Posted by Don MacPherson on September 25th, 2007
With the Canadian dollar (affectionately known as the loonie north of the 49th parallel) slightly surpassing the U.S. buck in value this week, U.S. comics publishers that list separate U.S. and Canadian prices on their publications plan say they plan to address the inaccurate divide between those prices.
U.S. comics publishers such as Marvel Entertainment, DC Comics and Image Comics list different prices in U.S. and Canadian dollars on the covers of their comics, and DC and Marvel list separate U.S. and Canadian prices on their hardcover and softcover graphic novels and collected editions. The Canadian price on their products range about 12 to 25 per cent higher than the U.S. price. The Canadian dollar actually surpassed its American counterpart by a minute margin in trading Monday, and it held steady at that level Tuesday.
Eye on Comics inquired with major U.S. publishers about the discrepancy. Image Comics executive director Eric Stephenson said the company is aware of the issue.
“We’ve been reviewing pricing on a quarterly basis, but I think we’re going to address this fairly shortly,” he said.
A Marvel spokesperson issued a similar statement.
“We’re working on adjustments now that should take effect in a few weeks,” said Marvel sales co-ordinator Arune Singh. Exactly what kind of pricing change might arise on the covers of Marvel and Image titles was not made clear.
A DC spokesman declined to comment, stating the company didn’t want to issue a statement regarding pricing at this time. Each spokesperson was asked how a Canadian price is determined, but none offered a response on that issue.
Talent feels the pinch
Comics colorist Chris Chuckry has pointed out another impact that the booming loonie has had on those whose lives are intertwined with the business of comics. Over in a comments thread on The Beat, he notes that Canadian freelancers have, in essence, seen a 50 to 60 per cent pay cut over the past five years. The loonie increased in value over that time, but page rates paid by American publishers in U.S. dollars have remained static.
“This is a very significant amount. Most people I talk to can’t comprehend this kind of pay cut,” he said.
Chuckry copes with that economic reality in various ways. He said he’s cut down on costs by moving from a rented studio space to a home studio. Whereas he once used local subcontractors to get his work done, he said, he now contracts work out to the far East. Professionals there will do the work for a fraction of the price.
“I also pay these new subcontractors in U.S. dollars instead of Canadian dollars, so my costs move with my rate of pay, since the publishers pay me in U.S. dollars as well,” said Chuckry, who’s based in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
The colorist and illustrator said he’s also picked up work from a French publisher that pays in Euros.
“This diversifies my foreign exchange risk somewhat,” he said. “I have thought about buying forward contracts with my currency broker to offset the rising Canadian dollar, but haven’t gotten around to it yet.”
Canadian comic-book artist Stuart Immonen said the boost in the loonie over the past five or years has resulted in a 30 per cent reduction, not 50 or 60 per cent. It’s up to a freelancer to take those economic realities into account, he said.
“That being said, royalties, re-use fees, trade paperback collections and other incentives can offset market fluctuations. Again, it’s up to the freelancer to foresee downturns and try to take on, say, work outside the industry (if fees are
higher), or move onto more lucrative projects within comics,” he said. “Sometimes this isn’t possible, of course — for most, I think it’s more like being locked into a fixed-rate mortgage than owning free market shares.”
The Ultimate Spider-Man artist said comic art is a time-consuming profession and he’s always working to capacity, regardless of exchange rates. He said he and his wife, writer Kathryn Immonen, have begun to diversify their work as well, even though the added but more personal work isn’t as lucrative as traditional comics work.
“It’s no secret that, however, that we’ve recently taken on a number of low-income, high-risk, self- and web-publishing endeavours in the past two years, but I see that more as an investment in the diversity of the comic marketplace, as well as in my emotional well-being, which is just as important as my financial state,” Immonen said.
As a freelance colorist, Chuckry said, if he’s not sitting down and working, he’s not earning any money. He said some publishers pay royalties to colorists but it’s not common.
“So I’m also exploring other creative venues with potentially, more attractive monetary rewards,” Chuckry said. “I’m sure that other artists are looking around for other non-comic work as well, as it’s getting more difficult to earn a living in the industry. Thankfully, I’m getting enough work from my customers to keep me from leaving the industry completely.”
He said even after taking those measures, he’s had to cut down on the number of comics, trade paperbacks and art books he buys.
Changing exchange rates are just a reality for non-American comics professionals must contend with when dealing with U.S. publishers, Chuckry said.
“I don’t expect U.S. publishers to negotiate page rates in response to exchange-rate fluctuations,” he said. “The industry is global, and the publishers work with freelancers from many different countries, with separate exchange rate realities. It would be too confusing and not worth the cost to the publisher.”
“It’s not the publisher’s responsibility to offer contracts to the arm’s-length freelance community that ebb and flow with economic markets. They offer contracts (long- and short-term) based on experience, ‘fan-appeal,’ longevity and prior history with the company, and surely other factors. This creates a more level playing field for freelancers than would the anticipation of market trends,” he said.
Conversely, Immonen said, there’s a benefit to Canadian freelancers when the loonie isn’t faring so well.
“Generally speaking, the freelancer approaches the publisher for work, and it is incumbent on the freelancer alone to negotiate the boilerplate contract prior to working,” he said. “When the Canadian dollar is low, for example, I benefit for the period of the contract; if its value rises as the contract expires, it’s up to me to factor that into negotiations and adopt the risk of possible refusal.”
Click here to read the site’s first article on the issue of parity between U.S. and Canadian currency and its impact on the comics industry, as well as a lengthy discussion.