Interview With Top Cow Publisher Filip Sablik

Earlier this week Top Cow Productions issued a press release stating their commitment to keep the cover prices on their regular sized comic books at $2.99 through the entirety of 2009. This prompted a lot of questions in our minds. Fortunately Top Cow publisher Filip Sablik was willing to answer them.

PCZ: Why was it important to you to stay at $2.99 and make that commitment for a whole year?

FS: Rising prices are a concern we kept hearing from retailers and fans alike. At Top Cow, we’re looking to grow our fanbase and business with our direct market partners, so raising prices in an economic recession seems like the counterintuitive way to do that. And a year seemed like a good way to let everyone know we were serious about this commitment.

PCZ: Why not fall in line with everyone else or do a smaller increase to, say, $3.50?

FS: An increase is an increase. And honestly a press release reading “Top Cow Doesn’t Turn the Screws as Bad as the Other Guys” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

PCZ: How can you make it economically feasible to keep your books at $2.99?

FS: Well we’ve been making it work pretty well for many years now, so it’s just a matter of being savvy in how we manage our resources. We make efforts to home grow a lot of our talent and sign exclusives with creators we have a good relationship with so we’re not getting into bidding wars for page rates. We pursue competitive rates with printers and go after licensing opportunities where they make sense. Unlike a lot of larger companies, it all goes into one goal: growing the company. In a larger company, securing a good contract with a t-shirt producer for licensing your images may not directly benefit the publishing arm of the company.

Plus, our hope is that some of the WalMart/Best Buy model may apply – what you lose in margin, you’ll make up in volume. People appreciate a good price.

PCZ: What strategies do you have in place to insure that you’re able to maintain things such as quality, page count and the same creative teams?

FS: Some of the things I mentioned earlier, training and nurturing young talent, working closely with established guys like Ron Marz and Phil Hester to make sure they are treated with respect and given creative freedom. Quality is something we never sacrifice. One of the first mantra’s I heard from our President Matt Hawkins and Founder and CEO Marc Silvestri when I joined was, “We’d rather not have a movie at all than a crappy movie.” It holds true for our comics. We do fewer books per month than a number of companies our size and it’s to make sure each one passes through the ringer of quality control.

PCZ: Will keeping the price at $2.99 necessitate reducing the number of titles you produce, in other words, will this result in any titles being canceled?

FS: Nope. We’ll evaluate titles the same way we always have; if fans and retailers demand it, we’ll continue putting it out. Our model is built around two ongoing titles (WITCHBLADE and THE DARKNESS) with a third joining the line up in 2010, plus a series of limited “seasons” of other series like MADAME MIRAGE, HUNTER-KILLER and MAGDALENA.

PCZ: Was this decision communicated to all of your creators ahead of time and, if so, what was their reaction?

FS: To a number of our creators, yes. I like Ron Marz’s reaction the best: “Genius.” Heck, I like it anytime someone refers to something I’m involved with as “genius.”

I think to a number of our creators it echoes a confidence in the work they are doing. We believe we are producing some of the best damn books in the industry and not enough people are reading them. Maintaining our price point is another way of encouraging fans to come and find out for themselves.

PCZ: Have any other publishers contacted you to get suggestions on how they could also keep their cover price where it is?

FS: Not as of yet. A few are probably wondering why they didn’t think of it first.

PCZ: Is there any reason why the comics industry as a whole couldn’t hold the line and not raise prices?

FS: Well, I can’t speak for other publishers because I don’t know their business model. I’m sure some publishers have higher expenses for one reason or another, some may have lower sales, or any number of other reasons which would prevent them from holding their cover price.

Make no mistake, it is a risk, but it’s a calculated risk. We’ll see if fans and retailers respond to it. So far the online response has been very positive and I’ve received a number of emails and phone calls echoing those sentiments from folks in the industry, but time will tell whether it affects what people purchase.

PCZ: Long-term, can the price of print comics realistically be held at a level that will still make it feasible to print them or are we at the tipping point of seeing comics turning into a primarily digital medium?

FS: From where I sit right now, yes, I think printing comics is still very feasible. I think everyone is very excited about the possibility of a wider audience through digital means, but up until this point I’m not sure any publisher has cracked the secret of how to effectively monetize that avenue. Plus, I think there is room for making the same entertainment media available in different formats. Just because there are audio books doesn’t mean people don’t buy printed books anymore.

PCZ: Anything else you’d like to say to comics readers in general or Top Cow fans in particular regarding this and whatever else Top Cow has in place for 2009?

FS: For those who are already reading our titles, thanks for your support in 2008! Wait until you see what we have in store for next year.

For those who haven’t been reading our books, it’s a great time to try us out. While other companies are pulling back in 2009, we’re giving you more. More added content, better deals and fantastic value.