Is Micro 4/3 really smaller?

4/3 sensors are a quarter of the size of 36x24mm sensors, but what about the cameras and lenses? And is it better to use a large sensor with a slower lens?

When digital photography entered the mainstream, the big question was whether or not it was good enough to replace film. The answer was obviously no, but that didn’t stop the huge surge in digital camera sales, and the rapid change that occurred in the industry.

Gilbert Rossi took this shot of Ivan Lendl with Fuji Pro 400 pushed three stops to ISO 3200. Lighting was less than ideal. Lens was a Nikkor 200/2, wide-open, on an F3. The event was the Custom Credit Australian Indoor Championships, held in October of 1984.

For years, digital sensors had no quality advantages over film, save for convenience and speed (the turnaround time, not the cameras). Colour negative film had been pushed to ISO 3200 for many years before even the first mainstream digital camera went on the market. The results were grainy but entirely usable, with good colour and contrast. As for frame rate, the Canon F-1 High Speed (1984) could shoot at 14fps, while the Nikon F3H (1998) could shoot at 13fps. Neither of those cameras were matched by a digital SLR until the Nikon D4 was released in 2012.

The Nikon F3H could shoot at 13fps. Photo: Nikoncam, https://bit.ly/2mD33Ug

A well exposed frame of 8-perf 35mm was not as clean as a typical digital sensor, but it resolved more detail. And, of course, film had almost twice the dynamic range as the earliest sensors. These days, some emulsions still have more DR than almost any digital camera, but the lead is not what it used to be.

One of the few milestone cameras that started to really challenge the quality dominance of film was the Nikon D3. The D3 featured a 36mm sensor that had 12Mpx and offered a usable 3200 ISO, and which was not to shabby at 6400 either. Finally, there was a handheld camera that was fast in more ways than one, and had image quality that could actually challenge film.

It was still a big camera, but the D700, which followed not to long after, mostly solved that problem. The D700 was not as compact as the Olympus OM-4 or the Leica M6, especially with lenses. But many photographers decided that the compromise was worth it at the time.

A year before the D3, Leica released the M8, a rangefinder camera that had an APS-H sized sensor (1.3x crop factor compared to the traditional Leica format) that gave very good results. The Kodak sensor was a 10Mpx CCD and its files at base ISO could be printed to very large sizes. This was the first ‘mirrorless’ camera that offered a sensor that challenged film in terms of quality. It wasn’t fast in any way, but it was quite compact, even compared to the smallest DSLRs. Two out of three ain’t bad, though.

The Leica M8 was released in 2006. It is still in use today, and many photographers shoot it for the quality of its b&w files. Photo: Stephan Roletto, https://flic.kr/p/7iowra

And a year after the D3, Panasonic released the G1, which evolved into a hybrid stills & video camera that made possible a great many low budget movies. The G1 had no video, but it did have features which we still think of as modern: an impressive EVF, face detection, a multitude of scene modes, three aspect ratios, a flippy screen (that vloggers can’t always get on the latest cameras) and an unlimited JPEG buffer with a good SD card. In 2010 Panasonic released the G2 which included 720p video at up to 60fps.

The Panasonic G1 could not out-perform 35mm or digital SLRs, but its successors can and do. Photo: Brett Jordan, https://flic.kr/p/6rLdZS

So after all this, we have a landscape where two things happened:

  • Digital cameras surpassed film in most areas; and
  • Mirrorless (or DSLM) cameras made DSLRs completely redundant, the final nail being driven by Sony’s A9, released in 2017.

It was a long ride. In geological time this 20 year period is a mere blink of an eye. In Internet time, it’s an entire eon. But some things don’t change. An ounce is still an ounce, and an inch is still an inch. Optics is optics, and quantum efficiency is not negotiable. We know that most Micro 4/3 kits are smaller than any given DSLR kit, but here’s the trick: are they smaller than other mirrorless systems? And if so, is Micro 4/3 a logical trade-off?

Before we continue, keep in mind that we’re mainly looking at zoom lenses here. Most people find that zoom lenses are a good compromise between image quality and versatility. However, I’ll include a couple of prime lens comparisons at the end. I’m also focusing on Olympus vs Sony, as I know more about those brands than, for example, Panasonic or Fujifilm.

