Maybe an Opportunity for Indie Creators?

By | Wednesday, August 12, 2020 Leave a Comment
The Pocket Lawyer for Comic Book Creators
On Monday evening, we heard about some massive layoffs at DC Comics. Parent company Warner Brothers laid off as many as 600 and, whil I haven't seen numbers at DC specifically, some of the names of those laid off include Bob Harras, Bobbie Chase, and Andy Khouri among many other senior level officials. Jim Lee remains at the company but has been removed as publisher.

These layoffs seem to largely be attributed to COVID-related issues. Obviously, we've seen some major disruptions in the entertainment industry with comic shops and movie theaters shutting down for an extended period. Movies, in particular, would seem to be a massive set of losses for WB, as even opening theaters back up with social distancing rules in effect, I'm sure a large number of people will continue avoiding enclosed spaces like that for some time. (I know I don't intend on going anywhere like that until well into 2021 at the earliest!) So not only has taken a big hit, but they'll likely continue to be hit for the rest of the year and probably a fair chunk of next year.

(That said, I can't help but wonder how much of this is tied to their announcment earlier this year to drop Diamond as their primary distributor. I wonder if these layoffs are part of a larger shake-up to switch from a monthly periodical format to almost exlusively trade paperbacks and hardcovers. Something closer to what, say, Scholastic has been having great success with. Those types of books need editing too, of course, but book publishing is a different setup and rhythm than periodical publishing. Obviously, it's speculation on my part, and it's very early days, so we'll have to wait and see.)

Now, with a major publisher suddenly announcing some major restructuring, particularly against a backdrop of general chaos that's largely defined 2020, I have to imagine other publishers are a bit spooked. "What do they know that we don't?" I mean, we're talking about DC here. They've been in the comics game for a century and hold many of the most well-known intellectual properities on the planet. They're not going to just lay off a bunch of people one day on a whim -- this is the result of some big calculations going on that probably started back in March or April. If a major company like DC is making those kinds of changes, you have to assume it's done with a great deal of thought and consideration for what they're seeing in the market. Smaller publishers typically don't have the types of resources to keep an eye out for the things DC might, so they're often going to look to them as a bellweather and wonder what market signals are DC seeing?

This is where the possible opportunity I mentioned in the post's title comes in. If other publishers are now skittish because of DC's changes, they could well be looking to shore up their own finances right now. The more cash you have on hand, the more you'll be able to weather financial storms. What's the quickest way to raise cash? Sell some of your assets. And what do many of these publishers have as assets? Intellecutal property. Copyrights and trademarks. So the thought is that, if a publisher is looking to raise money quickly, in a state of mild panic, they could well be entertain options to sell some of their IPs back to the creators that made them!

If you, as a creator, developed a comic for a publisher that they own -- but perhaps aren't making as much money as they thought they would -- it might well be worth seeing if they would be willing to sell it back to you now! (At a signficantly discounted rate to you, naturally!) As a creator, you'd then be able to do whatever you like with the property once again!

Not every publisher owns IPs in this manner, of course, and many creators now are savvy enough to rigorously hold on to their creations legally from the start. But there are many other creators who were not thinking like that. Maybe they gave up the characters entirely, maybe they gave up movie rights, maybe they gave away 50% of the profits... Regardless of the specifics, it might be a good time to re-examine your contracts and see if you might be able to strike a deal to get back something that you may have inadvertantly lost in the fine print!

Just an idea!
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