DC’s Digital Participation For Creators: New Or Not?

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Buried – although not deeply enough, it seems – in the press release about DC Comics’ new digital strategy is this quote from co-publisher Jim Lee:

As both a comic book creator and Co-Publisher, it was incredibly important that our plan includes not only creator incentive payments, but also an innovative component that supports comic shop owners.

To underline that part about creator incentive payments, the publisher sent out this email to its creators today, which includes this section:

As we make this announcement it’s worth noting that, although DC is not the first major publisher to enter the digital comics arena, we are the first to announce a participation plan for talent, thereby setting the industry standard in that regard. Details of our initial compensation plan will be mailed to you in hard copy for your records and should be arriving next week. In broad strokes, the compensation is calculated on a net receipts basis in order to accommodate the various reporting structures of our digital publishing partners. Most importantly, we assure you that your participation in these digital works will be equal to or exceed the participation levels that you currently receive under our additional compensation plan for print.

Sounds great, right? Well, unless you’re Marvel Comics, and it happens to be untrue. CB Cebulski, former Marvel editor turned current Marvel talent scout, creator and occasional representative, tweeted a quick response:

Sorry, DC, but despite what your nice letter says, you are NOT “the first to announce a participation plan for talent” for digital comics.

That message was quickly retweeted by Marvel Entertainment Chief Creative Officer (and Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief) Joe Quesada, Avengers, New Avengers and Ultimate Spider-Man writer Brian Michael Bendis and editor Jen Grunwald (When contacted, Marvel officially denied to comment on either Lee’s quote or DC’s letter to its creators, other than to confirm that the publisher has “a creator participation plan”).

Certainly, digital royalties were not in place – and still “several months” in the future – when Marvel launched their Digital Comics Unlimited program, but that was several years ago and more recent comments from executive editor and VP Tom Brevoort suggest that Marvel worked out whatever accounting methods they were looking for in the interim. And yet, DC certainly seems to feel as if that’s not the case. Is the problem a definition of “participation,” or level of sales and/or creatorship necessary to earn it (Does Marvel’s participation plan only cover creators who already have some participation plan over characters they’ve created, for example, or those under exclusive contract to the publisher)?  Is it a question of scale, with DC seemingly so confident as to promise royalties equal or in excess of print participation? Or did Jim Lee simply misspeak?

When approached for this story, reps for DC Comics declined to comment.

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