Meanwhile, at Marvel, our line AVERAGE was over 200,000. EVERY Marvel title would pay royalties from the inception of our plan, assuming we matched DC. Even Dazzler sold 140,000 copies a month. From inception, if sales stayed the same, our plan would take around a million dollars off of the bottom line. Make that make sense to a room full of business sharks who don’t give a rat’s ass about anything but the bottom line, I dare you. But I did.
After I got board approval, I laid out DC’s plan to Barry Kaplan. I said this is the bar we have to reach with our plan. Barry said, “We can do BETTER than that.” We matched DC’s plan as our base level, adding some improvements and modifications, and then Barry added a SLIDING SCALE. The more copies your title sold, the higher the royalty rate, up to double the base rate. With Barry’s help, the base plan and sliding scale feature became policy. I personally wrote the documents.
Some Marvel creative teams made sooo much money…! The X-Men team in particular.
When I first took the job as EIC, I did so on the condition that I could begin paying royalties. When I posed that condition to President Jim Galton back then, in 1977, he said, and I quote, “You mean we don’t?” He came from real world book publishing, so he wasn’t philosophically opposed to the idea.
Instituting the plan was delayed for years, for several reasons. For one, because of Kirby’s legal threats, our lawyers at K&K advised against it, on the grounds that royalties, or royalty-like incentives implied a creator ownership, or ownership stake in the work, which might bolster the claims Kirby’s lawyers were making. Sigh. For another, there was a great deal of back and forth between me and the financial types about how such a program should be structured. The final hurdle, as mentioned above, was board approval. DC announcing their plan forced our hand — thank you, Paul Levitz — and gave us a template structure to work from. We were always careful to call it a “sales incentive,” not royalties, by the way, to avoid ownership issues.
The Marvel plan didn’t take a million off the bottom line that first fiscal year. It took over TWO million. Which was fine, because when you’re paying those kind of royalties, it means that your sales are soaring through the roof, and the bottom line is many millions fatter.