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In the face of intense – and I mean INTENSE  – retailer backlash, the plan put forth by POS software ComicHub yesterday has been withdrawn, I’m told.

The idea was for customers to preorder printed comics via ComicHub affiliated comics shops, read the comic online and then get the print comic on that happy day when print comics are once again released.

Although touted as a way to save the industry – and though I’m told many publishers had provisionally signed on – the idea is not going forward.

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The plan was originally set forth to the public via a PDF proposal sent to several people – among them myself. However as news got out, the reaction from comics retailers was extremely negative. Brian Hibbs, as usual, spoke for many with this:

“A poll on a retailer forum right now has 119 opposed, 17 unsure, and 5 for “digital first” releases, EVEN IF IT “comes from a retailer source”.

Beyond the philosophical idiocy of encouraging cross channel migration (even passively), the mechanical aspects of it are insane — how could ANYone process and deal with 4-20 weeks of physical print comics dropping at once that would be needed to “catch up”?

I can barely make a profit with my MUCH MUCH larger discounts than what the ComicsHUB plan offers, and this creates an EXPONENTIAL amount more of work in having to track and organize such sales, all for what will be a paltry revenue stream.

I am now firmly convinced that Marvel and DC didn’t “cave” to retailer pressure (which is like 90% against!), but that they merely hit “pause” so that Stu Colson and ComicsHUB could provide them with the fig leaf of cover they need to go full bore on comixology.

Seriously, people, this is a shitty shitty plan, and any publisher that goes for it is my enemy.”

While ComicHub proponents said it would be a way for shops to make money during the Diamond shut-down, the vast majority of retailers saw it as a way to lure their customers from print to digital and rejected the plan.

Stu Colson, the owner of the ComicHub software, wasn’t really set up to answer press questions, so retailers Ryan Higgins and John Hendrick stepped in. I spoke with Hendrick, of Dublin’s Big Bang Comics several times over the last 24 hours.

While Hendrick is a strong supporter of ComicHub and the plan, today he conceded that retailer negativity had been overwhelming, and most publishers had pulled out of the plan.

“The market is not ready, and we are not going to move ahead at this time,” Hendrick told The Beat. “But ComicHub will continue to keep signing up retailers for its POS system.”

I reached out to several publishers and they all confirmed they would not be taking part in the ComicHub plan – Marvel’s David Gabriel posted on a retailer forum this morning that they were not going to go with ComicHub.

My own opinion here: I don’t think Colson is looking to make money off this, having spoken to him many times over the years. I think he was genuinely trying to help. I understand other stores (and everyone) are a bit fraught now, and everyone is spending their time online and emotions are running wild.

Although the idea of a CV-19 reatil fix is tempting, there were a lot of problems with the ComicHub plan from the gitgo, including rights issues, and whether the software would stand up.

As good as the intentions may have been, the plan seemed doomed from the start.

But that doesn’t mean that the comics industry – when it does emerge from quarantine, won’t need a good POS system. There’s a lot of existing good in ComicHub, and it can still help the industry.

 

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31 COMMENTS

  1. That picture in relation to being a comic book retailer is in bad taste but at least gives a glimpse into how they truly see themselves.

  2. I can’t imagine how an overnight fast fix based on wholesale adoption of an intermediary proprietary software and as-yet-explained physical with digital plan would have collapsed in 24 hours. I really feel bad for everyone in the industry. I love comic books. But how is anything like the scale of the current market ever going to be profitable with a sudden break in the entire economy and a WWI like entanglement of contracts, publishers, and individual retail outlets?

  3. “And in the end,” I told my grandchildren, “The Retailers ended up killing the comic book industry for good.”

    “Grandpa, what’s a comic book?”

  4. Maybe I’m in the minority but I’d love for everyone to keep making money (and comics!) via a Comics Hub type option. I’m 47 and while I’ll read digital comics if I have to, I’m forever wedded to the printed comic. I get that people are freaked out, but this seems like folks are shooting themselves in the foot. I’d be more concerned about casual readers drifting away permanently because nothing new is available in any format. Have retailers surveyed their Wednesday warriors or folks with pulls? Hopefully they can figure something out over the next few weeks.

  5. I’m not a comics retailer, so I’m sure there’s enough I don’t understand about the business, but this seems like an “I’d rather die than adapt” mentality. The direct sales comic book market really could die here. How many shops will survive 2-4 months of, at best, severely reduced revenue? That’s going to happen. How many shops can publishers lose and still be profitable?

