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Retailer/Publisher/Customer tensions revealed

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Oh boy! Finally! After a few weeks off to relax and get acclimated, 2008 has its own brouhaha! And it’s a good one, exposing lingering animosities, nagging weaknesses in the retails system, personal sniping and the very core of where the business is now.

It all kicked off with the latest ComicsPRO position paper, whch you can read in its entirety in the jump. The jist of it is that ComicsPRO doesn’t want publishers selling comics at conventions before they are available to direct sales retailers since this practice costs retailers sales.

This issue has been around for a while. Selling at conventions has been a standard practice for all publishers except DC and Marvel — genie is way out of the bottle, but this strain of ire is aimed at the practice of selling books before they are available to the direct market. Notorious examples include Jeff Smith selling (and selling out of) his one volume Bone at San Diego; Top Shelf specifically ordering a skid or two of Lost Girls to sell with Melinda Gebbie on hand to sign it, and an earlier instance where Blankets was sold at MoCCA.

Of course, people go to cons to get books signed, but you’d think it was only a locally based problem. Nope. The ComicsPRO paper specifically states that not only is Melinda Gebbie at San Diego a problem for say, Robert Scott’s store in San Diego, but Rory Root’s store in Berkeley and Jim Hanley’s in New York because some of their customers may have travelled to San Diego to buy Lost Girls.

The oppositre argument is that most comics shops don’t support indie publishers to begin with, small publisher depend on convention sales to cover their bottom line — and generate tons of media buzz–and while ComicsPRO claims they will be stronger sales and marketing partners for publishers who don’t do this, no one seems to be able to figure out exactly what this means.

This is a battle many indy pundits have been having with retailers for a ong time now, and not surprisingly this prompted many pro-indy pundits to come out with their OWN position papers. Tom jumped out pretty fast, calling the paper “terrible”, for several reasons, one of which was that the paper doesn’t give any real evidence of the harm.

Johanna came out with more strong objections:

Asserts is the right word. Publishers tend to say, when I’ve seen this discussion before, “no it doesn’t, because we’re selling to people without stores” and “we have to, to make our budgets”. Retailers say “I’m not stocking your books, then” (if they even were in the first place) and we have a standstill, because then the publisher has even more incentive to go around the direct market. No one can conclusively prove their position, and with just-in-time ordering, retailers rarely stock ANY publication in depth at initial order. If the impact is that noticeable, I wish someone would post some figures.


Alan David Doane, himself a rather opinionated writer who once said “Die Direct Market Die!”also chided retailers for failing to acknowledge the reality of the multi-channel comics market. Dick Hyacinth and Frank Santoro also weigh in. (Doane follows up with a MUST READ on publishers response to the controvery.) And now I’m doing it too! Whoo, where to begin.

One of the problems here is that the opposing sides seem to take one example of less-than-perfect behavior on either side as a synecdoche for a lifetime of abuse. For instance, retailers will never forget that Jeff Smith sold out of the single volume Bone; likewise David Welsh’s special trip to a comic shop only to find it closed when it should have been open is a blaring symbol of everything wrong and stinky about every comic shop ever under the sun.

People in comics never forget anything, do they? I guess that’s why everyone loves continuity.,


Reality is more broad based. The comment thread at Johanna’s quickly becomes the town square for this issue as several prominent ComicsPRO members come to debate. The issue is a hard one becasuse the stores in ComicsPRO are, by and large, the stores that actually do a good job of carrying indie comics. This isn’t a case of superhero stores complaining about depressing, life-hating indie comics which they are never going to order anyway. But what really is the cost of the practice to retail partners? And how could the stores, even the good stores, help publishers sell more copies? It could be argued that the buzz generated from the sales of Lost Girls, Blankets and Bone generated at the show sales helped create more awareness and helped drive more traffic into the store to buy than created customers who went in to their shop and said “No, thanks. I already got that from Freddy Freelancer at the Mighty Mini Con, and he threw in a free blow job, too!”

Indeed, asked for concrete examples, the only one that one retailer can come up with is Sire: Revelation #1, which is published by someone named MikeComics. I’d love to know just how heavily Neptune Comics ordered on this obscure title and what they thought the demand would be.

Heroes Con’s Dustin Harbin sees both sides, a rarity in the debate:

Although it tastes funny in my mouth to say it, I think this is a free market issue–I do not think the future of comic books as a medium or art form is tied to the direct market, and I think comic retailers need to evolve out of the strange system that coalesced in the 70’s. The fact that comics are sold more and more in the mass market is great for comics, but not so great for the direct market. That doesn’t mean that forward-thinking retailers can’t figure out a way to survive and even thrive in this new market.

Amanda Fischer , one of the friendliest retailers out there, explains why here, why now, and Brian Hibbs confirms that this is more of a “you make me feel bad!” thing than a “here are the stats” thing:

And I don’t think we CAN offer macro-examples, because there’s no effective way to poll a wide swath of customers about behavior that they may have engaged in — that is to say “Comic shops would have sold 1.7% more copies of BONE ONE EDITION had Cartoon Books not sold it before it arrived at retail” is sort of essentially unprovable in a macro sense. 2) “Noticeable” is a weird word, because I pretty much don’t care if someone takes $1 from me or $1000 — in the end I’m making less money (regardless of scale), which makes it harder to run a “good” comics shop.


Brian and Tom Spurgeon are currently engaging in a blog war over these issues, and while I’m tempted to let them slug it out and have the utmost respect and fondness for Brian, this idea is not one that’s very defensible. In a dollars and sense world, there is a HUGE difference between $1 and $1000. If costing Brian Hibbs $1 makes Top Shelf $20K, then you need to just suck it up, man. The health of an ENTIRE INDUSTRY is the question here — put it the other way. Would Brian Hibbs donate $1 to keep Top Shelf, Cartoon Books or Fantagraphics alive?

Further down the thread devolves into what I can only characterize as retailer petulance and resentment. Hibbs gets a little whiny — “it ISN’T FAIR and ISN’T RIGHT” — and CBIA’s cantankerous Robert Scott warns:

Ultimately they don’t owe us anything but the reverse is true as well. If they don’t feel that the DM is an area that they need for their success, trust me, there are plenty of books out there for us to sell.


He follows this up with an epic yawp that’s a model of defensiveness and hostility. Eventually he gets banned for sending Johanna an email reading ““F*** you and your hyocritical ignorance.”

Leaving behind the steaming battleground for a moment, there’s this quiet little comment from
Matt Maxwell:

I should have something to say about this, since I’m a new publisher in a position to debate a book at Wonder-Con before the official street date. I don’t have the time to devote to commenting at the moment however. Hopefully this will change over the course of the weekend.


And there’s the rub. What SHOULD Matt Maxwell do, ComicsPRO? Diamond isn’t going to help one little man with a book on any significant level. Comic shops aren’t going to order an almost unknown self published western by a creator best known as being an intelligent blogger in numbers that are going to impress anyone. Maxwell’s only business strategy is to raise awareness of his book by the means available to him — internet postings, selling directly to fans at shows, media outreach and, yes, talking to retailers.

The sad thing is that no set mechanism exists for the latter. New publishers arriving on CBIA are inevitably met with suspicion and the equivalent of a “Are you now or have you ever been a publisher who might have sold a comic outside the direct market?” threshhold that just isn’t logical in today’s day and age.

ComicsPRO is a much, much needed organization whose input into all of these issues is vitally needed. However, this position paper is really just a hurt retort against a co-worker you’re stuck with. They can’t rail against Amazon, B&N, B&T, the internet, libraries, manga or anyone else, so they just lashed out at the nearest person. Solutions are needed but this is just a band-aid.
___________________________

Issue Presented
Direct Market retailers purchase their inventory under a non-returnable arrangement. With very few exceptions, Direct Market retailers are obligated to pay for the material they purchase from a wholesaler, regardless of their ability to ultimately sell that material. This non-returnable arrangement is one of the cornerstones of the current distribution system.

Some Direct Market-oriented publishers gain a significant portion of their sales from direct-to-consumer sales at conventions and other fan-driven gatherings. ComicsPRO acknowledges that publishers should have access to as many revenue streams as possible in order to become and remain profitable. ComicsPRO asserts that direct-to-consumer sales of material prior to their release to retailers adversely affects potential sales in Direct Market stores belonging to our membership. When customers have already purchased products directly from a publisher before the retail channel is even able to stock these items, the cash flow and bottom lines of Direct Market retailers are noticeably impacted.

