ComicsPRO Requests End to Some Convention Sales

Comic retailer trade organization ComicsPRO has released a position statement aimed at publishers who sell material at conventions before it ships to direct market stores. Here’s the key paragraph:

ComicsPRO asserts that direct-to-consumer sales of material prior to their release to retailers adversely affects potential sales in Direct Market stores belonging to our membership. When customers have already purchased products directly from a publisher before the retail channel is even able to stock these items, the cash flow and bottom lines of Direct Market retailers are noticeably impacted.

Asserts is the right word. Publishers tend to say, when I’ve seen this discussion before, “no it doesn’t, because we’re selling to people without stores” and “we have to, to make our budgets”. Retailers say “I’m not stocking your books, then” (if they even were in the first place) and we have a standstill, because then the publisher has even more incentive to go around the direct market. No one can conclusively prove their position, and with just-in-time ordering, retailers rarely stock ANY publication in depth at initial order. If the impact is that noticeable, I wish someone would post some figures.

One board member, Carr D’Angelo of Earth-2 Comics in California, was quoted as saying “When publishers sell to our customers before we even have the product, it makes for an uneasy business relationship.” That’s an interesting possessive. I’m reading too much into the use of “our”, I’m sure, but as a direct market customer, I don’t want to be taken for granted. I want to buy where I can get the product I want at the best price with the minimum effort. (Don’t all consumers?) Sure, if I commit to pre-ordering something, I’ll follow through, but that’s one reason I’m no longer pre-ordering much. I don’t want to be tied down in case I do find a better deal elsewhere. And convention sales are often more advantageous for me — I can meet the publisher and/or creator and get a signed copy, a sketch, or another special offering.

A direct market customer who buys some comics from a store, even a regular customer, is not committing to buying ALL of their comics from that store. And that lack of loyalty, of moving beyond the pull list as tastes change from monthly periodical to a variety of books, may be scaring a lot of traditional retailers.

Another board member pulls out the stick:

“Pre-release convention sales by some publishers have negatively affected their ability to penetrate Direct Market retail channels,” added Benjamin Trujillo [...] of Star Clipper in St Louis, MO. “By clearly explaining the reasoning behind retailers’ decisions to not stock titles from publishers engaging in pre-release convention sales and making a case for an even playing field, we’ll be encouraging publishers to adopt sales strategies that will benefit themselves and the Direct Market overall.”

He seems to be saying that publishers that sell direct to customers before stores have been penalized for doing so. So what’s the incentive for them to stop, if these stores have decided “to not stock titles” from them?

Maybe I’m being too optimistic, but wouldn’t a more convincing paper say “if you stop selling to customers before us, we commit to increasing sales through the direct market enough to make up the difference?” There’s probably some complicated reason not to do that (legalities? collusion?), but where’s the incentive for the publishers to change their behavior, if they’re already using sales strategies that work for them? Where’s the carrot?

All this position paper does is put down in print what’s already been happening and talked about for years. Stating it again, perhaps a bit more forcefully, does nothing to change the status quo. Some publishers have tried to work with retailers, making books available early to those who will be at a convention where this may be a concern, but that apparently hasn’t been enough.

The publishers aimed at include Top Shelf, Fantagraphics, and others who have moved beyond direct market dependence into getting a significant percentage of sales through bookstores and other venues, which may also be part of the problem. When the majority of your product doesn’t move through the traditional comic store, you don’t have to bend over backwards to favor them.

I’m disappointed. I expected to see more from ComicsPRO than just a restating of the problem retailers perceive. Then again, since whatever they release has to be agreed to by a majority of their members, maybe they couldn’t go any further than saying “stop it”.

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90 Responses to “ComicsPRO Requests End to Some Convention Sales”

  1. James Schee Says:

    Shouldn’t this be more of an issue between retailers and their customers?

    Seems to me that its more a part of the fan/customer not remembering/caring if they ordered the book from their retailer.(which on indy books, with spotty Diamond and retailer history ordering is possible)

    I know I accidently bought a few books at a con that I had ordered and forgot about. I made good with the retailer and bought them, and looked at the ones I’d bought at the show as sort of a momento. (since I got them signed and got to talk with the creator)

    If a retailer doesn’t have that same response from their customer. Than perhaps that retailer might want to consider why their customer carries such little thought for them and take action. (there are bad customers out there after all)

    Say you are a creator at a show with a customer such as myself these days. I don’t preorder, nor do I frequent any shops on anything remotely of a regular basis. Yet through Amazon, Books A Million and others I’ve picked up all your prior work. Should they not be allowed to offer to sell to me their latest project because it hasn’t hit shops yet?

