It’s the beginning of a new month, which means retailers have just sent another batch of initial orders off to Diamond to butcher, and another set of data has arrived. Diligent retailers will have already started digging through the information, building a game plan for the next few weeks. This tends to be a large task all on its own, but this month, there are many new and interesting things to consider along with the usual business.
01. DC has announced another small round of lenticular covers. Those familiar with the mid-point of The New 52 will know the lenticular covers by sight. They were formatted plastic that allowed the image depicted to sway as you or the comic (or both) moved about. They also require a long lead time to print properly, which is a huge pain.
02. The monthly titles that are a part of DC’s main Rebirth line are jumping in price to $3.99* a pop, but with that jump, the company is adding content in the form of a free digital download of the same comic. This was something that Marvel used to do for all of their books, but they recently replaced that with a curated program. Both of these by themselves require a bit of rethinking in terms of purchasing strategy for both retailers and readers alike – but DC will also be charging $2.99 digitally for those $3.99 titles.
(*Yes, I know All Star Batman is $4.99 – we’ll get to that later.)
03. Marvel has formalized the release schedule for titles like X-Men: Gold, X-Men: Blue and All-New Guardians of the Galaxy as twice monthly titles, moving more towards DC’s model of release instead of their more haphazard three-times-every-two-months schedule.
There’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s get right to it.
When DC announced they were going to produce another set of lenticular covers, I’m pretty sure my neighbours heard the scream that escaped my body. There was no way they couldn’t, given how we can hear everyday conversation regularly when things are quiet. Regardless, I am thankful that nobody ran to our door to ask what had happened, because I think “anger at a fancy comic cover” is a poor excuse for letting folks think a murder happened. I am also worried that if I were ever to be murdered, my neighbours would do nothing in response. So you win some and you lose some, I guess.
The first column I ever did for Comics Beat was one about DC’s lenticular covers. I had been managing a comic shop at the time, and felt the need to detail my great despair at the announcement of the second coming of that initiative, so if you’d like a bit more background at my despair, I direct you over to there.
N, this round isn’t nearly as bad as the first two. Instead of running through the entire line of comics, the lenticular covers will grace the covers of two particular series for two issues each. Another positive? DC made the announcement of the covers with the writing and pencilling teams attached this time, taking some of the guesswork out of the upcoming order. The problem? Well, once again, it involves the lead time required for DC to get these printing to match retailer demand.
Because of the material involved in the production of lenticular covers, DC needs to set their final print run for these books in the next couple of weeks. This means retailers will have to do the same – and so instead of having anywhere from 28-35 days to consult with customers before placing initial orders, we have about 13-20 to produce final orders. Basically, we’re being required to guess at customer demand for a product that’s over two months away from shipping.
This in and of itself isn’t outside of the norm – comic shops regularly have to guess at what will be purchased with long lead times – but lately, we’ve become accustomed to being able to adjust those orders to more easily meet demand as a date nears. When DC or Marvel or anyone pulls a stunt like asking for orders like this to be placed even further in advance, they are not doing so to help the industry – they are doing so for short term gains, pure and simple. Similarly to when they wanted final orders for the second batch of lenticular covers months and months in advance of delivery, DC is preying off the idea of potential scarcity. They’re hoping that retailers will panic at not being able to adjust their orders after the fact and bump up their orders “just in case”. Not a bad strategy, but one that routinely backfires, and creates an atmosphere where retailers are less likely to buy into hype.
DC has a lot riding on this scheme. They are pairing one of their biggest gimmicks with the next step in their impending DCU/Watchmen crossover. Regardless, this is going to sell well, but if it doesn’t meet the expectations of skittish retailers who have gone all in, it will result in a loss of cash flow for many small businesses who could really use it. It’s a dangerous proposition.
Oh, and another potential road bump? Not only will ordering this be a general pain, but there will be a lot of retailers who miss the boat entirely. Why? Well, the comics that this effects – Batman #21 & #22, and The Flash #21 and #22 – are not offered in the retailer order book, or in the initial order data. They’ve been solicited separately in order to signify different ordering criteria to retailers. Now, this was mentioned in an e-mail to retailers… but retailers don’t read e-mails. You would think they would – and many do, of course – but there are so, so many who don’t. They’re also the kind of retailers who don’t go to comic news sites, or seek out any information about their product from other sources. This will not end well for those retailers, and the stink they will raise will be incredible. The situation will be entirely their fault, but that won’t matter. There will be righteous outrage, and it will be ugly, not just for the retailers themselves, but for their customers and whatever poor Diamond and DC reps have to deal with their calls.
