Alternate Distribution Methods — Three Examples

Some series I follow have recently created products for audiences outside of the direct market.

Amelia Rules! has just announced a special edition to be carried through Scholastic Book Fairs and Clubs in the US and Canada. That’s a huge potential kids’ market.

They are repackaging existing material into a “best of” 128-page book called Amelia Rules! Funny Stories that will cost only $4.99 and be “manga-sized”. The book will be available this fall with plans to make it available in the direct market next year.

(While researching this, I also noticed that the contents of special issue #18 have been published on the book’s website. It’s a powerful tale about a child coping with her father’s tour of duty in Iraq, but it’s a bit odd that they’ve put it out there for free when the issue, due in June, hasn’t shipped to customers yet.)

Second, Mike Sterling has information on the Simpsons comic available at 7-11s as promotion for the movie. Although most of it is reprint, there is a new story, and the end result of this method of distribution is making it hard for readers to find it. My nearest 7-11 hadn’t even heard of the comic, let alone received any for me to buy.

Last, Supernatural Law has released a Companion volume available only from the publisher. It’s a handbook, a history, and contains unpublished art and checklists. The cost is $10. (I’m guessing that’s because they’re selling direct. To make the same profit per book selling through Diamond, they’d likely have to double the cover price.)

I’m curious, but those types of books I really like to see before I buy, especially since we’re not told how many pages it is or whether any of it is in color. I hope they’re exhibiting at SPX, because then I could check it out there.

Now, why do I care about any of this? Because I like my comic store. I use preorders to ensure (well, as much as you can when dealing with a monopoly distributor who’s still working on what great customer service means) that I get the books I’m interested in, and because I commit in advance, I get a good discount. Mostly, I enjoy the convenience of knowing my books are waiting for me.

By making it less convenient (or impossible) for me to get publications through my preferred vendor, publishers gamble that I’ll seek them out elsewhere instead of shrugging and buying something else through the comic store. That’s a bet many of them are willing to — or have to — take. In most of these cases, the direct market doesn’t matter, because other venues provide a much bigger potential audience (or a bigger profit). The direct market, taken as a whole, doesn’t support these kinds of publications in many cases anyway.

If small publishers have to do their own audience-building, getting on comic store buy lists only when customers pre-order, why shouldn’t they take care of those customers directly, or through venues more convenient to them, or in stores with a lot more walk-in traffic with conversion potential?


10 Responses to “Alternate Distribution Methods — Three Examples”

  1. Nat Gertler Says:

    A few quick notes:
    * The 7-11 Radioactive Man comic is not free. I can’t quickly find my copy, but I believe the price was $3.99, making it actually a buck more expensive than the typical Simpsons issue.
    *It was produced as part of a bunch of 7-11-exclusive Simpsons-world items (along with things like Buzz Cola, Krusty-Os, and the Simpsons-style pink donut). As such, it was not likely an option for this same book to be made available to the direct market. This was a great opportunity for both profit (stores are moving these items quickly — especially the Kwik-E-Mart branded shops) and outreach.
    * There is strong incentive not to offer things with too specialized an audience through Diamond. That’s because if orders don’t meet a certain minimum threshold, Diamond can choose not to process the order, and that does no one any good (and potentially can hurt Diamond’s willingness to carry the next product you offer). And if retailers order it and find that it doesn’t sell through (if they, say, order a Wolf and Byrd concordance in the same numbers they usually order the book itself) that can damage the publisher in the retailer’s eyes.

  2. Johanna Says:

    I knew it wasn’t free — but my fingers got ahead of my brain. Thanks, I’ve corrected it. And I didn’t expect this to go through the direct market, but I’m surprised it wasn’t available to order direct for those with no 7-11s nearby or whose stores didn’t participate. (Maybe mine is just a poor store, but they hadn’t seemed to have heard of any of the promotion aspects.)

    Great reminder on the market pressures facing small publishers, too. I think in both the AR and SL cases, they did exactly the right things for their product… but I’m left pondering what it means for me as a long-time direct market customer.