Market Efficiency
In order for a market to function efficiently, all market participants should have equivalent access to the goods offered. If one or more participants has early access to market offerings, all other participants in that market are affected, whether through realization of full sales potential, or from less tangible concerns including reduced consumer confidence in a product line or a manufacturer.

Convention Sales
Conventions, even regional ones, will have national sales impacts. East Coast-based customers frequently travel to West Coast conventions (and vice-versa). It should not be assumed that sales impacts are limited to the region where the event is hosted.

Request for Action
ComicsPRO requests that publishers refrain from selling direct-to-consumers in any manner until the same product is received and available for sale by all members involved in Direct Market retailing.

  1. Jeez, if I recalled every time I’ve been to a comics store that wasn’t open during its posted times, I’d have no room in my brain for my own phone number.

  2. Perhaps I’m revealing my ignorance of the comics industry as a business, but why is this the publishers’ responsibility again? If people are going to a different venue (conventions) to get certain books earlier than they can get them in stores, why can’t the stores respond by giving customers a good reason to forgo being the first kid on the block to own [insert 2008’s art comics darling here]? There’s a trade-off involved in the convention thing (“I get it early, and maybe signed by the creator, but I have to kill a weekend traveling out-of-state to do it”). What’s the trade-off for buying in in stores? “I get it later than the people who go to San Diego, but …” Why can’t retailers do something to finish that sentence?

  3. To be honest, there is no easy answer for anyone. The thing that everyone is overlooking is the fact that they need each other to survive. Everyone can point all the fingers they want but the truth is no two indy companies do things the same way AND no two LCSs run the same way.

    I am tired of seeing the barbs thrown between these two parties. Both sides need to suck it up and act like adults and stop stereotyping.

  4. “If costing Brian Hibbs $1 makes Top Shelf $20K, then you need to just suck it up, man. The health of an ENTIRE INDUSTRY is the question here — put it the other way. Would Brian Hibbs donate $1 to keep Top Shelf, Cartoon Books or Fantagraphics alive?”

    This is what I keep coming back to in my head as I think about this, and I’m glad Heidi mentioned it. I have an easier time understanding retailer anger when B&N or Amazon gets certain DCU and Marvel high-ticket books early, but the examples being brought into this debate are smaller publishers or self-publishers trying not to lose their investment. Reminds me in a way of PBS, who is perceived as having cultural value enough to be subsidized to continue doing what they do for the public good. Not that a Top Shelf or Self Publisher X should expect a handout, but can’t we just let them make this extra scratch if it helps keep the industry that much more vibrant and diverse? Can retailers miss out on selling their lost 1.7% of BLANKETS or whatever in exchange for the rest of the Top Shelf catalog past and future?

    (this thinking is why I spent a couple hundred bucks in that fund raising sale Top Shelf had, and I don’t think my LCS minded in that case that they sold to me direct and at such a discount)

    That’s the passionate creator in me talking, of course. The retailer point of view (the calm, rational ones anyway) is something I understand and if the magic fix is just a warning in solicitations… if that is possible, and if that makes everyone happy on both sides and everyone plays fair and there’s no blowback or creator punishment, then cool.

    bri

  5. But Heidi I like B&T, the internet, libraries, and manga, Borders and Amazon are competitors but so are NBC and the local movie palace for my customers time and money.

    Some publishers will make an accommodation and some will not, such is life.

    Oh and Matt Maxwell, if you want your new book in my booths as well as at your table come look me up at WonderCon, booths 909-917.

  6. If we were to switch this to the music industry, everything would become a whole lot clearer.

    How dare you sell merch at a show? Goddamn it, 50% of that money belongs to US by right!

    Well, no it doesn’t.

    All of the money belongs to the creators by right. Your LCS is just another customer. An important customer who buys lots of copies. Then again, a customer who gets a 50% discount for buying lots of copies.

    People buy comics at a show. They just do. It’s a trade show, for goodness’ sake! Does Radio Shack have a fit if you buy your doodad at CES?

    And now we’ve seen retailers lash out at publishers for putting books out in the format that customers want, and lash out at creators for having their own point of purchase. It seems to me that the issue here is not so much that either the publishers or the creators are in any way wrong, but that brick and mortar stores are on the way out.

    I suspect that exagerrated claims of numbers dropping on wait-for-the-traders have a lot more to do with that 30% discount you can get from Amazon (plus tax free!), and the fact that (unlike the single issues of the past) books depreciate in value, so you can get them used for less. So that copy of Lost Girls comes in at 40 bucks if you DON’T go to the LCS. Sales at shows, for the sake of the signature, are the least of everyone’s worries.

    LCS’s have been in a seller’s market for a long time. But that’s over now, and there’s not much point in moaning about it.

  7. Actually, it’s not really true that Indy publishers and LCSes (or the Direct Market, for that matter) need each other to survive. There are plenty of dinky DC & Marvel only stores, and there are plenty of examples of Non-DC & Marvel publishers who sell the bulk of their material outside of the Direct Market (Manga, for example, as noted in Heidi’s post)…

    The truth is Comics are books and periodicals. Books and periodicals are sold successfully in a multitude of venues. If a publisher selling several hundred copies of a book or periodical directly to customers at a convention is such a huge blow to the Direct Market that the financial viability of an LCS is at risk, then the Direct market is all but dead already.

    People will not simply stop reading comics if the Direct market, or the LCS goes away. There would be a transitional period of difficulty for publishers who rely predominantly on the Direct market for their sales right now (I’d say we’re in that period already), but there are other markets out there for these books (convention sales, online sales, bookstore and other retail venue sales), and a publishing house being run as a business will sell through them.

    I remember when there used to be Science Fiction bookstores. If you were in any decent sized city you could find one. They sold one or two genres of fiction. These same books could be got at other bookstores. The value these places had at the time was as sort of curated collections… the owners, as aficionados of the genres, were able to connect you with related books that you might not otherwise have heard of, and have it all there easily browseable. They still died because B&N and Borders have genre sections as big as the whole independent store used to be, and the curated collection feature was more easily and widely implemented on the internet (Amazon). Now only the rare, lovingly tended, unique business (like San Diego’s Mysterious Galaxy) survives.

    LCSes are going the same way. A few excelent ones, lovingly tended, will survive as specialty shops, but the books will go out under multiple distribution channels. It is just not in a publisher’s best interest as a business to do charity work for the Direct Market.

    It’s up to the LCS to figure out how to sell things to people, just like B&N and Amazon (and Indy Publishers at conventions) have.

  8. And Rory said:

    “But Heidi I like B&T, the internet, libraries, and manga, Borders and Amazon are competitors but so are NBC and the local movie palace for my customers time and money.

    Some publishers will make an accommodation and some will not, such is life.

    Oh and Matt Maxwell, if you want your new book in my booths as well as at your table come look me up at WonderCon, booths 909-917. ”

    That’s the way to do it!

  9. I say Matt Maxwell should his debut his book how he pleases. I think Johanna made a good point in this debate: “Retailers are asking publishers to lose money without any demonstrated benefit for them afterwards, which isn’t likely to achieve the desired change.” If Matt thinks he’ll get more interested eyes on his book by debuting it at WonderCon before its street date than he would if he did not, then that’s obviously the better choice to make.

    SLG regularly debuts books at conventions, especially at San Diego, but no one seems to notice much, which is fine with me. We’re not a big player in this debate–the retailers seem to cite Fantagraphics and Top Shelf–and I really can see both sides of the issue. In any case, I really take pride in trying to connect with our readers directly, and having something special for those readers who take the time and money to go to conventions and visit our booth is part of that. A lot of the time, we’ll try to schedule a book to be in stores the Wednesday before the convention, but if things go awry at the printer or with Diamond’s distribution (or with getting material on time), should we not do what is best for us and our artists? I wouldn’t want to sit on a book that we can get into our readers’ hands.

    Brian Hibbs wrote something in response to Tom Spurgeon that I found a little chilling (only a little — we’re not talking about serial murder or anything): “I don’t want any retailer, anywhere, to lose even $1 if it is for a reason that is outside of their own control, and fully preventable by the actions of another.”

    So should publishers then lose money and good will with their readers based on a hypothetical lost dollar? And why should ComicsPro base their strategies on controlling the actions of others? It’s tough to be an indie publisher, and part of mitigating that toughness is using our position as publisher to our advantage. That means we sometimes have to use our ability to sell books before retailers do.

