Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Why I'm Thinking of Quitting Comics

I wrote this post as a note on Facebook. Surprisingly, it was shared 160 times as of this writing. I'm copy-pasting the text here.

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Let me begin with a story.

Yesterday, I met with the organizers of Komikon, and during that meeting we talked about the challenges that local comic book makers are currently facing. Suffice to say, there's a lot.

Later that day, I was in a coffee shop and ran into a couple of dear friends I haven't seen in a long time. During our conversation, one friend talked about a medical procedure he had gone through, a procedure that cost him quite a bit of money.

After we parted, I began to wonder what would happen if I suddenly had an emergency and I needed a significant amount of money. Money that I didn't have. And when you reach a certain age without a retirement fund, without a backup when something goes wrong, things become very scary.

This is the reason why I thought of quitting comics.

Sure, I've had great success with Zaturnnah, but the truth is, I'm practicing my art at a huge loss.

Let me break things down for you.

Part One of Zaturnnah sa Maynila is around 80 pages long. To draw a complete page, I need an average of eight hours, which brings the total required hours to 640.

This does not include the time needed to conceptualize and write the story, to add lettering to the pages, to create the covers, to prepare the files for the publisher, and even to promote the thing. It would take over 1000 hours just to make Part One, and over 3000 hours to finish the project.

For this example, let's assume a flat 1000 hours for those 80 pages. If a workday is eight hours, then 1000 hours is 125 days, or a little over four months. To make Part One full time, I would have to work for over four months without seeing a single cent coming in. And when the book is released, I have no guarantee that those over four months of work would be compensated.

What about sales, you might ask? A book author gets less than 10% of a book's retail price. So if you buy your favorite author's book at a price of P200, which is the price of Part One, you're giving him less than P20 for the story. The bulk of that P200 goes into converting that story into a physical book and placing that book in a bookstore.

In Metro Manila, the current minimum wage is P481 per day. If a minimum wage earner works for four months, then he would earn about P42,000 or P10,250 a month. For a P200 book to reach the same amount, it should sell about 2,100 copies. If the author wants to earn just P20,000 a month working full time, then more than 8,000 books have to be sold. And selling 8,000 copies of any book is very, very difficult, moreso for the graphic novel which carries a higher price tag compared to a prose novel. I've heard too many comments from people wanting to buy but can't afford it.

And this is why I'm thinking of quitting comics, even if it has opened many doors for me. We might point to the adaptations (which I'm grateful for) and merchandising (which honestly hasn't worked for me), but these are not assurances, and the author has to devote extra time for these.

The only thing I feel that can really help the graphic novelist is if readers are willing to buy the digital version.

I understand people's apprehensions for not buying digital. I, too, love the feel and smell of a new book, plus the fact that I'm holding a physical product, not something that's just made up of bytes. And, reading comics on a digital device is challenging as well. But it's about the only opportunity for a comic book creator to charge an amount that's a little better than what he gets from the sale of a physical book.

When Zaturnnah sa Maynila is complete, it would cost a reader more than P600 to buy it, and only if its available in the bookstore (which is another problem altogether). The reader would be paying me less than P60 for over 240 pages of artwork and story.

But what if I charged just P240 for the entire story, broken up into 12 “issues” (for easier download). Over 95% of that amount would go to me, allowing me to spend on online marketing. It's about the price of a movie.

A reader might say, “But I don't have a credit card.” Well, there is a free app called Paymaya that can generate a unique credit card number that a reader can use to pay for online transactions. Paymaya is regulated by the Central Bank of the Philippines, and it can be loaded up through the bill payment centers of Robinson's and SM, kiosks in 7-Eleven and Mini-Stop, and other establishments.

Going digital helps the graphic novelist by:

1) Ensuring that that book is readily available 24/7. No more, “But I can’t find your book!”
2) Allowing the graphic novelist to spend on online marketing. No more, “Oh, I didn’t know you had a new book!”
3) Giving the graphic novelist his due for the amount of time and effort spent.
4) Making the work more affordable for the reader, though the reading experience may suffer.

If enough people who like my stories are willing and able to buy my digital comics, then I can continue with less worry about my future. The physical book can still be released later on with bonus material, and there's less risk for the publisher and the bookstore.

I guess that's the miracle I need.

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