Handing and ergonomics are mostly subjective areas. But size and weight are things we can make judgements on in short order. But before we get serious, let’s have a look at something:

E-M5II vs A6400, both with kit lenses. These are the smallest standard zooms you can get with these cameras. However, the Olympus zoom does telescope, as does the Sony. Both lenses are mediocre but good enough for some applications. Note that the Sony here has optical stabilization, but the Olympus does not.

However, Olympus and Panasonic have the best sensor stabilization in the business, which should give the Olympus the advantage as far as hand-held long exposures are concerned. Except that in this case, the Olympus lens is probably too ambitious as far as size goes, and its image quality is not quite as good as the larger 14-42/3.5-5.6 II R. The latter tests better than the other two according to DxO. Here’s what the bigger Olympus zoom looks like:

But now the size advantage isn’t as great. You could mount the Panasonic PZ 14-42/3.5-5.6, which is as small as the Olympus 14-42 EZ. It does have OIS but to the best of my knowledge, Olympus bodies don’t apply lens corrections in JPEGs. Mounting it on a Pansonic body yields different results, depending on the model. Here are the GX85 (with IBIS) and the GH4 (no IBIS) :

But now it’s time to get serious. We’re using the Olympus E-M5 II vs the Sony A6400 as our standard bodies, as they retail for roughly the same amount. Let’s start with just the bodies.

The Sony is pretty much the same size and weight as the Olympus. There are differences but I think that they are not worth worrying about. The problem for Olympus is that the Sony body is about the same size, despite the fact that it has a sensor twice as large.

It depends on how you want to cut the cake. In some scenarios, the Sony will give you better images, due to its higher DR, which is about two stops. On the other hand, the Olympus has IBIS, which gives between three and five stops of stabilization. At worst, the E-M5 II has a one-stop advantage over the A6400 if you subtract DR (at base ISO) from the IBIS rating. But that’s only applicable if the subject is not moving.

Now let’s try this same comparison with lenses. Let’s start with the standard zoom. Preferably, the standard zoom – and the moderate tele zoom – should have a constant aperture. The lenses we’re looking at are the Olympus 12-40/2.8 and the Sony Zeiss 16-70/4 E.

What’s surprising here is that the Sony kit actually weighs less (878g vs 711g). At worst, you’d expect them to weigh the same. The 4/3 sensor is half the size of the APS-C sensor. Any lens that’s an f/2.8 lens on the 4/3 sensor can be expanded to cover the APS-C sensor at the loss of one stop. So, given that, it is surprising that the Olympus weighs more. The Olympus is weather sealed, while the Sony has OSS and is not usually revered for its optical qualities.

Going further, that same f/2.8 lens becomes an f/5.6 lens if you expand its image circle to cover a 36mm sensor, such as that in the Sony A7. But… hold that thought.

And while you’re holding that thought, let’s have a look at something else. Sony recently launched the 16-55/2.8 E, which is the first f/2.8 standard zoom made by them for the E mount system. You might think that it’s going to be somewhat larger than the Zeiss 16-70. You’d be right:

Compared to the Zeiss, the size difference is significant, as is the weight difference: 308g vs 494g. But considering that it’s an f/2.8 lens, it really isn’t that much bigger than the Olympus. Prima facie, that’s a pretty hard hit for Olympus to take, given the differences in sensor sizes. It’s worth pointing out that the 12-40 is over 100g lighter, although you wouldn’t think it. Now you know why a lot of people consider that the sweet spot is with APS-C sensor mirrorless cameras.

We’re now going to look at ultra-wide zooms. Let’s put the 7-14/2.8 Pro on the E-M5 and let’s put the 10-18/4 OSS on the A6400.

Curious. However, the Sony lens is not weather sealed, and is arguably not as good as the Olympus.

Our next test between these two cameras is between the Olympus 12-100/4 and the Sony E PZ 18-105/4:

Not only is the size difference insignificant, but the weight advantage is with the Sony. However, it’s not that simple! While both have optical stabilization, only the Olympus is weather sealed. And it is an 8x zoom whereas the Sony is a 6x. You could conclude that for the same size, Micro 4/3 gives you more. Now, you could swap the 18-105 for the 18-135/3.5-5.6, and the Sony now is not just lighter but smaller:

However, you’re getting a sliding aperture, one stop less at the long end, and a slightly narrower AOV at the wide end. Like the 18-105, the 18-135 has OSS but it is not weather sealed. Both lenses telescope, but the Olympus telescopes more than the Sony.

