Bluewater’s Math Doesn’t Add Up; The Real Costs of Making Comics

Bluewater Productions managed to get another newspaper article praising them, in spite of their dodgy business practices. This relatively local coverage praises the company’s “recent decision to dive headfirst into the not fully realized world of digital distribution and print-on-demand” (without revealing that the decision might have been forced on them by having too many of their distribution orders cancelled for not selling enough).

Darren Davis, owner of Bluewater

Darren Davis, owner of Bluewater

The article also points out that “prevalent Internet-based smears against Bluewater needle [company owner Darren] Davis” to the extent of driving him into therapy. Well, consider this another one. Mainly because I can’t make the company’s math add up. In the article, we learn that

  • The company “releases about 10 titles a month”.
  • “Bluewater reports its yearly income now generally gravitates around $2 million.”
  • “Davis estimates he sells between 5,000 and 10,000 copies of his popular titles, but others have failed to take hold, selling only hundreds.”

So let’s make some assumptions and do some figuring. 10 titles a month is 120 a year. Let’s assume that half of those are successful. We’ll assign a successful comic an average 7,500 in sales, and an unsuccessful one 1,000. So at a guess, he sells (60*1000)+(60*7500) = 510,000 individual issues in a year. You’re already seeing where I’m going with this, right? To make two million dollars off of 510,000 in sales, you’d have to nettake in almost $4 an issue ($3.92, to be more accurate) — on comics that are cover-priced at $4. You can’t make $4 profitdon’t get $4 on an item that sells for $4, unless you have absolutely no costs for distribution or sales. , but a comic, even a digitally distributed one, needs payments to writers, artists, web space and credit card processing… A print book priced at $4 doesn’t mean the publisher gets that entire $4 — their distributors and retailers take a cut, as you can see in detail from Jim Zub’s writeup linked below. By going digital, Bluewater may have eliminated all of those costs, but they’ve also eliminated those sources of advertising and ways of getting product to customers.

Update: It has been pointed out I confused income and profit above. The paragraph above has been adjusted to show that the numbers are still problematic.

Now, I’m ignoring sales of the fatter one-shots, which before going digital-only were priced at $8, and all of their graphic novels. Those are more likely to get into bookstores, but they’re also more likely to be returnable, so making fair assumptions to do the math on those is beyond me. Really, this is just an excuse to

1. Remind the reader to take newspaper articles like this with a very large grain of salt and

2. To link to this informative economic breakdown by Jim Zub, which more accurately lays out how little a creative team makes on a creator-owned comic.

(In the article, Davis also blames the hatred of his company on superhero bias. “If you take anything out of the superheroes and tights people have a problem calling it a comic book.” Yeah, that’s exactly why I criticize them — I can’t conceive of a comic without superheroes.)

17 Responses to “Bluewater’s Math Doesn’t Add Up; The Real Costs of Making Comics”

  1. Darren Davis Says:

    Hey Johanna –

    I offered to give you an interview – but you turned us down. You said there was “no air to clear” so clearly you are biased.

    You are one of the people who “spreads rumors” in articles…and clearly do not fact check. I miss the day of real journalism.

    Darren Davis

  2. Darren Davis Says:

    Also note that images that are run in a newspaper are copywritten – if you were a real journalist you would note – not to steal images without their approval. So you are doing the same thing you “claim” us to be doing…..nice.

  3. Johanna Says:

    It’s called “fair use”, which allows quotation of part of a work for purpose of commentary. Not at all comparable to refusing to pay people working for you to create these million-dollar publications.

    Yes, I’m biased — in favor of accurate reporting and ethical business dealings. If you don’t do those things, I write about it.

    By the way, “real” journalism is on life support because not enough publishers are willing to pay fair compensation for the work these days. Sound familiar?

  4. Darren Davis Says:

    Really it is not, I called an double checked with the photographer – small town.

    You are really nothing but a bully who does not take the time to fact check. I did reach out to you but you are so biased and not interested in the real facts. I am honest about my feelings getting hurt about sites like this…It is only because they are based off of false accusations and not the truth. I am pretty much an open book and own my mistakes. This time I am just sick of you attacking me personally for something “you think is the truth”. I heard nice things about you which is why I reached out to you before – but I am done and feel free to continue making up crap without checking facts….

  5. Johanna Says:

    My article is based on three of your quotes from the newspaper, basic math, and labeled assumptions. Are you saying that your quotes aren’t factual, or do you disagree with the way arithmetic works? Would you care to provide more specific sales figures, if my assumptions are that far off? I’m sure it makes you feel better to call me names instead of addressing the points, but we’ve done this dance too many times before.

  6. Ed Gross Says:

    I just wanted to chime in with the fact I’ve worked with Darren quite a bit and have had nothing but a positive experience. I certainly haven’t felt ripped off in any way.

