By now you’ve probably already heard that Ingram Content has a new “Standard Color” pricing program that makes self-published color Print-On-Demand graphic novels economically feasible. This means you no longer have to have material out of print. It means you have access to the bookstore market, especially the online bookstore market. You can turn a profit on shorter print runs through Diamond Comics Distributors than you previously could. It also isn’t necessarily a replacement for the comics shop or Direct Market and your profit per unit either. I’m going to step through the financials and discuss where this fits in with the world of the independent creator and the publisher. For a Webcartoonist, for instance, this is pure gravy and lets a minimum baseline print availability be established.

Before we get into the numbers, let’s talk a little bit about the “Standard Color” format. It’s printed on 50# Glatfelter Pixelle Book paper. This is a very thin paper. Ingram’s “Premium Color” is printed on 70# stock that seems comparable to what IDW uses for titles like Popeye. Standard color is a little harder to describe.

DC uses a thinner paper for some of the reprint books like the Vertigo Swamp Thing or Hitman paperback collections Standard Color is a little thinner than that. Texture-wise, it reminded me of the slick feel of the newsprint comics of the mid-80s, except this paper is a bright white. If you look closely you can see a little bleed through from the opposite side of the page in some cases. The thinner stock mean less ink is absorbed and there is a little less pop on the color than in the thicker premium option. That may be overly nitpicky, but comics readers can be nitpicky at times.

People that are very into the art aspects may want a premium edition, but this strikes me as a perfectly adequate reading copy.

I showed the samples to Brian Hibbs, owner of the Comix Experience store in San Francisco and he said “It’s absolutely satisfactory, with the caveat that I haven't seen a larger, thicker sample of it.”

What he means by the caveat is the samples were only 28 pages and in a smaller format than most comics. He’d like to see what a 120-160 trade paperback looked like and felt like in his hands, something I’d be curious about, as well.

The bottom line is, this looks like it’s going to work from a product standpoint, so let’s get to the financials.

For the purposes of this exploration, we’re going to use a 128 page trade paperback. A package to collect 5 or 6 issues that would have a cover price somewhere between $12 and $16.

Before we can estimate price for this graphic novel, we need to consider the size. The standard size of a graphic novel is roughly 6.6” x 10.2”. That’s not a standard size in the “regular” book world and thus not a standard size in the world of POD. Either you have to shrink a little and go down to 6” x 9”, which is considered a “small” book for pricing purposes or up into the “large” category which starts at 7” x 10” and goes up to both 8.5” x 11” and even A4 sizes. Naturally, “small” and “large” books have different prices.

The small category will cost $4.10 to print as a one-off On Demand copy. The large format would cost $5.14 for a single copy. Bulk discounts start at orders of 50 copies and increase to 1500 copies. At 500 copies, a 25% discount kicks in and your small graphic novel would cost $3.075 per copy. 500 of a large format graphic novel would be $3.855 per copy.

There are trade-offs involved with size and some believe that a 6”x9” format will not sell as well in stores, though there is a distinct monetary savings with the size. If you’re looking to put traditional comics material in a POD format, you’re either going to have to shrink the page or go with the large format. The easiest solution is to go with a larger physical footprint and center the page – you’ll just have larger margins.

There are three distribution models for a self-published POD book: direct sales, Direct Market/Diamond and bookstore distribution.

Direct sales is simple—you’re selling directly to the customer, be it at a convention or through mail order. The variables are format size, whether or not you’ve ordered in bulkand cover price. These yield this kind of a profit range on a per copy basis:

$12 cover price

$16 cover price

Small format – Single Copy



Large format – Single Copy



Small format – 500 Print Run



Large format – 500 Print Run



Direct sales is very profitable, but a lot of work.

With Direct Market (i.e., comics shops), you’re most likely going to need to go through Diamond for distribution. This means a 60% discount and I usually figure it at 61% to include incidental costs. That means your revenue on a $12 cover price would be $4.68 and on a $16 cover price would be $6.24.

Repeating the variables for the Diamond model, your revenue ranges per issue are as follows:

$12 cover price

$16 cover price

Small format – Single Copy



Large format – Single Copy



Small format – 500 Print Run



Large format – 500 Print Run



In reality, it’s unlikely you’re going to be fulfilling Diamond orders with a single POD printing, but as you can see, at a $16 cover price, that’s going to be profitable every time. This is unheard of. Every time you add a page, the cost of a book goes up a few cents, so you need to calculate based on each individual book’s page count. As your print run goes up, eventually you graduate to lower pricing and offset printing. This does prove that it’s possible for the individual creator to keep a book in print at the retail level, particularly at slightly higher price points.

For a publisher, this is a mixed blessing. The margins on color POD books are much lower than offset and normal royalty payments will throw off the financials, especially on smaller print runs. A separate royalty agreement for POD books might be necessary.

Finally you have the bookstore market. This is the most complicated. Although Ingram is primarily a wholesaler, they do offer some distribution services to clients, and by using Ingram Content’s Lightning Source printing division, you’re automatically put into their distribution channels. You also get to select the discount you’re offering through Ingram and whether you want to make your books returnable. Herein lies a conundrum: if you offer a high enough discount for bookstores to offer returns, you likely won’t be able to absorb the losses from those returns on your available margins.

An alternate theory is to accept that bookstores normally won’t order your book for the shelf, and lower your discount to a “short” discount of 20%-25% and focus on selling your books on online bookstores like and There’s also a theory that you raise the cover price of a book, offer the 55% with the distributor and anticipate Amazon and BN will apply a discount, with the anticipated discount being the intended retail price.

Yes, focusing on the online market can be at odds with focusing on the Direct Market. With the bookstore channel, you don’t get bulk discounts. Each book is a single POD purchase. Here are how the financials play out at the full 55% discount, the short 20% discount and a 40% discount (if you want to entertain the possibility that a handful of bookstore might order a shelf copy, but don’t want to give the full discount).

$12 Cover Price

$16 Cover Price

Small Format – 55%



Large Format – 55%



Small Format – 40%



Large Format – 40%



Small Format – 20%



Large Format – 20%



As you get away from the lower discounts, this quickly becomes more profitable on a per book basis than Diamond and has the added bonus of being hands free. Ingram ships the books and sends you a check. On the other hand, the Direct Market has a large number of people coming into its shops every week. No one is entirely sure to what extent the online bookstore and Direct Market audiences overlap, in terms of buying graphic novels. And it’s this quandary that comic book creators will ponder longer than Webcomics creators.

For a Webcartoonist, selling on their own site and on online bookstores will be the primary channels and the Direct Market will most likely be seen as a bonus, albeit one with a much lower margin.

From a publisher perspective, given a normal discount, particularly with a lower cover price, it is a not a big win. Short discounts can fix this, but also raise the question of whether the publisher wants to create a caste system in the general bookstore market, in terms of returnability and discount rates.

Clearly, the metrics involved here, with the possible exception of the short discounts, aren’t the sort of numbers that lend themselves to making a fulltime living in comics. It works for keeping material in print. It allows you to generate revenue on shorter print runs. But unless you’re able to sell thousands of books in the online bookstore market, the sales that would constitute a living wage will carry you into print runs where offset printing is cheaper.

All that said, many independent cartoonists aren’t making a living wage at comics and this looks like a fiscally viable model for those smaller players with the possibility of greater visibility through the online bookstore channel. There also is very little excuse for books to be out of print with this new POD option available.