Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Your Slice of the Pie Part 1 (Gross and Net Profit Concepts in Creator Owned Deals)

A couple of weeks ago I introduced the different types of rights you could license as a creator and the different types of revenue you can get from a licensed work. In that post I hinted that there were specific concepts that impact how much you’re paid on any given deal. This post (and probably the next few posts) will go into more details about the economics of creator owned deals.
Types of Revenue
As a refresher from the earlier post, I need to point out that the various ways that creators are paid in creator owned deals. The three major ones are:
  • A royalty is a percentage that the artist earns for every finished unit that is sold. For example, an artist might receive 30% of every one of their comics that is sold to the public.
  • An advance is money that is paid before the work is finished. For example, a writer of a novel might receive money up for her novel based on the proposal not the finished product.
  • A minimum guarantee (MG) is money paid up before the work is finished, based on anticipated sales. For example, if a toy company plans to sell a new licensed toy for $10 and the creator gets 10% of that sale, then the creator gets $1 per unit sold. If the company expects to sell 100,000 units, then the MG that the artist gets for this deal is $100,000.
Definitions of Revenue
In general there are two ways that revenue is calculated for your royalty or minimum guarantee. There are gross profit and net profit.
  • Gross revenue or gross profits is the pure income that a product or service generates.
  • Net revenue or net profits is the income that a product or service minus certain expenses.
In the vast majority of cases, publishing deals are calculated by net revenue. The key for a creator is to know what is being included in the definition of net revenue and avoid situations where the expenses are always greater than the revenue generated.
Question: Let’s say you produced a comic called the Greatest Comic Ever (GCE for short). A publisher says they are willing to make a deal with you to publish GCE. They offer you 50% the wholesale profits as part of the deal. The comic sells for $2 wholesale. Is this a good deal?
Answer: That depends. The truth is there is no way for you to know if this is a good deal or not until you understand how the contract defines profit.
  • If the contract says you get 50% of the gross profits then you get $1 per book sold.
  • If the contract says you get 50% of the net profits then you have find out what is deducted from the gross to calculate the net.
The Net Revenue Trap
It is a fairly common business practice to deduct the cost of goods sold from the gross to determine the net. Cost of goods sold means whatever the publisher has to pay to produce and distribute your book. Those costs can include editing, printing, shipping, advertising, returns and a few other items. Most publishers track their costs in a document called a profit and loss sheet, so they know what percentage of every book goes into the cost of goods sold. Many publishers will list exactly what goes into the net calculations. This is helpful for figuring out where the money is going.
The problems occur when the creator has no idea what goes into the net calculations or the definition of net is so broad that it wipes out any potential profit for the creator. In the most unscrupulous contracts, the publisher will creatively expand the definition of net revenues to the point that the creator never gets any profit for his work even if it sells millions of copies. For example, if the wholesale price of GCE is $2 but the net deductions are $3 per book then the net profit is -$1 per book. That means you get $0 no matter how many copies the book.
Playing Your Position
It is unrealistic for an artist or creator to understand the nuances of licensing revenue, especially when they first enter the market. You need to focus on your craft and create the best property you can. You also need to have access to financial and legal professionals who can explain potential deals to you and allow you to make informed choices. That is why it pays to break down each contract and understand its implications before you move forward.
Next week, I’ll try to explain the concepts of recoupment and payment cycles to give you a better idea of when you can expect to get money from a deal.
Gamal Hennessy

Friday, September 14, 2012

Addition by Division (Separation of Licensing Rights for Creator Owned Deals)

by Gamal Hennessy
Most of the contracts that my clients send me from publishers are fairly broad blanket licenses. Although the language of each one is different, it boils down to the same concept; the publisher looks for the artist to license all of the rights to all of their property in exchange for one fee. While this simplifies the contract for both parties, it also limits the earning potential for the creator by reducing the number of licenses his comic can exploit. A more experienced and profitable approach is to divide the property into as many licenses as possible to maximize the revenue and minimize the dependence on one licensing partner.
Separation of Power
As I discussed in an earlier post, creators can use the trademarks created from their work to license to product manufacturers. Instead of granting blanket rights to the publisher of the print comic, a more granular division of rights gives the creator more options and potentially more revenue. Licenses can be divided in the following manner:
  • Property: or what title or characters you are actually licensing. A license could be for all the characters and settings in a particular book, but it could also be limited to just one character or a group of characters or in some cases just a particular image from a particular book (like a cover image)
  • Licensed Good: or what you are permitting the licensee to create. You can be as specific as you like with the type of license you are providing. For instance you could grant a broad license for “clothing” or make it narrower by limiting it to “T-shirts”, “men’s T-shirts” or “men’s short sleeve cotton T-shirts”
  • Term: The time limit on how long the license will last. This is usually measured by years, but it could also be as short as a few months.
  • Territory: The geographic area that the license is limited to. This could be something as broad as a worldwide license, or it could be limited by countries (i.e. USA), groups of countries (NAFTA or the English speaking world) or continents (Europe)
  • Outlet: This is the type of venue that the licensed can be sold in during the term in the territory. It could be a broad concept like “retail outlets” or “online sales” or it could be a specific type of store (high end, mid market or discount chains)
For every license granted, there is a separate fee and a separate royalty for every item sold. There is also a separate negotiation for rights.
Let’s suppose you have a popular title and you start negotiations with a clothing company to produce T-shirts with your main character. There are several approaches you can take including:

  1. You might have granted the merchandise rights to the publisher, which means you get a portion of what ever he reports to you for a deal you had little or no input on. 
  2. If you kept the rights for yourself, you could grant the T-shirt company a world wide perpetual T-shirt license for a $10,000 advance and an 8% royalty off the suggested retail price. 
  3. If you split the rights up, you could grant the T-shirt company a two year, US only, mass market T-shirt license for a $5,000 advance and an 8% royalty off the suggested retail price. You could then go to a Canadian company and do the same thing. And do it again with a European company, and an Asian company. Instead of one advance of $10,000 you could be looking at $20,000 in advances from four companies for the T-shirt rights alone. You could potentially have dozens of clothing, toy, game, poster and other licenses for your property with licensees all around the world that generate revenue that dwarfs what you make from the actual book, all because you separated the licenses to increase the revenue.
While it is a giddy thought to think that your character could be on licensed products from New York to Cairo to Hong Kong, keep in mind that there is significant work involved in keeping track of a vast licensing empire. You not only have to keep track of what license you granted to which company, you have to monitor each one to make sure they don’t violate the agreement. It is not easy to make sure your American licensee isn’t shipping goods to South America, selling them and then not reporting the sales to you or paying for them. It is even more difficult to monitor and keep track of counterfeit knock off goods in far flung countries that will reduce your revenue and dilute your license. The cost in time and money to manage a diversified licensing plan is huge, but think about it; if your book was that big wouldn’t it be worth it to manage and control the licensing program?
Negotiating Power
I have already pointed out that new artists are often not in a position to reject a blanket license and negotiate divided license rights. When you are trying to get enough money to pay your bills, you can’t worry about holding onto the bobble head doll rights for South East Asia. But if you want to make the most of your creator owned deals or you are in a position to choose between a partner who wants a blanket license versus one who is more flexible with the rights structure, you might be inclined towards addition by division.
See Also:
Please Note: I will be attending the New York Comic Con this year. If any artist, writer or comic professional would like to set up a meeting for business consultations or the inevitable drinking, please contact me at to set up a meeting.