  7. Bluewater Productions, BS, and real numbers for creator owned revenue The Daily Cartoonist Says:

    […] Johanna Draper Carlson calls BS on Bluewater claims of generating $2 million/year in profit and points to a write up by Jim Zub who outlines the costs of business producing, distributing, selling creator owned work. Nut shell: creators get a very, very, very, very small piece of the pie. […]

  8. Darren Davis Says:

    No where in the article does it say 2 million dollars in profits. They got this number from the CNN article which is correct. This number was in gross sales – not net. This is how rumors get started when people do not fact check. Joanna has an ax to grind with Bluewater and I have offered to do an interview with her over the years – but she is biased and just a blogger who does not not want the facts. Last comment…Joanna seems to want her 15 minutes – so enjoy. I am done and have work to do.

    Darren Davis
    Bluewater Productions

  9. Don Chugg Says:

    In order to put this to rest Johanna should interview Mr. Davis – Why won’t you interview him? Seems shady on Comics Worth Reading’s part.

  10. Johanna Says:

    I’m not interviewing anyone these days, because I don’t have the time to do the prep — but in his case, what would be the point? He’d tell me he had no qualms over his business practices, which I find unethical. Neither of us would learn anything from the conversation, so it would be a waste of time. (I’m also disinclined to provide the PR space to people who do nothing but call me names. I’m weird that way.)

    Now, if he wanted to provide proof that he’d paid the many people who claim to have been stiffed by him for work they’d done, that would be newsworthy — but every time I bring that up, he goes quiet.

  11. Darren Davis Says:

    It is unfortunate that you are inclined to believe innuendo, rumor and opinion rather than factual data. As with any business you are going to find people who will both praise and criticize but I stand by how I have conducted business over the past 12 years. In that you refuse to interview me (or anyone else for that matter) shows you are more interested in generating in promoting your own opinion and agenda as fact. If I have insinuated or called you names, I publicly apologize – because I do not know you personally. I would expect the same curiosity from you. It is blatenly obvious we will never see eye to eye so we can aggree to disagree.

    You may dismiss this as spin, but the reality is you do not know anything about Bluewater the business entity. If you choose not to cover Bluewater again that is your choice and I will respect that.

    However I remain open to talking with you or anyone in detail about specific creatives who were not happy. You have my phone number.

    Darren Davis

  12. Johanna Says:

    “IF you have called me names”? You mean, like in your comments above?

    By the way, thanks for pointing out my profit/income mixup. I’ve corrected the post above to reflect that.

  13. Jason Goldsmith Says:

    In the math above you’ve also failed to account for the 150,000 copies of the Michelle Obama book. Perhaps that doesn’t make the math a perfect fit, but it doesn’t take a lot of books that pop to make up for the difference. Or the more expensive graphic novels, etc.

    And, the use of the photograph is definitely not fair use as defined in the US. It might vary in your location. Fair use is very narrowly defined, primarily for academic purposes. Using a photograph to decorate an article, such as here, is not fair use.

  14. Johanna Says:

    Fair use, as defined by US law, is “for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting,” and others. This article is all of the above.

  15. hapax Says:

    “you are more interested in generating in promoting your own opinion and agenda as fact”

    I am a regular reader of this blog because I, myself, am “interested” in the author’s “opinion and agenda” — intelligent criticism filtered through years of working in the comics business.

    If I were interested in reading Darren Davis’s “opinion and agenda” — which, judging by the poor quality of the publications his business puts out, I am not — it isn’t hard to find it at Bluewater’s own site.

    tl;dr: I go to CWR to read CWR. Not to read what Darren Davis thinks I should read.

  16. Jason Goldsmith Says:

    “Fair use, as defined by US law, is “for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting,” and others. This article is all of the above.”

    Repeating it doesn’t make you right.

    The article, is using the other articles TEXT under fair use. The photograph has a copyright independent of the article. You are not criticizing, commenting on or reporting news about the photograph (only the subject of the photograph”.

    You are infringing the copyright of the photograph. It may be the original photographer that you are stealing from or the newspaper, depending on if the photograph was created as work for hire.

    Fair use is intended to provide protection from copyright infringement law suits when it is impractical or impossible to obtain permission for using a copyright work, not just because it is inconvenient.

    Using the photograph in the article without permission avoids paying the artist for their work. That seems to be something you oppose others doing, so justifying it as “fair use” seems rather unfair.

    For more information on fair use, and the 4 different tests used to determine if infringement is occurring:

  17. Johanna Says:

    Thanks, Hapax. Glad you find the site interesting and informative.

    Jason, thanks for providing the legal background. One of the other keys of fair use is that it’s an affirmative defense — so if the copyright owner wants to sue, we can have a judge rule whether this case applies. Until then, we’ll have to agree to disagree.




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