Wishing the Competition Away

Why do some retailers think the answer to increasing competition is trying to force customers to behave in ways counter to their interests?

First it was Brian Hibbs (link no longer available), saying that comic shops need to be able to sell periodicals, so publishers should take longer to put out book-format collections. I’m over-simplifying his lengthy discussion of the topic, but it sure sounded to me like “customers prefer collections, so publishers shouldn’t put them out so quickly, which will make them buy the issues my store depends on.” Here’s a quote:

Were I in charge of Vertigo, I’d immediately institute a policy that trades will only be issued after the periodical “proves itself”, and I’d promote that policy change at the actual point of solicitation to encourage the customer base to actually support the serialization in the first place. I’d also find a way to encourage the purchase of the serialization by some form of “backmatter” that won’t be reprinted, even if that’s something as basic as a letter’s page. I think I’d also institute a policy that even if a book will get TPed, the wait will be pre-announced as being so long that you wouldn’t want to wait, if you’re interested in the title. Say, a year, minimum.

That’s one way to deal with competition, to wish the competing, preferable product out of the market. Not a very forward-looking way, though.

Now, it’s Lisa at Neptune applauding a game manufacturer who’s attempting to set a floor on allowable price discounts. Mayfair Games threatened to cut off any retailer that sells their product at more than 20% off list price.

Because, you see, those nasty internet stores are stealing the customers who rightfully belong to the local, higher priced specialty shops by deep discounting. Lisa says

it is hard to blame people for buying games on-line for 40% – 50% less than what I am selling them for in my store. But, when game stores can’t compete and have to close down, the consumer who isn’t buying from those game stores have to take some of the responsibility.

Yeah, and? If the customer isn’t shopping from them anyway, what does it matter if they continue to exist?

Leaving aside how realistic this plan is, and assuming that Mayfair really will follow through on their threat, I thought the American free market was built on the idea of knowledge and everyone acting in their own best interest? If I can find a better deal, I should take it. The alternative isn’t forcing me to spend more money (if I cared about gaming; I don’t even know how big a player Mayfair is in the industry); the alternative is that I don’t buy the product at all, or that I wait and get it used somewhere.

It’s a nice fantasy to wish for someone to shut down the competitors one is uncomfortable with, or to turn someone else into the heavy so you don’t have to change your business plan, but it’s not feasible in the long run.

I know this sounds harsher than I intend, because I like (from what I know of them online) Lisa and Brian. I just find this attitude disheartening, because it makes clear that their interests are not mine. I would hope that they would be trying to build business by figuring out what their customers want and finding ways to give it to them, but here, they seem to be taking the opposite approach: customers who want things they don’t agree with should be restricted, by law if possible. (The Mayfair price announcement was made possible by a recent Supreme Court decision.)

I want to shop at Brian Hibbs’ store one day because I hear terrific things about their selection and service and atmosphere. If I do (I’m on the opposite coast), I’m going to buy products I’m interested in, which are most likely original graphic novels or other book-format comics.

Publisher Simon at Icarus (NSFW) has additional response to Hibbs, where he points out

serial comics and trade paperbacks in their current forms essentially serve the same function for the end user. Between a complete set of singles and one collected book, the reading experience is pretty much the same. … It is obviously beneficial if publishers can get readers to pay twice for the same material… and the best way to accomplish that is to convince readers that’s they’re not actually paying twice.

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71 Responses to “Wishing the Competition Away”

  1. Thom Says:

    Hmmmm…Hibb’s suggestions are a sure way to make sure many books never get read by those of us who miss the first couple of issues and decide to test the waters with a trade. If Fables had taken that long to get collected? I doubt I would have remained interested enough to get the first trade. Consumer gone.

  2. Lyle Says:

    With Vertigo, I think that misses what the choice that customer segment has, now. I could sample a Vertigo issue for $3 and, if I like it, wait for the issues to come out, remember to go to the store to buy them, hope the store doesn’t sell out by the time I do remember and also hope that enough people are doing the same thing.

    Or, I could go buy a manga like Monster, which hits all the buttons Vertigo comics do without any of those hurdles. Even better, if I forget to go in and snatch up the latest volume not only are chances good the bookstores I visit will have the next volume, but I might have put off the purchase long enough that I have two or three volumes to entertain me.

    I find Hibbs’ comments ironic because his shop is one of the best stores I’ve seen for getting graphic novels and collections of western comics. His manga selection isn’t great, but he’s got a major competitor a half-hour walk away.

  3. Nat Gertler Says:

    The very act of retailing is “trying to force customers to behave in ways counter to their interests”. What the customer wants is the product; they don’t want to give the money for the product at all.

    In the game business, there’s a very real situation going on where the local stores act as the gateway for the game – having material on hand to be looked at, sample games to be run, hosting tournaments, and so forth, all of which tie up retailer resources – only to have the customers they create turn to online deep discount sources (who don’t have to pay for those resources) to get their materials. It’s in the game manufacturer’s best interest that the retail store creates that gateway, supports them instead of supporting some other publisher, and eliminating the deep discounting practices for their products is a way to do that.

    As for “how realistic” price limiting plans are, they seem to work pretty well for companies in other fields (for example, Apple.)

  4. Charles RB Says:

    “I would hope that they would be trying to build business by figuring out what their customers want and finding ways to give it to them”

    In terms of discount, the shop might not be _able_ to give them that. And when it comes to monthlies VS trades, if we assume Hibbs’ experiences are common, the monthly sales are needed for short-term operating costs – and as you say he does sell trades, so he _is_ giving the consumer what they want. It’s just not enough unless a sizeable number can be convinced to want the monthlies.