    This seems like it could have helped. I love comic shops dearly, and I want to see them thrive, but I feel like I’m watching the death of them in real time.

  6. I haven’t bought a printed comic book since 2016. I had been ordering them online, because there hadn’t been a local comic shop in my county since, well, ever. The “local” comic shop was in the next county (over a half-hour’s drive away), and I hadn’t been there since probably 2005. The only local “comic shop” in my county was the local used bookstore that ordered comics for a few customers on the side. The owner had been burned in the past by too many customers ordering comics and then not picking them up.

    Anyway, so I had to order comics online, paying shipping on top of the already ludicrous prices. I eventually just switched to digital and have never looked back.

    So it ticks me off to no end that the publishers are not moving forward with the digital releases. I just wanna read the stories.

  7. Look, 10 million people have lost their jobs in the past two weeks, and that’s probably not done being a thing. It’s not just the retailers who are hurting, their market is hurting too. Customers can’t buy their product now, and won’t be able to when movement restrictions end.

    I’ve bought comics and products from shops all over the country. I love these folks. But I keep seeing messages like the one above, that they’re the most important part of the industry, and that comics can’t survive without them.

    And it’s just not true.

    If the direct market can’t find a way to adapt even when the world is in crisis, it’s going to die. I can get every single product they sell from someplace else. I’ll miss all the awesome folks I’ve met, the people at my local shop included, but this is a time for innovation or death. Maybe the ComicHub thing wasn’t the right plan for right now, but people are already out of the habit of going to their LCS each week. Soon they’ll be in the habit of getting their entertainment elsewhere, if they can afford entertainment at all.

    I really hope retailers can do better than this kind of response to the crisis. The world isn’t going back to what it used to be, and they’d better prepare.

  8. In general, it’s important to acknowledge and work with the concerns of the people selling the product…but what’s going to happen to them when there’s no one left to sell the products to?

  9. All involved are under a great deal of stress ATM and can be forgiven for perhaps not being at their best, but the response to this was pretty disappointing. The Comicshub proposal appeared flawed and vague but could have served as the starting point for a discussion that might have benefited everyone involved. Instead it was met immediately with a profanity laced tirade about “the enemy” complete with a tasteless graphic. It’s fairly clear that there is a group of retailers who believe there should be no new comics unless and until the direct market is fully back open for business.

    And I don’t fault anyone for looking out for their business, but I’ll confess I don’t understand how “no new product at all” is a viable business model. With all due respect, the scenario of retailers having 20 weeks of backed-up product is absurd – the direct market won’t last that long.

  10. “That picture in relation to being a comic book retailer is in bad taste but at least gives a glimpse into how they truly see themselves.”

    That picture is literally a toy staged and photographed in a cool way.

  11. A dozen retailers open for mail order business doesn’t seem like much of a viable market for new comics either. For the tens of thousands of comics readers completely oblivious to anything that would be implemented in the short term, how would their lost sales help the publishing side stay afloat even if a tentative “free” physical book with digital purchase plan were enacted? How would such a plan be implemented en masse in any shorter time frame them a month or two to save comic shops? How would the publishers ever get all the physical product printed, shipped, and guarantee distribution to the every reader who already bought digital? In the physical market driven by speculators and multi-cover gimmicks, how would anyone buy multiple copies using one digital purchase?

  12. Why do retailers get blamed for not jumping for joy at the arrival of a half baked “solution”. The concept of buying a digital copy and reserving a physical copy is great, we should already be doing this. However the way it was rolled out, with no real explanation and no buy in from Marvel or DC, made it dead in the water, not the retailers fear to adapt. I’m willing to make drastic changes, but only if they make sense.

    How long do people think comics would continue to be produced based on digital advance sales alone? How many fewer copies of a given book, say Three Jokers, would they sell under this plan as opposed to holding the books until September?

    These things cost money to make, they aren’t going to keep producing work for 1/4 of the sales they had before.

    This is just one of the many issues that no one had answers for.

  13. Half baked is exactly the problem. It was presented as a way to save comics and retailers, but not every retailer was told about the plan when a few got the PDF. There was never a buy in from Marvel or DC and other big companies, they were using the momentum to try and get all the retailers and publishers on board their proposed IPO offering.

