Amazon for Comics?

There’s a new website out there that aims to be both Amazon and Facebook for comics, all in one: HeavyInk.com. It combines shopping and social software.

The immediate hook is that everything, regardless of quantity ordered, is 20% off with free shipping. However, there’s a big caveat on that, as listed on their Terms and Conditions page:

[A]lthough comic books that we receive “new” from our suppliers are in fact new in that they have not been sold at retail, they may have traveled a ways before getting to you. They may not be in “mint” or “near mint” condition. They may have been shipped or handled by sales personnel, even though they are still new. It is typical for a new comic book that traveled a long way to get to you to have a few minor blemishes to show for it, including small spine cracks and slight bindery or printing defects (such as, for example, a cover that has been cut a little crooked, or a page with an irregular edge). These minor faults are expected, and we will not accept returns on such comics.

… “defective” does not mean lost or damaged in transit to you when using free shipping. We offer you the option to upgrade to UPS delivery for which we will purchase insurance, thereby guaranteeing delivery free from transit damage. If you choose to take a chance and not upgrade to insured UPS delivery, and the merchandise is lost or damaged in transit, it is not considered defective. Only your luck is.

So, basically, if you use free shipping, you’re not getting a near mint comic. (I’m still trying to figure out how shipping distance causes printing defects.) Anecdotal evidence from early customers is that they drop individual comics, unprotected, into heavy cardboard envelopes for shipping. And, reading closely, if you choose free shipping, you may not get a comic at all. But that’s what credit card chargebacks are for.

They’re offering every comic (including back issues) and graphic novel provided by Diamond, so you’ll still have to look elsewhere for the smaller presses. To deal with potential shortages and errors, they promise a triple money back guarantee: “if we screw up and forget to send you an issue you’ve subscribed to, and we can’t make it good, we’ll give you triple the price of the issue.” That’s either a lot of confidence or a good way to go broke quickly, given that they’re depending on Diamond as supplier. Will fans who don’t get a hot issue be pacified with more money? Or will price win out overall in satisfying customers?

I found a founder’s cost comparison (in the message titled “Mentioned in Hacking Netflix” — I couldn’t find a permanent link to this particular entry, which is a weird thing for them to overlook providing) eye-opening. I found a founder’s cost comparison eye-opening. (Thanks, Derek!) He compares their prices to the much higher discounts (40-75% off) offered by Discount Comic Book Service:

(a) they lock folks in to pre-ordering three months in advance, and once you’re preordered, you can’t cancel
(b) they don’t sell individual issues
(c) they don’t carry or sell back issues
In the post-Amazon, post-Netflix world, their shipping charges of $6 up to $20 are outrageous.
At DCBS four $3 comics at 40% off, plus $6 in shipping comes to $13.20.
At HeavyInk, the same four comics, with free shipping, are $9.60.

Well, he’s right, that is a better deal… and getting four comics for under $10 these days is refreshing.

Also very nice is the ability to change your mind. They promise that you can cancel a subscription or order up to an hour before it ships. They also provide reviews, “a recommendation engine”, profiles, blogs, and online friends. Here’s their full feature list, many of which have to do with improved user interface compared to other sites.

The site is by the people behind SmartFlix, an online service that rents how-to DVDs, so they do have e-commerce experience. It’ll be interesting to see whether (or how quickly) this takes off. There have been several attempts at creating the “Amazon for comics”, with most giving up because of the unique problems that face the comic retailer: way more individual SKUs to handle weekly than in other fields, very demanding fanbase both concerned about quality and seeking lower prices, and so on.


6 Responses to “Amazon for Comics?”

  1. Derek Coward Says:

    Johanna, here is the Trackback URL for the Hacking Netflix entry: http://www.typepad.com/t/trackback/2006/22989870

  2. Derek Coward Says:

    OK, I’m an idiot, here’s the URL I should have posted: http://www.hackingnetflix.com/2007/11/heavy-ink-onlin.html

  3. Johanna Says:

    Thanks, I’ve updated the post, because that’s a better source … especially given the way the discussion developed there. I appreciate the help!

  4. Travis from HeavyInk Says:

    Johanna,

    Regarding the “Terms and Conditions” page: that’s the text our lawyer drew up. I understand completely your being a bit worried about some of the phrasing (I’ll look into it and see if we want to change it). I can tell you, though, that the feedback we’ve been getting from customers is that the heavy duty cardboard mailers we use are sturdier than those used by other stores. You can see customer comments on the heavy duty mailers in the forums here:

    http://heavyink.com/forum/forums/1/topics/18

    Also, at SmartFlix, we’ve always had really good customer satisfaction: whenever a customer is unhappy, we refund their money, or so whatever is required to resolve the problem. The same is true at HeavyInk. Terms and Conditions at websites tend to read a bit draconian, so that policies are in place to prevent hugely abusive customers (e.g. we ship someone $500 of comics, he lets them sit on his front step for three weeks and they get rained on repeatedly, and then asks us to refund his money).

    If anyone ever has the slightest problem with a shipment from HeavyInk, they should contact me directly via tjic_feedback@heavyink.com

    Thanks for the space to respond!

  5. Johanna Says:

    Thanks for sharing the update! I think the part that might need editing the most is “Only your luck is.” since it sounds almost like a blow-off, but I understand the conflict between legal needs and customer service desires. Thanks for stopping by!

  6. Travis from HeavyInk Says:

    Our lawyer is actually a pretty nice guy, and he asked us “what should the tone be – formal, or light hearted?”. I said “light hearted”. Looks like the humor went slightly off the mark. In the SmartFlix terms and conditions, we have a section about liability (it basically boils down to: “if you follow instructions on a video, be aware that we aren’t experts and don’t vette them”). I thought his phrasing “if you weld your head to a pipe, it’s not our fault” was pretty hysterical by the standards of a legal document!

    Anyway, I will review the Terms and Conds.

    thanks again,

    Travis

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