Home Comics TGI-FOC: Degree of Variants

TGI-FOC: Degree of Variants

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It’s the return of The Beat’s weekly look at comics on Final Order Cut-Off (FOC) and bits of retail process that doesn’t merit a full column. The last time I tried to write one of these, I ended up staring at the screen as it blurred at 2am the night before I got married. That column never went up because it was clearly the product of jitters and hardly made a lick of sense. Oh, by the way, I got married, you guys. So there’s that.

IMAGE VARIANTS

Yesterday, Image announced a neat initiative that will see several of their books get The Wicked + The Divine variant covers in December, the first few of which are on this week’s FOC.

There’s a certain amount of genus involved in this campaign. First off, the rabid following Gillen and McKelvie have fostered over the years are going to eat these two up. In doing so, you’re going to see a fair amount of people expressing interest in a few titles that they might not have checked out before. That’s pretty cool. Add to that the fact that all of the titles receiving this treatment are either new #1s, or starting points for new arcs, and you’ve got yourself a fantastic cross-marketing opportunity that would be pretty hard to screw up.

Now let’s talk about how they screwed this up.

Instead of offering the variants as 50/50 style “order whatever you want” variants, Image is placing a 1 for 15 qualifier on the books, which means retailers will only be able to order a single copy for every 15 copies on the stands. Qualified variants such as that always stick in my craw. I’m not a big fan of variants in general (a longer column for another day), but I can at least get behind variants that you can order without qualification. That says you’re offering another variety for a reader to sample, letting them choose what cover they’d like. That, I understand. Qualified variants, on the other hand, are the dirt worst. They’re a dirty manipulation of the whole “supply and demand” market designed for cheap, easy money, both for publishers and retailers alike. If a retailer wants a bigger supply, they will have to order more copies. In order to cover the cost of those copies (many of which won’t sell), they will charge a premium for that cover. And hey, even if they don’t need to charge a premium to cover the costs of extra copies, they’ll probably mark it up because of the low supply, and the high demand.

When publishers do this, they are saying they value the collectors market more than they value the readers market – or at the very least, they’re willing to exploit broken parts of the system in order to achieve some short term gain. Unlike when Marvel and DC pump out anywhere from 13 to 52 different variants for a single series, I do believe that Image’s intent here is to get more eyeballs onto some well deserving books. Retailers ordering for these variants are going to pump up their numbers in order to match a perceived demand. More product is released to the market, and people aren’t so hard done by to find copies when the print run dries up. The problem is this: in search of a quick buck, there will be several retailers who over order. Some of them will even know better, but can’t help themselves. As a result, there will be copies of these titles that languish, unsold until they’re blown out the door at a loss – and if there’s two things you don’t want for your line of comics, it’s an attachment to the idea of “lost sales”. Why should a retailer order deep on future issues of Shutter or Bitch Planet if you have unsold copies? Wouldn’t it just be easier to order for files, and drink in the cash? Overstock always makes a retailer itchy, and an itchy retailer is going to react by cutting back on your book, either consciously or subconsciously. Either option is not good.

These variants should be offered like most Image variants – as an “order whatever you want”. The result will be a far more accurate representation of people who actually read the titles, and people who are checking it out due to the cover gimmick in question. Having more Wicked and Divine covers out there means that their fans have easier access to the covers they want – which might, in turn, make a collector of The Wicked + The Divine a reader of something else. That’s the goal. Readers over collectors. Long term gain over fast money. Honestly, this shouldn’t have to be said. But hey, let’s hear someone else say it.

Everybody moans about variants, but here’s the honest to goodness truth:

You stop ordering variants; we’ll stop making them.

They are only produced to shore up market share, that’s it and that’s all, and when used in conjunction with quantity-based incentives, they don’t sell more comics, they just result in stacks of unsold books that send the wrong message to your customers about the titles, your stores, and our industry.

That type of marketing is built on short-term sales goals that do little to grow and sustain readership, and it’s a trick that’s been done to death in other industries, to diminishing returns.

Eric Stephenson at ComicsPro’s annual membership meeting, February 2014

The “you” he’s referring to is retailers. Honestly, I shouldn’t order these variants. I know better, and apparently Image knows better – or at least their publisher does.

That said, I’ve already placed my orders for them. They knew I was going to. That’s why they did it. We all know it’s a dumb idea, but no one can help themselves. And we wonder why the industry is plagued with short-term planning problems.

SHRINKING VARIANTS

Speaking of variants, Marvel just announced a brand new kind of variant that’s sure to give some collectors a really bad itching sensation just below the skin. Here’s the press release:

This January – the small hero with the big time heroics is ready for his shot in ANT-MAN #1, the new ongoing series from critically acclaimed creators Nick Spencer (Superior Foes of Spider-Man, Avengers World) and Ramon Rosanas (Night of the Living Deadpool). But first, Marvel is proud to present your first look at the exclusive ANT-MAN #1 Shrinking Variant – available only in comic shops!