So the situation as I see it: a lot of folks will over order this. Many will under order (probably due to negligence). DC will get a short term win in the form of heightened sales and (if they keep that print run real tight) perceived frantic demand that may or may not benefit those who over ordered. The end result, either way? A lot of lost time to handwringing and shenanigans for a gain that will not create sustainable growth for the industry going forward. Or more simply: a net loss for all. Hurray!
PHYSICAL VS. DIGITAL
We all knew this day would come. I’m just a little surprised that DC is the company that is pulling the trigger.
In April, DC’s monthly Rebirth titles will see a price increase to $3.99 (with All Star Batman maintaining it’s $4.99 price point) and start including a digital download code for those books in the same issues. They will also be keeping the price of their purely digital counterparts at the $2.99 price point. What does that mean for retailers? Well, if we’re being honest… not much. Yet. The immediate effects of this won’t be felt for a while – or if they are, they will be mitigated by the price increase of those books, for the most part. What a retailer will have to do, is keep a close eye on trends, not just within their stores or in the physical comic industry itself, but at the progression of digital as well. I’ve long stated that the single issue comic is endangered. Sure, there are a lot of single issue comics right now, but that’s not where the future of the industry lies. The digital market is perfect for serialization, and can provide the comic book industry with more agile movement than relying on print serialization. I don’t think you can argue that fact. You can certainly argue your preference for physical single issue comics, but it certainly isn’t the best delivery system for serialized content, just like newspapers aren’t the best delivery system for up-to-date news.
A change will be coming. It began with the introduction of digital comics, took a step forward with day and date sales release, and something like this could very well be the next step. Or, DC could back out of the pricing disparity when they realize they would get a similar amount of sales charging $3.99 digitally as well. Nobody will know until their number crunchers start seeing the numbers, but know that no matter what, the industry will eventually have some hard adjustments to make.
DIGITAL CONTENT CODES
And while DC is starting to dabble once more in digital download codes, Marvel has changed their program entirely, and is offering specific curated titles with their digital codes, instead of digital issues of the same titles. If I had to guess why, someone pointed out that many print readers give away their digital copies, or in some cases, sell them for profit, and Marvel’s own number crunchers decided that the loss they might experience in physical sales would not offset the “loss” they have potentially been taking from these digital codes getting passed around. Again, this is something hard to measure, and will probably come out in the wash soon enough. Basically, if you see Marvel pull a hard turn on this, know that they saw more of a drop than they’d like, and they’ll replace the band-aid.
As for retailers… this means you will have to keep an eye on trends again. This one probably will be more immediate, because… well, the effect this change has is more immediate. Were some folks counting that digital download in as a value for their $3.99? If they were, they’ll be reconsidering a few of their titles, and if a retailer hasn’t fostered open communication regarding adds and drops to comic files, there is going to be a rough adjustment period. Really, a shop should always be communicating with their customers as directly as possible, but now more than ever.
THE OL’ DOUBLE SHIP TRICK
So, when I started on this section, I made it to about 300 words before I realized something very important: Marvel and DC are really, truly trying to ween the market off of physical single issues, and double shipping is a huge part of it. That sounds like madness, I know, but if you look back through this column, you’re going to see bits and pieces of reasoning here and there.
If you’re a big company like Marvel and DC, and you’re looking at the trends in the market, where would you be pointing your business? Would it be print sales, or would it be digital sales? And what formats are best for what you’re trying to accomplish with your own cash flow, while growing an audience?
The results of this line of thinking blew up into a column unto itself, so for this week, I’m leaving you with those questions, and I encourage you to discuss them in the comment section. And retailers reading this? Think long and hard about what the future looks like. When I went off to open my own comic shop with my wife, I knew that there were changes coming and it would take a good amount of shops with them. In fact, that was a reason why we started – to be part of the change, than part of the old guard.
2017 is when this starts happening, as many of you have admitted (albeit without taking responsibility for actions that lead to this point). Where do things go from here? Do they regress to where they were, or do they continue to evolve? And will you evolve with them?
There’s a lot to dig into here, and I promise we’ll get to the meat and the reasoning behind this in a week’s time. Until then folks, work with your local retailer if they seem to want to work with you. And if not? Find a place that will. We can all be mutually beneficial in this time of flux, if we’re all looking out for each other.
Talk with you next week.
[Brandon Schatz is a co-owner of Variant Edition Comics + Culture in Edmonton, Alberta. In his spare time (ahhahhhahhaaaa) he writes his personal journeys through pop culture over at Submetropolitan. All opinions expressed in this piece are his. So, yell at him on Twitter or something.]