golds or Gunfires. Selling off a not-very-good project for money that will keep you going while you establish your name and get a working apprenticeship is a good deal for a young creator. But do they want to admit that their project isn’t the next superstar? That’s the way this deal makes sense.

Campbell also points out “I don’t have much interest in reversion because I consider it pretty unlikely to happen. DC is good at keeping nearly forgotten properties in play just so they don’t lose the rights,” something Chris agrees with and is very likely. Expecting to get your project back is probably not going to happen unless it’s a true dog.

I like T’s ultimate conclusion, that the trade-off involved may be good for some, terrible for others. So long as everyone’s got their eyes open (and we avoid the “yeah, the company did terrible things, but that won’t happen to ME” blindness that many creators struggle with), that’s a good way to go at it.

In a comment at T’s followup, Joey points out “having publishers begin to publish contracts out in the open can only, over time, lead to publishers competing for talent based on the fairness of their deals”, which is a long-term benefit.

Meanwhile, speaking of openness, Todd Allen looks at Platinum’s financial details. It’s a good reminder of how businesses can appear successful while having minimal assets. Platinum’s figures are available because they’re going public, selling stock.

So you might be asking yourself why Platinum is getting into the stock market. There are usually two reasons a company goes public: either they need additional investment to continue (or expand) operations or it’s an exit strategy. … It is, however, obvious from the filing that Platinum has been burning through money quickly and needs a cash influx to continue operating as normal, never mind expanding their business channels.

Much more detail in the link.


20 Responses to “Zuda, Contracts, Platinum, and Money”

  1. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » Sept. 26, 2007: Daddy says nothing Says:

    [...] examination of the just-released Zudacomics contracts with a look at the rights agreement, while Johanna Draper Carlson rounds up and pokes through previous [...]

  2. Stuart Moore Says:

    I understand the trepidation here about contracts, because the webcomics community traditionally has been DIY, with full creator control. I disagree about reversion, though. DC keeps characters it owns outright in constant use to renew trademarks, yes, and to provide material for a large line of comics. But the company does revert creator-owned Vertigo books…Jamie Delano’s 2020 VISIONS and CRUEL & UNUSUAL come immediately to mind, both now in print in new editions from other publishers. There are others.

    And the clause about retaining rights while an edition is in print isn’t some nefarious trick; it’s absolutely standard book publishing practice. Even the biggest, bestselling prose writers have this arrangement with their publishers. It’s controversial in comics only because when Alan Moore signed his contracts for WATCHMEN and (particularly) V FOR VENDETTA, trade paperbacks were a rarity in this field, so he had no reason to expect the DC editions would stay in print.

  3. Thomas Gerhardt Says:

    “And the clause about retaining rights while an edition is in print isn’t some nefarious trick; it’s absolutely standard book publishing practice. Even the biggest, bestselling prose writers have this arrangement with their publishers”

    Ah, yes… and other publishers are trying to screw novelists over as well in that arena, for what Mr. Moore forgets to mention is the DEFINITION of what it means to be “in print”.

    Superficially looked at, keeping a book in print USED to be a rather big committment by a publisher, as it meant keeping the actual property in stock, to be called on by retailers at moment’s notice (not so much in the US, I admit, but in most of Europe, it is required for a book to be in print to be delivered to a customer in a book store within 72 hrs after logging it…)

    With the “print-on-demand”, the, “hey, it ain’t out of print, it’s an e-book, see? See?” changes in the business, the publisher has much more, how shall phrase it, ahem, legal wiggling room than ever before.

    See what Simon & Shuster tried, here…

    http://www.authorsguild.org/news/05_17_07.htm

    See how the fight moves further here…

    http://www.eriksherman.com/WriterBiz/2007/05/simon-and-schuster-takes-aim-at-ag.html

    I’m by no means an author’s rights activist, whether we like it or not, it is a business after all, and one should never ever believe that a publisher, any publisher wouldn’t take advantage in any way, shape or form of any loophole available that will make the company more money.