    Before he got banned at Johanna’s blog, in response to her questioning if he was asking publishers to lose money at conventions if pre-sales are part of what helps them break even, Robert Scott wrote, “No it would mean they would need to evolve their con sales plans.” Why is the onus on publishers to change? Is our ability to continue to be present at conventions less important than a hypothetical lost dollar? I understand that pre-selling at conventions has the potential to affect those retailers who most support us, but sometimes we have to do what is best for ourselves, our artists and our readers.

    I’m really hesitant to post on this since emotions run so high. Everyone wants to do well for themselves is what it all boils down to, and you can’t ask someone to hurt themselves so that you can do better and expect it to work, as Johanna pointed out.

  10. A lot of the strongest objections to pre-release sales at cons would be eased by publishers announcing which books they’re going to be doing this. Not only does this have some ethical reasons — really, what retailers are buying when the preorder books is a chance to fulfill perceived demand, and the pre-release sales can be taking some of that demand – but it’s also of practical benefit to the publisher. When retailers see Publisher X debuting several books at cons each year, they can start assuming that every book will get that sort of pre-release sale, and adjust all their Publisher X preorders downward in reaction. If they know that only book A will have such sales, then they won’t have that reason to reduce preorders of books B and C.

  11. Exhibit A Press is a publisher that has sometimes been taken to task by retailers for having a new issue of Supernatural Law or Mavis out at a convention before it is out in stores. Over the course of the last 14 years, we’ve done that three or four times. We are not talking high-ticket books here–we are talking comics that retailed at $2.95 or $3.50. What typically happens is that the printer can get books to us in time for the convention but that it takes longer to go through the Diamond system, so they arrive in the stores the following week.

    Typically, we sell about 60 copies of a new issue at a show. Of those, the great majority go to either people who are completely new to the title and want to try it out (and who, if they like it, will most likely follow up with their local store to seek out the books or back issues), or people who say, “What’s new since last year?” since their local shop doesn’t carry any of our books.

    Otherwise, the typical conversation with regular fans is, “Is this a new issue?” “Yes, it just came out.” “Oh, then I’ll expect it to be in my in-box when I get back home.” The fact is, if they know they can get it at their store, they can use their “con money” to buy stuff they know their store won’t have.

    It’s possible that we might sell a handful of copies to folks who want to get the issue at the show so they can get Batton to sign it. (and thus won’t pick it up at their LCS) But I don’t see how that translates into affecting a couple of dollars of sales in two or three shops in the entire U.S. I have nevertheless been told bya retailer that I’m “taking food out my children’s mouths” by selling a new comic at San Diego.

    For us, the benefits of debuting a book at a con are: (1) bringing people to the booth and letting people know that Supernatural Law is still in print; (2) getting new readers for the series who will want go back and read the earlier issues; and (3) getting the financial benefit of charging full cover price (as opposed to 40% of the cover price through Diamond) to help offset the costs of attending the convention.

    Again, we’ve only done this three or four times over a 14-year publishing history, and only because of very tight schedules, yet many retailers have Exhibit A on their list of “offenders.” I have never been given any concrete evidence that any store did indeed loose a sale in any of these instances. If a retailer can speculate that he or she did, then I can just as easily speculate that the retailer actually sold more copies as the result of someone having bought a copy of the new issue at a show.

  12. Rory – Believe it or not, I was going to do just that. You’re at the top of the list for retailer visitation when I hit the bay area. Of course, Berkeley is first on the way in from the foothills…

  13. Publishers need to be more creative. More creative in what they sell at the cons, more creative in the ways they market, they should try new things. Comic book retailers have been experimenting with gorilla marketing for years, trying to find different ways to get new people into stores to buy different things. It’s time publishers take the cue.

    Why? Because the publishers doing the pre-sales are publishers that seem to need direct market sales. They are not top 10 sales publishers. They are often publishers who already cannot deliver products on-time, and often their cover prices are higher than works by larger publishers. Most get little to no media attention, ever, even during the conventions. They might find that they sell MORE and do better long-term if they work WITH the direct market and not against it.

  14. Sounds to me like retailers are going to have to start thinking of their hobby as a real business and begin reading issues of ENTREPRENEUR and BUSINESS 2.0 magazine.

    ComicsPRO would do well to hire a business consultant to come in and give some seminars on business strategies and tactics which could be applied to the comics direct market.

    Dear God, what are you guys going to do when it all goes digital and people don’t come into the store every Wednesday, but stay at home and download?

    Start working on that or seriously, close up shop now.

    I am THAT Bill Cunningham.

  15. I’m not in the industry, just an average comic collector that goes to San Diego and maybe one other con per year. I firmly believe the situation is much closer to what Jackie Estrada states above … when I go to a con, I’m looking for comics that either I wouldn’t find at my local comics store (like some old, half-priced GNs) or a book that can be signed by its author. Even though I only buy a few comics a month, I have a great loyalty to my local comics store (Zeus in Dallas) and would rather wait and buy from them then from Amazon, BN, or even a con, if possible. I think if stores foster that type of relationship they’ll be rewarded no matter who sells what at the cons. In addition, even if you sell 100 copies of BONE at a con, I’m sure many more copies have been sold via amazon (instead of local comic shops), even AFTER it was released to all markets. But again I’m no expert on the economics and sales patterns of comics, so I could be missing the point.

  16. Ha! Two Bill Cunninghams in one comment thread has got to be a violation of some quantum dimensional condition.

    The Original Bill Cunningham Said:
    “Dear God, what are you guys going to do when it all goes digital and people don’t come into the store every Wednesday, but stay at home and download?”

    This Wednesday thing has long been my major problem with the LCS/Direct Market arrangement. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve gone in a shop (good shops too – not guy-holes!) on a Saturday (My day off – as it is the day off of many in the Western World) to pick up a new book (not just periodicals, even trades!) and found them sold out. Sold out on Wednesday night.

    One can’t simply hear about an interesting new book and wander into an LCS to pick it up – usually, if it has enough buzz to have bean heard about in the first place, it’s sold out on Wednesday night. The only people who got one are the ones who pre-ordered from a catalog months in advance (what other retail outlet more or less REQUIRES you to CATALOG order, and then physically come into the store months later to retrieve your catalog orders???), or who were lucky enough to snag the one or two extras the LCS ordered (or maybe one that someone abandoned after having bought a pre-sale at a con where the buzz that caused me to hear about the book in the first place and walk in there looking for one was generated).

    This exact scenario has happened to me several times. I don’t pre-order comics from Previews, I don’t pounce on my LCSes on Wednesday night, I don’t have the time or energy to make this source of casual entertainment a part-time hobby like I did when I was 14.

    The problem here I think is likely to be the Non-Returnableness of these books to the DM LCS. They have to keep what they’ve bought, so they are only inclined to buy what they know they can move, and they do that by selling primarily through pre-orders, which basically shuts out the casual reader.

    I collected comics avidly as a kid, and so will go back a couple of times to get something I’ve heard about if it isn’t on the shelf the first time. How many casual readers, not devoted to comics as a medium but just interested in reading something like Persepolis or American Splendor that they might have heard about, will do the same.

    Personally, I think more sales are lost through it being more-or-less understood that the LCS is not likely to have the book you want when you want it, than are lost through pre-sales at conventions to committed fans.

    The problem here is to go after the no-returns policy, so LCS retailers can stock more of new books at their debut with less risk, so the buzz generated by publisher promotions can actually translate into increased sales instead of disappointed customers who didn’t realize they should have known about a book several months before it was widely advertised.

  17. That’s the slogan – “Two Bill Cunningham’s. No waiting.”

    Okay, let me ask this question:

    What does the book publishing industry do about this situation? There are bookseller, mystery and scifi conventions and trade shows all over the planet. Do traditional bookstores get upset if an author/publisher debuts a book at a show before they get it at their stores?

    I suspect not, but am willing to listen to specific examples or policy decisions that prove otherwise.

  18. I think that publishers need to give a fair warning to retailers if they plan to compete with them at shows. Sure, the retailers will cut orders (some just on general principle) but the publishers will easily make that up in direct sales at the con.

    The digital thing is more tricky. In eight weeks, Lone Star Press has given out almost 5,000 legal downloadable .pdfs that are supported with ads. I look at them as subsidized brochures for the collections. But I am sure that retailers would look at it as food out of their mouths.

