Peter Simeti, the president and publisher of Alterna Comics, sent out a mass e-mail this weekend saying "Alterna has had a rough two years" and directing readers to the company's fund-raising page at Indie GoGo. It sounds like they have a cash flow problem:
Sales don't come in quick enough (book distribution takes up to 6 months to pay us) and we end up accumulating over $4,000 worth of interest ever year, even though we've maintained a small profit for the past 3 years, that profit has been quickly eaten up by the bills we have. The worst part is, our company debt is around $28,000 - which isn't even a lot for most small companies. But due to the fact that we can't even make new books to spur new income - the debt has become stifling and will eventually take its toll on us within 1 to 2 years.
So unless they can raise some money pronto, they are going to go into a death spiral of debt. The amount they are trying to raise seems laughably small—$1,000, much less than most Kickstarter drives—but apparently that will keep the wolf from the door for a while. Interestingly, the lowest level of the drive consists simply of buying their books—you fork over $10, you get a $10 book as a "reward"—although a few of the listed books cost more than $10 and at least one costs less. Of course, the indie page cuts out the distributor and thus the distributor's cut and the time lag in payment. This really goes to Simeti's point: Alterna's books are selling well, they just can't get paid for them, and in a way, the Indie GoGo page is just a direct sales channel that will get a bit of juice from the added publicity of Simeti's plea. What's more, it's a sales channel with some good incentives, as the rewards escalate quickly, and you can get some original art for short money. A plea for funds isn't really a marketing plan, but maybe this is just what Alterna needs—to sell fewer books through Diamond and Amazon and more on their own.
By now you may be wondering "Who are these people?" Alterna is a small indie house that Simeti describes as "sort of the Island of Misfit Toys in the comics world." Almost all their output is graphic novels, not monthly comics. They recently announced they were publishing an updated edition of Rafer Roberts's Plastic Farm, and they were also the home for Mr. Scootles after the creator of that comic had a bad experience with a previous publisher. Their highest profile book was probably Jesus Hates Zombies, which moved to another publisher, 215 Ink. They also publish the manga-influenced Formera and Bret Herholz's Gorey-esque Sherlock Holmes comics. (Kate Dacey reviewed two of their comics for younger readers at Good Comics for Kids.) As is often the case with small publishers, their line is a bit uneven, but there is some quality work there. On the other hand, Alterna's case is not unique; these are tough times for small publishers.