The worm has turned
Four weeks ago the independent comic book Arsenic Lullaby was facing extinction; it went to Kickstarter and rose from the ashes.
Here is why this is important. Arsenic Lullaby is not a book that grew out of the internet, autonomous of the comic book industry. Arsenic Lullaby had gained some success through normal channels. It was nominated for the Harvey Award, and the Eisner award. It lasted over ten years under the old system, no small accomplishment. It is a book that made money for stores, and made money for the distributor. It was forced to leave that system… secede, and it made sixteen thousand dollars in 28 days after it did. Sixteen Thousand dollars that stores, and the distributor will never see a percentage of. Arsenic Lullaby was not an online comic, or a comic whose Kickstarter success can be attributed to the zeitgeist, or a one time wave of curiosity. Nor was this a book that was a simple side project of creators of books for major labels who were able to cull pledges from the belly of Marvel or DC’s limitless readership. This was a stalwart Indy book that went as far as it could through the old system. The system was not changing to meet the times so Arsenic Lullaby sought out a new system.
After seeing orders continue to slide through the normal distribution chain that puts publishers fate in the hands of store owners who often balk at anything without capes and tights, instead of relying on the curiosity of the readers, Arsenic Lullaby Publishing cancelled the orders and put all its chips on red. “Red”, being Kickstarter. In 28 days Arsenic Lullaby acquired over sixteen thousand dollars worth of orders. A total that equals about three orders through Diamond Comics distributors, after 60% is taken off the top to split with stores and the distributor itself. This is a torpedo across the hull of a system generally unfriendly to indy comics. The readers are out there, the money is out there. In the past that money would be left on the table if stores didn’t take the risk on one indy book or the other. After Arsenic Lullaby’s Kickstarter campaign however, the options are dramatically different. That money will NOT be left on the table. It WILL go into the pockets of Indy publishers, the only question is, will stores will get any percentage for themselves? They can either start supporting these books, or have their customers find them online, and have one less reason to go to their stores.
A.L. has left the door wide open for others to follow. Diamond distributions catalogue is roughly 20% indy publishers. Depending on the store, that is 10% to 20% of their business. One book leaving for greener pastures perhaps can be replaced. The watershed part of all this is that because Arsenic Lullaby had clout, proved it could survive for a time under the old system, it is a title that is watched by many, not just readers, but other publishers. Its success with Kickstarter is an example to other creators. If the stores refuse to back them, they can connect with their readers anyway, leaving the stores empty handed. Stores cannot survive on indy books alone, but can they survive with no indy books? By and large, super hero titles serve children, and adults who read them for the sake of nostalgia. The age group in between however are kept in the habit of coming to comic book stores via indy books. The college kids who have temporarily out grown super heroes and want something new and unusual, girls who have no interest in reading thinly veiled literary devices that always lead to a fist fight, adults who want something smarter…they HAD been kept in the habit of going to stores with indy books. Should the majority of those readers get into the habit of getting their books online through sites like Kickstarter, stores may see the next generation of kids who outgrow superheroes never come back.
The great danger for the distributor will be not only losing 20% of their catalogue, but the inevitability of larger publishers like Image, Dark Horse, and Top Shelf deciding to launch their smaller projects on Kickstarter…then larger projects on Kickstarter…eventually Marvel and DC could test their more experimental books there as well. Arsenic Lullaby could have created the crack in the dam. If this was an online web comic, independent of the industry, it’s Kickstarter success could be ignored, but one of the few independent success stories of the last decade leaving the old system, and being able to triple its revenue, that may well signal the changing of the guard.
Eisner and Harvey award nominee