The internet will surely be the death of me.

It will probably be somebody saying some petty racist stuff that will do it. My eyes will fall across a bile filled screed about how people who aren’t white and male are scary, dangerous and/or lesser than and a blood vessel will pop, and that will be the end of it. “He died as he lived,” they will say, “Reading horseshit on the internet when he should have been writing.”

Unfortunately for all of you, that day is not today.

The Retailer's View

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“Everything dies.”

Up until a certain point, that was Marvel’s mantra whenever asked about their line of comics in regards to the Secret Wars. Series writer Jonathan Hickman had been slowly building up to a point of no return for years within the pages of his Avengers books. In May, the trigger was finally pulled, and in the closing pages of Secret Wars #1, every Marvel reality as we knew it shuttered to a close, leaving nothing.

A week later, Secret Wars #2 came out, and laid out the groundwork for what would come next – because of course it did. We all knew that Marvel would continue, and no matter what happens, we know that Marvel always will, so long as there’s a call for their brand of storytelling. The question was never “why” or “when”, but “how”. In this case, the “how” was creating a world of greatest hits and new ideas. As new series in this line-up were announced, Marvel played fast and loose with the idea of how long each series would be continuing for. When pressed, many involved in the event would point towards the destruction of all known realities and ask how they could possibly go back to the way things were before. Battleworld was reality now. Or at least was, until last week. The idea of Marvel’s Battleworld as reality lasted less than a month – from May 13th to June 2nd, when Marvel announced the planned release of the All-New, All Different Marvel Previews magazine that would detail the bulk of their publishing line-up in the fall. From there, they slowly ramped things up with neatly measured announcements, goosing interest before it would have a chance to wane. The idea was to build to a fever pitch by July 1st, when they would release the aforementioned magazine and make a big splash. It was a good idea in theory. But in practice?

That’s me talking to The People On Twitter exactly one week before the on-street date of the All-New, All Different magazine. It was a Wednesday, so I didn’t have much time or the energy to go into the details. As it stands now, I’m still a little low on both, but some things need to be said sooner rather than later, so here we are. The moment Marvel announced their plans to reveal most of their new line in the pages of a magazine shipped to retailers, I knew they were asking for trouble. Retailers are notoriously untrustworthy when it comes to this kind of information and seem to take the first opportunity they can to blab things into the ears of a gleefully awaiting internet for some reason. Hell, about a month ago Marvel terminated their First Looks program for retailers because some of us were going to certain sites and bleeding out information. This was particularly disappointing as I often used it as a tool to fine tune my sales strategy on certain titles a couple weeks in advance instead of scrambling to figure everything out the day before it all goes on sale, but hey, we don’t need nice things, right? The comics industry can survive on a readership spoiled by leaks on the internet, right? RIGHT? So yes. Monday hit, and sure enough, some idiot (or idiots, probably) took the information contained within the All New, All Different Previews, and sent out some whispers. Now, because I don’t know who these people were, I can’t speak to the EXACT hows and whys in regards to the leak, but I can paint an accurate enough painting with the information that I have at my disposal.

It looks a little like this: Monday hits. Diamond drop points receive their product and some of them (not all of them, mind you), but some of them separate out all of their boxes into nice little piles and allow certain retailers to come and grab their boxes early. According to the contracts that they’ve signed with Diamond, Tuesday should be the earliest they should be able to grab their boxes, but that’s of no real concern to some. Orders are picked up early, and processed well in advance of their sale date. Information gets into the hands of people who can’t seem to wait a whole 24 hours to nab their shipment, so they are equally impatient in lording this gifted advanced information over certain people on the internet. Whispers hit the internet. Rich Johnston (the two-bit huckster who runs Bleeding Cool) gets wind or is approached directly by a retailer with the promise of anonymity and decides to run the information because what does he care if a company’s marketing plan is blown a few days early when it means he can sit back and win The Internet for a day. The information leaks, but conveniently enough, Rich keeps quiet about Jeff Lemire writing Extraordinary X-Men, despite the fact that he had previously reported fairly inaccurate rumours and guess work about Lemire’s involvement in the X-line and LOVES lording things like that over The Internet. I suspect this is because Marvel had given Comic Book Resources the exclusive on that announcement, and Rich feigned courtesy and approached Marvel about the information and was asked specifically not to blow whatever contract had been agreed upon. Comic Book Resources, for their part, didn’t report any information from the leak until a day later when their exclusive had run, and Marvel either gave a reluctant thumbs-up, or they decided they had nothing to lose as a heavy hitter in the mainstream comics news industry. Things were said. Information was passed. And the result? Marvel spent a lot of money printing out copies of magazines that were everywhere on the internet long before people had a chance to wander into a comic shop and be surprised. This is not the first time information like this leaked on a Monday, and honestly, I doubt that it will be the last.

