DC Comics has announced that it is making major changes to its royalty program for creators , and giving both additional recognition and compensation to colorists. The announcement was made in a letter sent to creative talent by DC co-publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee Tuesday. The changes take effect July 1, 2014.
The major change from a math standpoint is that royalties will no longer be based on cover price, but rather from DC’s net revenue from sales. Importantly, net revenue from both print and digital sales will be added together to calculate net revenue to reach potential royalty levels.
The major change creatively and culturally is that colorists will now be eligible for royalties, and will also receive cover credit.
The letter notes that DC’s existing royalty plan was created more than 30 years ago, in a decidedly different marketplace. “The current plan no longer reflects today’s business landscape where comics are sold in a variety of formats and through a myriad of sales channels,” the letter states.
Other changes include the fact that DC’s Digital First talent (for comics such as Sensation Comics and Adventures of Superman that are available first via the Web) will be eligible for additional compensation, and all talent in the USA will also be able to receive payments via direct deposit as opposed to check.
DC’s letter also notes (and underlines) that the new plan covers new work going forward. Presumably, all previous contracts with talent remain in force, unless both parties, the talent and DC, agree to amend those deals.
Early reaction from creative talent is overall positive.
“On initial review, it looks quite positive to me,” said Green Lantern and Digital First Adventures of Superman writer Ron Marz. “The devil is in the details, always, and everyone will have to see what the specific numbers look like, but overall, this is a positive step, and an inevitable step as the industry evolves.”
Marz also praises the recognition of the colorists. “Colorists are getting their due, and that’s long overdue,” he said. “The contribution they make to the finished product is significant, and it should be recognized.”
Aquamanand Futures End writer/artist Dan Jurgens echoes many of Marz’ sentiments.
“I think it’s great that the colorists are included, and that digital and print will be rolled into one concept,” Jurgens said. “I look forward to talking to the company a bit more and seeing how it will work.”
Many creators, both on and off the record, have expressed some reservation about “net profit,” and what that might mean once the calculators get whirring.
“The beauty of the old system is that you could look at the price on the cover and the sales numbers and pretty much determine, based on that alone, what was going to be going to creators,” Jurgens said. “Now it’s a little more elusive. That being said, DC’s business terms and accounting practices have always been sterling. I don’t expect that to change. But I’d like to see how it works.”
Jurgens also think the changes are an evolution, perhaps a necessary one. “Obviously, we’ve seen the marketplace change. You go on to Amazon, and you see your trade paperback at 40, 50 percent off,” he said. “So there are some different economics at play that weren’t there 30 years ago. And digital is a totally developing market. So…let’s see what we build in the next 30 years.”
Paul Mounts, a 26-year veteran colorist, is happy to see the changes for his particular discipline. “As to royalties, I think it’s great that DC is finally catching up to a move that Marvel made, what? About 12 years ago,” he said. “And I think as colorists have more influence in the look, feel and emotional impact of a book, it makes sense that we get cover credit.”
Mounts has recently colored Batwing and Harley Quinn for DC. “When you look at the sales on Harley Quinn, especially as they go to third or fourth printings, yeah, the royalties would have been nice,” he said.
Mounts helped get colorists royalties at Marvel back in the day, and is happy to have been working behind the scenes on DC’s new dealings as well.
“When Bill Jemas and Joe Quesada took over at Marvel in 2000, I helped lead the fight there,” he said. “We were doing The Ultimates with Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch, and they pushed Bill and Joe on that as well. I’ve been talking very unofficially, just conversationally, with DC on this for the last few months, so it’s nice to be leading that fight as well, and see it become official.”
Even though creators, and most everyone, refer to these extra sales-based payments colloquially as “royalties,” DC’s letter specifically calls them “participations.” DC made the change in language approximately four to five years ago. Marvel has always called its sales-based payments “incentives.”
Many have speculated that movement away form the word “royalty” is also movement away from possible claims of ownership on creators’ parts. But Michael Lovitz of Lovitz IP Law in Los Angeles doesn’t think so.
“There really is nothing about the use of the wording ‘participation’ versus ‘royalty’ that has any implication,” he said. “It likely stems from the entertainment world where ‘participation’ is generally used to refer to bonus money that comes off the back-end from a specific product. Here, ‘participation’ begins only when certain sales numbers or net profit have been reached.”