  4. Stuart Moore Says:

    Absolutely, the POD problem is a new one and the Authors Guild is right to fight it — it constitutes the first significant redefinition of the phrase “in print” that’s ever come about. I admit I haven’t followed the Zuda situation closely enough to know how that problem applies here.

    But I also disagree that publishers always take advantage of small loopholes to make any tiny bit of money. It can happen, yes; but publishers are made up of people, and those people often do act ethically. Really, I’ve seen it. :)

  5. Thomas Gerhardt Says:

    “But I also disagree that publishers always take advantage of small loopholes to make any tiny bit of money. It can happen, yes; but publishers are made up of people, and those people often do act ethically.”

    Well, the catchphrase here is “tiny”. Of course people CONTROLLING the company will weigh the benefits against the disadvantages of abusing a loophole against an employee/creator/freelance (tick the box), before making the call.

    But I’ve been on the other side of that table, and if the benefits outweigh the disadvantages signifcantly, I’m sorry, there won’t be ethical behaviour found anywhere.

    And again, that’s fine. I was consulting in the German and UK media industries for over 12 years.

    Now that I’m on the writer’s side and have a US publisher and one I really like personally, one that I really like working with, I’m okay with sharing some things.

    Of course, my publisher also knows that I was trained by the German Army to kill people at a range of 1,2 km, so that probably helps in negotiations.

  6. Stuart Moore Says:

    That probably does help, yes. In my case, my publishers know I have 17+ years’ experience on their side of the desk, so I know the score.

    But my larger point is: Every contract you sign is a gamble. You have to judge a company by the sum of its actions, and some are more ethical — and/or stable — than others. I’m sure I’m forgetting something, but I can’t think of a single creator with a grudge against DC for a creator-owned contract. I’d like to think I deserve a bit of credit for that, because of my input in the early days of Vertigo; but the larger credit goes to Karen Berger and to DC’s management and contracts departments, including some people whose names aren’t publicly known at all.

    The Alan Moore situation is unfortunate, and I can see both sides of it. But it is a fluke, growing as it did out of a particular turning point in the industry.

  7. Thomas Gerhardt Says:

    “But my larger point is: Every contract you sign is a gamble”

    There we are in agreement :)

  8. Thomas Gerhardt Says:

    Ooops. Sent it too early. My apologies.

    Like I said, Mr. Moore. There we are in agreement. Of course each project is a gamble, especially if it is a new concept, a true creation instead of

    (and please don’t take this personally, since you were on the other side as editor of those Vertigo years I still have tremendous respect for)

    multi-part crossover events with zombie characters that should have died with the Afro and Disco.

    For a company, it is a risk, because the US market is terribly risk-averse in actually WANTING new things.

    For a creator it is a risk, because it may well be (in most cases, unlikely, I admit) the next Superman in terms of market penetration and success. Or even just the next Sandman.

    What I’m just saying is that a creator (I am not talking about writing. Writing is a craft, very much like carpentry and can be adapted to numerous situations) in any business deal to be entered has to also weigh benefits and disadvantages.

    In other words: Am I selling a STORY? Very much like selling a screenplay to a film studio? Let’s say, hm, am I selling something I KNOW can only be done this way and no other?

    Or have I created a PROPERTY?

    The difference is significant. Let me give an example. Garth Ennis’ PREACHER is a story. It’s a good one. It’s funny and fast and ugly and deep. But it is not a PROPERTY. When Ennis finished the story, it was done. I can’t go and turn it into everything from lunchboxes to cuddly plushies to a Disney TV show to —

    Granted, there are exceptions. The much-beloved Harry Potter was one.

    All I am saying is that any creator should always see himself/herself/themselves as a company as well.