    Bill

  19. As Kyle Baker’s spouse, I agree with everything Jackie Estrada says above.

    I am presently chasing ankle-biters and only skimmed above but…

    With the high cost of travel to San Diego from NYC, I don’t think any retailer could blame us if we debut a book at SDCC. Am I wrong?

  20. Could we please refrain from referring to “retailers” as if all comic shops are one big hive-mind mass?

    Please?

  21. Bill Cunningham asked (in post 21),

    “What does the book publishing industry do about this situation? There are bookseller, mystery and scifi conventions and trade shows all over the planet. Do traditional bookstores get upset if an author/publisher debuts a book at a show before they get it at their stores?”

    Well, the returnable nature of the book publishing channel kinda eliminate this as a factor. If book trade retailers are negatively effected by con debuts (say at the ABA or whatnot), they return the titles in question to the publisher for credit. While it would be difficult for the publisher to know exactly why title “X” was being returned, they would be the ones footing the bill. Book trade retailers have more flexibility from this point of view.

    I ran a bookstore here in Ottawa, Ontario for a number of years and never had any issues with this. Returnability is the key thing. Diamond Distribution operates on a non-returnable basis and that’s part of the reason Direct Market retailers are up in arms.

  22. “What does the book publishing industry do about this situation? There are bookseller, mystery and scifi conventions and trade shows all over the planet. Do traditional bookstores get upset if an author/publisher debuts a book at a show before they get it at their stores?”

    Short answer, yes. If an author/publisher sells a book at a show before that book is available at bookstores, the bookstores get upset.

    Slightly longer answer: In general, a book publisher (or distributor) establishes a full release schedule for the books it publishes, which includes on-sale street dates denoting the date on which the book is to be put on sale to the public. (In that regard, the book publishing industry isn’t that much different from music or DVDs or toys or lots of other consumer products.) The terms by which the publisher/distributor sells its books generally mandate that the retailer respect the announced on-sale date, and that the publisher will do so as well.

    Realistically, large publishers have more ability to set precise on-sale date than small/mid-sized ones. (For example, now working for an imprint of Random House, I can say with reasonable assurance that DARK WRAITH OF SHANNARA, Del Rey’s upcoming graphic novel based on Terry Brooks best-selling fantasy world will be on sale on March 25, 2008. At previous positions at somewhat smaller publishers, I’d likely only be able to say with equal assurance “such-and-such book will be on sale in April 2008.” But, with shameless shilling, I digress…)

    Also realistically, on-sale dates are occasionally broken, either willfully or accidentally, boldly or tacitly. And, perhaps most worth noting, the book publishing industry is, generally, a returnable market, very unlike the non-returnability that defines much of the comic book direct sales market. Although nobody likes making or taking returns, the fact that returns are permissible in the book market makes situations like this a little less painful on those occasions where they do arise.

    There are, of course, loads of nuance to how different publishers do what they do for different books. But if you’re asking how on-sale dates are handled in the book publishing industry, there’s a very basic picture.

    –ATK

  23. Being a new publisher, I have to look out for numbero uno: my company and my books. And I think this is how every publisher feels about their company and books.

    I can see why publishers like Top Shelf, Fantagraphics, and the others cited in this debate have done what they have in regards to making their books available before retailers. They are almost guaranteed sales of their debut books they offer at the shows whereas that guarantee might not necessarily be there when offered to retailers.

    I want to work with comic shop retailers to help sell my company’s books. But I think a lot of them have to realize that us indy publishers are running a business as well. And that may mean some us will sell our books before they are available at comic shops.

    I just hope they don’t come out with a similar stance regarding indy publishers making their comic / graphic novel available for free online in order to build an audience for the material, saying giving it away for free will take away potential sales- if they carried said comic / graphic novel, that is.

    Wesley Craig Green

  24. Bill Cunningham:
    >> What does the book publishing industry do about this situation? There are bookseller, mystery and scifi conventions and trade shows all over the planet. Do traditional bookstores get upset if an author/publisher debuts a book at a show before they get it at their stores? >>

    Depends. At ABA, a trade show, they’ll give hundreds and hundreds of copies of things away for free, before they come out, and no one will kick. If publishers sold advance copies at a convention, booksellers would indeed kick.

    Liz Glass:
    >> With the high cost of travel to San Diego from NYC, I don’t think any retailer could blame us if we debut a book at SDCC. Am I wrong? >>

    Yes. The ComicsPro position paper is doing exactly that. Many retailers agree with them, many others think that you’re entitled to sell at the show — but only if you’ve told them ahead of time that it’ll happen, so they don’t order non-returnable copies and then have you undercut their market before they get a crack at it.

    Wesley Green:
    >> I just hope they don’t come out with a similar stance regarding indy publishers making their comic / graphic novel available for free online in order to build an audience for the material, saying giving it away for free will take away potential sales- if they carried said comic / graphic novel, that is.>>

    If you make them order it non-returnably before telling them it’ll be distributed online for free, then yes, they’ll take a similar stance — see the recent flap about Boom Studios’ NORTH WIND #1, which was solicited normally, and only after orders on the first three issues were in was it announced that the book would be posted free on MySpace.

    The recurrent key in all this is that retailers (in general, at least) do not want you to change the ground rules, in a way that they think will affect them negatively, after they’ve made their orders. If the new situation means they would have ordered less, they are now stuck with copies they feel they may not be able to sell, because they were misinformed at solicitation.

    kdb

  25. How many comicbook stores host a single book signing a year? How many stores sell signed copies purchased at conventions? How many stores schedule events right before or right after a regional con?
    As a bookstore employee, I’m happy to host any publisher who is snubbed by a comicbook store, if I feel that the book will appeal to a wide audience.
    As a fan, I do not lug books to cons. I purchase books there, from publishers AND dealers AND creators. Does Barnes & Noble worry when I buy something cheaper from Tales Of Wonder, eBay, Amazon UK? No, because they know I’ll continue to buy from them because of service, discounts, and variety.
    One could calculate that comics shops are also against libraries, since they too take money from the cash register (free books!). Or do libraries encourage sales because a fan can’t wait for the library to catalog the next volume, so the fan buys it instead?

  26. And finally, in this day and age, why aren’t comics shops ordering returnable product, ESPECIALLY on small press titles which are more risky? Prove the sales, then shift the reorder to Diamond with a better discount.
    And publishers, how about rewarding the early risk takers by shiping them signed copies in the Diamond shipment at no extra charge?

  27. Torsten asks:
    “And finally, in this day and age, why aren’t comics shops ordering returnable product, ESPECIALLY on small press titles which are more risky? Prove the sales, then shift the reorder to Diamond with a better discount.”

    Because they don’t want to give up margin and even if that wasn’t a concern, many books aren’t available through returnable sources. It may also be difficult to justify creating extra work by having to do multiple orders, process and pay to ship returns and track credits all for the opportunity to earn less per book.

    There is also the possibility that a smaller store trying to expand their offerings would not meet minimum orders for other distributors and the reduction in orders through Diamond could also reduce their Diamond discounts.

    Finally, ordering returnable still ties up inventory dollars on those books wating to be returned, so even if it mitigates some of the damage, announcing pre-sales plans would be a far better solution unless publishers were doing this on purpose to eat their cake and have it too.

  28. “Publishers need to be more creative.”

    Yes, because the publishers of the comics we’re talking about here — Fantagraphics, Top Shelf, Drawn and Quarterly and the like — just aren’t creative enough. In fact, if they weren’t so content to rest on their laurels and never try new innovations and paradigms, I might actually give their publications a look. Until then, I will have to rely on the comic book stores of the direct market, where creativity and innovation fly around like a parakeet on crack.

  29. So this is what all the e-mails are about, eh?
    Heidi says:
    “and CBIA’s cantankerous Robert Scott ”

    Woohoo! Thanks Heidi, I’m thinking of putting that on my business cards!

    and

    “He follows this up with an epic yawp that’s a model of defensiveness and hostility.”

    Thanks for the link, not sure what yawp means but I think folks can judge the message pretty easily once they read it, not sure where you see defensiveness or hostility though.

    “Eventually he gets banned for sending Johanna an email reading ““F*** you and your hypocritical ignorance.”

    Here though I will get a little defensive. I didn’t “send” her an e-mail, I responded to an e-mail where she chided me for being dismissive on the heels of telling me that my post reminded her of crying children fighting over a cookie.

    It was a cathartic response, privately made not posted to the forum or for public consumption out of respect for the participants if not Johanna herself.

