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As COVID-19 drastically impacts the direct market, publishers are stepping up with relief plans for retailers dealing with reduced foot traffic, reduced hours, and even closures as a result of the pandemic. Image set a precedent on Tuesday, which was quickly followed by Dynamite, IDW, Aftershock, Vault and even Diamond Comic Distributors. With the rapidly changing situation, even recognition of the fiscal dangers to comic shops and news of plan developments are a relief. To that end, we’ve compiled exactly how these publishers are doing their part to keep the direct market going.

Image Comics acted quickly and comprehensively, setting an example for publishers to provide retailer relief. In its letter, Image announced full returnability of product through March with evaluation in April, marketing support for retailers with mail subscription services or curbside pickup, pullbox reserve pickup, as well as lobbying for Diamond to extend delayed billing to stores as retailer income takes a major hit.

On Wednesday, Image followed up with the announcement that it would be parsing its upcoming releases, pushing titles back and cancelling reprints in an effort to keep comic shops’ vulnerability to a minimum.

The excerpt below outlines Image’s plan.

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ALL Image Comics product on FOC for Monday, March 16 and for the following FOCs through the end of the month will be fully returnable. Should the pandemic worsen and the closures continue, we will update you all on returnability in April.
Our marketing team is actively giving signal blasts to all social posts from Direct Market retailers who have announced mail subscription deliveries and curbside pickup.
We have sent an email alert to 80K+ consumers encouraging them to follow their local comic book stores on social media for updates on store hours, rescheduled events, and cleaning policies.
We are actively messaging to fans across all platforms to purchase their pullbox reserves and stock up on comics at their local shop for reading material during self-quarantine.
We are pushing for Diamond to extend delayed billing to stores.
We are listening to feedback and to your concerns and are monitoring emails from retailers. We are eager and invested in helping support you and your businesses.

Dynamite followed suit later that day, becoming the second publisher to announce returns on comics, even if Diamond Comics Distributors would not. The letter sent out to comic shops and media outlets is less comprehensive than Image’s, although it does allude to ongoing development of publisher-backed retailer relief. Dynamite also made a point to explicitly commend Image for its spearheading of the situation.

Dear Retail Partners,

We know you’re awaiting word from all of your publishing partners, but a quick word to let you know we are here, listening. We are discussing and working with Diamond on an informed response, and hope to have news shortly about easing your burden in the coming weeks. One option we would like to offer is that Dynamite would take returns (as Image has announced and other publishers may do as well) – but Diamond has a large amount of volume, and has many factors to consider, and we are understanding of that in case it’s not feasible overall. If Diamond has challenges doing so, we at Dynamite will take returns directly. Obviously, we have to coordinate any logistics with each retailer if we are doing so directly. The answers may not be coming quick enough, but they are coming. Diamond is a great company and works with retailers and publishers day in and day out, but this is an unprecedented situation, so please be patient with them, but I wanted to let you know that Dynamite is here for you.

best!

Nick

Around the same time that Dynamite’s plan of action came out, Diamond gave retailers the go-ahead to sell comics and merchandise a day ahead of embargo, hence NCBD on a Tuesday. Although not a publisher, the monolithic comic distributor holds major sway in how comics are sold around the globe.

Then, Wednesday morning, IDW joined in the movement, ensuring more publisher-backed retail relief and promising an even more earnest strategy from Diamond in development. Company President Chris Ryall said outright in a letter to retailers that they’re likely to mirror Image’s plans, as well as commit to new initiatives.

Hi everyone,First and foremost, I’d like to say what’s on all of our minds here at IDW: we hope that you, our friends in the retail community, are healthy and safe, and continue to be so in the coming weeks and months.

We know that this is an unprecedented situation and that right now you don’t need platitudes, you need action. We all do. IDW is working hard to deliver a concrete plan as soon as possible, but I wanted to update you on where we’re at today.

While this crisis develops, we’ve been paying close attention to retailers — from direct outreach, to reading the forums, to following the conversation on social media. We are getting a clear sense of the many challenges that you’re facing and want to help the Direct Market however we can.

As we saw yesterday, Image Comics communicated some great strategies that can be used as a roadmap for publishers. We agree that they are moving the conversation in the right direction, and our hope is to provide retailers with support very nearly identical in scope and intent.

Along with developing our own initiatives, we’ve been in close contact with Diamond as they work on a comprehensive relief package, which will be announced as soon as possible. We believe that a solid unified strategy, put forward at the distributor level with input from retailers and the cooperation of publishers, is the best course of action. In so many ways, we are all in this together.

But in the meantime, IDW is committed to lending dedicated support to retailers through social media initiatives, email messaging to subscribers, and additional means of customer outreach.

