Have you noticed there are an awful lot of Image titles getting second printings? And third printings? I just went to my mailbox and in the last 8 days, here are the sellouts/multiple printing announcements I’ve gotten:
Selling out – it’s great PR, but ultimately, it’s not exactly great business. It creates a roadblock between readers and the material they want to read, and between retailers and the books they want to sell. In short, it does more harm than good.
And it’s true. This is one of the reasons I’ve been a proponent of digital — infinite supply and you’re not at the whims of whether your local store ordered shelf copies of what you want. Stephenson also has some comments about retailer ordering habits:
A couple retailers have made what I consider to be a fair comment: We should have known a new series by Brian K. Vaughan would do well and could have printed way more than we did.
But using that exact same logic, here’s the thing:
They also could have ordered more.
And, following that timeless rhetorical method, with the straw man built up and knocked down, Stephenson starts trying to address the disconnect between initial orders and reader demand.
In some cases, like Prophet, I completely understand why it might be under-ordered. Prophet is a continuation of an old, half-forgotten series done in a drastically different style. It is not reasonable to expect a retailer to know how to order it unless they’ve sat down and read it. Now, getting a retailer’s attention to do that may be easier said than done and some of the effort for that needs to be on the part of Image.
On the other hand, something like Saga should be a little more obvious. And if the retailers are saying Image should have known then the retailers really should have known too.
The thing is, Image really is having an awful lot of multiple printings coming out these days. It suggests that retailers are chronically under-ordering Image titles and/or under-estimating reader demand.
Why could this be?
1) Having become accustomed to ordering independent books lower over the past few years?
2) Relying too much on pre-orders when customers might want to examine a book on the shelf or don’t hear buzz about the book until much closer to release date?
3) Not enough working capital/budget to order everything they want to and Image is the low man on the totem pole at cut time?
It isn’t like Image is the only company with this problem. Marvel is double-shipping books they don’t think are sufficiently ordered. Everybody does multiple printings of something. Image just seems to have a much higher percentage of this activity going on. Prophet and Glory are still on multiple printings 3 months into the new runs — that’s highly unusual and speaks to not having a grip on the customer demand. Should a publisher know the customer better than the retailer knows the customer? A rude question, but that’s what a publisher has to ask when the orders and demand have such a dramatic disconnect.
I’d be very interested in seeing an Image sales chart adjusted for all the extra printings. I suspect Image is doing better than they appear to on the Diamond charts.
On the whole, there are a lot worse problems to have. Still, this is a problem. It creates inefficiencies in supply and the creators make less money on multiple printings than they would on one big printing.
It’s worth reading the entire Stephenson piece. There’s some nuance to it. But when you look at what is clearly a pattern, it does make a person scratch their head a little.