...Or Why the “Spotify Model” would be bad for comics.
A disclaimer: This is written from my somewhat limited understanding of business models and intellectual properties and should be taken as an opinion-piece… also it’s a bit hypocritical because I have been known to use Spotify (with much shame). That said…
Recently I was invited to have my comics included as part of a launch of a new digital comics distribution website. The model of the site is based on the “Spotify model,” being that all content is free to consume by a user, they just have to suffer an occasional advertisement. Which, of course, is how the company would collect revenue and in turn pay the creators for the use of their intellectual property.
A little information: The company provided documents citing, “Declining sales indicate that most of today’s readers will not pay $3-4 per comic book, or even $1-2 for older books on sale.” It also goes on to describe a payout model of 50% of revenue from the ads going to the comic-creators/owners while the other 50% going to the website.
This distribution model is flawed, one-sided, and dangerous for creators of all types of art and entertainment properties.
Before I go any deeper, let me mention, the model seems inevitable to me. With similar models for movies and music already in existence it’s only a matter of time before it comes to fruition for comics, be it this company or another. Therefore this vendetta may be useless but it’s worth beginning the conversation, particularly before these sites go live.
Here are some reasons why this model is damaging to creators…
1) 50/50 payouts on the Spotify model…or…This is not 50/50
Lets call the site FreeComix for the sake of storytelling.
For quick-easy math, lets say there are 50 comics with 50 different creators on FreeComix and an advertisement brings in $100 of revenue. Okay, let’s pay everyone out. FreeComix takes $50 leaving $50 to go to the creators. Almost sounds fair right? Wrong. There are 50 creators to pay. Each creator only got $1 for his or her comic, a comic that is free to all for unlimited consumption. The comic could be potentially consumed thousands of times without the creator earning more than $1, making the “value” of that comic decrease more and more with each read.
This example is obviously set up for easy illustration designed to show the one-sided nature of the model. But the scales only slide away from the creator more as more comics are added to the website. For every new creator added to the roster the creators’ 50% is split into more pieces until eventually each creator earns only fractions of a cent while FreeComix still makes that big-fat-full 50%.
2)” But Spotify seems so successful, how do they make it work?”
They don’t. Spotify is a good example of why NOT to bring this model to comics. Here’s how it breaks down:
Radio stations play music. Grocery stores and restaurants play music. So how do the musicians get paid? All of those companies are arguably making money on the back of someone else’s IP, right?
Musicians have ASCAP. ASCAP is THE union of musicians across the board (composers, performers, engineers, etc.). When companies, including radio stations and Spotify, make money through music (advertisements), ASCAP shows up at their door with a hand outstretched waiting for a check. The company/radio station/Spotify pays ASCAP. Not the musicians.
So, when do the artists get their money? Many will never see any money.
ASCAP collects the money and by some kind of magical math comes up with their best guess of who got what percentage of airplay total. Everywhere. And based on those percentages they split the money with their musicians.
ASCAP has thousands upon thousands upon THOUSANDS of members, everyone from the dude playing the accordion at the artsy-fartsy coffee shop to Lady Gaga herself. Both have ALL of their music available on Spotify for free consumption. Now when ASCAP figures out their numbers they see Lady Gaga has had the lion’s share of “plays” (on Spotify, radio, Hollister, etc.) to such a staggering degree that she is the ONLY one who gets paid (an exaggeration but seemingly so). Accordian-Guy will die without ever getting paid (not an exaggeration). But Accordian-Guy still had hundreds of thousands of plays (on Spotify, radio, Brad’s Bratwurst, etc.).
Its all legal because the company/radio station/Spotify pays for an ASCAP license but it doesn’t mean creators get what they are due. The content to payout ratio does not favor the artists in the slightest. That money is split until musicians are owed the tiniest fractions of a cent.
Most musicians will not get paid for their airtime.
3) Kids these days…
The documents from “FreeComix” implied people “expect” to get content for free these days BECAUSE of companies like Spotify. That between free content on the Internet and stolen content on the Internet, society has become of the mind that content SHOULD be free. That somehow being asked to pay for art is mean.
To give in to this mindset would be folly. If we don’t pay for our entertainment, for our art, creators cannot afford to create it.
The idealist idea that art should be free is beautiful, but it’s just that. Idealist. It’s not practical. I’m sorry.
Creators: I implore you; I BEG you, do not give your comics to these websites. All it does is set a precedent for the future. All it does is let people continue to think that they are ENTITLED to free-consumption. The model does not work. Without a ratio of one piece of art to one increment of revenue the system collapses. Less art is created. Less comics are available… less…. less… less.
To readers: We give plants sun and water because without it they will die. Support the arts you love because without it they will die.
Now go forth, create, and keep comics art,
(Paid for in part by procrastination)