    Stu and Ryan and the rest didn’t enjoy getting asked any questions that seemed to request additional details. They didn’t like when people asked them to explain positions and just kept pushing back that any question they didn’t appreciate was obviously against them and flaming them and therefore they wouldn’t answer it.

    As a retailer, adapting to these scenarios is part of the job and I’m not opposed. The major issue is that there was no solid plan and there was no follow through and all of us saw right through that to a massive undertaking and fiasco later on. If it worked now great but 4 or 5 months down the road this would be a giant mess. Not to mention reviews on the comichub app are not great for customers, whether Ryan or Stu wants to tout it as some industry saving tool, the people buying the comics don’t seem to enjoy the interface

  14. In my opinion the ComicHub option would lead to more digital readers switching to physical than the other way round. Being able to pay the same price and receive physical and digital copies could lead to consumers visiting the comic shop more often if they realise they prefer physical books (which in my opinion is the better viewing option as most art looks better on paper). Marvel books already provide digital codes inside them, maybe this could become a permanent replacement for the digital codes inside. Perhaps all publishers who may potentially work with ComicHub would keep this option available full time. If done right it could increase comic book shop sales instead of having the reverse effect that retailers fear.

  15. The direct market WOULD rather die than change. Most retailers want things to continue as they’ve been since the ’80s. We have a system that is now as antiquated as newsstands and spinner racks were 40 years ago, but few people have the will or imagination to make changes.

    Retailers bash publishers and distributors for downturns, but rarely take responsibility for their own shortcomings. Too many shops are still dark, dingy “man caves” where women and kids don’t feel welcome. (The surly, unsmiling clerks guarantee that.) And men who aren’t ultra-nerdy fanboys and gamers don’t feel comfortable there, either.

    I’d feel no sadness if shop like that never reopen.

  16. Sorting out a weekly Diamond shipment is a labourious process, which takes more than a single working day for many stores. Imagine unboxing the amount of multiple weeks, sorting it all out, fullfilling pull-lists for customers you are not sure will ever return (for books coming in will have been ordered with reguler business in mind, not post-severe-crisis business), but getting the bill for this huge shipment anyway, without any financial reserves build up in the meantime.
    Yes, I get that ComicHub means for comics ordered through their system to be ‘pre-paid’, so even though the cut the store gets is smaller than usually, at least they know a customer will be coming for this book.
    But part of the problem is the persistence of keeping up a publishing schedule and expecting shops to be able to keep up the pace, and I think stores are right in pointing out that they will not be able to do that. The Market has been straining under way too much output in the last couple of years, and EVERYBODY has been saying so. So it’s ludicrous to keep insisting on such a gruelling publishing schedule in times like these.
    Pare down the publishing lines, return to a more lean and mean publishing model that accomodates both Direct Market, Book Stores and Digital, and Comics can survive this. Yes they should have started years ago, but the problem hasn’t changed, it’s only become very urgent.

  17. This quarantine thing is gonna go on through May at least, and people WILL BE VERY SKITTISH about returning to normal behavior once we get an official ok to leave the house again. This could be a 6 month problem. How long can publishers and creators go without producing work and making any money? People do need diversions and entertainment. The longer comic fans find themselves without new content, the easier it will be for them to take a look at their hobby and think “i don’t really need this” and maybe leave comics altogether.

    At a point, digital comics are gonna have to be distributed more freely because of this thing. Print retail shops will suffer and more than a few will go out of business. Small business will have major casualties across the board. Adapt to the changing world and be smart about getting onboard with an industry solution rather than expect and entire industry to hit pause and wait for a return to normal.

  18. I don’t get the fear over digital. It’s like a dirty secret some retailers like to keep from their customers. I believe print is better, i’m not interested in shielding peoples eyes from digital in fear they may leave. If you believe in print what are you afraid of?

  19. “Where are writers and artists in that photo?”

    They’re collateral damage in the war between retailers and publishers.

    Retailers have always been slow to embrace change. I remember it was a big deal when comic shops began using cash registers, instead of keeping the money in shoe boxes.

  20. Since the publishers seem to be caving to the retailers’ demands and not releasing digital-only for now, here’s what needs to happen whenever whichever stores are left eventually do reopen:

    *Cut the monthly releases down drastically. X-Men gets one title. Batman gets one title. Spider-Man gets one title. Avengers gets one title. And so on. (So no All-New Orgasmic Hulk #1 with holo-jizz cover.) Team members that don’t already have their own long-running ongoing titles get a one-shot or miniseries every once in a while. That’s it. Also, all titles ship only once per month. Let’s say a total of 25 issues come out from DC and Marvel each monthly.