Now we’ll compare the Olympus 40-150/2.8 Pro with three Sony lenses, two E and one FE. The Sony lenses are, from left to right, the 70-300/4.5-5.6 G OSS FE, the 70-350/4.5-6.3 G OSS E, and the 55-210/4.5-5.6 E:

Keep in mind that the 70-300mm isn’t exactly equivalent to the 40-150mm. But it does cover the A7’s sensor, and provides a narrower AOV on the A6400. Out of the three, the 70-350 makes the least sense, as it’s not much smaller than the 70-300. All lenses except the 55-210 are weather sealed. And the 55-210’s performance is hardly stellar. All Sony lenses telescope, but the Olympus does not, due to its internal zooming. The Olympus does not have optical stabilization.

Now, let’s try and find an equivalent standard zoom for the Sony A7, the smallest camera with a 36×24 sensor. If you applied a 2x teleconverter to the 12-40/2.8, you’d get a 24-80/5.6. There’s no such lens for the Sony, but the smallest equivalent is the 28-70/3.5-5.6 OSS. It turns out that the Olympus has the advantage:

They look very similar in size, but keep in mind a few things. The Sony has a sliding aperture, and it’s two stops slower at 70mm than the Olympus is at 40mm. The Olympus has a slightly wider AOV at the wide end, and a slightly narrower AOV at the long end. I’d say it’s a victory for Micro 4/3 here. Now, let’s put the Zeiss 24-70/4 on the A7:

The Olympus is clearly more compact, but not by as much as against, say, an APS-C DSLR. A comparison between either camera and a Nikon D500 would be mildly shocking, even if you put the relatively small 18-70/3.5-4.5 G IF ED on the D500. Try a comparison with the 17-55/2.8 G IF ED and it gets ridiculous. The DSLR is a metaphorical dinosaur in more ways than one.

This comparison is going to make you think a little bit. The Leica M9, with three lenses, vs the E-M5II with the 12-40/2.8:

In the case of either the 24/3.5 or the 50/2, the M9 combination weighs slightly less. in the case of the 90/2.5, the M9 combination weighs slightly more. But overall, any one M body and any two M lenses weigh more than the Olympus. Keep in mind that each of the M 240 and the M10 weigh more than the M9.

Finally, two comparisons with prime lenses. The first compares the Olympus 25/1.8 and the Sony 35/1.8 OSS. Neither is weather sealed. The Olympus combo is smaller but heavier:

Finally, a comparison of two lenses with almost the same focal length. Olympus 45/1.8 vs Sony 50/1.8 OSS. Again, neither is weather sealed. The combinations weigh the same but the Olympus is noticeably smaller:

In general, you would be right to expect that the Micro 4/3 lenses would be smaller than they are. However, I suspect that all Micro 4/3 lenses, especially the high end ones, are designed to cover a slightly larger sensor, as seen in the GH5s. Also, keep in mind that I have not shown all possible comparisons – such as the E-M1 with a 300mm prime vs the A9 with a 600mm prime. Not that I have to, because the differences are obviously immense.

Lens scores aren’t the full story, in the same way that sensor scores are not the whole story. It’s also worth pointing out that lens scores depend on the sensor. For example, the Olympus 12-40/2.8 has a DxO score of 20 on the E-M1, but a score of 25 on the E-M1 II.

Some things to remember. IBIS is not a substitute for a higher shutter speed. You can take surprisingly long exposures with IBIS+OIS, but the subject is still going to move how it likes. Larger sensors are always going to be superior for single shot exposures, even though the pixel shift mode of the smaller sensor will show more detail. In fact, Panasonic’s own S1 and S1R cameras not only have larger sensors, but they also have pixel shift mode. Same for the Sony A7rIII and IV.

