Everyone talks about the direct market but no one does anything about it. Well, Jim McLauchlin wrote about it, starting with one of those “I want those cha cha heels!” McGuffins:
Wednesday, September 27 was release day for Fu Jitsu #1 from Aftershock Comics. Not the biggest of debuts, but hey—it’s written by Jai Nitz, who’s a buddy, and it seems an interesting concept. It became appointment buying for me. Right there on the calendar: “Go to comic store, buy Fu Jitsu.”
And there his troubles began.
We wrote about the title when it was announced. The title, by Jai Nitz and Wes St Clair sounds like a fun romp, a bit of a send-up of kung fu bildungsromans, as the hero fights a villainous Robert Wadlow (the world’s tallest recorded man) and James Dean (a famous dead movie star) at the South Pole.
But finding a copy on the shelves of a comics shop? Not as fun. The store McLauchlin went to, a well-regarded one in Los Angeles, had not ordered a single copy of the book, Instead they special ordered it and he vowed to come back in two weeks.
Rather than just cursing the darkness, McLauchlin goes on to interview a bunch of people about all of this, including Diamond’s Roger Fletcher, the VP of sales and marketing at Diamond. And a fuller picture emerges.
If you’ve been reading Brian Hibbs’ columns here you know ordering monthly comics is a daunting task, but how daunting?
“The proliferation of SKUs have made the business more challenging,” he says. “We currently have well over 50,000 SKUs.” Diamond arranges their most popular SKUs in an area where most people are doing the labor in their warehouse to improve internal efficiency. But still, someone is doing single copy pick-and-pack from pallet 12, Row C, Subsection 4 in Olive Branch, unless the store orders it from the jump. Batman and DC Comics is one thing. Fu Jitsu and Aftershock is another.
A SKU (stock keeping unit) is a standard ID code – usually baked into the UPC code – that allows a store or distributor to track it in their inventory. And 50,000 SKUs is a lot.
There’s much more in McLauchlin’s piece, much of it backing up current anger over the flaws in the DM system.
But really, it’s hard to point fingers at guilty parties. It’s the system. Writer Jai Nitz promoted the book the way you’re supposed to; AfterShock marketed it. Free sample issues were made available and personal mailings to retailers were made. But it wasn’t enough in this case. And Collector’s Paradise owner Ed Greenberg sounds the same alarm we’ve been making for a while here at The Beat – if you’re a small periodical publisher, you are on thin ice.
“We tried Aftershock initially, all the titles,” says Ed Greenberg, owner of the Collector’s Paradise stores. “But we’ve seen general malaise toward them. And it’s not just them, it’s many of the similar small publishers.” Collector’s Paradise stocks almost nothing in terms of Aftershock single issues. “We’re more a comic book store, not a comic book store, if you get the difference in my voice,” Greenberg says. “We sell more graphic novels. Aftershock has great creators and their graphic novels can move well for us, but we usually don’t carry Aftershock in single issues.”
As pointed out many times, just getting a store to order a SINGLE COPY of a new #1 title is no given in this market. There’s no visibility on the newsstand. Many smaller stores literally can’t afford to test every product – they don’t have the cash flow to invest in all #1s. Welcome to the small publisher’s nightmare.
But also: if you aren’t putting a ton of energy into your trade program, you are missing the 2017 Comics Boat completely.
While the article advocates the dreaded pre-ordering if you want to actually purchase a non Big Five title at a store, it does hint that Diamond may be looking at more flexible ways of ordering comics:
And if a store wants to eliminate itself as the middleman and speed up the process (at a lower profit margin)? That’s on Diamond’s map as well. “We’re also looking in the direction where if you go to a store for Fu Jitsu #1 and the store doesn’t have it, they can say, ‘Hey, we can get that sent direct to you from our supplier, right to your door.’ Diamond can perhaps facilitate that sale for them,” Fletcher says. “It might not be at the same margin the store usually gets, but there would be something in the middle for that retailer. Again, we’re not there yet, but I can envision that as a possible future.”
We can envision many possible futures here at Stately Beat Manor.
Anyway, as we always say, read the whole piece. It’s a good look at the way the system works…and often doesn’t.
UPDATE: This article has been revised to make is more comprehensible since I originally wrote it at 4 in the morning.
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.