  5. Michael Rawdon Says:

    The other point to consider is: What’s Mayfair (the game company Lisa refers to) getting out of this policy? Presumably they can start jacking up their wholesale rates over time. And if they help to drive out of business companies which refuse to toe their line, then not only do they have evidence that their resellers live and die by the decisions they make, but they can start imposing even more draconian restrictions.

    Publishers aren’t really interested in helping wholesalers and retailers, what they want is to make more money for themselves. And if you’re a publisher and your market isn’t growing, and if you either dominate your market or have no real hope of increasing your market share, then where’s the money going to come from? It’s going to come by raising prices and exploiting your customers (and hopefully convincing them that they’re not really being exploited).

  6. Charles RB Says:

    “What’s Mayfair (the game company Lisa refers to) getting out of this policy?”

    Nat seemed to cover that.

  7. Paul Worthington Says:

    Maybe I am easily swayed: as I read Johanna’s post, I agreed with her points and conclusions as they’ve long been my own — but Nat’s statement — of how the retailer builds the market and interest in the products and so should benefit from the sale — is also persuasive.

  8. Ralf Haring Says:

    There’s no reason they both can’t coexist. I buy my single issues and most collections from a physical store because the discount is similar to deep discounters. Make the fact that an Amazon order is a couple days away their detriment while your store is a ten minute drive away.

  9. Lyle Says:

    Paul, I think both Johanna and Nat make a good point and I don’t necessarily see a contradiction. In light of Nat’s comment, I might rephrase Johanna’s statement as “forcing customers into habits they’ve already rejected” but Nat’s point stands in this case — it rephrases the debate into one of “How much will the customer resist being led by the stick instead of the carrot?”

    And to that question, I once again think it’s important to ask if the customers have alternatives — like with the manga comics that I do find scratching the itch that made Vertigo comics worthwhile for me.

  10. James Schee Says:

    From some of the online forums I frequent, I get the idea that there is still an audience for the monthlies.

    Though I think recently as the number of delays have increased, and time of delays has as well. That even those fans are getting used to the idea of waiting now. So are waiting for trades more often.

  11. ~chris Says:

    ‘The very act of retailing is “trying to force customers to behave in ways counter to their interests”. What the customer wants is the product; they don’t want to give the money for the product at all.’

    Hogwash. The customer wants the product for no more than a certain amount of money–call it “C.” The retailer wants the product for no less than a certain amount of money–call it “R.” If C (minus sales tax) is greater than or equal to R, then a sale is made, and both customer and retailer got what they wanted.

    Marketing, on the other hand… ;-)

  12. ~chris Says:

    Should be “The retailer wants to sell the product for no less than a certain amount of money”

  13. Nat Gertler Says:

    No, the customer is willing to pay no more than a certain amount of money. They want the product. They don’t want to give money, as that’s counter their interest in having money for other purposes, but the retailer forces them to do so in order to get what they want.

  14. Johanna Says:

    Nat, that’s not true. I choose to spend money on iTunes for MP3s I can get for free because I value the convenience over having to waste time searching for a clean copy. I pay more for a used DVD if it’s in better condition and sold by a reputable firm. Those are only two examples where I’ve chosen to spend, or spend more, for the right product. Cheapest isn’t always the denominator, and it is possible to compete with free.

    Lyle’s talking about spending $10 instead of $3 because he enjoys the product more, for another example. But Hibbs seems to be saying that Lyle should have to spend $3 four times instead of $10 because it’s more convenient for Hibbs for Lyle to shop that way.

    If stores don’t get any benefit out of demoing games, they shouldn’t do it. But some stores get additional benefit (the owners themselves enjoy gaming, for example, or running tournaments gets them special product they can sell for a large markup). Some stores require purchase buy-ins to participate in their events. Other stores have stopped in-store gaming and found that their sales increase, because more customers are happier without people parked in the store playing.

    Charles, “convincing customers to want monthlies” seems to me foolhardy and a waste of effort. That’s what my point boils down to.

  15. Charles RB Says:

    Problem is, if it’s foolhardy but monthly sales are the only thing ensuring short-term profits, that means the shop is eventually going to go out of business despite giving the customer what they want. That would either mean comic shops need to build up an online & mail-order presence; comic shops need to sell stuff besides comics that can make short-term profit (trading cards or whatever); or most comic shops – including the good ones – are going to go out of business and this simply can’t be avoided. If it’s the latter, that’d also have a knock-on effect on the publishers and I’m not sure how many are geared up for the direct market dying out.

  16. Johanna Says:

    I think your “if-then”s are oversimplified, but even if that is the worst case… I can get more exciting, enjoyable comics through bookstores than I can through the direct market. Even without manga, graphic novels like those from Graphix, Top Shelf, First Second, Fantagraphics, and many others have done as well or better in the non-direct than direct market. They have succeeded in spite of, not because of, most comic shops.

    This is a bad week for me to talk about this, because I’m bitter. I’ve had to give up preordering manga because Diamond often doesn’t bother to ship it in quantities of one per title, and my retailer doesn’t care enough to push them to get me what I’ve committed to pre-buy because he’s old school and doesn’t get it. If I still lived in a Northeastern city and had a truly great neighborhood comic store, perhaps I’d care a lot more about their plight. Selfish of me, I know… but consumers are supposed to be selfish.

  17. Nat Gertler Says:

    Johanna, nothing you say actually contradicts what I said. You’ve expressed a willingness to pay additional money to get a product you consider superior, or to save yourself effort… but neither of those indicate that you want to spend the money, it’s just what you have to do to get the product in the form that you want it.