A final point about IBIS. Not all Micro 4/3 lenses have OIS, but IBIS is so good that you don’t really need it. When you put the two together, however, you can get very long exposures indeed. With IBIS alone, Peter Forsgard managed this exposure of 2.5 seconds:

Then there is this shot which was the result of a 10 second exposure with the E-M1 II. Yes, 10 seconds. Mind you the lens used was an ultra-wide, but still, that’s quite impressive. Robin Wong managed five seconds, as he explains in his review of the E-M1 II:

I also must be honest that, if I were standing freely, without any support, bracing myself against anything, I can only shoot at about 1 to 2 seconds shutter speed. Anything longer than 2 seconds, my legs started to wobble! Hence for the 5 seconds shots shown in this blog, I was either sitting down on the pavement (twin towers) or braced/leaned myself on a wall or something.

Robin Wong

In conclusion, Micro 4/3 isn’t always going to give you the smallest combination of body and lens. Both Olympus and Sony systems – just two out of several – are quite different and offer disparate advantages. Sony offers superior low light performance and dynamic range. Olympus allows very long handheld exposures and other features such as focus stacking. It isn’t just about size and weight.

It’s safe to say that Micro 4/3 is the system for the majority of photographers – you won’t get outright image quality but you will get a system that does almost everything, from macro to landscapes to night-time cityscapes to sport to video, liberated from gimbals and dollies. At the end of the day, Micro 4/3 is extremely flexible. And because the system is so flexible, you could excuse it for not always being the smallest.

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Pepsicoin doesn’t exist yet – but it should

Bottle caps have been used for promotions, giveaways, crafts and charity drives for decades. Why not use them to give away crypto coins?

Not that long ago, I was speaking with my manager about the future of cryptocurrencies. I had a miniature epiphany, which to be quite honest was probably years after other people had the same thought: we’re going to see crypto coins created by mass market producers and given away in bottle caps, chocolate bar wrappers, cereal boxes, and even supermarket receipts.

But let’s step back a little bit, and let me indulge in a childhood memory. When I was between, say, 6 and 9, the kids in my neighbourhood – read ‘kids’ as ‘boys’ – would make their own bows and arrows out of branches found on the ground and in the woods nearby. The thicker, longer branches that could bend were used as bows, and the shorter, straight branches were used as arrows. Most of the kids used thick string for the bow, but my mum occasionally would crochet one for me. The tips of the arrows were bottle caps that we found on the street.

We would bend the bottle caps around the tip of the arrow with our teeth. We were careful but only boys would be stupid enough to do something like that. Boys and girls are, indeed, very different. Having said that, I knew a girl about 15 years ago who chipped a tooth while opening a beer bottle. But, that’s a whole other subject.

So apart from art projects and collectables, bottle caps had another use, if only fleeting and superficial. But while bottle caps were made from steel, cans were made from aluminium, and aluminium was worth money. I recall machines in supermarkets where you placed a can inside a slot, and it crushed it before paying you a small coin in return.

In certain parts of the world, you see people, usually kids, collecting aluminium cans for various reasons. Some do it just for the pocket money. Some do it for environmental reasons just as much as financial ones. And some people just like the exercise.

‘The Bottle Deposit’, a double episode from season 7 of ‘Seinfeld’.

There are all kinds of container deposit schemes in effect all over the world. The recollection of aluminium is done not only for environmental reasons, but also for economical ones: it’s cheaper to recycle the metal than to produce it. But CDS’s also cover glass and steel containers, and the main reason in those cases is to reduce litter.

https://www.sa.gov.au/topics/energy-and-environment/recycling-and-waste/container-deposit-scheme

In 2001, Paul’s, a dairy products manufacturer, began its Collect-a-Cap scheme. For every marked bottle cap returned, Paul’s gave 10c to a charity of the donor’s choice.

The scheme ended in 2012:

So why not take this further? There’s no reason that a packaged food manufacturer can’t create its own currency, then give it away with its products. The very first thing I thought of was ‘Pepsicoin’. No, this does not exist, but why not? It has a certain ring to it – much more so than Cokecoin, or Schweppescoin. If PepsiCo were to create Pepsicoin, I have little doubt that it would catch on, not just with its competitors, but with companies who make all sorts of packaged food. Breakfast cereal (government name: confectionery), chocolate bars, lollies, caramels, biscuits, etc.

All childhood memories involve toys found in Cracker Jack boxes. Perhaps they should give away crypto coins instead.