    Also in case you or your readers weren’t aware, the CBIA and ComicsPro, despite overlapping membership, are completely separate entities and in addition to commentary here and elsewhere, I have also made it known to ComcisPro thatwhile I wholly agree with the idea behind the position paper in question, I was disappointed in the execution of the paper including the lack of possible solutions proffered.

  30. JdG said:
    Before he got banned at Johanna’s blog, in response to her questioning if he was asking publishers to lose money at conventions if pre-sales are part of what helps them break even, Robert Scott wrote, “No it would mean they would need to evolve their con sales plans.” Why is the onus on publishers to change?

    Well, since you asked…

    Because you (publishers) are the ones engaging in pre-selling. But because this is something I believe needs to be discussed, do you have a suggestion how retailers could change, that would not leave us to continue bearing the cost of of losing book sales to publishers who take their cut before allowing us ours?

    For the record I have loads of suggestions that I think would be extremely beneficial to both publishers and retailers. Some that I;ve shared in the CBIA, some at comickaze.blogspot.com and some which I have yet to share.

    Is our ability to continue to be present at conventions less important than a hypothetical lost dollar? I understand that pre-selling at conventions has the potential to affect those retailers who most support us, but sometimes we have to do what is best for ourselves, our artists and our readers.

    I guess what it comes down to is motivations and goals. While it seems selling more comics is a goal retailers and publishers share, it’s becoming clear that neither party really see the other as means of reaching that end, which is sad.

  31. Okay, I haven’t read every comment, so someone has probably already said this, but this is a ridiculous position. Publishers should stop marketing at sales conventions? Then they should stop selling online? Then at general bookstores? I know the position doesn’t go that far, but where does it logically stop? Conventions predate direct market sales. I am sure any impact they have has been amsorbed into sales long ago.

  32. Back in the day, I was keen on doing promotional things like overships and returmable product, but Diamond was not. Their system is a one way street and that is TO the stores. Diamond is not interested in seeing books come back. It is too bad that they give the worst discounts on the books by the smallest publishers.

    Bill

  33. Dave: Very important difference here. ComicsPRO wants publishers to stop selling books at cons BEFORE THEY ARE AVAILABLE IN THE DIRECT MARKET. Big difference from not selling at cons period.

    Everyone posting here should be aware of that difference.

  34. A question I’m interested in hearing the answer for:

    Would it be a huge negative to publishers to bump up their release dates for these books to a week or two prior to the conventions they hope to sell direct at?

    That way, they’re not putting their retail partners at a competitive disadvantage. I don’t think that publishers would see a huge loss at the convention or at advance orders from retailers, as the ones that stock smaller publisher product normally don’t seem to be the ones that will be so concerned that the convention push of the book happens after the product is at their store for a week or two.

  35. There are very few graphic novel publishers who are not available to the book trade. Most small press lines are handled by Diamond Book Distributors. The big boys, like Top Shelf, Fantagraphics, all have professional distribution.
    Remember when dealers complained about too many comics distributors? They got what they wished for. My points are these: specialty and independent bookstores stay in business on booktrade margins. Comics shops need to work harder to survive. Publishers should communicate better with stores. Customers who attend cons are your best customers, as they will travel great distances for their passion, spend money more freely and on more costly items, and evangelize for your store and the medium. AND they will return, like Marco Polo, having seen many wondrous treasures, and ask you to import said treasures on a periodical basis, creating new revenue streams.
    Store owners can complain all they want, but the smart ones will create solutions and work-arounds.

  36. “The fact is, if they know they can get it at their store, they can use their “con money” to buy stuff they know their store won’t have.”

    Exactly. When I fly all the way to San Diego across an international border with a duty-free limit and baggage weight limit, I’m not going to spend my money on books that I can get back home even if they are a week early.

    Someone (didn’t track who in all these comments) mentioned going to the LCS on Saturday and finding the book they wanted had sold out on Wednesday. One of the things that keeps me loyal to my LCS is that the guys there know me, know what I like and often order titles they think I might be interested in and throw them in my file… but I’m not obligated to buy them. How can you not be loyal to service like that? It’s no wonder that they have more business than they can handle at the moment.

  37. ““The fact is, if they know they can get it at their store, they can use their “con money” to buy stuff they know their store won’t have.”

    Exactly. When I fly all the way to San Diego across an international border with a duty-free limit and baggage weight limit, I’m not going to spend my money on books that I can get back home even if they are a week early.”

    Doesn’t this ignore the “buy it early AND GET IT SIGNED” aspect? Pretty sure your local shop won’t have a huge chance at getting Jeff Smith to do a signing anytime soon.

  38. “Would it be a huge negative to publishers to bump up their release dates for these books to a week or two prior to the conventions they hope to sell direct at?”

    I don’t know much about the business but from what I hear, certainly around San Diego Comic Con, the printers get backed up and ship dates get all out of whack. Everyone wants to have their book ready for Comic Con. I got the first volume of Flight from their booth at SDCC when it finally arrived from the printer, way overdue, on Saturday, still smelling of fresh ink. I have no idea when it was supposed to ship through Diamond. At the time I had only been reading comics for three months, so I had no idea what Diamond was and I bought my books through Amazon because comic shops were intimidating to me at the time.

    For those who know I have this question: why is it that a publisher will post a release date for a book, Diamond ships it on that date… but Amazon is shipping it a week earlier?

  39. “Doesn’t this ignore the “buy it early AND GET IT SIGNED” aspect? Pretty sure your local shop won’t have a huge chance at getting Jeff Smith to do a signing anytime soon.”

    No. I can’t think of too many opportunities that I’ve had to get a book early AND get it signed. In fact, the Flight volume that I just mentioned might be the only time that’s happened. I bought Blankets and got it signed by Craig Thompson after it had already been out for months _and I already owned a copy_ (I wasn’t going to haul my copy all the way down to San Diego). I gave the unsigned one away.

  40. I dunno. This seems odd to me, because even though the size of the con is pretty big, I can’t imagine that such a great size of the general public will be getting their book there. Just seems like another slice of the pie, with Bone being a special example (as Bone is a special book with a special tour). The retailers are still the main place to get them after the con, and all throughout the book’s publishing.

  41. I haven’t read all 47 posts on here, so please forgive me if this has already been said. As a small press guy using print-on-demand (and that has issues all of it’s own, no pun intended) I probably won’t be seeing my book in to many retail stores any time soon, but I’d still like to offer this little bit of help. If you are a retailer, and you see me with a table at a con., give me a card. One of the things I always ask people when they’re looking at my book is, “where are you from?” I think it’s good for everyone if I can tell them where there’s a comic book store near them. Weather you intend to carry my book or not, (or available to you or not) I can tell them to keep an eye out for it, and, “oh by the way to you know that this comic shop is right by where you live?” Then at least their in there for you to open up a whole new world for them. Speaking first hand, I can say that every sale that I make at my tables, counts. I lose money most of the time, so what ever I can do to bring back a little dosh to show to my very understanding wife, I will, but that doesn’t mean I can’t still help to send business your way. I’m sure that if we’re all willing to listen to each other, we can find a way to make all parties profit.

    “No, thanks. I already got that from Freddy Freelancer at the Mighty Mini Con, and he threw in a free blow job, too!

    …but not that.

  42. Its after midnight and the weekend is over, so technically I shouldn’t be saying a thing, but Torsten calls to me, calllllls!

    “And finally, in this day and age, why aren’t comics shops ordering returnable product, ESPECIALLY on small press titles which are more risky? Prove the sales, then shift the reorder to Diamond with a better discount.”

    Like Robert said, many many books aren’t available through returnable sources (Here’s a salient example that I can’t seem to find in stock anywhere: Jason Shiga’s BOOKHUNTER), and for the single-store owner, there’s a limit on the number of sources one can reasonably juggle for reasons of volume-minimum and shipping charges eating into minimums.

    Multi-store chains have a very different reality than single-store proprietors, and it’s important to keep that in mind.

    “Remember when dealers complained about too many comics distributors?”

    I don’t know a single retailer, except maybe possibly Steve Higgins, who would prefer a single distributor. We all want competetive choices to purchase from.

    “Store owners can complain all they want, but the smart ones will create solutions and work-arounds.”

    We can’t do BOTH?

    -B

  43. Robert Scott said: “I didn’t “send” her an e-mail, I responded to an e-mail…”

    How do you respond to an email without sending an email? Smoke signals?