    Yes, if stores don’t get benefit out of demoing games, they shouldn’t do it. Thing is, the publisher wants the store to demo the game (it’s a key way of generating customers), and creates incentive for them to do so — in this case, by making it more likely that the customer will then by the game materials from the demoing store. If the publisher sees deep discounting as ultimately hurting their sales, why shouldn’t they discourage it? And if Lisa finds the publisher is showing wisdom in this sort of enlightened self-interest, why shouldn’t she applaud it?

    Yes, Brian is talking about running business in a way that he feels serves the business best in the long run. That’s, well, business. And if Brian is suggesting that a single publisher reconsider how their own products are competing against each other, and whether they are maximizing sales potential in that way.

  18. Johanna Says:

    You said “customers don’t want to give money at all”. I said “customers want to give what they think is fair.” That’s not the same thing. And it’s key to the point about trying to eliminate discounting. If a customer is willing to pay 50% of list but not 80%, then that’s a factor the publisher should be considering. Are their products overpriced? Are those customers worth ignoring? (They might be.) Is there a way to add value such that 80% becomes the customer’s willing price point?

    Blanket prohibitions do none of that. They, in my opinion, actually encourage more discounting, either through juvenile “hee hee I’m breaking the rules” or more democratic “who are they to tell me what I can and can’t do after I’ve legally bought the product from them?” Incentives work better than treating your customers like thieves, idiots, or sheep.

    Sure, retailers can do whatever they think best for their business and applaud whomever they like… and I can similarly use my voice to encourage a more customer-friendly point of view.

  19. Nat Gertler Says:

    I said “customers want to give what they think is fair.”
    I don’t see that argument here. I do see willingness to give what they think is fair in order to get what they want, but you’d have to pull out a fair number of examples of customers being offered a price that is less than what they think is fair and the customer arguing the price up to get me to believe that generally want to spend that money.
    I expect the publisher has indeed considered the impact that this move would have on price-conscious consumers. I’d be very surprised if they didn’t.
    You may feel trying to control discounting might
    I don’t see where anyone involved has treated their customers like thieves, idiots, or sheep. I do see where you say that the American way involved folks acting in their own best interest… and it seems to me the publisher and retailers you cite are trying to do just that, and that to the degree that their plans help keep businesses alive, they serve the customers as well.

  20. Nat Gertler Says:

    Whoops, half a sentence disappeared there…

    You may feel trying to control discounting encourages discounting, but I haven’t seen any sign of that.

  21. Simon Jones Says:

    Re: “What’s Mayfair (the game company Lisa refers to) getting out of this policy?”

    I can’t say what Mayfair’s reasoning may be, but theoretically speaking, pricing restrictions could be one remedy/prevention against monopsony or oligopsony, which are situations where one or a few buyers control the market (as opposed to monopoly, in which one seller controls the market.)

    A monopsony can hurt the market just as much as a monopoly, as a powerful buyer can dictate the terms of sale, potentially limit the number of product lines they support, etc. Therefore one could reasonably argue that manufacturers (and consumers) do have an interest in preventing large “big box” buyers from driving out smaller specialist businesses which support a deeper catalog, and making sure that products may not be sold as loss leaders is one way to do it.

    Again, not commenting on Mayfair’s situation specifically, just that there are potentially far more complex, and not necessarily nefarious, motivations at work here.

  22. Johanna Says:

    Nat, since you’re a publisher, it doesn’t surprise me that you would take that tack, but I disagree. I still think that “my customers prefer product X, so you shouldn’t sell X or sell X years later so I can make them buy Y, which is better for me” is anti-consumer and short-sighted. But sadly, more and more producers think trying to force customers to stay in old models instead of meeting their needs and embracing the future is smart — just look at the music and movie industries.

  23. Nat Gertler Says:

    Yes, let’s look at the music industry. For years we were hearing that the problem was that the music industry wasn’t embracing downloads and had done away with the single, and that’s why sales were dropping. So the music industry has embraced the download through iTunes and other delivery systems, and coming with that has been the availability of the single as a single-track download. And that brought sales back up, right? No, sales have continued to drop.

    Insistence on business models that do not take into consideration their effect on the business is short-sighted.

  24. Johanna Says:

    Downloads are just one small part of the now bigger music industry with more options — see here for more on alternate business models. It’s no longer just about sales of a song, but additional revenue streams. In other words, change to match customer interests and new options, instead of short-sightedly clinging to the way it’s always been done.

  25. Lyle Says:

    While I think there are times when it’s apt for a company to use the stick in trying to shape customers’ behavior, what always needs to be considered is the full spectrum of choices available to customers.

    When I brought up Vertigo vs manga, I meant to point out that Vertigo isn’t the best source for Vertigo-type comics anymore and if Vertigo made it more inconvenient to get trades, they have competitors who don’t put up that hurdle.

    And that’s what I’m wondering in terms of Mayfair. I’m not much of a tabletop gamer, so I haven’t played a Mayfair game since Cosmic Encounter went out of print, so I don’t know this — are Mayfair’s current games special enough that they don’t have to worry about being priced higher than other games (at least to customers who go to deep discounters)? If they see themselves as a special company who needs stores that will get to know their games, take time to teach them to customers and maybe even organize groups to play together, I could see the move working. On the other hand, if they don’t have that kind of uniqueness…

  26. Mikester Says:

    “I’ve had to give up preordering manga because Diamond often doesn’t bother to ship it in quantities of one per title, and my retailer doesn’t care enough to push them to get me what I’ve committed to pre-buy because he’s old school and doesn’t get it.”

    Really? Are you sure your retailer is actually placing those orders? We’ve ordered hundreds of different manga books one at a time, and never have had a problem receiving them (aside from Diamond’s usual weekly shipment shortage problems, but replacements generally arrive by the next week).