Kissy the face

From blockbuster artist Ed McGuinness – each ANT-MAN #1 Shrinking Variant is completely unique. Individually numbered, each cover features Ant-Man at a different size – small, large and everything in between. Fans lucky enough to get their hands on this highly collectable variant cover will own a unique piece of history, as no two variants are alike!

“This is completely unlike any cover we’ve ever attempted,” says Marvel SVP Sales & Marketing David Gabriel. “We’ve even had to utilize new technologies to make it happen. Each variant is completely unique. Each and every cover will feature a different sized Ant-Man. No two are identical!”

Scott Lang is ready to turn it all around in this brand new ongoing series. Sure he’s never been the world’s greatest super hero. Most people don’t even think he’s been the best Ant-Man – and the last guy created Ultron and joined the Masters of Evil, so that’s really saying something. But that’s all about to change. New city. New outlook. New Scott.

Be there for Scott Lang’s brand new day and don’t miss your chance to get your hands on this truly unique, one-of-a-kind variant before they’re gone for good! This time, nothing’s going to stop the astonishing Ant-Man! Be there when he returns to comic shops with the can’t miss ANT-MAN #1 Shrinking Variant comes exclusively to comic shops this January.

It’s a neat idea, one that would have been a good idea for the regular cover. Unfortunately, this isn’t for the main cover. If retailers want to get some copies of this special cover in the store, they’re going to have to exceed 150% of their orders for Hawkeye vs. Deadpool #1, a fact the press release neglects to mention. After all, why spoil a goodwill press release with the trials of actually obtaining the covers?

It will be interesting to see how demand goes for this variant, and what retailers will end up pricing them at. In my experience, “exceed XXX% and order whatever you want” variants don’t go for much more than cover price, so are hard to justify if you’re looking to cover the cost of unsold regular editions. I know I’m not going to try to order the variant – the math doesn’t work out even slightly – but regardless, I’m curious as to how this experiment will turn out.

INCOMING

The final order cut-off list has been a little crazy lately as printing deadlines start to jut up against each other during the mad rush to get things to the printer before things shut down for the holidays. Dark Horse started condensing their schedule last week, and Marvel has two weeks of product listed for this week, including the 7th and 8th issues of Axis. Ah, condensed shipping. You’re a special kind of hell.

A note: you might remember me talking about the Guardians of the Galaxy Annual in my first FOC column months ago. Well, after missing it’s original August shipping date by a mile, it’s reappeared on the FOC list for shipping on December 10th. Harsh, considering the fact that it would have been nice to have something that said Guardians of the Galaxy #1 on the shelves right after the movie hit, but when you hire Frank Cho to draw a thing, you kind of know what you’re getting. I mean, you’d almost have to at this point, wouldn’t you? Gorgeous art, horrendous deadline skills. Anyway, my orders dropped from chunky movie cross-promotion numbers, to something quite a bit smaller. Sure, I might get the odd Christmas sale from it, but I don’t expect what I could have gotten off that movie.

Otherwise, there’s nothing too exciting or noteworthy to really talk about on this week’s FOC. Marvel’s winding down their big event, and DC is holding their breath as they walk into Convergence.

That said, people who are enjoying The Fade Out should tell their comic shops to try and bring in the collection of Hit. It was a wonderful 50s noir series that Boom! Studios put out this year that featured a compelling story by Bryce Carlson and stunning art by Vanessa R. Del Ray – who will soon be working with Grant Morrison on a new book for Black Mask Comics.

TO BE CONTINUED…

That will wrap things up for this week. The Retailer’s View will return on Monday with my promised look at what retailers are looking for from Marvel’s big Secret Wars event this summer. In the meantime, you can head off and read my thoughts on DC’s Convergence series. Until next time…

16 COMMENTS

  1. Yeah, as awesome as the Image comics are, as loyal a following as Gillen/McKelvie have, I think our LCS is going to be hard-pressed to find a title that sells enough to get a variant. Ugh. Variants, and how they support the business.

    Hit, though, can’t believe it took so long to get the trade. The art is amazing on that.

  2. “That said, I’ve already placed my orders for them. They knew I was going to. That’s why they did it. We all know it’s a dumb idea, but no one can help themselves. And we wonder why the industry is plagued with short-term planning problems.”

    Well, at least you still have the weekend to change your mind.

    Just Say No — he TOLD you he’d stop doing them if you stop buying them. So they are therefore YOUR fault!