The primary function of the coin would be to redeem it for more product. But if the coin is able to be mined or staked, or even traded on exchanges, its use would extend outside the ability to simply buy more product. And, as a side-effect, the coin would be a stablecoin. If, for example, PepsiCo determined that the value of one coin was US$0.02, then there would be little incentive for the market to disagree. The market would treat it as a stablecoin with a face value of $0.02.

The other factors which will determine the success of something like Pepsicoin are its maximum supply, and whether it is inflationary or (passively) deflationary. Too few coins would discourage consumers from collecting large amounts, while too many coins might conceivably reduce PepsiCo’s net earnings. Perhaps a slight reduction in net earnings might be a good trade-off, but that is a decision that the manufacturer has to consider.

All of this could apply to retailers or service providers, particularly supermarkets, many of which offer rewards points. Instead of rewards points, why not just offer crypto coins? Rewards points can only be used within the issuer’s ecosystem. But a crypto coin, no matter what its worth, has universal application. Same goes for Frequent Flyer programs and so on. Either way, ditch the points, bring on the crypto.

Woolworths, like many supermarket chains, offers a rewards program. It would be a better idea for Woolworths to issue its own cryptocurrency and to give some away with each receipt.

In finance, cryptocurrency is where the fun is. And it could be that way indefinitely. There isn’t an IT department that wouldn’t like to set up a cryptocurrency for its organization. Consumer-level crypto may not be limited to packaged foods or retailers. It could extend to education and even to governments themselves. Time will tell, as always.

Just for fun, I purchased the pepsicoin.co domain name. I might use it to encourage companies to get going with their crypto projects. I don’t expect PepsiCo to buy it from me, but I do expect them to pay attention.

Lessons about crowdfunding from ComicsGate

A collection of the lessons learned by ComicsGate creators while funding their books

In the beginning, you should have either:

  • A completed script; or
  • An outline from which a complete script can be written in a timely manner.

Don’t make promises you can’t keep. If you think you will only sell 500 books, then you can promise to sign every one. But what if you sell 1,000? 2,000? 5,000? You have just committed to signing all those books, and you cannot back out of that. If you aren’t sure, you can promise to sign only a fixed quantity to reward early backers.

Try and under-promise. Give a realistic time frame for how long the book will take to complete. It’s better to promise a time frame of 8 months and deliver in 6 than to promise 5 and also deliver in 6. You still delivered in 6 months in each case, but in the first case, you under-promised and over-delivered.

Understand the crowdfunding platform that you have chosen. If you are not sure which one to choose, Indiegogo is the default choice. Understand the fees, returns policy, and what kind of content is not allowable. Use clear language, especially for your logline. Make sure you can describe your story in one sentence if you need to.

The ‘gold rush’ mentality will make you miserable when you discover that you can’t just put up a campaign and expect the crowdfunding gold to just pour in. Doug TenNapel made over $750,000 for Earthworm Jim: Launch the Cow. Jon Malin made almost $175,000 for Graveyard Shift Vol. II. But these, and other creators like them, have established a reputation. Sometimes you can strike it lucky, just like winning big money in a lottery. But you should never count on that happening. Being creative is challenging, and creators should want to embrace that challenge, even knowing that they might fail from time to time. Clint Stoker, owner of the Sweetcast channel on YouTube, talks about this and related issues here:

(27:35)

In Hollywood, there is an open secret: producers are not only interested in the next big idea, they’re interested in the next big character. If your story doesn’t have a great character, perhaps try and find a way to make that character a little more interesting. However, not every character has to be Charles Foster Kane or Don Draper or Laura Palmer.

Itchy and Scratchy are good characters. Poochie is not.

If you are considering a sequel, have a good plot outline ready for that, too. Do this before you launch, even if you don’t know if your goal will be reached. It’s like homework: it’s better to finish it before the weekend. In Hollywood, the common wisdom is that you should have a second script ready if your first one is produced.

Good stories have several key elements, such as conflict, character arcs, protagonists, antagonists, foreshadowing and so on. You don’t need to be conscious of these elements if you are naturally good at telling stories. But if you find that your script doesn’t quite have what it should, maybe it’s missing a key element. Above all, your story must not be boring.