  27. Johanna Says:

    Yes, I’m sure the orders are being placed. You’re West Coast, though, so there may be a warehouse difference.

  28. Mikester Says:

    That’s very strange…if the orders are being placed, then the retailer should be receiving them, if it’s material Diamond is carrying. I doubt it’s a case of Diamond telling a retailer “well, you only ordered one copy of this, so we’re not going to send it to you.” If they’re not showing up, I suspect there’s another problem, like the publisher serving regular book market distributors before dealing with Diamond, or the product being outright canceled. Diamond wouldn’t hold back a manga they’re distributing from a retailer just because that retailer only ordered one…that seems really unusual to me, unless I’m misunderstanding what you’re saying.

  29. Kevin Church Says:

    I know my shop is serviced by an East Coast facility and they’re ordering single volumes of new manga to try out as well. Maybe it’s the Diamond representative?

  30. Brian Hibbs Says:

    Johanna:

    You’ve misinterpreted what I was trying to say — it isn’t that consumers shouldn’t be able to buy books in the format that they prefer (I, too, pretty much only buy trades!) — but, rather, that “quick” reprinting ISN’T WORKING. It is castrating the periodical releases, while at the same time, not paying off in trade sales because there isn’t any “buzz” for a work (since no one is buying the comics!)

    It really isn’t viable to sell 8k copies of a full color book produced under Vertigo page rates, and it becomes less viable when the trade goes on to only sell 1500 copies.

    Vertigo, in my opinion, either needs to be a periodical producing line where the book is a BONUS, or go to an OGN model.

    Thing is, the OGN model doesn’t appear to be working especially well, either, and I believe that such a plan will ultimately end up only producing “sure things”, because the costs of producing the material, under the Western model, are far too high for “fringe” material to be viable.

    Ultimately, I think Vertigo’s current publication plans WORK AGAINST there ever BEING another FABLES, let alone a SANDMAN.

    -B

  31. Mikester Says:

    The only difference between East vs. West warehouses is timing, as far as I know. West coast retailers sometimes receive indie titles and books a week later. There should be no difference between quantities processed…once Diamond accepts and processes the order, whatever number you ordered is what you should be getting (barring publisher delays, etc.).

  32. ~chris Says:

    Nat,

    You’ve stayed with your premise that customers want to spend zero money on products. If that’s completely true, why stop at zero? Instead of saying “they don’t want to give the money for the product at all,” why not say “they want the retailer to give them the product and give them a dollar?” Heck, why not a million dollars cash back?

    What’s more correct is this (excuse my math geekiness)– “Want” is not a Boolean (On/Off) variable. It’s a real number variable, ranging from –infinity (for infinitely high price) to +infinity (for infinitely high rebate). There is a certain price, depending on the individual, at which “want” equals zero. This is the customer’s value of the product. There are some things I wouldn’t take for free, like an issue of Hustler. For a Scott Pilgrim book, I’d pay more than cover price.

    Of course, the amount we’ll pay changes after we’ve shopped around. And we’ll pay more if we get good service along with the product. I buy all my comic issues and trades from a retailer who stacks numerous indy comics, gives recommendations, and is clean, friendly, and helpful.

  33. Nat Gertler Says:

    No, Chris, if you see what I’ve actually been saying, it’s not that customers want to spend zero money, it’s that they don’t want to spend money. As a logical construct, which is what you act as if you’re reducing it to, you’ve confused not wanting something with wanting something specific. I don’t want my gas tank to be blue, but that doesn’t mean that I want my gas tank to be red, or even not to be blue — I really have no desires regarding the color of my gas tank.
    And then you try to create some new mathematical term “want” which seems to be confused with not the English word “want” but with the concept of “willingness”. In the general case, what the customer wants is the product. Paying money is what he is willing to do to get the product.
    Going off on how what I said is wrong if we just redefine the words involved seems rather pointless.

  34. Johanna Says:

    Mike, as I understand it, the single quantity makes it a lower priority. If Diamond doesn’t ship 100 copies of Avengers (a line item), everyone jumps up and down and fixes it. If my 1 copy of a Viz manga doesn’t ship (a different line item), they shrug and say “we’ll get to it next week.” Which turns into 2 or 3 weeks later, if it’s not forgotten in the meantime. Or I’m completely misunderstanding something.

  35. Kevin Church Says:

    Mike, as I understand it, the single quantity makes it a lower priority. If Diamond doesn’t ship 100 copies of Avengers (a line item), everyone jumps up and down and fixes it. If my 1 copy of a Viz manga doesn’t ship (a different line item), they shrug and say “we’ll get to it next week.” Which turns into 2 or 3 weeks later, if it’s not forgotten in the meantime. Or I’m completely misunderstanding something.

    That sounds to me like your retailer isn’t reporting their shortages with enough urgency. A single $10 manga volume is the same as not selling 3 1/3 copies of something – surely they’d report 3 or 4 copies of a title missing, right?

  36. Mikester Says:

    I just called in a shortage of one copy of Daredevil Annual #1. And I fully expect to get the replacement next week.

    It may be more of a pain in the butt, but Diamond will replace orders of just one copy, and I expect them to do so. I mean, we paid for it, we’d getter get it!

    If your retailer is getting shorted and not getting his replacements (which is possible, either through him not reporting the shortages, or through Diamond screw-ups) then that’s one thing. That’s different than “Diamond won’t sell one copy of a book to my retailer, even though he ordered,” which under normal circumstances, in my experience, is very unlikely.

