Comics sales have been growing and continue to grow, but we’re definitely entering a period of retrenchment and contraction for many, as I reported from this year’s Diamond Retailer summit for PW in a story called At Diamond Summit, Cracks in Comics Market Come to Fore.
Pretty much every company has some kind of adjustment going on, whether its Boom cutting their line by 15% in 2016 to Dynamite cutting back on variant covers to Archie’s staff reduction. I’ll have some more details on this later but I wanted to draw attention to one company, Image. At the summit there was a panel consisting of David Gabriel from Marvel, Dan DiDio from DC, Corey Murphy from Image, Randy Stradley from Dark Horse and Greg Goldstein from IDW. I wasn’t able to be there and hoped to get an audio recording of it, but that hasn’t surfaced yet. However a couple of things were reported to me from people who did hear it, among them Image’s reaffirming that they don’t do variants. I was a little unsure on the placement of this announcement so reached out to Murphy for clarification. She said that this is actually a policy that was announced back in May and here it is:
“After much internal deliberation, Image Comics will no longer be offering single issue retailer exclusive variants. While the intent of this program was to offer our retailer partners the opportunity to have exclusive content in order to build strong continued series sales at their stores, data accumulated over the last year suggests these variants only serve to further feed the speculation market, artificially inflating first issue sales, and thereby doing little to positively affect a series’ longterm health.
With those findings in mind, Image Comics will now be offering retailer exclusive covers for trade paperbacks and hard covers. Requests must be submitted by the deadline of initial orders for the Previews that the trade paperback is solicited in. The minimum order threshold will be determined on a title by title basis. Retailers will also have the opportunity to place additional orders of their retailer exclusive trade paperback or hard cover every time it returns to press for an additional printing.
We understand that many of you who have participated in these single issue retailer exclusive variants may be disappointed with this decision, but we must act based on what we feel is in the best interest of our creators, their series, and the growth of the marketplace.”
I don’t doubt that some creators are saddened by losing the easy sales pop of a variant cover, but this is a bold and confidant move that is ensuring that Image doesn’t get caught without a chair when the music stops. I should note that this is RETAILER variants only—Ghost and Phantom variants and store specific variants.
Any time a publisher turns down easy money for the long run its something we should all applaud. That said although retailers applauded Murphy’s statement, as many publishers have pointed out: they will stop making variants when retailers stop ordering them. Gabriel told a bunch of retailers that “If you can’t sell variants, you shouldn’t order them”—when I quoted this to two senior industry personnel, they literally doubled over with laughter. The direct market is definitely engaged in a shell game right now, and retailers seem to be loathe to stop the game themselves. While resentment is growing, aside from Image it doesn’t really show any sign of slowing down, as DC’s entry into the extreme variant game with DKIII shows.
I’ll have a longer interview with Murphy in the coming days.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.