  2. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » Jan. 18, 2008: If you love me, kill your dog Says:

    [...] than stating the obvious, I’ll leave it to Johanna Draper Carlson to state the obvious for [...]

  3. ADD Says:

    I responded to this piece here, Johanna. Thanks for bringing this to light.

  4. Johanna Says:

    Well, James, there’s also the issue of non-pre-ordering customers. Some retailers seem to feel that even if a customer didn’t commit to getting the book from them, they would have bought if off the shelf from them if they hadn’t gotten it at the convention, and they’re concerned about losing that sale. In short, they compete with other stores in their area already (comic retailers, bookstores, etc.) and don’t want to be competing with the publisher as well.

    You’re now the kind of customer that the publishers are aiming to serve with con sales, by the way.

  5. Dustin Harbin Says:

    As both a retailer AND a convention organizer (I’m one of the organizers of the annual Heroes Convention in Charlotte), I have mixed feelings about issues like this. Maybe not that mixed–I feel the direct market hamstrings itself by demanding special consideration from publishers in a competitive marketplace. Whether we like it or not, publishers are in the business of selling books, not in the business of propping up the somewhat incestuous business and distribution models of the direct market.

    It does suck when someone buys a book at a convention that they’ve preordered from us. On the other hand, the kind of customer that preorders books on a regular basis is arguably the most valuable type of customer, in that they’re increasing our ordering information and strengthening our often tenuous grip on their financial good graces. So they’re the kind of customer we’re most likely to forgive.

    Although it tastes funny in my mouth to say it, I think this is a free market issue–I do not think the future of comic books as a medium or art form is tied to the direct market, and I think comic retailers need to evolve out of the strange system that coalesced in the 70′s. The fact that comics are sold more and more in the mass market is great for comics, but not so great for the direct market. That doesn’t mean that forward-thinking retailers can’t figure out a way to survive and even thrive in this new market.

  6. ADD Says:

    “It does suck when someone buys a book at a convention that they’ve preordered from us.”

    I have to say that, if I were so overcome with need that I bought early at a convention a book I knew I had pre-ordered, I would still buy it from my retailer and give it away as a gift or find some other use for it.

    I can’t imagine more than 1 or 2 percent of comic shop customers would stick it to their retailer in this manner, if even that many.

  7. James Schee Says:

    Woo hoo I’m a target audience, that I actually want to be a part of lol!

    (I’m also sort of trained these days to not pay cover price, so wouldn’t see myself paying that at a comic shop as they would want me to.)

    It still seems odd to me, as you say yourself, that this group of retailers wants publishers like Top Shelf to not sell early books directly to customers. Or else they will no longer carry their books, even though I bet the majority don’t stock their books in the first place.

    I wonder if the next step would be asking publishers not to sell anything at conventions period? After all they are taking sales from retailers at the convention and at home too.

  8. Simon Jones Says:

    If ComicsPro is warning some publishers that early convention sales are hurting the ability of retailers to move their product, which in turn leads to reduced orders, then I’m okay with that. That’s natural market forces at work.

    If ComicsPro is threatening all publishers that sell at conventions with membership-wide blackballing because of an assumption that such behavior will hurt sales, then that seems rather questionable, in a collusive, self-fulfilling prophecy sort of way.

    I’m pretty sure ComicsPro is taking the former position, but it wouldn’t hurt if they clarified this…

  9. Benjamin Trujillo Says:

    ComicsPRO is in no way threatening to blacklist publishers who engage in pre-release convention sales. Any such threat would directly contradict our adopted bylaws and would violate Federal antitrust law.

    We ARE asking publishers who engage in that behavior to stop, and I think a plain reading of the position paper clearly reflects that. My quote, portrayed erroneously in this article as ‘taking out the stick,’ is meant only to explain the current situation and is just one of many reasons publishers who engage in this behavior have had trouble penetrating direct market sales channels.

