Earlier this week it was announced that BOOM! Studios had signed a deal with Haven Distributors to distribute BOOM!’s second printing comics. BOOM! is the LA-based publisher of both original and licensed comics, and they have recently had several critical and sales success, including books based on Pixar, Disney, Fox, and literary sources, such as the much-praised Roger Langridge Muppet comic.
BOOM! has also been making many distribution deals in rent months — with Kable Distribution for newsstand distribution and Simon and Schuster for books.
Haven Distributors is one of the few alternative distributors for periodical comics, mostly working with smaller companies such as Ape, Markosia and Zenescope who aren’t exclusive with Diamond.
Although Diamond’s tighter policies this year have had a lot of publishers and retailers looking at alternative distribution, this deal for second printings still left a lot of people scratching their heads. We hadn’t heard of anything quite like it before. So we asked BOOM! publisher Ross Richie to explain, and he did. His answers are a little inside baseball, but hopefully shine the light on the many, many factors involved in publishing comics and graphic novels these days.
Q: You’ve recently been expanding your distribution partners on all channels, with a bunch of new deals. How does this one fit in?
Ross Richie: Working with Haven to distribute our 2nd prints is simply a supplemental direct market deal designed to help direct market retailers get more product quicker to the fans that want to buy it.
Diamond is a great partner, but we saw potential in Haven to be able to grow our existing Direct Market business. What’s really great here especially, is that for retailers who want to go with Haven we can offer a better discount on our 2nd prints. We have asked Diamond twice to put us in a better discount category and they have decided it is not something they want to do. Diamond’s in business to make money and needs to make decisions that make sense for what their best interests are. We’re in business to make money and need to make decisions on our end that make sense for our own interests. Sometimes those things line up, sometimes they don’t. In this instance, Diamond decided giving us a better discount to retailers didn’t make sense. So for retailers who would like an alternative, at least on the 2nd prints, we’ve got one. Haven thinks it can sell more BOOM! product with a better discount.
Q: No one seems to remember this kind of “2nd printing” deal before. How much of your business is in 2nd printings?
RR: It’s not a majority of our business, but it’s an important chunk. What’s key in our strategy here is that once a book that retailers under-ordered comes out, it can sell-out quickly as everyone, in parallel, realizes that they made a mistake. That can instantly vaporize the overprint we did. And once that’s gone, a 2nd print can quickly capture that consumer interest and build the core number of readers off that heat.
We’ve had a banner year and we’re really lucky that our product has captured the imagination of a lot of fans and consumers right now, especially in this economic climate where casual spending and retail is down across the board. A lot of people don’t know, but our marketshare has really surged. We’re almost half the size of Image Comics nowadays.
So with a hot book that’s burned through its overprint, going to 2nd print with Diamond is often complicated and can be time-consuming. Haven is much smaller, they can do it faster. So we can offer an alternative to retailers who need books now — they can get them through Haven quicker and at a discount that is more favorable to them that increases their margins.
That being said, ordering through a different distributor could be deemed by a retailer as less convenient, so it’s a question of speed vs. convenience. This deal is really about opening up retailer options and putting more power in their hands.
Q: In your PR you mention getting 2nd printings out at a “fast pace.” Can you tell us what kind of problems you’ve been having with 2nd printings getting out in a timely fashion?
RR: We’re not having any problems with Diamond. It’s just that they have a system in-place that when we have a hot series — from DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? to 28 DAYS LATER that are going into 2nd printings on the first and second issues — that it just takes Diamond a while to process 2nd print orders.
Right now, MICKEY MOUSE AND FRIENDS #296 just sold out and is going to 2nd print, WALT DISNEY’S COMICS AND STORIES is there as well. I expect DIE HARD YEAR ONE to go there any day now. IRREDEEMABLE continues to build and build and build — the sixth issue outsold the first and has had to go into a 2nd print. This is the kind of problem a publisher likes to have.
So what we need to do to build our readership is get our 2nd prints through the distribution pipeline immediately to help retailers capture the fans that want the book and can’t get it.
Something that is important for me to say here is that we have a great partner in Diamond. Our initial first prints are not available through Haven. The only place you can get them is through Diamond. We are not interested in eroding our business with them.
Q: What about THIRD printings?
RR: We focused on 2nd in the press release — that doesn’t obviate 3rd or 4th printings going through Haven.
Q: As long as we’re talking distribution, you’ve recently signed up for newsstand distribution [With Kable] for your children’s comics. Getting back to the newsstand is usually seen as a way to truly increase the audience for comics. How’s the program working so far?
RR: Kable Distribution is an excellent partner. We’re thrilled with the results and have been expanding our presence on newsstands incrementally and in a focused fashion to nice success. It’s really fun to take the Pixar and Muppets characters onto the newsstand in comics!
Q: How many of your distributors serve comics shops? We’ve often seen the idea of having to deal with multiple distributors as a burden for LCS owners. Do you think that the increasing use of multiple distributors is having any adverse affects?
RR: We have had a number of retailers ask us to explore a relationship with Haven. Meanwhile, Haven approached us. We spent time discussing a strategy — this is what we came up with. Currently, we’re not offering any product via Haven that isn’t offered via Diamond. So if retailers find it difficult to manage two distributors, they can continue to order via Diamond and focus their business there. This is about opening up options, not forcing anyone to do business a certain way. This is about options and putting more power in retailers’ hands.
That being said, I am unaware of any direct market retailer that I have a personal relationship with that doesn’t use more than one distributor. Outside comics, other businesses — from the book stores to mass market big box — deal with many different distributors. I learned retail first hand working at my family’s gift shop in downtown San Antonio growing up, and we constantly ordered from a number of different distributors.