Platinum Studios Snows NY Times
Platinum Studios must have a great press agent. Although they have yet to publish a comic, they’re written up in the NY Times, this time for being webcomic leaders.
I can’t begin to count the inaccuracies and misleading statements in this piece. How about the first paragraph, which says that the webcomic audience is “limited to a niche group of comic book creators and their most ardent followers”? Webcomics are more widespread and have more outreach than print serial comics.
Platinum’s chairman, Scott Rosenberg, “aims to change that”, in a PR cliché. How to do that? Buy an already established webcomic site, try to take credit for its accomplishments, and rip off creators.
The revamped DrunkDuck site will continue to encourage the growth of independent comic book creators by distributing their work digitally at no cost to them or to consumers, Mr. Rosenberg said.
You mean like so many other webcomic sites?
But a crucial difference, he said, will be in how Platinum plans to use the site to create a broad mix of revenue streams, “full-circle commercialization,” for the company and its content contributors.
For example, Mr. Rosenberg said he planned aggressive marketing of the site — which already receives a million unique viewers a month, mostly drawn by word of mouth — coupled with advertising sales. While the advertising revenue would not be shared with the comic creators, artists would share in the revenue from downloadable comics for cellphones and mobile media devices like iPods, comics-related ring tones, wallpaper and items like T-shirts or plastic scale models of comic book characters.
That “no ad revenue to creators” is a big problem; what is Platinum providing that they should benefit off others’ work? And note that they’re still not publishing print comics, planning instead on buzzword spinoffs. But here’s the kicker:
Product creators, Mr. Rosenberg said, can expect to receive 10 percent of the adjusted gross revenue earned by sales.
That’s incredibly minimal, especially considering that all kinds of strange accounting can be covered by “adjusted”.
Tom Spurgeon also has concerns, while the comments at Heidi’s blog have some interesting participants, including a second-hand response from the company.
As you might expect, noted webcomic successes Scott Kurtz (link no longer available) and Tycho make fun. Penny Arcade even does a savage comic about it.
Johanna, I’m trying to understand what Platinum thinks their appeal to creators is. I sit at home and come up with an idea for a comic. I develop the concepts and characters. I work up story ideas and even put together a small sample story with artwork. I then pitch it to Platinum and they like it. They put my comic on the web and make money from ad revenues, while I sit and hope that the comic is popular enough to generate merchandise sales. Platinum is making ad money off my idea and if I get lucky I might get 10% of the ‘adjusted profit’ of any merchandise sales. Why not just go to some free webcomic portal and keep 100% of the rights and any money I might make. Or save up my money and get Image to publish my comic for a flat fee and again keep the rights and money. And if I’m lucky my comic will generate enough buzz I can jump ship from Image to Dark Horse and have DH market my comic for me. What is Platinum promising creators to make them even vaguely enticing at this point?
A side comment, when did the NYT stop doing research for stories and just publish press releases? They should be ashamed to have their name associated with this article. A couple hours of research on the internet would have prevented them from running this puff piece for Platinum.
From what I’ve seen, it’s one of the few places that will work with writers without artists attached, and it does pay a small amount up-front. Whether that’s worth the reportedly high percentages of what the creator gives away, I guess that’s up to any individual creator to decide. It sure sounds fishy from the outside, though. And it’s not helped by the out-of-date white suit and shit-eating grin on Rosenberg in the NY Times picture, either.
Johanna, then maybe they should do like some software development firms do. Hire the writers as fulltime employees and say, “Your job is to develop comic properties for the company.” The writer gets a regular paycheck in exchange for giving up most, if not all, of his rights to the property. This makes the 10% adjusted profit seem like a bonus for doing a good job. An arrangement like this seems more honest to me.
Johanna’s summed up much of Platinum’s appeal, especially to newbie writers–the company takes every pitch seriously, no matter what their position in the industry might be. Executive Editor Lee Nordling has spent an awful lot of time over the last several years working with creators to develop their craft–even creators who hadn’t sold a project to the company, but who they saw potential in. I was pitching stuff to Lee for two years before I got my first assignment, and his insight and criticism made me a better writer.
In addition to that, I know several creators, including those who’ve had books published by Image and numerous other small-press companies, whose first actual paycheque for comic creation came from Platinum. That cheque generally wasn’t a whole lot, but when pursuing your passion has only cost you money, getting a little can go a long way. I can honestly say I wouldn’t have gotten PARTING WAYS or DONE TO DEATH produced if it wasn’t for my involvement with Platinum, even though the company ultimately has nothing to do with either of those books (and, considering the subject matter, would likely be horrified to be mentioned in the same sentence as them).
It doesn’t get mentioned often, but there is a reversion clause for properties sold to Platinum; after a set period of time, the company will either return the property to the creator or pay an extension fee that’s substantially higher than what they paid for the original development period. The length of the initial period is, I understand, greater than is frequently the case for Hollywood options (I honestly haven’t had enough dealings with Hollywood to know for sure, but I have no reason to doubt it.)
I’m no pollyanna, nor am I toeing the company line, here. Obviously, I’d like nothing better than for the online content to generate interest in a printed product that will make the creators involved some (or loads of) money–but that idea is, to the best of my (admittedly limited) knowledge, relatively untested, and, being an aspiring curmudgeon and a lifelong luddite, I have my doubts about whether it will work.
The “no advertising revenue for online comic material” is a matter of concern for some creators. I haven’t had a chance to have my lawyer re-examine my contracts with Platinum closely enough to determine whether the company’s got the right to do that. In my experience, they’ve been entirely scrupulous when it comes to honouring their contracts, so I’ve little reason to doubt that they do. If they do, I’m at peace with that–anyone who’s attempted to enter comics post-HOWARD THE DUCK has no excuse not to know what they might potentially be signing away, and if I (and my lawyer) did miss something that’ll cost me money, I can’t in good conscience blame Platinum for that.
Finally, and I know nobody’s brought it up here, as of yet, but it seems to be a common notion that’s floating around, Platinum is not abandoning print comics in favour of webcomics. They are trying to generate interest in print comics by releasing the stories on the web first. COWBOYS & ALIENS should be going online…today, I think. I’m told that yesterday it appeared on Page 175 of the latest Previews as a full-colour, 100+ page graphic novel for $4.99 (order code OCT06 1908) (in the interest of full disclosure, I should mention I have a co-writing credit on C&A).
I understand perfectly why people are inclined to take a dim view of the company in general and the hyperbole in the article mentioned in particular–if I were on the other side of the fence, I’d probably be lobbing a few snide remarks myself. I guess we’ll see whether the negativity that seems to be coming from the online community has an effect on how the work is received.
PS: The PENNY ARCADE strip: Ow. It’s hilarious, but…Ow.