Foxtrot Experiment Is A Major Success

By | Friday, April 27, 2012 6 comments
Two weeks ago, Bill Amend announced on his blog that he was taking his "first steps into the worlds of e-books and self-publishing." Amend's comic strip, Foxtrot, has been running since 1988 syndicated through Universal Press. Like just about every successful newspaper strip before, Andrews McMeel (which owns Universal) periodically published bound collections of the strip, in both smaller installments and larger anthologies. And, like traditional publishing ventures, the books' revenue is split among the bookstores, the publisher, the agents, the sales force, the syndicate, the paper company, etc. before Amend himself gets a share. Pretty standard practice.

Except now he's pushing out a few collections of iBooks.
I made them myself using Apple’s free iBooks Author software. Each $1.99 book contains 100 strips, some old, some new, some story lines, some stand-alone jokes, some black and white dailies, some color Sundays.
Three books. Exclusive to the iPad. That Amend put together himself with no outside help. Now let me share with you a Tweet from Amend a little earlier this evening...
Amend is selling his iBooks at $1.99 each, compared to $16.99 for his last print collection. If sales continue to do as well, that would mean that he'd make as much money on his iBooks in one month as he does in over two years via print. Because, despite the radically lower price of his iBooks, he doesn't have to share that with a ton of other people. Apple gets a cut (I want to say 30%?) but most of those $1.99s go to Amend. Think about how very, very little of those $16.99s go to Amend if he makes radically more on one month of sales of books where he only gets $1.40 for each one he sells, compared against the two years of sales on print one. That is absolutely astounding!

Now, granted, it's largely his long-time exposure in print that garnered him a following in the first place, but with profit margins like that, why would you NOT want to self-publish? Why would you want to keep the bulk of your books' sales for yourself?Why would you want somebody else to filter your work? It's no wonder traditional publishers are getting scared!
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Matt K said...

I think you answered your own question, "with profit margins like that, why would you NOT want to self-publish" in the same sentence:

"'s largely his long-time exposure in print that garnered him a following..."

Profit margin is nice, but it isn't everything. I would much prefer to make $.75 apiece on 6,000 sales than $4 apiece on 150 sales. And for those who don't already have a large audience, the latter sales figure is a lot more likely than the former.

This is much like my thoughts on Kickstarter, really. It has potential to devastate what some people see as just "middlemen" (despite the fact that those middlemen have helped some of those some people reach the audiences they now have) and shift money from them to a handful of already popular authors, etc., (plus Apple, Amazon, et al.). And that's okay, so far as it goes. But it isn't a revolution in the sense of upending the world.

At least, so far as I know. Unless Comic Book Fanthropology has recently begun selling like hotcakes and you just haven't gotten around to mentioning it.

Well, comparing Amend's self-publishing career to mine is hardly a comparison at all. In the first place, I never have anything to say that resonates with more than a handful of people and, in the second place, I have a looooong history of having this phenomenal inability to evoke an emotional connection out of people.

It would be more apt to compare Amend to someone like Scott Kurtz from PvP. Or Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik from Penny Arcade. They make enough to support BOTH of them AND have set up a scholarship fund.

I'm not saying self-publishing will make you rich, or even make you self-sufficient. I'm saying that traditional publishers are no longer the gatekeepers for content and, given how little marketing help they actually provide for authors any more, they don't really provide much of a service at all. Certainly not one worth the huge cut they take.

Matt K said...

For good or ill, traditional publishers are certainly not the gatekeepers of content any more, no. As for providing little marketing help, I guess I don't have enough information to judge; for now I guess that I will tentatively continue to disagree with your last two points.

I will also commend you for the "phenomenal inability to" remark; probably too harsh but very funny. :-)

Matt K said...

Also, what do you mean by "filter" one's work? Here too it's debatable how much traditional publishers do any more, and I suspect that if nothing else it varies tremendously from one to another. But I really don't think that raw, personal vision delivered directly to the end audience without anyone else's input is the every-time hands-down way to the best work. Or even close. And I say this as someone who prefers to work alone and is skeptical and uncomfortable regarding arguments that "teamwork" and "collaboration" are the key to any worthwhile endeavor.

I like to pursue my work alone, but I think it still benefits from being "filtered" through other viewpoints than my own at some point, and if such filtering is by no means unavailable outside of traditional publishing paths I don't think the possibility that it is involved in them is a reason to eschew them.

Obviously, the extent of marketing varies from publisher to publisher, but from what I've seen/heard, they generally do little in terms of PR beyond sending out an initial press release. Sometimes a handful of review copies. But unless you're a J.K. Rowling or the publisher owns the material themselves (e.g. Marvel and DC), most of the marketing efforts come from the author.

And I meant "filtering" in the broader, gatekeeper sense, not in the "editorial interference" sense.

Matt K said...

Interesting, that's useful to know. Appreciate the discussion.