  44. No one will argue the fact that indy publishers must go to cons to promote their titles. They have to pay for the booth, travel, shipping, hotel, food, etc plus the opportunity cost of working the show itself.

    If you are publishing spandex-free comics, you will not turn a profit if you depend on the direct market. Comics/GNs for kids, minorities, women etc are generally not supported by American comic book stores.

    Fans buy directly from the creator/publisher at cons to meet them and get the book signed. If the comic/GN is a quality product, it will help comic shops via word-of-mouth sales. If the comic/GN is poor quality it’s a null issue. Banning creators who successfully pre-sell quality products at a given con is bad business.

    If a newly-debuted book sold well at a recent con, comic book stores can use this fact to market the given book to their customers.

    Asking publishers/creators to not make money – to deny market forces – marks the beginning of the end of the direct market as we currently know it. Evolve or die, as they say.

  45. It seems to me that if a book has such small annual sales that pre-release sales at a convention can significantly impact it’s retail demand then the overall demand for that book is pretty insignificant. I mean, if the book is that close to being unprofitable for the retailer then why not focus on the profitable ones?
    I really wish someone had any kind of data showing the effects of pre-release sales.

    Publisher presence at conventions is going to boost overall demand at comic shops and the publishers have to incur some costs for attending those conventions. Why not allow them some chance to profit from it as well?

    This is a non-issue in traditional book publishing. In fact many of our printing schedules are based around events designed for pre-release sales. Rather than pressuring publishers to stop marketing their products at shows the retailers should be working with distributors to create a workable returns policy that removes some of the risk.

  46. Really, with today’s direct market, it’s pretty unrealistic to criticize a publisher who wants to sell their freshest product at a convention. Signed books, variant cover editions, brand new books, whatever.

    How do I buy my books now? From my LCS, out of the newest Previews catalog, two months ahead, with nothing to go on but a hunch. My city’s 3 LCS carry NO indies. And they carry VERY little product on spec, mostly acting like a Sears Catalog centre, without the Sears return policy.

    This convention debate is largely irrelevant to me. I looked at attending NYCC this year, but it was going to cost my wife and I $3000 to fly there and stay in NYC for a few days. Unfortunately, that is out of my budget right now, so it’ll be back to the LCS for me, flipping through Previews again, ha ha.

  47. I agree with Jackie’s comments and Liz Glass. When I was self publishing, we had 6 people at that booth that needed rooms , airfare , meals and we had shipping expenses and so on. if we didn’t showcase the new book and make it for sale, we were dead in the water.

    JIMMY PALMIOTTI

  48. I think the most positive thing to come out of this by far is all the free press Matt Maxwell is getting. Matt, you should put a “as featured on The Beat!” sticker on your book when it comes out.

    There are so many imponderables in this weird argument that I’m having a hard time pinning down what I actually think, having just explained it to my officemate, who nearly fell asleep halfway through. Would this issue simply go away if publishers were to state “Will premiere at (x, y, z) before available through Diamond”? Because I can get behind that, although the idea of REQUIRING anything from anybody is more than a little repugnant to me.

    Also: why isn’t all of this Diamond’s fault? Aren’t they the de facto representative of the direct market on the publishing landscape? The direct market is for all intents and purposes a monopoly–if we accept that, okay, cool. But if we have all these problems being competitive, then isn’t that at least partly–or even mostly–the fault of Diamond? I guess that doesn’t have much to do with selling at conventions.

    Lastly, considering my triple heritage as retailer (Heroes Aren’t Hard To Find), con organizer (HeroesCon and its Indie Island), and enormous fan of comics, specifically indies, I have to say that this whole argument is only interesting as a purely intellectual exercise. A largely semantic one, at that. Let’s face it: Chris Staros and Gary Groth are not going to stop preselling books at conventions. Period. To even think that they are is to give in to sheerest folly. Because the fact that they do is what makes me and fans like me hunt them down at shows–I’m genuinely excited to see what’s on the Top Shelf table at a show, and we carry their whole line of books in our store. As I mentioned on Johanna’s blog, buying the Blankets hardcover at HeroesCon years ago from Top Shelf led directly to me making what for us was a wildly aggressive order for the softcover, which shipped months later from Diamond.

    Not to mention the growing portion of their bottom line that exists outside of the direct market entirely–how can retailers believe that our voices are becoming more important rather than less? And how can we, in debate of this issue that’s so obviously difficult to put into words–despite all these position papers and theses and stump speeches–allow ourselves to descend into these shrill excoriations?

    Dustin Harbin
    Creative Director
    Heroes Aren’t Hard To Find

  49. This industry is so screwed. Since when does a publisher give a flying leap what retailers think? That’s an entirely unhealthy business process.

  50. I believe this issue is something that should be looked at on a case-by-case basis. In my case, I’m a veteran (19 years) comic book writer, editor, promotional director, and manager of direct sales. I find myself in an unusual position since this past Friday: I am editing and trying to market a comic book that Diamond has rejected.

    Despite the resumes of the people involved, and work that we feel is professional, Diamond turned it down citing as their primary reason that the content of our series MECHA MANGA BIBLE HEROES (Old Testament bible stories drawn in manga style with their settings changed to a future world of robots, aliens and advanced technology) is too tough a sell in the direct market. Now, they are an independent, non-Christian company and they are certainly entitled to make such business decisions – we fully respect that and harbor no ill will toward them.

    Despite this, I know from my years of experience that there will still be some comic shops out there who want to stock this title, and comic shop customers who want to purchase it. Our positioning is that yes, our creative team are all Christians, but we’re talking about stories – for example, our leadoff issue’s DAVID VS. GOLIATH – stories that have been told in many cultures and religions – it goes beyond Christianity. Heck we feel that even atheists or agnostics who consider the bible mere myths like the Roman and Greek legends may enjoy our series.

    With Diamond out of the picture, the question for us now is how do we get it to direct sales comic shops in the first place, options of which we are currently exploring. Our backers wants to go ahead and print for our Christian bookstore customers since we are not set up with Diamond (they would have waited otherwise to coincide the Christian bookstore release with Diamond’s ship date), so we may have no choice but to actually have copies out and available before we can even get it into comic shops, including potential sales at conventions. It is just the situation we’re in without Diamond; so again, I would ask that each publisher’s specific situation be brought to light first before casting aspersions on anyone.

  51. I’m the owner of a mid-sized shop in Los Angeles county, CA. I don’t mind at all when indie people debut or sell their books before they’re available to us. The important thing, to me, is that those books get exposed out there.

    Jackie Estrada is right – my regular people know that when they come home, the books they’ve asked for will be in their reserve boxes. They can therefore use their “con money” for other stuff. If Jackie and Batton have the latest Mavis out on their table and can meet and talk to people and make the connections that create SUBSEQUENT SALES – YAAAAYYYY! I don’t care if I miss one issue sales – the personal connection they achieve by having the book on hand while they talk to fans, new and old, is invaluable in creating the next gen readers. Obviously, it hurts a tad when it’s a graphic novel rather than an issue of a comic series, but you know what? Indie people have to do what they have to do in order to get their books into the hands of readers. What are they to do when Diamond has rejected the book for whatever reason, or they don’t get enough shops interested to make Diamond’s minimum?

    Besides, mine is one of the only shops in driving distance that even bothers to carry ANY indie stuff, so it’s kind of baffling why other shop owners get so up in arms. I guess I can understand it when it’s DC or Marvel doing it – that does hurt us. But when the shops don’t carry their books for whatever reason, what can the indie guys do? They have to get their product out there in order to make their costs back plus any profit. I, for one, want to see indie books continue – I don’t want to be limited to the four big publishers. Comics need – and readers deserve – those infusions of ingenuity, quirkiness, cleverness, and fresh blood to keep coming in regular doses, and I support anything that supports them.

    There’s plenty of business out there for everyone – we just have to keep churning the water to get people interested. I don’t feel entitled to profit from ANYone else’s work, particularly when that creator has spent his OWN money and has no backing from a big company. I sympathize – that’s MY situation, too – no big backer. If I was a member of ComicsPRO – and there are many good reasons to join, I just haven’t at this point yet – I would have disagreed with this position as it relates to indies. Indie creators/publishers, this is one retail shop owner who blesses you for spending your time, money, and effort on producing original works, and is completely okay with you promoting it any way you see fit.