  37. Johanna Says:

    Kevin, yes, that’s likely a big part of the problem, a lack of urgency. Great way to put it.

    Mike, I’m sorry if I gave the wrong impression. The problem is, I order a manga, it doesn’t show up when everyone else gets it (based on Diamond shipping lists), and I don’t know when it will or *if* it will. That’s due to a combination of problems with replacements and my retailer’s lack of involvement with this particular product line. The end result is that I’m taking that part of my business elsewhere, even though I’d rather not, because my preferred source is unreliable. (And it’ll make my retailer happier not to have to deal with my requests in this area, which disappoints me.)

  38. Johanna Says:

    Brian, I’m sorry I misinterpreted you, but I”m afraid that your clarification only raises more questions for me. How will delaying reprints create more buzz if people aren’t buying the issues to begin with? Could it just be that most of the current Vertigo line is (to use shorthand) crap?

    Trade only selling 1500 copies – is that a direct market number or all sources combined? Over what time period? First month of sales? First year?

    Based on your analysis, I’d rather see OGNs instead of dead-in-the-water periodicals, and I’m not yet convinced that that model “isn’t working”. I think a publisher would really have to commit to it to evaluate it, and we haven’t seen anyone do so on the scale of a DC imprint.

    Then there’s the serialized OGN model that manga uses so well as another option. Wouldn’t the best candidate for the “next Sandman” be something like Death Note?

  39. ~chris Says:

    I haven’t confused not wanting something with wanting something specific. I used math in an attempt to describe the question “How much do you want that?”

    As animals, we want stuff we don’t have, and we don’t want to give up stuff we do have. As human beings, we make (conscious or unconscious) decisions on how much we want stuff, and how much we are willing to give up in return. You’re right, we’re arguing definitions, and I’ll stop.

    I inferred from your posts that you believe the customer/retailer relationship is antagonistic. “The retailer forces” (your words) customers to pay. This was the motive for my arguments. I like my comic retailer, and am always happier after spending money on comics. :-)

    ~Chris Lite (fan of comic book single issues and trade paperbacks)

  40. Brian Hibbs Says:

    Johanna:

    I’ll use _52_ as an example — DC announced right up front that the first trade would take an entire year to come out; I’m fairly confident that was one of the major components that lead to every issue selling 100k or more.

    I’d apply this lesson to Vertigo specifically — here’s NEW SERIES X, launching in Jan ’08. The first collection will be out in Jan ’09, no sooner. And if there isn’t consumer interest, then maybe there will NEVER be a trade. People “on the fence” may decide they’re interested enough to support the serialization.

    In the meantime, its more likely that people will be discussing NEW SERIES X each and every month that it is released, priming the pump (as it were) for the collection, and creating that “buzz”.

    Is it guaranteed to work? Oh, Hell no. But it has a better chance the current plan, which is splitting the audience, and creating stagnation. Just look at the charts!

    “Trade only selling 1500 copies – is that a direct market number or all sources combined? Over what time period? First month of sales? First year?”

    I’m shorthanding, of course, but my understanding is that, generally, Vertigo books that die in the DM *also* do really badly in the bookstore market. Further, with a very few exceptions, reorders are a percentage of initial sales, and, generally, don’t accelerate from there.

    “Then there’s the serialized OGN model that manga uses so well as another option. Wouldn’t the best candidate for the “next Sandman” be something like Death Note?”

    Sure… who pays for the creative costs, though?

    Manga IS serialized first, though generally not in “stand alone” serialization like in the West.

    -B

  41. bpm Says:

    As a trade-preferring consumer, waiting long times for the trade kills my interest. Thus, I buy fewer books.

    Digression: Internet piracy, people. A consumer’s real choice under Hibbs’ plan is not “buy floppies now or wait a year for the trade.” It’s “Buy floppies now, or download them off the internet to satisfy short-term curiosity and then see whether you feel like buying the TPB in a year or so.”

    It’s a growing problem, and I suspect many of those who do not download out of a sense of ethics (or the minor inconvenience of the process) would be tipped past it if they are angry at, say, Vertigo, perceiving the Hibbs Delay as “screwing with me so I’ll buy the floppy I don’t want.” It’s easier to cheat a “dishonest” actor. I don’t support this logic, I’m just sayin’, I think that’s a probable fallout.

    I see Hibbs’ dilemma with the quick trades, but I’m saying that slow trades certainly mean *I* spend less money on fewer books, and it may also encourage piracy end-runs. If I’m not a typical consumer, then my decrease in spending isn’t a problem for the industry. If I am typical, Hibbs’ solution wouldn’t solve his problem, it’ll exacerbate it: He’ll sell fewer trades AND fewer floppies.

  42. Simon Jones Says:

    bpm–>

    You’re making an error in viewing Hibb’s solution as purely binary proposition. No one is suggesting collections can or should be delayed indefinitely. There’s obviously a sweet spot where both sales of pamphlets and trades can be maximized; some publishers may be erring on the side of releasing trades too early.

    That said, I do personally feel that a better long-term solution than trying to hit a tiny sweet spot, is working to increase the size of the sweet spot overall, by adding unique value to both formats to sufficiently distinguish them… although that happens to be much more labor-intensive than smart scheduling.

  43. charles yoakum Says:

    I’ve commented on this already:

    http://inkdestroyedmybrush.blogspot.com/2007/11/in-response-wishing-competition-away.html

  44. Ralf Haring Says:

    “People ‘on the fence’ may decide they’re interested enough to support the serialization.”

