Small Publisher Decisions: Athena Voltaire

Athena Voltaire #1

Athena Voltaire, originally a webcomic, started in print from the now-dead publisher Speakeasy, where the first issue sold out. (I know, in a world where many publishers print to order, that may not mean much, but it does indicate demand.) Here’s the creator’s description:

Athena Voltaire follows the globetrotting adventures of a 1930s aviatrix as she crosses paths with Nazis and battles occult forces against a diverse backdrop of exotic locales. Debuting online in 2002, the series received a 2005 Eisner Award nomination for “Best Digital Comic” and was featured in the book The Year’s Best Graphic Novels, Comics and Manga 2005.

Now the series is returning in print from Ape Entertainment. The first issue will be 48 pages for $4.50 and is due in August (Diamond order code JUN06 2854), reprinting the Speakeasy issue with the unreleased second issue to make up the double-sized package.

To address fans about why this choice was made, artist Steve Bryant released the following letter. I’m reprinting it here because I think it captures the kind of “damned if we do, damned if we don’t” choices facing independent creators and small publishers.

Athena Voltaire #1

I’ve had a few people ask why we’re reissuing issue #1, forcing early supporters of the book to rebuy old material. We didn’t choose this course without a lot of careful consideration. We had a few options and wanted to find the choice that best served our readers, our new publisher, and ourselves.

Option #1: Resolicit and reprint the Speakeasy version of #1 with Ape and continue along the way we would have had Speakeasy not folded.

Pro: This does not cost the early adaptors any money, they can choose to ignore issue #1 and just start purchasing with issue #2. Additionally, this serves the people who couldn’t get a copy of the first Speakeasy issue.
Con: Can we get enough preorders to justify reprinting this issue? If not, I don’t have the money to bankroll it and the book is cancelled and pretty much forever dead.

Option #2: Reprint #1 with a new cover.

Pro: Would probably make its target to pay for print run.
Con: Appears to be gouging by reissuing 100% old material with a new cover.

Option #3: Just pick up where we left off with Speakeasy using existing preorders.

Pro: Does not alienate any of our existing readers.
Con: Does not account for the 1400 preorder difference between the first Speakeasy issue and the second issue. Also does not take into account the number of backorders there were at Diamond when issue #1 sold out within two weeks of release.

Option #4: Screw floppies, go straight to trade.

Pro: All-in-one, alleviates worry of “will we sell enough copies to justify publishing a trade.”
Con: Hefty price tag to try out a new character/creators, most costly option for people who bought and liked issue #1.

Option #5: This is the one that we went with. The Speakeasy series was planned to be 5 issues at $3 a pop ($15 total for the series). The series from Ape, with a $4.50 double-sized first issue and $3 each for the last 3 issues totals $13.50. If someone bought the Speakeasy issue, the series will end up costing them $16.50, a buck and a half more than if Speakeasy finished the series. We felt that, yes, you have to pay an extra $1.50 for the series that you wouldn’t have had to pay if Speakeasy continued, but otherwise, it seems to be the option that alienates the fewest people.

Incidentally, if anyone feels ripped off by having to pay that extra $1.50, I completely understand. I’ll be glad to reimburse anyone who feels that way out of my pocket, provided they buy the entire Ape run of the series.

Thanks for supporting the book and I hope that you’ll give us a shot at Ape, as well. It certainly wasn’t part of my plan to have our first publisher dry up and die two weeks after the first issue came out, so we realize that we’re trying to adapt at this point. We really tried our best to come up with a solution that would please everyone–or, at the very least, alienate the smallest number.

I think they made the right choice, myself. Some retailers (of course) preferred option 2, but alternate covers are, I believe, overall bad for the industry. For me, option 4 is best, but I’m not their target audience — they’re doing an adventure comic where serialization can be used to their advantage, in keeping with the genre. Given that, option 1 is the ideal, but it requires capital that many small publishers don’t have.

As a side note, I’m seeing more signs that the $3 price point is going to fall soon as the dominant one, with Marvel and DC finding more reasons to put out $3.50 or $4 comics and the alternative/indy publishers, and even Image, regularly there.

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