  52. Thanks for bringing up Diamond’s minimum order policy, Gail. I meant to bring that up as a valid reason that indy publishers would pursue outside sales. Say by issue 4 a series has fallen under the minimum, but the publisher knows there is still enough of a loyal readership to make it worth their while to keep publishing. They may even have an alternate retail stream (I used to publish a comic called “Totally Horses” that went into horse tack supply shops, and our new comic I mentioed a posting or two back will go into Christian bookstores) but still want to keep some direct sales business going. At the point of being dropped by Diamond, what atlernatives does a publisher have? Maybe they go with Cold Cut (and btw – does anyone know their current status – are they still in biz?) or B&T or sell direct to fans through the mail, at cons or otherwise… and maybe sell direct to comic shops, too.

    The key is, the “little guy” has to get the stuff out there somehow, and an often effective way is con sales. Personally, as someone who has worked for both huge publishers and “little guys” I’d love to see those sales sucessfully supplement comic shop sales as Jackie says, because at the end of the day, we’re all interested in the long-term health of the biz, and to a lesser degree, there is a certain validity that comes with your “comic book” being available at a “comic book shop,” to boot.

  53. I’ll ask, again, since I only received one response on the question from someone who expressed not having experience within the industry on this:

    Is it not possible for the publisher to have the book get to retailers a week or two before the con and then still sell the book at the convention?

    I’ve seen plenty of “we need to sell it at the convention to make some kinda money” responses, but I don’t know that I see anyone trying to find a compromise…just a lot of both sides being defensive.

  54. Kevin, the problem is taht bvooks ship at the very last minute. A publisher often gets ADVANCE copies or an ADVANCE shipment sent direct to the con fo a rush fee…but diamond and retaielrs cannot get the books.

    Better planning on EVERYONE’S part would alleviate this

  55. Being a long-time collector but neither a retailer or publisher, forgive my ignorance if this question comes across as misinformed but…

    …isn’t this really an argument about the practices of a very few indie publishers and a handful of reasonably high volume retailers? Looking at the monthly sales numbers from ICV2 and John Mayo, we have a situation where most indie books are selling very few copies per retailer. How many retailers are there in the U.S….2,000 or 3,000? Considering only four non Marvel/DC books made the Diamond Top 100 in December, we’re talking about most indie books selling TOPS three or four copies, on average, per store.

    …just a quick look at some of the indie books I read

    *** Atomic Robo sold 2,947 copies through Diamond in December
    *** Proof sold 2,990
    *** Pax Romana sold 5,282

    Isn’t that an indication that there are major problems with the way the direct market retailers and independent publishers collaborate? I would imagine virtually every LCS owner, in an honest moment, would admit that Marvel/DC aren’t putting out 96 of the 100 best comics month in, month out…yet that’s what the sales numbers indicate is happening in the direct channel.

    *** From a financial perspective (I’m an asset manager by trade so my mind always thinks this way), it’s also hard not to look at some of the independent creators “guilty” of this pre-selling practice and not note that they also happen to be the most successful ones. Jeff Smith has become a wealthy man with Bone largely because he calls his own shots. Terry Moore has a true franchise without an inordinate amount of help from the direct market. Dave Sim built a 30-year long niche empire, even though Cerebus sold de minimous levels at most LCS’s for years on end.

    From the outside, it seems like sour grapes and hostility for the sake of it. The real issue is the stranglehold that Diamond has on the direct market and the inability for retailers to return books they over-order. That’s fostered a systemic disconnect between indie publishers and the retailers who have almost no incentive to take chances on material from anyone that’s not a proven commodity.

  56. “Better planning on EVERYONE’S part would alleviate this”

    Yeah…I think that is the key. I think letting retailers know before final orders that you’re going to sell before street date prevents most legitimate criticism. Planning your project so the street date can be a week or two before your big convention eliminates the problem altogether.

    I couldn’t fault a publisher choosing either of those options. I think saying, “I gotta make money somehow,” as a publisher forgets that the same is true for the retailer and you need to be more open with information exchange with your partners.

  57. As someone with no dog in this fight, here’s my interpretation…

    I’m a typical consumer. I used to go every Wednesday to my local shop and pick up my stuff, often before it was out of the boxes even. If I wanted to buy a book, I would buy one copy. I bought one copy of the complete Bone, I bought one copy of Lost Girls, I bought one copy of Amazing Spider-Man number whatever, and so on. So if I were to buy that copy from the publisher at a con, then I would not buy it from my local shop. That’s true no matter what the time frame.

    Often books I buy from small publishers are NOT done as soon as they come out. In fact, that is my habit. The mainstream stuff, well I know what I like in that area so I’ll buy it the day that it’s released. The indie stuff, well that I’ve got no idea on so I need to flip through a preview copy, hear a friend’s review, maybe see some reviews online, etc. before I would ever buy it.

    So it doesn’t matter what time it is when I buy it at a con, that’s a purchase not made at Oxford Comics. That’s my interpretation of this. Now if all anybody needs is a head’s up “hey, I’m selling this thing at my booth” (which I would always assume is the case if *I* were running a competing business), then that sounds like the answer.

    Here’s the really interesting thing to me though: if I went to a con then there’s a large cost associated with it (gas, motel, food, maybe plane tickets, registration, etc. etc.), but if I pick up a copy of Blankets down the street next week, its going to cost me a flat $29.99. However, Amazon will ship it for free to my house (if I’m smart and don’t want it tomorrow) for $19.77, which they tell me right away is a 34% savings! THERE is your real problem. And that is why after going their routinely for over 14 years, I no longer buy from my local shop. If I want to rent a bootleg Captain America DVD, I’ll go there, but not for books. Oh, and I don’t buy pamphlets anymore at all.

    — Jonathan

  58. It’s easy to say, “Just plan better and make sure the books are in the stores before they’re at the con,” but it’s sometimes not so easy to do. On those occasions where one of our comics came out in stores after a convention, it was because of unforeseen factors, whether at our end (problems in trying to get the art, lettering, toning, etc. done on schedule), at the printer’s end (we use a U.S. printer that does indeed take off the Fourth of July holiday, which is right during the time when books need to get printed in time for July shipping AND San Diego), or at Diamond’s end, where getting the books one day later than expected from the printer means they won’t be in stores until a week later.

    For instance, because of the Martin Luther King holiday, our new issue–Mavis #5– will not be in comics stores until February 6 instead of January 30, even though we got the book to the printer early in January with the expectation of January publication, as promised in PREVIEWS.

    Jackie Estrada
    http://www.exhibitapress.com

  59. That’s very true, Jackie! It’s so hard to want to say things like this because I’m worried people will start saying I’m disorganized, incompetent or unprofessional. (I hate that people are casting insults at comic book store owners, by the way. ADD and the like, you can be seen as having the publishers’ perspective by proxy, and I just want to say the snide remarks about comic book stores do not reflect my attitude at all, nor do they really reflect the quality of ComicsPRO stores.) But, seriously — sometimes there are problems getting the art, sometimes there are problems at the printer, sometimes there are problems with Diamond’s shipping.

    I’m (and I’m speaking for me, not as a company spokesperson) all for letting retailers know if we’re going to have a book earlier than they will at a convention, but most of the time, when that happens, it’s not on purpose. For example, we might have Nightmares and Fairy Tales #22 at WonderCon next month before it is in stores. I had every intention, for the issue to be out the Wednesday before the convention, but there was some delay in toning, and the lettering is still being finished up as I type. It will be impossible for me to send it to the printer in time to be in stores before WonderCon. However, we might be able to have them for the convention, which the writer and artist (who is making a trip from Vancouver) are attending. My loyalties are to our artists and readers — should I tell them that, no, they can’t have this comic we are perfectly capable of offering for sale because retailers, who didn’t pre-order this comic in any great number anyway, might get mad at us?

    At the same time, is Brian Hibbs going to lose a sale of this issue because someone bought it at WonderCon? I hope not. But, at the same time, if there is a person or two buying Nightmares #22 there who might have otherwise bought it at Comix Experience, there might be ten people who wouldn’t have bought it at all, anywhere, if it hadn’t been at the convention. But everything is so highly speculative!

    Personally, I think retailers and publishers should ban together and blame Diamond. Their discount and returnabillity structure discourages retailers from trying new, untested titles. We can be united in that, surely?

