As covered in an earlier column, publishing digital comics to Amazon’s Kindle eReader presents a set of unique problems for the small comics publisher—problems that larger publishers may not be subject to. These problems revolve around the size of artwork and the cost of downloading as part of the KDP or Kindle Direct Publishing program.
KDP offers publishers (or individuals publishing to the Kindle) a choice of two ways to get paid. If the price of the eBook is $2.99 to $9.99, the publisher can opt for a payment of 70% of the eBook’s list price…but that 70% comes with a very significant catch to comics publishers because KDP publishers also subject to a digital delivery fee of $0.15/MB, which in the case of graphics heavy files such as comics, can add up quickly. Otherwise, the publisher can opt for 35% of the list price and not pay any delivery fees, but in this case there are minimum prices based on the size of the eBook.
What does this mean in practical terms? A 132 page graphic novel (collecting 6 issues of a comic) would be 25.86M in B&W or 82.7M in color at optimum resolution for a Kindle. Granted, you will have some data compression when graphic are put into an ebook format, but those are big files if you want to have optimum resolution, and with big files come big delivery fees.
Example one: Digital Manga’s Vampire Hunter D Vol. 2 has a list price of $7.95 and is a 14542K file ($2.13 delivery fee).
$7.95(list price) -$2.13(delivery) = $5.82 * 70% (royalty in KDP) = $4.074 in payment to Digital Manga per Kindle copy sold. Without the download fee, Digital Manga would receive $5.655, a difference of $1.491, meaning the download fee is effectively 28% in this case.
That may seem like a high percentage, but Digital Manga also spends time optimizing their files and makes certain compromises in resolution to keep the size down.
Example two: After the minimum pricing based on file size would have forced her Valentine comics to a $1.99 price point, instead of the original $0.99 price, Alex De Campi switched to a digital tpb format. This eBook is nearly 24 MB, compelling De Campi to opt for the 35% payment. That gives her roughly a $1.75 payment per download. At 70% without download fees, she’d get $3.50 per copy. If she were able to sell this as 8 individual $0.99 installments, she’d get $2.80 per set.
The interesting thing is that not every publisher is paying delivery fees. "There are many ways to work with Amazon, whether as part of the KDP program or under specific distribution agreements,” explains the e-publishing manager for one of the major comics publishers, who wished to be anonymous because of the sensitive nature of business discussions. “Major publishers may have options as to whether they work wholesale or under an agency relationship, and revenue shares may vary as to whether the publisher or Amazon covers the delivery fees."
Major publishers with “agency model” deals are generally not subject to the KDP digital download fees. Newer publishers and individuals publishing their own work to the Kindle are being pushed towards KDP. (Under the agency model, publishers receive a flat 70% of the purchase price from publishers, who generally set their own prices, within guidelines.)
Graphic novel publisher :01 (First Second) has confirmed they fall under Macmillan’s agency model contract for Kindle.Top Shelf publisher Chris Staros confirmed a revenue split, but no digital delivery fee.
So how does a small publisher come to one of these arrangements with Amazon?
Some small publishers find it a frustrating experience. “It is impossible to speak to anyone at Amazon other than a Bangladeshi callcenter-wallah (who are very nice and helpful, but only can do what they have scripts for),” Alex de Campi explains. “So no, I have never approached Amazon for a publisher arrangement. It appears an impossibility.”
Amazon has a history of offering separate terms to smaller entities. While embraced by publishers without distribution, the Amazon Advantage program for print items requires a 55% discount and a $29.95 annual membership fee. While comic publisher used to dealing with Diamond may not blink at a 55% discount, 55% is a typically distributor-level discount such as you would give Ingram or Baker & Taylor, while a retailer would typically order books at a 40% discount.
The digital delivery fee in the KDP program may be a direct parallel for digital with Amazon Advantage’s discount structure and membership fee for smaller publishers in print. Viewing KDP and Advantage as being format-specific cousins, it is worth noting it would only take the download fees from approximately 20 copies of a graphic novel the size of Vampire Hunter D to cover the annual membership fee from the Advantage program. In each case, Amazon’s reach and services may be worth paying the fee for, but the smaller entities are paying extra to get in.
Comics have a tradition of self-publishing and small press, particularly with the advent of the direct market. Small publishers and self-publishers would seem to be relegated to KDP and its comics-restrictive terms, unless Amazon contacts them first.
[Todd Allen is a technology consultant and former adjunct professor with Columbia College Chicago's Arts, Entertainment & Media Management department. Allen's book, The Economics of Web Comics, is taught at the college level. He also writes the Division