    As long as the publishers and retailers realize that there are readers like me who will not be force-fed stories in a format I don’t like, I have no problem with it. If they had adopted the above line over the past five or six years, there is exactly one series I would have still bought as single issues – Human Target – and I bought that as single issues anyway. There are many others that I enjoy, some I even enjoy very much, but I have absolutely zero interest in buying the single issues. All it would have meant for my retailer and for DC is that they would have gotten my money much, much later for Fables, 100 Bullets, Lucifer, Losers, Transmet, Y the Last Man, DMZ, etc. Nothing they can possibly publish other than something that hits my sweet spot 100% dead center will get me to buy single issues. Across the entire industry, that is about five series total.

  45. Alan Coil Says:

    And thus bpm (post 41) proves Nat Gertlers point: Some people would rather steal the book from the internet than spend $8 for a $15 trade that collects $21 worth of individual comics.

  46. Thom Says:

    Well, I don’t think ANYONE has argued there are no people who would rather just get stuff for free, Alan.

    You know, some people would rather steal a Video game or TV than pay for them as well.

  47. James Schee Says:

    Brian, I guess the no trade for a year thing helped, and also being the big story to setup… well DC’s next big story played a part.

    On the other hand I ‘m not sure the reader who picks up something like 52 (or gahh.. Countdown) is the same type of reader that picks up Vertigo.

    I’m not sure telling that reader “no trade for a year or possibly ever!” is going to really effect him/her. Most likely I’d bet it’d just get a shrug of the shoulders, as that reader doesn’t need the Vertigo tile like a DCU reader might need 52 to understand their connecting titles.

  48. Brian Hibbs Says:

    Well, we can find other examples of where DC did time-limited things — it used to be SOP on an OGN HC for there to be some boilerplate about “there will not be a SC until x of y”, though admittedly, it’s been many years since they’ve been that explicit.

    I also sorta think that _52_ was an anti-continuity title, and it explicitly didn’t tie in to anything since it was “filling in the missing year”, though, perhaps, that is neither here nor there.

    Whatever “type” of a reader someone is, is really pretty irrelevant in the Real World — what I’ve always found is that the overwhelming majority of people who buy something “alternative” *also* buy “mainstream” comics as well. Probably 8 of 10 people. What People SAY is far less important than What People DO, y’know?

    I guess I just think that people who are “trade-only” on something like CROSSING MIDNIGHT or DMZ or ARMY @ LOVE are going to buy the same number of copies of copies at month #8 from launch as they are at month #14, or probably even month #19. But those 6-12 extra months could be a crucial difference for the serialization.

    This is strictly about “long form” work — projects that are intended to go 50 issues or more, let’s say; or 10-ish volumes in trade (western sized). Work in this mode HAS TO PROTECT THE PERIODICAL, or, honestly, it will never see print in the first place.

    In my opinion.

    -B

  49. Johanna Says:

    Brian, I think we have fundamentally different ideas of the market. You seem to see the collection buyer as able to be pushed back towards buying singles. I see that buyer (based on my own experience) as willing to buy a book, but if it’s not available, they don’t buy the story in stapled form. Instead, they move to one of the many other book-format comics that *are* available.

    I just don’t see delaying the book as making it “more likely that people will be discussing NEW SERIES X each and every month”. That’s a logical leap, that telling people “you can’t have what you want until later” will somehow create goodwill instead of bad.

    People talk about good comics in whatever format. If people now aren’t talking about Vertigo, I repeat my assumption: maybe the Vertigo titles just aren’t good enough to drive conversation? And that’s not a problem that forcing format changes will solve.

    Who pays for the creative costs? Depends on the deal. With DC, they do — just as they do OGNs now. With Image, the creator does. With one of the many book publishers looking for graphic novels, they do. Or the reader does, through webcomic serialization advertising.

    Simon: You said “No one is suggesting collections can or should be delayed indefinitely,” but Brian did just say that: “maybe there will NEVER be a trade.” He wants more uncertainty to drive more early purchases. Me, in that case, if there’s never a trade, oh well. I’ll buy the issues way cheap in quarter boxes if I think about or see them, or I’ll read one of the many other fine publications that did put out a book. And yes, I like your suggestion much better. Seems to me that minor successes Fell and Casanova did just that, make both formats valuable in different ways.

  50. Nat Gertler Says:

    Johanna, you’re making it sound like there are two distinct group of customers, those who buy pamphlets and those who buy collections, and no middle ground.
    I’m someone who buys both. I’ve seen plenty of people buying both. And I suspect that Brian sees people coming to his counter day-in, day-out buying both.

  51. Lyle Says:

    Brian, I can agree that there’s a need to protect the periodical but I can say delaying collections wouldn’t do it for me. All that would for me is make collections as inconvenient as periodicals.

    The reasons I pretty much entirely buy trades (except at comic cons) is that the periodical market became too inconvenient for my lifestyle. I don’t have time to make it to the same shop every week or even every month and pretty much every store I’ve had a pull list misses an issue or two with me and quite frequently that’s one that’s ordered in low numbers and sold out before I got to the store. Even when I make it into the comic shop ever week, I have to prepare myself a list of what to expect, check that against what actually arrives, compare that to what’s in my pull box and follow up with the shop manager about the missing titles.

    More so, with my tastes following periodical comics means constantly sampling new titles, begging others to purchase it to keep it from getting canceled and then getting disappointed when it is canceled. I’m tired of playing that game, especially since the comics that do last are usually ones I don’t enjoy reading.

    I used to have to face a choice between dealing with those inconveniences or not reading comics but manga and OGN publishers like Oni have made an easier option. And it’s not like I’ve made a logical choice where I weighed the pros and cons of each side. I basically found that the more paperbacks I bought at bookstores, the less satisfying my special trips to comic shops were. Maybe it would be different if there were a comic shop in a location I frequented or one that didn’t add more than an hour to my commute. I just know my enjoyment of comics continues without having to play that direct market dance, anymore.

