Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.
In late 2021, it was announced that a new creator platform for comics, Zestworld, would be introduced in early 2022. From what I read in the news about it, it appears to be a Patreon or Substack type platform dedicated to comic creators, but with additional benefits in managing creative rights.
But is the industry really broken? Or is it that creators don’t know how to market and manage their creative empires and go broke?
The Superman IP Saga
The poster child example for the broken comic industry is the creators of Superman who sold their rights to it to DC Comics for $130 in 1938. Let me emphasize that was 1938. That might have seemed lucrative for them at the time.
Then, under DC, Superman became the iconic character we know today. Superman’s creators regretted selling it for so little. The creators and their heirs have been in lawsuits with DC spanning from 1947 to the 2010s… that’s around 70 years of court battles.
While I don’t want to appear callous, the creators of Superman voluntarily agreed to the deal. They had challenges selling the comic to newspapers. So they were probably thinking this was a great way to make some cash. It could have completely crashed under DC. But DC had the resources and talent to make this creation what it is now.
That was 1938. Today, comic creators, like those of Superman, are a little more savvy and might hire attorneys and consultants to evaluate a price before selling. But why do today’s creators think that they’ll be better able to price and negotiate their own deals for their work?
From an entertainment or publishing buyer perspective, buying rights and licensing from a creator can be a very speculative investment. It takes a significant investment to build a comic franchise due to marketing, legal, and administrative costs.
What's Different About Zestworld?
Zestworld is completely dedicated to comic creators. That makes it different than the likes of Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and IngramSpark which serve all types of authors and creators. For example, KDP does offer the capability to publish comics, in comic-friendly formats. Other than that, it really is just a feature of the overall KDP self publishing platform.
Apparently, where Zestworld will differ is in that it can help comic creators manage their copyrights and creative rights so that they are compensated for all their work, particularly if it is adapted into other media such as TV shows and branded merchandise. I have not seen anything on how that would be accomplished from a legal or practical standpoint. We’ll have to stay tuned.
But I think creators have to understand the landscape they’re entering. In the past, comic creators may have done work for publishers who would then own the work product. This is known as work-for-hire. I’m going to again sound callous, but when you enter into a work-for-hire relationship for creative work, the party who pays for the work owns the work. Period. If the hiring party goes on to make millions with the creative work, I’m sorry, but that’s how it can go unless other arrangements are contracted before work begins.
There is no guarantee that a publisher will make millions with any creative product. This is also a fact that many creators forget. The amount of investment in creating a blockbuster comic franchise can be enormous. Sometimes it can take millions to make millions with production, advertising, legal, and whole host of costs to make a breakout hit. Just from my experience in the self publishing arena, I don’t think most creators are astute enough from a marketing or business standpoint to make those millions. It’s challenging for even business pros.
Zestworld also is reported to facilitate creators in offering subscriptions direct to fans, along the lines of Patreon or Substack. That won’t be the same windfall as selling work to an entertainment or publishing buyer. Fan sales are one-to-one marketing combat. Every single paying fan has a cost. That is called CAC (customer acquisition cost) which could be more than the fan’s subscription purchase. CAC could include hard dollar investments in advertising, email marketing, social media, and more.
Monetization platforms such as Zestworld, Substack, and Patreon do not proactively market you and your work. You must drive traffic to your profile and offerings, regardless of whether you’re pursuing licensing or fan sales.
What's the Problem with These Monetization Methods?
Creators want to get paid for their work. They aren’t getting paid at all or yet, or they’re not getting paid enough. So when a new monetization platform or strategy pops up, they’re hopeful that this—maybe, finally, this!—will be the way that money will start coming in so they can do what they love without money worries or working a day job. Creators also buy into the notion that artistic output should automatically equal income. This is not true.
What I’ve observed is that monetization platforms are usually very careful in the language they use to attract creators to join their ranks. They emphasize how creators can interact directly with their fans, usually through subscriptions. But here’s what they don’t emphasize. You need to actually have fans in order to monetize your audience, regardless of what platform you use.
Often, high profile creators that have signed on to the platform are featured. “Oooh, I wanna be like [insert celebrity level creator name here].” The opportunity to be on the same platform as superstar creators should lend some credibility and residual interest in lesser knowns, right? Wrong. You—YOU!—have to drive traffic to your profile on these platforms. The superstars just drag their fans over to whatever platform they’re on, and to their own superstar profiles. Plus, these superstars usually get all the attention on these platforms, which further detours traffic from your profile.
I have to credit my husband for observing that monetization platforms, even the likes of YouTube, are sortation platforms where creators either sink or succeed. These platforms provide opportunities, not assurances.
Once you understand your relationship with the platform and your fans, you can choose which platform will best serve your administrative needs. Except for advertising opportunities they offer, the platform will not do any proactive marketing for you. To some degree, too, you will be marketing the platform by default by merely using it, and driving traffic to your profile.
Though many of these platforms have a barebones free-forever hosting option, there will usually be a monthly or annual fee for using their services. As well, most of them have a revenue share, meaning that on every sale or subscription you sell, you will pay the platform a percentage of the sale.
If you want to be a paid creator, you need to market yourself and your work. Whether that’s through social media, blogs, YouTube, or advertising, it will be an expense of time, effort, and money. I have to go back to my discussion on owned media. Sure, you may own the channel, or in this case, the art. But if no one is visiting your listings and work, you cannot hope to sell anything and make money.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2022 Heidi Thorne