Create a legal entity like an LLC, even if you only want to create one work. If your budget allows, ask a lawyer specializing in IP and defamation to read your final product. If worst comes to worst, your LLC or S-Corp will protect you. In law, there is a lot of leniency when it comes to works of art, but you are not creating art works, you are creating a commercial product that happens to include art.

You will have legal obligations, from starting an LLC to declaring its income. Keep your receipts, and do everything via your LLC. Be organised.

If you are starting a publishing company as well as launching a book, make sure you have at least purchased a domain name and that you have set up social media accounts. You should also set up a Web presence if you plan on making a series of books under the same title.

Ask your accountant if they can also handle small business accounts. If not, find one that can. You, or your LLC, will have to pay taxes.

It’s not illegal to use brand names in stories, but it is advisable to not have those brands associated with negative connotations in your story. It’s a grey area, so try and use a fictional product where the connotations involving it might be negative. This is apparently more of a problem in cinema than in literature.

‘Mad Men’ often referred to real products such as Lucky Strike, Leica and Jaguar. It’s safer to use fictional ones if you can. (Note that all characters in this show are solid, and the writing and structure are excellent. ‘Mad Men’ is a masterclass in storytelling if you are creating serialised content. It is perfection.)

If you can, hire a pre-press professional. Your printer may very well be able to provide such as service. Either way, ask your printer what they need from you regarding pre-press.

Find an artist unless you want to draw your book yourself. When you do, you will have to commission them to do preliminary artwork for publicity and your crowdfunding campaign. If you are an artist who wants a writer, you will have to agree on an outline to work from if the campaign becomes fully funded. Commission a completed script before you launch your book if you and the writer can agree to terms.

Do not promise that your book will be a limited item. There can be limited variants or editions but the book itself should be able to be reprinted. You don’t have to allow the campaign to go into demand, but leave your options open.

Do not offer more than two tiers for the campaign. If you have to offer more than two, try and offer one less than you really want. Be clear as to how you label your tiers. ‘Book + Ashcan Prologue’ is preferable to ‘Double Deuce’. Just because Ferrari makes the grave error of offering 27 colour options for their cars doesn’t mean that you should follow their example.

Ferrari offers no less than 27 colour options. This is a bad idea. Nobody should be offered British Racing Green as an option for any Italian car. Do not offer more than two tiers in your crowdfunding campaign if you can help it.

Each campaign should feature only one book. Naturally, you can include supplements like posters and stickers. It’s great that you want to offer choice to your customers by offering them more than one book per campaign. But you have two problems: one, your campaign will have no focus; and two, you will have to multiply the number of tiers by the number of books, in addition to even more tiers which offer two or more books in the same package.

Mike Miller offered three books for this campaign, when it should have focused on one: ‘The Meg’. The number of tiers was no less than 25. This campaign earned half as much as ‘Lonestar: Heart of the Hero‘.

Do not lose one moment of sleep over the likely probability that people will release your book on the Internet. It is not your concern.

If the public takes a special liking to your characters, share fan art on social media if you see it. Only take legal action over serious copyright violations if any occur.

Cyberfrog fan art shared on social media by his creator, Ethan Van Sciver.

If you are criticised online, you are not required to explain yourself. And, if you have done nothing wrong, do not apologise, ever. You can have fun with antagonists, but be restrained and never be cruel. Even full-blown SJWs are children of God. If people have questions, answer them. You might already have a steady job, but a creative project is no less than a second full-time job, albeit a temporary one. Take it seriously, and be professional. Never be an antagonist.

If you don’t have a presence online, ask as many small channels as you can for interviews and air time. If they like your work, they would love to have you on their show. Bigger channels might like your work, too, but don’t expect them to promote your work just because you are ComicsGate. In Hollywood, relationships come before business. There’s a good reason for that. Give as much as you can, and you will receive later.

Let people know about your project before you launch your campaign. Don’t launch your campaign before you are able to promote it.

You can keep some things secret. But in general, share as much as you can. Don’t be precious.

Once you know the break-even point on your project (usually a book, but it could be something else like a video game or an animated cartoon), set your minimum goal to that break-even point. Some will disagree, but it’s better to not print the book than to print it at a loss to a small audience.