    So, basically, the reason I don’t buy Vertigo floppies anymore has nothing to do with the availability of Vertigo collections. There’s just another product that empties out the budget that previously would have been spent on Vertigo.

    As for the HC/SC delay, that was one I didn’t have any objections to… however, I did find that it didn’t make the HC any more compelling to me. If it wasn’t worth $30 for me, I found I stopped caring about the story by the time the SC came out.

  52. Lyle Says:

    And since I’m not sure if I made myself clear in that too-long comment, my main point was that it’s not a matter of deciding that I prefer trades and making a conscious decision to wait because of that preference. It’s just that with all the choices I have nowadays, it’s a paperback that floats to the top of the pile.

  53. Tommy Says:

    “That sounds to me like your retailer isn’t reporting their shortages with enough urgency. A single $10 manga volume is the same as not selling 3 1/3 copies of something – surely they’d report 3 or 4 copies of a title missing, right?”

    As the retailer in question I can tell you we report all damages/shortages on Wednesday usually before we finish putting the new books up.

  54. Crocodile Caucus » The state of Vertigo Says:

    [...] Heidi noted that Vertigo is in a precarious state and then Johanna noted Brian Hibbs suggesting that the way to get sales up is to mandate a long wait period before a [...]

  55. Lisa Says:

    When did it become unfair for a store to ask people to pay retail price for an item? We don’t set the prices – the creator of the product does. They look at their product compared to similar products and charge what they believe the market will allow. But I have to sell it for less than that price to be fair?

    Do you WANT to be able to shop at a brick and mortar store? Because if you do, then understand they need to MAKE A PROFIT. A profit is made when a business sells something for more than what it costs them. If I pay $5 for a manga should I sell it to you for $5, or for the suggested $9.99? What’s fair – that YOU get a deal, or that I keep my business open? Sure, your interest is your own self preservation – so understand that my own self preservation is my priority. No matter how much I like you, I CAN’T afford to sell you that manga for the same price I paid for it because my costs for HAVING a store would cause it not to just be a break-even, but actually a loss. So, either you want stuff for cheap or you want to be able to buy it in a B&M. Decide.

    Now, if I have that manga on my shelf for 6 months and no one buys it, I might sell it for $5 because I need the cash flow and the item is now just taking up space that I could use for items that I could sell for a profit. Sure, I’ve lost money, but at least I have gotten something out of that “dead” item.

    Now, let’s go to that game thing – I am pretty sure I never said I didn’t want any competition. I simply applauded Mayfair Games for supporting the stores that work so hard to get their products into the hands of gamers. For many people, the brick & mortar game store is where they get their game information, where they play games, and how they see the game and decide if they want to buy it or not. Then, after the game store does all of that work for Mayfair, people go and pay the same price that the brick and mortar store paid for the game. Mayfair saw the problem – which was resulting in game stores closing and then resulting in fewer of their own products being sold – and decided to create a policy that would help level the playing field and hopefully serve to have people going into brick and mortar game stores where they would be introduced to, and hopefully purchase, more Mayfair games. AGAIN – preserving their own self interests. HOW HORRIBLE!

    I guess your employer should sell items for their cost – I mean to be fair they shouldn’t want to profit. And that means that they then cannot afford to pay you. But that should be OK, because well, it’s only fair, right? You being so selfless shouldn’t mind as long as your making a product that helps others. And you shouldn’t have any problem working for nothing because, well, that’s what your employer thinks is fair. Or how about this – you get paid more than some of the other employees at your company. Is that fair? Just because you might have been there longer or do the job better or have a more difficult job doesn’t mean that they deserve to earn less than you, does it? How dare you feel that you should be entitled to more – it simply isn’t fair.

    See, this is a market economy. We need profit – it isn’t a dirty word – it keeps our country going. If no one made a profit and everything was “fair” then this country would cease to exist. I will not apologize or make excuses for wanting a profitable business and the ability to pay myself a wage that I can survive on. And I won’t hide my opinions by discussing this on some other blog instead of directly at the source.

  56. David Oakes Says:

    “When did it become unfair for a store to ask people to pay retail price for an item?”

    Never. And anyone arguing that full price isn’t fair is an idiot, and should be rightfully ignored. But by the same token anyone arguing that everyone has to pay full price is also completely delusional.

    If I can make $4.99 selling manga for $9.99, and you can make the same, hey, that’s great, life is fair. If I decide I am willing to sell my manga for $8.99, and only make $3.99 in profit, that’s generous, but stupid. But if by selling my manga for $8.99 I attract your customer away from you, so that I make $7.98 and you make $0, well, that’s capitalism.

    Smaller retailers deserve a level playing field, so there should be laws against dumping, but if MEGA*MART(TM) finds it can sell it’s manga for $5.01 and still make “sufficient profit” to meet it’s expectations, well, it should. But you can’t say “We deserve a profit, that’s capitalism” on one hand, and then claim “We deserve protection from capitalist competition” on the other. That’s just whinning.

  57. Ralf Haring Says:

    “When did it become unfair for a store to ask people to pay retail price for an item?”

    When I, the customer, am the one taking the financial burden by preordering and prepaying. I think I am absolutely entitled to some portion of the retailers discount for guaranteeing a sale with cash up front.

  58. Lisa Says:

    David – good point. I never said that stores couldn’t sell things for less than me. However, I don’t see anything wrong with the manufacturer rewarding the stores that support them by giving them some price support. Yes, I like it because it helps me. BUT it also helps all of those guys who were selling them for virtually no profit because now they have to price items higher – and make more money in doing that.