  60. Absolutely spot on Heidi. I’ve been mulling this one over for the past couple of days, and you’ve pretty much nailed it.
    As a retailer in the UK, we don’t often get impacted by con-sales (although some of my customers do attend US cons), but even if we did on the same level that some of the ComicsPro retailers seem to be, we’re talking tiny amounts in the grand scheme of things.
    Virtually all of the books we’re talking about are quality books, so if the person you ordered it in for isn’t going to buy the book, sell it to someone else! Bone, Lost Girls and Blankets are all books that were widely under-ordered by the DM, and all sold out of their print-runs and were unavailable whilst reprints were underway, so don’t tell me that any of these people actually got stuck with unsellable product.
    It does smack of taking a shot at the little guy, when their are far larger concerns.
    Personally I’d be interested in a position paper on why DC were happy for Amazon US to sell copies of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier to the UK, whilst threatening any US retailer with legal action if they sold any copies to UK stores independently, something that cost the UK retailers at least 20-30 thousand pounds, at a conservative estimate.

  61. Just one point I’d like to make about the big-ticket items, like the Complete Bone or Lost Girls:

    Publishers put a significant investment into getting these massive books produced and printed. Printers aren’t going to sit around and wait until Diamond pays the publisher for the books before getting paid. At best, a printer expects half to two-thirds of full payment by the time the books come off the presses. Can you imagine what the printing bill must have been for either of those books? In addition, such books need to go to press long before Diamond orders come in, so the publisher has to make a “best guess” of how many to print. Printing too many means having a bigger than necessary printing and storage bill, while printing too few means ending up with allocations to retailers (which happened with Bone). I’m sure that the San Diego sales on both of those books were very badly needed in order to pay big bucks to the printer, so we’re not just talking about using advance sales to offset the basic con expenses (booth, airfare, hotel, etc.) here. And we’re also talking about being able to sell a significant number of copies at list price rather than at 60% (or more) off through Diamond.

  62. Just my two cents as an avid comics reader and a non industry insider (if that’s allowed), and excuse me if it’s been brought up already…

    As a fan of the industry and a person who wants to see the industry grow, I want to note a few things.

    In the case of books being sold at conventions, we’re talking a few thousand at most right?

    1. Is a few thousand so significant to crush the DM? That’s a very sad fact for the industry if so… I’m looking at the greater industry as a whole and not just Brick and Mortar stores.

    2. Won’t the 100 – 3000 or so people who buy the books spread the word to their friends, who will then seek out the book in stores?

    Of course I realize I am probably being incredibly naive, I don’t work for stores or publishers, and I don’t have all the facts. Simply put though, shouldn’t BM stores worry more about expanding their customer base rather than complaining about publishers who are potentially doing something to expand their own customer base to keep them publishing?

    Going off of Diamond’s numbers, the average #1 comic sells 120 – 250k copies a month. Let’s add another 50k copies from other various sources such as creators selling them and book stores and etc. That’s still 300k at most. I know these numbers are never accurate and to be taken with a grain of salt, but I added a generous number.

    Shouldn’t the publishers, BM stores, Diamond and fellow fans worry more about getting new readership in? For each group individually but also for the industry itself.

    It’s much easier for me to say that than for all of us to do it, I understand that. I do my part, I talk to friends about comics, I promote books that I’ve discovered that aren’t the biggest selling books, I read books on other people’s recommendation. I think if the infighting stopped and everyone focused on expansion, we wouldn’t have to gripe about the little things.

    Of course, getting companies to eschew their established, successful business models for a bold, new expansionistic vision is harder than dealing with 20 children who need their tooth pulled simultaneously, but I think it could be done. There has to be some hope for the industry to continue on beyond what it is now. I’m 23 years old, soon to be 24, and I’m fully dedicated to being a part of this industry… I don’t want to be fighting for something that won’t be here when I’m 33. I would love if the medium was a widespread one in a few years, with people not only picking up superhero/mainstream books, but more books for individuals and smaller companies who are supported by retailers and distributors. It happened in the 80’s (so I’m told), why can’t it happen again?

    I know I’m young and naive and idealistic, but this industry inspires idealism and creativity, so pardon me if I get swept up by it all.

    I’m the ideal fan for retailers and publishers – MAKE MORE OF ME!!

    I don’t know if there was a point to this comment besides that, just felt my voice needed to be heard. Egotistical much?

  63. As a librarian, I want the publishing industry and comic book retailers to recognize that public libraries not only buy their books, and display the art, and plan programming around creator works— we are also advocates for the best works we come across. So I’m a double buyer- I buy your books for my adult and teen collections and in floppy or trade or GN for my personal collection. Publisher quantities have to be high enough at big jobbers (we use Baker and Taylor)- at least 15 copies- for me to even consider buying your work. Get more books in these big jobbers if you want us to buy them!

    As a fan, I attend at least 2 big cons if not 4 a year (NY and Philly). I like the interaction with the writers and artists and publishers, and will buy direct from the table. I also want the newest material, whether it is in the comic store or not. I totally understand that sometimes publishing dates just make things available for the con before it hits the store. I am also very loyal to my LCS, and buy from him when I can get better BN or Amazon discounts though.

    As a small con organizer, I do whatever I can to allow the indie publishers to make money. (www.midjerseycomicon.com). They coexist with the dealers, some of whom own stores, and make connections there that translate in the store. They may bring one for a signing, or make arrangements to carry their books which would have been lost in the Previews or never reach that dealers eyes. Support small shows and indie publishers to keep the creativity alive!

  64. [Personally, I think retailers and publishers should ban together and blame Diamond. Their discount and returnabillity structure discourages retailers from trying new, untested titles. We can be united in that, surely?]

    Can you explain that?

    I don’t think I get a better discount buying direct from you that I do from Diamond (although your fill rate would probably be better) am I misremembering?

    I also don’t remember returnability thriugh you either. Stock balancing was a cool option from Alternative Comics, being able to exchange slow titles after 90 days for other titles that might sell better. I remember Dan offered a return guarantee on one title last year and I think free shipping on another but not full line returnability.

    But to your point, if you have some specifics re:Diamond I’d love to hear them and I’m sure other retailers as well would be happy to lend support if common gorund could be found.

  65. Raphael said
    [2. Won’t the 100 – 3000 or so people who buy the books spread the word to their friends, who will then seek out the book in stores?]

    That’s been the claim for over a decade. Evidence says no. If it were true, the bottom 2/3 of the DM top 300 would be selling far better.

    Publishers generally feel entitled to the sales, especially when they get full cover instead of a % of cover. And in my experience here in San Diego it is rare thatg they make any attempt to actually work with retailers to actually help this supposed outreach effort actually work as outreach.

    Hey, it’s their books and their money tied up in it so how can I complain about anything they choose to do with it? But they have to grant retailers the same respect, it’s our money being invested in their work. If they don’t want us screwing with their money, they need not screw with ours.

    If we buy their book it is because we have an expectation that we can sell it for a profit. Anything they do that impinges on our ability to resell the book needs to be checked against something more than, “how much goes in their pocket, if they do it?”

    It should also be pretty clear that if you’re a publisher and you’ve been doing this for 10+ years in the belief that it is outreach and your still selling the same #’s and still struggling to get your books to the printer in time to be overnighted to arrive before the con opens maybe your plans need some revision.

    That and proactively working with retailers, who are also betting it all that they will be able to earn a living in the same marketplace as publishers, giving them hundreds if not thousands of motivated sales people to handsell their books is not a bad way to go about that.

  66. Comics consumer here.

    Would retailers be happier if Fantagraphics, or Top Shelf, or SLG showed up at cons with their skid of freshly printed books, and then sold some (half?) to the retailers who were there at the usual discount? (Before the show begins!)

    I mean, that way, if the retailer invested the time and money to show up at the con, they could reap the benefit?

    Would this make life easier for publishers? Would cons expand in scope of material, or bring in more buying (instead of browsing) fans to the retailers who show up at the con? Wouldn’t this make cons more exciting for the fans?

    Would retailers be happier if they could direct order from the publishers whenever the publishers were going to break street date, and have the new new stuff shipped direct via UPS? How about a bonus for retailers who can’t show up: returnability for books that broke street date?

  67. Maybe this could be helpful to the discussion.

    1. The Bone One Volume Edition debuted at San Diego and in direct market stores SIMULTANEOUSLY.

    2. It is always our intention to get books to retailers to stores in the weeks preceeding a convention. That way people are already talking about it at the beginning of the convention. It creates buzz. We ran into printing delays so stores got books the week of San Diego.

    3. Cartoon Books did sell 500 copies at the convention. But retailers have sold 105,000 copies to date — I mean 104,500 copies. I think that is pretty good for everyone.

    Thoughts? Comments?

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