You have the right – even the duty – to make a profit. Crowdfunding does not entail a limit on your financial or creative reward. Crowdfunding is a tool to establish demand before you produce your book.

You are not being generous by undercharging for shipping. You are walking into a wasteland of regret. It is not for you to worry about saving your readers a few dollars. They can look after themselves. Your job is to make sure that your book either breaks even or turns a profit. Making a loss is not a hallmark of virtue. The reader who buys your book at a loss at $15 will still buy someone else’s book for $25 + shipping.

This is what Australia Post charges for postage from Australia to Great Britain for single parcels. Different services may offer cheaper rates for bulk orders. Do your homework!

If you feel that merchandise is appropriate for your book, your strategy will depend on what the item is. A t-shirt should never be bundled with the book. It will cost more to post, and it will also cause you trouble if you send the wrong size. You will have an insufficient amount of one size, and too much of another. Let a dedicated merchandiser handle your t-shirt orders on demand (basically, this is dropshipping). Make the t-shirt separate from the campaign.

An editor will see problems where you can’t. So hire one if it’s within your budget. You want to present your book as perfectly as you can. Otherwise, ask a few friends to give honest feedback. The point here is to seek an independent, detached opinion of your writing. The lettering will also have to be checked.

An editor can help you refine your writing. At the least, find a spelling Nazi to examine your letterer’s work.

You can hire a different artist to do the cover. This will add a touch of sophistication to the book. As a bonus, you have given work to one extra person. You can also offer a limited variant cover for early backers. Offer limited bonuses to reward early backers which will not be offered once your book goes into demand (i.e. when your campaign ends and becomes a store).

Downcast‘ by Clint Stoker. The campaign for this book offered two covers, one of them by the interior artist. The creator ran a very successful campaign despite having a small primary audience.

Make it a condition that no refunds will be issued once the campaign has concluded. This will prevent sabotage, whereby malignant actors support your book before asking for a refund, which puts you at risk of a financial loss. You may apply more lenient conditions once the book goes into demand.

Comic books are for everyone. If you wish to run a gentlemen’s or ladies’ club instead of a business, by all means do so, but make sure that the asking price matches the exclusivity.†

The Cosmos Club in Washington DC.

Make use of your email list. The people who bought your book will not mind an occasional email after they have received their books. You should use your email list to announce new projects, if you decide to launch them. Engage your readers. Include polls or surveys in your emails if appropriate. If you can afford it, you can send promotional material to customers’ postal addresses on rare occasions. This can be a simple postcard. Physical mail gets the most attention, but it’s not cheap.

If you are suffering from hardship, do not use this as a selling point. You can bring it up later, once the book has been produced, and you can thank your customers for helping you overcome it.

Provide regular updates once your campaign’s goal has been reached. Even if you know you will deliver early, customers want to be assured that you are on the job. Post updates at least once a week.

Avoid turning your book project into a clown car. You need up to four people to create a comic book: author, artist, colorist and letterer. The cover art can be made by a different artist. The creator will take the profits, but they must pay everyone else first. You can have a co-creator on your project, but each creator will take half the profits. Too many creators dilutes the profits.

Do not offer ‘tip jar’ tiers. Your lowest tier should always include the book. If you want to create low-cost merchandise, do so separately from the campaign. For example, you can offer a poster along with the book, but if you also want to sell the poster separately, it should be sold via a dedicated merchandiser.

Dead Beats‘ is a 160pp graphic novel. The premise is a great idea – it’s a horror anthology, a refreshing break from the superhero genre. However, there were over 40 contributors! Each contributor will probably take home less than $500 or so. This project offered a total of 19 tiers, which nonetheless failed to break Mike Miller’s record-breaking 25. One tier was a tip jar. Some tiers included t-shirts. A big mistake.

You might find that you are more creative with a partner. You will have to split the profits, but you will be able to create more projects. Bouncing ideas off someone is a great catalyst for good writing.

Co-writers catalyse each other.

Make sure of your postage strategy early. Will you exclude certain countries? Will you charge different prices for different regions? Make enquiries with either your post office or a courier service, and know what to do when the time comes.

Separate the postage fee from the price of the book when it comes to estimating production costs. The cover price will cover production, and include a profit. The postage fee will cover postage. They are separate totals.