  59. Lisa Says:

    Ralf – There are two ways of looking at that. Maybe the retailer owes you for “borrowing” your money until the product arrives. OR maybe you should pay extra for the service of the store ordering items specifically for you, separating those orders from other merchandise, and keeping that merchandise somewhere in the store until you pick it up. It IS more work than just ordering and placing all items on the sales floor, after all.

    Also, I do know that many stores implement the prepay policy in order to protect themselves from being burned by customers who order more than they can afford and end up financially burdening the retailer. You might not do that to your store, but there is a reason for the policy. We don’t do take prepayments at my store, but there have been times that has really burned us.

  60. Johanna Says:

    Except, Lisa, “you can’t sell this for less than I say” isn’t rewarding the good stores, it’s attempting to penalize the bad. That’s not a reward, it’s an attempt to forcibly maintain an artificial high price point. (I say “artificial” because if it wasn’t, the forced maintenance wouldn’t be necessary.)

    And whether selling fewer copies for more money actually makes someone more profit is a function of specific math. It may not be the case. If I go from selling 30 at $10 to selling 10 at $20, then I’m losing money, for example.

    If you choose not to compete on price (instead maybe choosing service and convenience as your differentiators), then that’s your right. But saying “no one else should be allowed to compete on price either” is petty.

  61. Lisa Says:

    True, Johanna. But I never said that I was the one who should set the rules. I did not call Mayfair Games and tell them to put these limits in place. I simply said that I personally agree with them.

    Also – one thing no one has brought up is the fact that on-line discounting has greatly damaged small retailers. Hobby shops and game stores are just one example. As I said in the post, I too bargain shop from time to time. However, if I go to a store that treats me well I will, more often, buy from them rather than saving $2 after shipping by purchasing an item on line. Why? Because I want that store to stick around. Sure, it costs me more, but I also understand the larger picture. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

  62. Ralf Haring Says:

    Lisa, I prepay because it gets me a bigger discount, not because the store needs to guarantee against a burn. Stores that have pull lists on a customer’s word alone should understandably pass along a smaller discount. I think a store that tried to charge *extra* for a pull list would be laughed to the curb. Is the sorting and storing worth more than the data retailers get from preorders that can help them eliminate some of the guesswork of their full order?

  63. Johanna Says:

    Lisa, you’re assuming that the small retailer is always in the right. What if it doesn’t have the product I want because the proprietor isn’t interested in stocking it? What if I can’t shop there because they’re more interested in keeping their pets with them than serving allergic customers? What if their idea of service is grudgingly stopping their internet surfing to answer my question? I’d love to support good small retailers, but they aren’t automatically preferable.

  64. James Schee Says:

    If it was only a few dollars I could possibly understand. On my orders which were very rarely are anything but HCs or tpbs, I’d usually save somewhere between $40 and $50 per order though. As so many of the things I’m interested in have at least a 40% discount at DCBS if not even more

    Even shipping was usually around what I would have paid for sales tax at any store in the area.(TX has an 8.25%)

    Even if I had a store that I just loved to go to, who stocked everything I wanted, treated me like a long lost relative and the like. I’m not sure I would pass up those kind of savings, as that allows me to try so much more stuff.

    I know it may sound cold blooded to retailers, but I have to look out for what is best for me. Retailers don’t have a right to my business, and I’ll get my comics from the best place, and way for me to get them in.

    Of course currently I’ve just been forced to switch jobs, and have a lower paying one. So I’m not ordering period right now as I adjust. Yet I’m still reading a ton of stuff, as my library uses to interlibrary loan program which is working out great!

  65. Story Followup LinkBlogging » Comics Worth Reading Says:

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  66. Lisa Says:

    Johanna – I never understood why shop keepers feel the need to bring pets in – I am completely with you on that.

    As far as stocking what you want to buy – sometimes you have to let the store owner know your interests. I am sure you have seen Previews and know how many hundreds of comics and graphic novels are there – we just can’t order them all because of both space and money. But, a good retailer should carry things that a customer expresses an interest in.

    The computer thing can be annoying too. I have been in stores like that. Sometimes they’re just passive, not wanting to be “pushy” to customers as they browse. Other times they are “busy” or have some other excuse for not paying attention to customers.

    Not all comic book stores are good. Some are, some are not. And, I have always said I’d rather see someone support an on-line business over supporting a bad comic book store. But, if there is a good comic book store in the area, it should be supported by those that claim to want a good comic book store. Just also keep in mind that often running a good store is more expensive than running a bad one – so they need more support.

  67. Rob S. Says:

    And if it’s a good store, they’ll engender that support naturally, no?

  68. Lisa Says:

    Rob – unfortunately no. There are good and bad customers as well. Some will get every bit of info they can from a store only to turn around and purchase from a discounter.

  69. Johanna Says:

    Lisa, I’m not shy about letting store owners know what I want to buy, believe me. :) But there are those who just aren’t interested in, for example, selling manga (much of my comic reading these days). Or in maintaining browsing copies of indy and small press titles. They’re willing to carry those products for preorder only, which isn’t what I consider full service. If I’m going to have to commit to pay for a graphic novel two months before its release without ever seeing it, why wouldn’t I do that where I get a substantial discount?

  70. Retailer vs. Customer Needs » Comics Worth Reading Says:

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  71. Dena Brooks Says:

    My retailer says that the Dark Tower is $3.99 because it is 28 story pages instead of the usual 20-22, has extra content beyond the story and none of the normal advertising (this issue only had 2 King ads and 1 marvel ad) and a card stock cover. That seems worth $1 to me.

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