    Variants are Cancer.

    -B

  3. @Brian: Yeah, I’m contemplating it. I’ve already had a couple people request, and while I run the store (and the owner is rarely, if ever there), it’s been built up a certain way that I try to push against when I can. Mostly, this isn’t the hill I’m willing to die on.

  4. You stop ordering variants; we’ll stop making them.

    Question from curious customer to retailers reading this article:
    What constitutes “stop ordering” – would that be if you normally sell 32 copies of a title offering a 15:1 variant, that you trim your order by 2 and just divvy the variants out to a couple of VIP* customers?

    Or is it as simple as keeping your orders steady or at a level that makes financial sense for your business? Would the variant-provider notice that, and would they properly draw that conclusion from retail orders?

    *VIP = whatever descriptor you want to put here, be it a big-dollar customer or a massive fan of said book’s author (like, purely as a Mad-Lib type example, the biggest John Byrne fan you’ve ever encountered, who has, say, a Rog-2000 tattoo on their coccyx).

  5. I have a stupid question, but since this is a retailer forum, I figured this would be a good place to ask:

    Does the retailer pay for that variant, but you’re only allowed to buy it if you have met the other criteria, or do you get the variant *free* if you meet the other conditions?

    And if the latter is the case, can you just refuse the variant, despite meeting the purchase conditions?

  6. @Jim: It depends on the company. For qualified variants, there’s always a different order code for the variant – so when we’re talking about not ordering the variant, it’s really as simple as typing zero for quantity. Basically, I could ask for 100 copies of a variant, but if I only qualify for 2, they’re going to cancel 98 of them. So yeah, by and large, these days, variants are a choice, one that can add to your order, and the overall number of copies ordered for a series. Any number placed for any variant would essentially tell a company that they moved more copies than they would have otherwise, no matter what system of ordering you use.

    @Glenn: Payment depends on the company as well. For most, variants cost you what a normal copy would cost – you just have to meet the qualifiers to order them. The odd variant will cost more money. IDW and Boom send you variants for free if you meet qualifications.

  7. So it sounds like the “solution” to variants is to simply order what you would normally order, and then don’t even get the variants that you have coming to you from your regular order…

  8. In ways, it really is that simple. But say your biggest file customer wants the variants, or say you’ve had quite a few people asking about the shrinking Ant Man variant. Do you straight up tell them tough luck and hope they don’t buy elsewhere? Or do you stick to your guns? I’d note that all of this would be easier if a shop had a policy of no variants engrained into its DNA from the start.

    A note that Just cropped up: I was talking to a retailer friend of mine who is starting their own store. He was told by Diamond that he can’t order the shrinking Ant Man variant because he didn’t place an order for Hawkeye v Deadpool #1, what with his store not existing at the time. So the lesson here: these variants are being offered with purely malicious intent.

  9. With few exceptions, we just don’t order variants anymore.

    The only exceptions are for unlimited variants, when a customer asks for them. Then we order just a copy for that customer.

    We’re also making an exception for the Darwyn Cooke covers, where we ONLY ordered the Cooke variants.

    On titles from Dynamite or other publishers that have a whole bunch of unlimited variants, we get cover A, unless it’s a TV show tie-in that has an unlimited photo cover. The we just order the photo cover.

  10. Brandon, thanks for the reply. Glenn’s single sentence sums my own response succinctly.

    You are right, though, that there are always situations where it’s hard to resist the lure, especially when it comes to customer “satisfaction.” You need to take care of your business and yourself first. It may take years, decades even, to fully hew to a (imho) worthy credo like “Readers over collectors. Long term gain over fast money.”

  11. “Weren’t there some individually numbered variants back in the 90’s?”

    MAD Magazine frequently printed serial numbers on their “Mad Collectors Series Magazine”.
    Not hard tech… many magazines would inkjet-print the subscriber information directly on the cover (instead of a mailing label).
    (MAD #123, December 1968, had four variants, using the serial number gag. http://www.madcoversite.com/mad123.html )

    Also, with the comics based on video games, there are special codes printed inside.
    Also, with Marvel, and their free digital copy that comes with the comic book.
    Conceivably… one could design a page with a blank panel, and have a computer randomly print one of ten variations. Shrink wrap it, and make the customer hunt for the variants!

  12. I’m very upset when my LCS Comic Odyssey Robinsons offer variants ten times the regular priced cover. I get it-it’s collectors’ side versus the reades’side of collecting nowadays. It’s back to the 90’s again. I expect to see die cut covers, gold stamped logos, red foils, the works. One more, the truth is that mostly collectors want the contents-story & the art. Plus, it’s wiser to spend your hard-earned cash on other priorities instead.

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