  9. Stuart Moore Says:

    No, I don’t take that personally at all. I make even finer distinctions for myself about what kind of deals I’ll accept for different types of stories; some ideas are worth holding tighter to than others. I pulled out of a potentially lucrative situation earlier this year because the situation wasn’t right for that particular, original property.

    And it’s not all that cut and dried. PREACHER may yet become an HBO series; while we’ve all seen clearly designed “properties” die on the vine.

    Where we disagree: the afro and disco. Burn baby burn!

  10. Thomas Gerhardt Says:

    That is another thing we apparently have in common. I have walked away from seemingly lovely deals, too, because they weren’t right. And I am holding on to some creations that I would never, ever give up control on. Other things… why not?

    Your argument with HBO “Preacher” still doesn’t make it a property, though, in my definition. (Caution: Definitions may vary). A story can be adapted, for the most part, into other media. Not all stories should be, but since most popular novelists e.g. today write books with a potential screenplay in mind, that becomes a “no brainer”, almost.

    Caution: The reason why things are called no brainers is primarily because they HAVE NO BRAIN and more and more often wind up crashing at the box office. Personally, that makes me very happy. Yes. I admit it. I was happy when Snakes on a Plane crashed. I was happy when War crashed. I was happy when Shoot’Em’Up crashed. All three films at the conceptual stage: no-brainers.

    However, a property in my opinion is defined not only by the ability to be turned into an adapted story, but by the ability to merchandise the hell out of it.

    Now, I do agree with you that clearly DESIGNED “properties” often show the same conceptual problem as above mentioned films: they were NO BRAINERS.

    In other words: a STORY doesn’t necessarily have to be a property, but you can — for the most part — not have a PROPERTY without a story (it is an entirely different notion as to whether the story has to be a good one, for that belongs in the realm of subjectivity. I, for one, cannot stand the “stories” of things like Naruto of Digimon or Pokemon, have I forget one, Mon? But I can understand why they work for kids today)

    And no, the afro is buried. I visited its grave and danced on it. If I remember correctly, it was a techno dance.

  11. Stuart Moore Says:

    How utterly German. That’s it — we’re taking Donna Summer back.

  12. Thomas Gerhardt Says:

    Eh. You can have her — as long as you promise to take David Hasselhoff as well! And all the boybands you exile to my country to build them up for Teen 17 “greatness”

    At least we gave you Beethoven, Bach, Händel and Mozart (yes, Mozart was born German, but it would involve a very, very lengthy history lesson on Salzburg’s allegiance to Austria, Germany, Austria again, Germany and then to Austria ;) )

    And you gave us Hasselhoff!

    Shame on you, Sir. Shame on you.

  13. Stuart Moore Says:

    Beethoven, Bach, Handel, Mozart…ancient history. What have you done for us lately?

  14. Thomas Gerhardt Says:

    Hm. Give me until next year. You’ll see.

  15. Thomas Gerhardt Says:

    You know what? We should just exchange YM identities :D It’s just you and me talking anyhoo LOL

  16. Johanna Says:

    But the rest of us are enjoying the act!

  17. Thomas Gerhardt Says:

    *notices Johanna’s looks*

    Now I know how strippers must feel. :D

  18. Meet the New World, Same as the Old: DC Webcomics as Exploitative as Their Superheroines » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] So the big two American superhero publishers have tried going online, each with their own webcomic initiative. Some people are jaded about the efforts: Marvel doesn’t pay royalties for the material they republish, while the DC Zuda contracts were the subject of much debate. [...]

  19. Zuda Eliminates Competitions » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] “in the next few weeks”. I think this move makes sense for them — at the time Zuda started, they shook up the digital comic world, spawning lots of discussion, but 2 1/2 years of having to [...]

  20. Response to end of Zuda contests restrained but largely positive | Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources – Covering Comic Book News and Entertainment Says:

    [...] Draper Carlson: "I think this move makes sense for them — at the time Zuda started, they shook up the digital comic world, spawning lots of discussion, but 2 1/2 years of having to [...]




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