  3. Nat Gertler Says:

    The comics business is no longer a single beast (even to the degree that it was, which was never complete), but is now many separate subindustries, overlapping at times but far from completely. As such, the single point of access is not likely to work.
    But while I don’t know if Bongo is in the order-direct business — I can’t even find a website for them at the moment — this does not create an availability problem. Nature abhors a vacuum… if one considers eBay to be “nature”. Plenty of copies to be found there.

  4. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » Aug. 3, 2007: I’m running out of Dullsville lines here, people Says:

    [...] Johanna Draper Carlson looks at three examples of comics created for audiences outside the Direct Market. [...]

  5. Harold Buchholz Says:

    Renaissance Press is very grateful to the direct market for its support of Amelia Rules!

    Our publication of Amelia Rules! 18 on http://www.ameliarules.com is a little unique in that it has to do with the sacrifices children make when a parent must go to war. It’s a topic that hasn’t often been covered in recent fiction.

    Our hope is that kids, parents and educators will benefit from reading this online edition and in some cases seek out the print version for themselves, for friends and for use in classrooms.

    We hope that the online version and the preview pages that were featured online in New York magazine this past month will aid comic shops in reaching readers with the comic book version that arrives in stores over the next couple of weeks. It’s a story we would like to make available to the general public, and comic shops will have an exclusive distribution window with the print edition of the comic.

  6. Kyle Baker Says:

    “By making it less convenient (or impossible) for me to get publications through my preferred vendor, publishers gamble that I’ll seek them out elsewhere instead of shrugging and buying something else through the comic store.”
    AMELIA RULES is not created for you, it’s for children. My daughter loves the books. She’s also enjoying the MINX and Scholastic comics.
    It’s important to distribute books to a receptive audience. My work is primarily created for and enjoyed by youngsters of color. The books sell well to libraries and schools, despite the fact that the direct market has often been actively hostile toward me and my work.
    “[Plastic Man] seems to be pitched as a kids’ book these days, but I wouldn’t give it to one, since I don’t believe in talking down to the little darlings.” – JDC

  7. Johanna Says:

    Harold, thank you very much for elaborating on your decision.

    Kyle, the impression I’ve gotten through my conversations with the author of Amelia Rules is that he’s trying to do a true all-ages comic, not just one for kids. When we’ve talked about the book, whether good or bad, he’s never said “oh, it’s not for you.” Should I not buy it if I enjoy it, regardless of who the target audience may be?

    I’m sorry that you’re still apparently troubled by a review I did of an issue of your canceled series two and a half years ago. (I’ve linked it for full context.) Would you like to see some links to the many times I’ve promoted “kids’ comics”?

  8. Blog@Newsarama » So long and thanks for all the fish Says:

    [...] Alternative Distribution By making it less convenient (or impossible) for me to get publications through my preferred vendor, publishers gamble that I’ll seek them out elsewhere instead of shrugging and buying something else through the comic store. That’s a bet many of them are willing to — or have to — take. In most of these cases, the direct market doesn’t matter, because other venues provide a much bigger potential audience (or a bigger profit). The direct market, taken as a whole, doesn’t support these kinds of publications in many cases anyway. [...]

  9. Jackie Estrada Says:

    Just to clarify on “The Supernatural Law Companion.” This was a print-on-demand book we did especially for Comic-Con International. It’s a 6″ x 9″ trade paperback, 90 pages, with color covers and black-and-white interior. It doesn’t have an ISBN number, as it is a book “in progress.” We ordered only 100 copies for Comic-Con, and since we have a few left we’ve put them up for sale on our website (www.exhibitapress.com).

    We are waiting to see the response to the book to make a decision on whether to go back to press on it (with some revisions and updating), since print-on-demand is a high cost per copy.

    Unfortunately, we will not be able to attend SPX this year (for the first time since its beginnings!) because of a conflicting family event, so we won’t have an opportunity to have the Companion for sale there. However, we do have a brand new issue of Supernatural Law (“Wolff & Byrd: The Movie”) out in comics shops, and a copy is winging its way to you at this very moment!

    Best,

    Jackie Estrada
    Exhibit A Press

  10. Johanna Says:

    Thanks very much for the additional information, Jackie, and I’m sorry I’ll miss seeing you at SPX. I’ve got the new issue and am looking forward to reading it!

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