I've been following problems with creator payment at Zenescope for some time now. People owed hundreds, thousands of dollars from the company, which suffered major cashflow problems at the beginning of the year. Initially, I approached the company with the details of individual creators owed money, to find that within days they were paid. I didn't name the company or the creator on Bleeding Cool, it seemed to work out. Initially I was told there were no problems and it was just examples of miscommunication. But as time went on, this was clearly not the case, and company representatives confessed to serious issues paying certain creators on their books.
But the biggest problem for many of the creators was a simple lack of communication or believable explanation, the company would simply stop replying to people who they owed money to, until they then turned to me.
Then the number of people increased and Zenescope stopped paying them, even when I brought up their circumstances. They have now told me they've changed their creator contracts, so that they have more flexible terms to pay, as well as reducing other costs of operation, and letting people know about the situation but even now I am still hearing of cases where Zenescope have just stopped replying to old creator debt enquiries.
Zenescope tell me that communication has not stopped, but then can only give the same answer so many times and some artists email them every single day or three times a week expecting their answer to change, or demand immediate payment and refuse to entertain the idea of a payment plan. And that they would rather put a payment plan together that they know they can stick to, than tell an artist something and then not fulfill it and then have artists call them liars, becoming more irate. They also don't respond to abusive emails.
However artists I have spoken to, such as Chris Shields, Tom Yates, Derek Dow and many others who would rather not be named, would seem happy with a payment plan and have shown me email threads that don't fit the patterns or tone mentioned by Zenescope, and still don't get responses to their e-mails. I don't believe Zenescope should tarnish everyone with the same brush – and possibly should bear in mind that they are the ones at fault here.
It's also true that Zenescope are paying artists – over half a million dollars in the last year alone, but that's not much solace to those who remain unpaid. They do promise me that they are currently working on ways to improve their cash flow problems including collecting substantial amounts of money that are owed to them.
But it's not like Zenescope are alone. At San Diego Comic Con, a number of Archaia creators gathered to exchange problems and found a number of them were unpaid, with distribution issues being blamed. It seems that the company were caught within a perfect storm of bookstore sales vanishing and returns increasing, leaving them with issues with their current bookstore distributor PGW. They also had a sizable amount of money that was owed them, delayed by over sixty day, which contributed to the crunch.
However I am told that the company has a plan which will be rolled out to all creators in one or two weeks that they believe will make everybody happy.
I also starting to hear about artists for Upper Deck, the trading card company, who aren't getting paid even small amounts, with the same familiar excuses, delays and then cut off communication. of course, there are much bigger, more powerful people in the queue for that one…
The publishing model is changing – the direct market seems fairly steady, increasing even, but bookstore markets have been contracting while digital has been growing. And in the transition, there are major cashflow issues. Some publishers like Checker and Devil's Due were caught in between, and fell.
The key to avoiding bad feeling however, still seems to be communication, communication, communication. Creators can understand a company hitting a rough spot, what they can't understand is being ignored or not understanding exactly what is going on… and why.
It's also essential that creators know what they are getting into, working for certain companies. Ask around, talk to other creators and we'll try to keep you up to date here at Bleeding Cool.