    *Print the monthlies on cheap newsprint…

    *…and in black-and-white. Reserve the good paper and the color for the trades.

    *Cut the price of digital. If print comics want to survive, they need to let digital truly compete, not strongarm it into charging print prices.

  21. I’m still spending 8 bucks a month right now to read digital back issues on DCUniverse. And I’m still reading through a backlog of already purchased print issues and trades. I’ll be ready when my shop is able to reopen.

  22. Mark Moore said: “Cut the monthly releases down drastically.”

    Totally agree. The Big Two have been flooding the market for years, churning out more books than even the most addicted comics junkie can read (or afford to buy). And a lot of these books are badly written and drawn cash grabs. Yes, there have always been books like that. But there have been a lot MORE of them in recent years.

    I’m old enough to remember when there was one Spider-Man title, one X-Men title, etc. Over at DC, Batman and Superman had two titles each. And I liked it that way!

  23. I agree that there should only be one Spider-Man, X-Men, Green Lantern, etc. and two Batman and Superman books, as per tradition. However, part of me wonders about those superhero fans who primarily like B-List, even C-List characters. Not to mention the writers who may have an idea for a B-List or C-List character that cannot be told in just a miniseries. I guess what I’m asking is who’s on your 25 books a month schedule and who’s not? I imagine every DC/Marvel fan would have a different answer.

  24. I’d say the long-running core characters — i.e, the “legacy” characters — should have one book each. And no spin-offs, crossovers, miniseries, or company-wide “events” that compel people to buy the entire line to understand what’s happening in any one book. They can resume that when the crisis is over.

    And no reboots or relaunches of a company’s entire comics line, please. That has happened enough times in the last decade or two.

    And please, for God’s sake, no more variant covers!

    I’d be content if Marvel published 8 to 12 titles a month, as it did in the ’60s.

  25. Keep in mind that we’re heading to the worst unemployment numbers since the Great Depression. Even when deaths taper off and stores start to reopen — the ones that are able to reopen — they won’t have as many customers. A lot of these lost jobs aren’t coming back for a while.

    When you’re unemployed and worried about putting food on the table, keeping up with Green Lantern and Captain America is not a priority. Not unless there are major price reductions, which may require — as Mark suggested — printing on cheap newsprint again, possibly in black and white.

    Also keep in mind that a lot of older comics readers are working-class men — always the first people to get pink-slipped when the economy tanks.

  26. It hasn’t slipped my mind. Believe me, as someone who has never even HAD an income, even at 31 (due to difficulties stemming from autism and muscular dystrophy), I’m keenly aware just how tight money for comics is. I’m also doubly aware that conserving food is far more important during this difficult time than being up to date with my favourite superheroes.

    I wasn’t aware that during the pandemic was the context of your statement. Apologies.

  27. speaking 100% from a customer point of view it’s really dire and depressing to think that, while in lockdown, i wont even have new comics to read to help me cope with this emotionally draining quarantine situation. i only buy comics digitally since there are no retailers where i live. sorry but all comics should be released digitally now. and marvel/dc should make a deal with retailers and could later ship physical copies to customers who have bought them digitally during these crisis but are still attached to the physical product. in my case the way it is now is a terrible scenario (not having anything new to read for 2 or 3 months or more). i’ve had all my future projects and sources of income cancelled or postponed and comics are pretty much the only thing i’m spending money on (besides food, rent, etc). this needs to be resolved immediately.

  28. Eli, every comic can be a new comic if you haven’t read it before. Right? I don’t mean that to dismiss your feelings, bud. I know how ya feel… but, just think: there’s thousands of comics from the last 70 years online for us to discover and get into.

    I think the comics industry is over-complicating things rather than just face the very very simple and obvious problem: stop events. stop reboots. stop rehashing storylines from the 80s’. As polarizing as Jim Shooter was, his “just tell good stories” might actually help stop the bleeding. And then? Making comics more accessible- in a time where comics having mainstream appeal has NEVER been as strong as it is now- would be a healthy step. Ain’t no one gonna pay $5 for a bunch of splash pages. Just one gal’s opinion.

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