There’s a lot of rot in the comics industry as it exists today, and a lot of the stink is coming from retailers. For whatever reason, they… or I guess we feel as though comic companies owe us something. Take a look at any announcement regarding digital initiatives over the past few years, and you’re going to find more than a few retailers bemoaning the “fact” that publishers are betraying the people who have been keeping comics in print for years. When it comes right down to it, Marvel and DC treat retailers like garbage because we deserve it. No really, we do. If you had a business partner who whined and moaned about not being taken seriously enough, who then went and routinely blew up your marketing plans and started spreading privileged information around to people, the smart move would be to sever as many ties as you possibly can in order to run your business properly. Now in this case, Marvel and DC are still dependant on these idiot business partners to make ends meet, so they can’t cut ties completely. Not yet, anyway. What they have to do, is adapt to the environment.

Ever get pissed off when a spoiler for the latest character change or event is running rampant on the internet the day before release and the information has a big “approved by Marvel, here’s some quotes from editors and creators” stamp on it? Those articles are in direct response to the current culture perpetuated by unscrupulous retailer who think that shooting themselves in the foot is a great thing to do. I can almost guarantee that Comic Book Resources and other sites had the All New, All Different Marvel information ready to run on Tuesday not because the leak happened, but because Marvel’s PR department gave them that information with that date in mind, falsely assuming that leaks would be contained to Tuesday, and not Monday. They’re just trying to work within a system that refuses to work. They will continue to do so until finally, gleefully, weekly shipments to the direct market are no longer part of their business model. Don’t think they’d cut ties? Trust me, they’re champing at the bit to cut off the gangrenous retailer limb, especially when they have digital at their disposal. Why would they want to work with a system that requires months worth of lead time, printing costs, and information leaks when they can have a book ready and surprise the world with it with about a week’s worth of notice.

Because hey, say for whatever reason, Marvel walked into one of their panels at San Diego, and announced that Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons were taking over Fantastic Four. Now imagine that the title will only be serialized digitally without a print component scheduled until a collection hits way, way later in the year. Now imagine that they have a few issues in the can, and the first will be up on the Monday following the convention. That book is going to sell like gangbusters – and the structure is already in place for them to make it available at a wide variety of online proprietors instantly. If that system worked – and if that spread to more and more titles, why would the big publishers need the direct market to pump out serialized product? They would no longer have to deal with a large and nebulously untrustworthy partner. They wouldn’t have to announce things months in advance because information given to retailers would immediately be spread far and wide. They could bypass the time-lag required for soliciting and printing, and get right into the nutmeat of it all, and stand a chance to surprise readers again with fresh experiences and information happening instantly, rather than spoiled well in advance. And honestly? The comic industry – or at least the superhero comic industry – would be far better for it.

If retailers want a place in the future of this industry, we’re going to have to smarten the hell up, and stop setting fire to olive branches when they’re extended our way. We have to stop thinking about winning the damn internet for a day for the sake of having a tomorrow. Because if we don’t… well, it’s like the man says: “everything dies.”

7 COMMENTS

  1. Speaking as someone who went from print to digital for single issues about a year back, I don’t think the brick and mortar stores are going to be in mortal danger until Marvel and DC can offer readers an incentive to go digital that’s a bit more appealing than paying cover price for what amounts to a rental. If my LCS was a bit easier to get to, I likely wouldn’t have made the switch. As it is, unless it’s a crazy cheap Comixology sale, I’m still getting most of my Big Two and Dark Horse books used and/or in trade.

  2. Marvel should have just offered the preview as a digital comic, similar to the “DC You” previews published in the back of the Convergence #2 issues. You download it online, for free.

    If you’re a retailer with a robust website, no problem, you distribute it via your e-commerce site. No e-commerce site? Then you deserve to join the bonepile.

    As for publishers offering an incentive to customer willing to pay cover price… Image sells four different digital formats for one price, with no DRM.

  3. The overlooked point here is that the early release of the information, besides the few pieces that came from interviews and Marvel.com, came from two RETAILERS who scanned their entire copies of the booklet upon receipt and posted them on Facebook last Monday. Those were the sources that comics journalists drew from – and the sources that the pre-Wednesday stories about the new books credited. It’s easy to create strawmen (both in terms of blaming the chain of journalists instead of the retailer sources, as well as the random opening impugning whole blocks of fans as racists again without substantiation – the op/ed format does NOT release the writer from proper format and ethics), but it’s more complicated to actually track the matter at hand. These “spoilers” of the news release, as you call them were themselves from an op/ed of a retailers like you commenting in opposition to what they saw in upcoming books in terms of salability (matters like the focus on the Inhumans).

  4. Dearest Brian: I’m not exactly sure where you’re reading the part where I let retailers off the hook for this. I am worried about your brain meats. Take care.

  5. Marvel knew that this would happen and still did it, why? Ever wonder why amount of leaks in entertainment media is increasing day by day? Leak is just another form of marketing these days, these retailers just did what Marvel expected them to do so I’m not sure why anybody should be blamed here or feel sorry for Marvel.

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