We pledge to do our part in supporting this industry that we love and the people who make it happen. Our phone lines are open and you can reach us all via email. We’re here to listen and help. And please feel free to contact us directly with questions and we’ll do our best to get you answers.

Let’s do the best we can, together.

–Chris Ryall

Aftershock followed suit on Wednesday with its own note to retailers. The publisher is providing retailer relief by delaying shipments on titles by up to 4 weeks, if not more in some cases. It assures readers that they’re in constant communication with retailers as well as Diamond to stay on top of the ongoing pandemic and the difficulties it presents to local comic shops. COO Joe Pruett‘s letter is available below.

To our retailer partners and friends:

It’s been a wild few days – and looks to be a wild few weeks, if not months. As we at AfterShock have been discussing what we can do directly to help lessen the impact of COVID-19, we remain grateful for the insights and concerns shared with us by many of you in recent days.  As we stated earlier in a note to our fans, we continue to support all your efforts in navigating these uncharted waters. Our hearts go out particularly to shops forced to shutter in the midst of regional lockdowns.

We have had deep, serious discussions with Diamond and are prepared to participate, where we can, in initiatives and relief plans that they will put forward soon. We have also had conversations with many retailers, who have encouraged us to postpone shipments of our new books. As of this writing, we are working to delay such shipments by a minimum of 4 weeks, monitoring and re-evaluating daily the possible extension of this delay beyond 4 weeks, if necessary. We look forward with hope and confidence to that time when we can return to business as usual.

We’re also taking this action in support of our creators. It’s their books that we’ve been entrusted to publish, promote and work with you to sell.  As you know, we have some incredible new series set to launch and are determined to do so in an environment that benefits all contributors and stakeholders.

A number of you have inquired about our AfterShock Army team of brand ambassadors. Obviously, their health and well-being are our primary concern. We are working with them individually to determine how to best stay in touch with those of you they’ve already visited or otherwise contacted. In general, we’ve tasked them with taking their cues from you. Steve Rotterdam will be reaching out directly to shops over the next few days with more specific information.

Committed to remaining as flexible as possible, we will continue to monitor circumstances in this new era of unprecedented change and challenge. And as broader programs are put forward, we will determine – in consultation with you — the best ways AfterShock might participate.

As always, please feel free to reach out with questions, comments and opinions. We wouldn’t want it any other way. You make what we do worthwhile.

Joe Pruett

Publisher and Chief Creative Officer

AfterShock Comics

Also on Wednesday, Vault joined the call to provide retailer relief. Like Aftershock and Image, the publisher will be holding back a selection of titles for the protection of comic shops. Although it’s still developing a “flexible plan,” Vault CEO Damian Wassel tells retailers that “Vault will be delaying all titles with Final Order Cut-off dates between March 23 and April 13 by two weeks.” AKA, there will be no new Vault comics from April 1 – April 29.

To all of our comics retail partners,

Vault wouldn’t be here without you, and we’re working to do everything possible to support you through this trying time. You are the backbone of this industry.

We have been carefully monitoring the COVID-19 situation. We are in constant communication with Diamond, many of our retail partners, and our creators. We are implementing a flexible plan, working to do as much as we can in this shifting landscape to alleviate some of the pressure that retailers are facing.

To that end, Vault will be delaying all titles with Final Order Cut-off dates between March 23 and April 13 by two weeks. As of now, these titles will FOC and ship two weeks later than currently scheduled. This means there will be no new Vault titles shipping between April 1 through April 29. Titles that have already FOC-ed on March 16 or earlier will still ship as scheduled, though we want to remind you that all new #1s from Vault are fully returnable. Tentatively, we will FOC one trade and one single issue on April 6 for ship dates of April 29 and May 6, respectively.

We will reassess as we draw closer to April 6, to determine whether these delays are sufficient or additional measures need to be taken to support our partners. Meanwhile, we will work daily with Diamond to gain access to better tools–the tools we need–to mitigate our retail partners’ risks as necessary. Provided no additional delays are deemed necessary, our schedule will continue as solicited after April 27.
We reiterate, we will do everything possible to support you, our partners, as we navigate this unprecedented situation.

Please do not hesitate to reach out to us directly. You can contact me or David Dissanayake, Vault’s Director of Sales & Marketing  with any questions, concerns, or ideas.

Kind regards,
Damian Wassel
CEO
Vault Comics

At time of writing, Image, Dynamite, Aftershock and Vault have all announced commitment to publisher backed retailer relief. That said, it’s entirely likely that other companies are waiting for more concrete strategies to develop before coming forward. During this time, if you’re able to safely support your local comic shop, please do. As these publishers have made clear, this situation is one we can only get through together.

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