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Apocrypha Entertainment Presents:



I bought music this week, and with it came a vision of the next revolution in comics distribution.

For those who don’t know, Trent Reznor a/k/a Nine Inch Nails put his new album up directly on the net this week for purchase in a number of formats. Music aficionados may remember Radiohead releasing their latest CD in a “pay anything you want for an e-download” format last fall” but Reznor took it a step further. And it’s genius.

“Ghost” is the name of the piece, and it’s a two-disc set containing 36 pieces of music. Here’s the basic breakdown of how he’s selling the thing through his website: you can download part one of “Ghosts”, which is 9 songs, totally for free. And the download is DRM-free. Or, you can spend $5 and download the entire thing to your computer, again, DRM-free. Share it as you like.

Option three is pay $10 and have the two-disc set mailed to you when it hits store shelves in April AND get a copy of the DRM-free e-download. And, by the way, the download not only gives you the songs, but you also get a PDF of the CD booklet, a bunch of wallpapers, and also some banners. I chose this option- I get the best of both worlds that way.

Reznor, being insanely popular, also offered a couple of mega-deluxe versions that offered some personalized options. They were limited severely, cost $250… and they sold out in two days, putting 750K in his coffers for very little in the way of effort on his part. In fact, most artists never sniff anything close to 750K in their own pocket on album sales. Throw in the cash raked in from the cheaper versions, and you can see how this is absolutely fucking genius.

I immediately began thinking about how this could work for comics. My friend and CWR colleague Matt Maxwell notes that Reznor can pull this off easier than most because of the size of his fanbase, and he is, as usual, right. Having a loyal fanbase would make this model extremely easy to use. He used the example of Warren Ellis as someone who could pull this off in comics with ease, and he’s right. And considering how much of Ellis’ fanbase probably has to struggle to find his work, it would probably be even better for him. He’d be rolling in filthy yanqui dollars, as he likes to say.

But I’m a naïve dreamer, I suppose. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. And even if it wasn’t the be-all end-all way a small indy press company got its work out to the public, I still think it could be pulled off quite nicely. At the very least, it would make for a hell of a viral marketing toy.

Let’s just postulate for a moment. You’re an indy publisher with a graphic novel coming out. You’re sweating the Diamond minimums. You sit in the back of the catalog where a significant percentage of the direct market retailers don’t even bother to order. It won’t be easy. How can you possibly make some money?

Taking your book through Diamond, you’ll likely sell it to them for $4 a copy. Maybe you spent $3.50 or so a copy to print it. Ouch. But at least you’ll make your printing money back. Just not any of the other cash you spent to get this far. Why not try the NIN model?

Start marketing the holy hell out of your book and then sell it with options. Sell a PDF copy for $5 online. Offer the whole book itself for $10 through your site, and throw in the PDF as an encouragement to share with friends. Maybe a $15 edition where you have the artist throw in a sketch as well. Then, send the PDF to retailers, and offer them the book direct for a better price than what they’d get from Diamond. Once you get demand working, then think about offering it to the distributor. Maybe. If it’s worth it. Or maybe, now that you’ve proven yourself, take the next book you have to Diamond, but use the first book to draw people to your site and direct purchasing.

Obviously, it isn’t quite this easy, and you’d better have a product that’s worth buying. Not to mention that my numbers could be a little fucked. But the general idea, I think, has merit. Consumers love ease of purchase, and they love value. Buying that NIN package last week was one of the quickest and easiest decisions I’ve made recently. Make it that simple for me and you get my money. Hell, on the comics side, CWR interviewee Danielle Corsetto did the sketch idea, and it worked great- I bought the first GIRLS WITH SLINGSHOTS trade directly from her because she offered that option.

This is, essentially, an untapped revenue stream waiting to be drunk from. Somebody out there is going to start a system like this, just to see if it will work. I can’t wait to see it. And possibly buy it.

Marc Mason


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