The webcomics blog about webcomics

Zuda Thoughts: Final

Okay, so we’ve picked apart the contracts, and we’ve all had plenty of time to think about things. Let’s put this to bed, shall we?

The Zudadeal is both very, very good and very, very bad.

On the good side, it’s out in the open, completely above-board, fully-disclosed, and they even encourage you to take legal advice from an actual lawyer (that would not be me) prior to entering, because just entering requires you to sign the Submission Agreement.

There are even some bits in the contract that can only be seen as progress from what comics contracts used to look like:

  • retaining copyright
  • having the theoretical ability to recover other rights
  • defined payment schedule
  • audit rights
  • return of originals

These were all unheard of in years gone by.

But while the contracts may be better than what has historically passed for a comics contract, it remains explicitly work-for-hire and falls far short of what were identified as fundamental rights for comics creators nearly twenty years ago.

And that’s where all the bad comes in. If the Zudainitiative were all about finding “traditional” comics concepts, artists, and writers for the future, and it were positioned as, “Show us a good enough idea, and maybe you can come work for us”, I think I would honestly have no problem with it.

But it’s positioned in two very different ways:

  • Show us a good enough idea and you WIN!
  • Yay, webomics!

The first of these is less worrying — if you’re reading the contracts like they tell you to, and you’re getting legal advice like they tell you to, you should understand that this isn’t a case of “you’ve got the best stuff, we’re going to make all your dreams come true”. It clearly is a case of “you’ve got the best stuff, we’re going to buy it from you for what sounds like a decent chunk of money, and maybe you’ll make it big, but we will absolutely make more money off it than you will.”

This is not a knock on Zuda — it’s a fact. Royalty rates top out at 40%, and what strikes me as the most likely royalties to be paid (for print editions) are 1%. That’s what publishers do, and you’ve contracted to work for a publisher. You have not contracted to be partners and grow rich together; see the Rights Agreement, paragraph 24, and Services Agreement, paragraph 25:

INDEPENDENT CONTRACTOR. Nothing herein contained shall constitute a partnership or joint venture by and between the parties hereto or constitute either party the agent of the other. (emphasis original)

The second item concerns me more. The prolific Mr T is of the opinion that the contract is pretty good, and it may be as far as the comics industry goes.

But Zuda has been specifically pitched as webcomics, and that’s a place with a decade-long history of not doing work-for-hire. Those making their livings from webcomics do it on their own, not by partnering with a corporation and giving away the rights to their creation (exception: Penny Arcade, who managed to do exactly that twice, and bought themselves a five-year legal struggle; you won’t be that lucky).

How much does the Zudamodel stand in contrast with the Webcomics So Far model? Let’s just take one thing that Zuda will do for you: print your webcomic. If you work with them:

  • they bear the costs of printing, publication, and promotion, but are under no obligation to do so (cf: Rights Agreement, paragraph 21 and Services Agreement, paragraph 22)
  • they could get your book into the Diamond catalog or regular bookstores, but probably the bulk of purchasers will come from Zuda readers on the web
  • they keep 99% of cover price for the book, you get 1%
  • they own trademark on your webcomic for as long as they want

If you do things on your own:

  • you have to produce the book, sinking money up front into printing books you hope you can sell
  • you have to handle orders and fulfillment
  • you probably won’t get into the Diamond catalog or regular bookstores, but the bulk of purchases would have come from your readers online anyway
  • you’ll keep about 90% of cover price, but must assume the risk of unsold inventory
  • alternately, you could use a print-on-demand service, which drops the risk and fulfillment from the equation, but you’ll only keep on the order of 40% of cover price
  • even 40% >> 1%, and it’s still your property

Put these two points together, and Zuda is equating You Win! with We Own Your Stuff. Yes, they’re a publisher and that’s what publishers do. Yes, they do all the things that you don’t want to do because you’re a creator and dealing with the business aspects gives you a migraine. But the cost/benefit ratio is all out balance here — this is not 1942, when the only way for a kid with a head full of dreams to tell that comics story was to partner with a corporation that had figured out the very expensive disciplines of printing, distribution, promotion, and sales.

We’re talking about webcomics here; the barriers to entry are as low as human ingenuity can make them, and the only bar to success is the quality of your work. If you truly have a meltdown when considering all those business-related aspects, or if you’re honest and decide that you have no talent for them, and if you do them on your own you’ll only screw things up, then the Zudadeal is still not what you need. You need to hire somebody to handle the business instead of a business hiring you to handle the creative.

Let’s play What If for a moment.

What If a company (let’s call ‘em Aduz) launched a contest to highlight webcomics in a contest, with a promise of A Deal for the winner.
What If the winner was given the opportunity to have Aduz represent them and handle the business aspects of promoting and exploiting the webcomic.
What If the winner kept all rights and Aduz instead got a 50-50 split because it assumed the risk, and it’s going to have to balance the duds off against the winners.
What If this deal was entirely governed by the Comics Creator’s Bill of Rights (big thanks to Scott Kurtz for pointing out to me that the CCBOR as written applies beautifully to webcomics).

Is it not possible for a company to make money off that deal? Of course it is. Aduz just won’t make as much as Zuda, and Zuda is interested in maximizing its return while paying out as little as possible while still attracting talent.

All that business stuff that gives you a headache? Zuda’s got people that eat it up, and they’ve precisely calculated the point that maximizes their return and minimizes their payout, and enshrined it in these contracts. If it’s your dream to work in comics and this looks like your best way in, if you can honestly look at everything described here and say you’d be happy to exist under these terms, then enter the contest and I hope you win and prove me wrong in every possible way.