Insufficient postage fees should never be compensated from the cover price. Borrowing from Peter to pay Paul is not advisable. But if you made a significant profit from postage fees, you have charged too much. Thankfully, there is good data on what postage should cost.

Understand your packaging options. It doesn’t matter whether you wrap the book between two sheets of chipboard, or whether you put it directly into a strong, cardboard envelope. Be upfront as to how your book will be posted. Do make some effort to ensure that the book arrives in good condition. If you sell a large amount of books, consider using a fulfillment service.

An example of suitable packaging for books and posters. You don’t have to go all-out, but don’t skimp.

You are more likely creating a graphic novel (48pp+) than a comic book (32-36pp), due to the economies of scale. But what makes comic books great also makes graphic novels great. Hold a comic book. What makes it so attractive? It’s more than just the story or the character. What is it? Can you tap into that essence?

There is a wide variety of paper stocks and cover bindings. Figure out what you want early on. Your colorist will especially want to know what kind of paper you intend to print on. There is no rule that says that graphic novels have to be printed on high quality paper. Newsprint is a valid option, and there are several grades. Alterna Comics uses newsprint and readers are very happy with that choice.

Newsprint is a valid option for your paper stock. Many readers will prefer it. You might be surprised at how good it can look. This panel is taken from ‘Gen 13’, second series, #8, by Choi, Campbell & Garner.

Ashcans cost more per unit to produce than regular sized books do. Keep this in mind before you decide to include an ashcan in one of your campaign tiers. If the number of backers is not too large, you can produce your ashcans by yourself, either at home or at a self-service print shop. However, if you do that, these ashcans may not be seen as collectable, as they can be easily reproduced by anyone with a good photocopier. Also keep in mind that the more pages you have in a home-made booklet or ashcan, the more that they will protrude at the edge. A professional printing press is always preferable.

Avoid politics, and especially avoid lecturing your readers. If you know what you’re doing, or if there is a good reason, you can make a part of the story political. A conservative reader will not have an objection to reading a book which features Clement Attlee or Barack Obama. A liberal reader will not have an objection to reading a book featuring Nixon or Thatcher. Are those characters there to serve the story? If they are central characters, perhaps your audience will not be as broad.

Most comic books feature superheroes. But comic books, and particularly graphic novels, do not need to have anything to do with superheroes. Several ComicsGate books go in a different direction completely. Some of the best stories ever written feature normal people who face extraordinary, yet realistic, circumstances. If you have seen a film by Hitchcock, you have seen that kind of story.

‘Rear Window’ was made in 1954. It will be watched and talked about long after trendy superhero films are forgotten. You don’t need superheroes to tell good stories in a captivating way.

You do not need to have any knowledge of comic books or their history. You don’t need to have any experience in the industry. You don’t have to care about established characters, publishers or titles. You do have to deliver a good product, though. Hopefully, you will also have a deep appreciation of the comic book as a medium.

The Case of the Littlest Umbrella‘ is a Lovecraft-inspired horror story which is suitable for young readers. Like ‘Dead Beats’, it offers something other than a superhero story. A welcome development. The book was created by That Umbrella Guy, who had no experience in the comic book industry.

Michael Crichton has probably not read Thomas Hobbes. Dan Brown has probably not read John Buchan. You are not required to be a connoisseur in film, TV, comic books, art or literature. You don’t even need to be a good writer, although you should try to be. Dan Brown is not a good writer, but he is a terrific storyteller.

You cannot generate more excitement in society than these two novels did. Dan Brown in particular is not a good writer, but you never noticed. You might not create the next ‘Jurassic Park’, but you can learn from these two authors.

You don’t have to be a part of ComicsGate to be successful with a crowdfunded book. You don’t even have to like anyone in it. But you would be very wise to follow their advice. If you make your choices in spite of ComicsGate, you only punish yourself.

If your book is successful enough, you can consider foreign language versions. If your book is written in Portuguese, you might test interest among English readers. If your book is written in English, perhaps Japanese readers might like a Japanese translation. In general, don’t think about foreign language versions until after you have successfully delivered your book. Keep your campaign focused. In any case, a publisher may want to sell your book in foreign markets, and they will take care of translations.