But as written, the Zudadeal stands in opposition to the creator ownership that has been one of the core strengths of webcomics since Day One. Webcomics can do better, and so can you.

Thanks, Gary, for your well-thought-out entries on Zuda and their contract. Even from your “I am not a lawyer” reading of the contract, you’ve done a real service here.

The one thing that a lot of people have said about this is “You don’t need Zuda – your webcomic can succeed on its own!”

And it is certainly true that the number of self-sufficient webcomics has expanded by leaps and bounds in the past five years… but it is still a group that I imagine is only in the double digits.

And of them, I suspect very, very few are comics with a weekly update schedule.

As such, I suspect there is a category, and a sizable one, that will be able to get a vast amount more return from taking the Zuda deal than they would from trying to make it on their own. And, yes – the cost is control of the property, and that is a price they’ll have to be willing to accept. This is certainly not something to submit pet projects to, or stories close to one’s heart, but rather for side projects that you think are good enough to make the cut, and are better served making you money than simply floating in the aether.

I think the update schedule of 1 page a week is also somewhat key. There are certainly some stellar webcomics out there with that schedule, but it definitely seems harder to find an audience compared to more active webcomics. So this could be a good opportunity for those who work at that pace – or it could be a good side project for webcomickers capable of producing a large output, used to supplement their own work.

I’m certainly not an expert on the matter, and I certainly agree that creator ownership is an ideal to work towards – but I also think that, even with the growing number of webcomic success stories, it is still very far from a guaranteed thing to produce a hit webcomic that one can make a sizable profit from. And a lot of people seem to forget that it generally takes several years to get that point.

[...] unknown wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptYes, they do all the things that you don’t want to do because you’re a creator and dealing with the business aspects gives you a migraine. But the cost/benefit ratio is all out balance here — this is not 1942, when the only way for a … [...]

“they keep 99% of cover price for the book, you get 1%”?

No, the retailer keeps about 50%, the distributor keeps about 25%, the book COSTS about 15% just to print up and market, and so, sure, they still keep a good chunk of change more than you, but let’s not exaggerate things.

No alt text today?

Granted, I’m not sure what emotion some of the Zudalogos are supposed to be expressing either.

which emotions

(Geez)

Dunno what you mean, T … there’s some >type-etty< alt-text right there.

There’s at least one thing on the way, maybe, that might look a lot like your hypothetical Aduz.

Knowing the webcomics market and some of its players (and Fleen’s relationship with one of those players — not a snark! I promise!), I suspect there may be more than one Aduz on the way.

Just one Aduz will be great for creators.

Arguably, more than one Aduz will be even better for creators, because they’ll be able to play the Aduzi off of one another for even better deals.

That’s when the real “webcomics industry” gets started.

[...] Gary Tyrrell sums up Zuda’s relationship to creators over at Fleen. [...]

I think I’ll post a webcomic there called Silly Chump Daddy, in which the main character sells his soul to the DCvil with the hopes that his kids can one day afford to eat name brand granola bars. I smell a hit.

[...] Gary Tyrrell sums up his exploration of the various Zudacomics contracts, and it doesn’t look good at [...]

“the cost is control of the property, and that is a price they’ll have to be willing to accept.”

I hope all the talk and warnings will wake a few people up and make them read the rules carefully.

The Zuda contest(s) can be a very good thing if you don’t mind selling the whole concept to them. They’re not just looking for webcomics to run, it’s also a talent search to find people to work on DC’s properties. Unfortunately some creators will only see “DC will print my comic” and/or “DC will see how awesome I am and hire me for Batman” no matter how well Zuda spells out the rules and the control they will get on the submitted property. That’s not Zuda’s fault.

It sounds similar to the Tokyopop Rising Stars of Manga contests. The smart creators didn’t submit their favorite project but came up with something specifically for the contest that they didn’t mind giving up. That’s worked out pretty well for the creators and Tokyopop. Several book deals have come from it. And for those deals similar choices had to be made.

It’s how the corporate comic business works. Understand that and you can work with it.

[...] well acquainted with the anti-Zuda arguments. I agree with much of what these guys have to say, and also with Joey’s post and Tim [...]

[...] 2 and 3; I’d like to see the new ComicSpace do something like 4 or 5 (which would be the Aduz model of publishing); and most self-supporting webcomics artists live in zone 5 or 6 (depends on [...]

I’ve looked over Zuda, and this blog, and I have to say, as a person who maintains a couple of his own independent sites (NO, I’m not telling anyone where they are yet) I would never ever do a deal like this.

Never EVER.

Think about it my way for a second: if you’re good enough to do a webcomic Zuda would consider print-worthy, then you’re good enough to make it ON YOUR OWN.

There’s no need to sell all your rights to some conglomerate. No need whatsoever.

Just keep it on the web, don’t worry about printing it until you have a few hundred pages up, and when you DO decide to print it, use an on-demand service like Lulu or CafePress.

Places like Zuda think you’re going to be all starry-eyed and yell “ZOMG DC!” while you sign all your content over to them. Don’t do it.

You don’t even need hosting help. Hosting costs a few bucks a month these days.

Seriously.

[...] public (momentary pause here to offer some kudos to Zuda for their disclosure of the contracts; I don’t like a lot of the terms they contain, but at least they’re where we can all see them), so I asked DJ for some broad outlines about [...]

[...] example, here’s a quote by Fleen’s Gary Tyrrell, who, as of 2007, did not consider Zuda to be webcomics: “…Zuda has been specifically pitched as webcomics, and that’s a place with a [...]

[…] Toy. A long time ago I wrote about a theoretical webcomics support-services provider that I termed Aduz; today in addition to Hiveworks and its hosting/advertising gigs, you have TopatoCo’s curated […]

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