    Please understand that the stores who are directly affected by pre-release convention sales are the stores that most strongly support these publishers. My store is a fervent supporter of publishers like Fantagraphics, Top Shelf and Drawn & Quarterly – as are many other ComicsPRO members’ stores.

    And it isn’t a question of the occasional preorder customer who ultimately buys early at a convention. It’s the dozens of shelf copy sales that are lost and extra (non-returnable) inventory that remains because a retailer ordered the product without knowing it would be made available through other channels weeks or months early.

    ComicsPRO has made its request for an even playing field and is willing to work with small press publishers to find ways to successfully market their products.

  10. Amanda Fisher Says:

    Hi Johanna,

    I posted to Alan first because he seems to interpret more of a bullying message into the paper than you did, but I’d still like to address your idea that:

    “Publishers tend to say, when I’ve seen this discussion before, “no it doesn’t, because we’re selling to people without stores” and “we have to, to make our budgets”. Retailers say “I’m not stocking your books, then””

    My fear is that you are taking your years of participating on message boards and your experience with retailers in general and coloring what ComicsPRO is trying to do. The voting members aren’t just leaving it to message board complaining from retailers who dont really care, they are putting forward a concerted effort to say that this remains a problem for the retailers who are supporting the publishers throughout the year.

    Though we all realize that publishers have heard this complaint from various venues over the years, we are bringing it up again, and in a format that is more structured and has more voices behind it, so that they understand that it really does affect the retailers who do their best to work for them. As an organization, we do not advocate blocking or blackballing any publisher or creator; we created a specific anti-trust policy so that no one could try to use the organization to that effect.

    We have many ways we work with publishers, including our Annual Meeting where publishers can sit down to present to members or engage them directly in discussion along with communications and programs between the organization and interested publishers or creators, so we aren’t here just to restate problems and let them drop. But we do want to release (in papers like these) to all publishers that we feel this is a problem, and we want it on the table for discussion again.

  11. Lisa at Neptune Says:

    The main problem is that retailers have typically ordered these comics, believing that they’d all be on an even playing field – that everyone selling the comic book would get it on the same day. However, when copies are given away or sold at a convention that occurs AFTER the product is ordered and BEFORE it is available for sale via all of the other methods, that’s when it gets frustrating for retailers. We can’t return the comics! If a store is near the NY Comic Con and three weeks before the comic book arrives in that comic book store the publisher sells the comic at their booth, and a number of the comic book store’s customers buy that comic book at the convention – not wanting to have to wait that extra three weeks – and then the store that was expecting on a certain amount of sales now has an increased chance of having a large amount of unsold copies of that comic. Every unsold and unreturnable copy of a comic book is money lost for a store, and as Ben mentioned, those that decide to support the publishers by buying large quantities of their comics are hit the most when these pre-sales eat into their customer base.

    Also – it’s a position paper, not a solution paper. Retailers are expressing their position on these pre-sales, stating that if convention pre-sales continue, especially after the orders have been placed, they will have to cut back on ordering product from those publishers known to pre-sell comics, during those times of the year when the store has to compete with convention sales.

    The only way to save money in THE CURRENT situation is to cut back on orders – hedge one’s bets. Now, if publishers want to take that information and work with retailers to come up with solutions to the current situation, that’s the best thing for both sides – and the very reason why ComicsPRO members state their position on this matter.

  12. Brian Hibbs Says:

    Johanna:

    A couple of quick thoughts on this (and I guess I should make it clear that I’m speaking as an individual here, rather than for the Board or anything):

    “If the impact is that noticeable, I wish someone would post some figures.”

    Two points here:

    1) As someone who has access to the CBIA, you’ve certainly had the opportunity to be exposed to some specific individual retailer’s details of how this has impacted them. I’m not sure that a position paper is the place to go into micro-examples like “Brian Hibbs of Comix Experience relates that at least two customers who had preordered the BONE ONE EDITION book threw their copies back because the book debuted first at San Deigo; which leads on to the reasonable conclusion that there were other sales lost from non-preorder customers as well”

    And I don’t think we CAN offer macro-examples, because there’s no effective way to poll a wide swath of customers about behavior that they may have engaged in — that is to say “Comic shops would have sold 1.7% more copies of BONE ONE EDITION had Cartoon Books not sold it before it arrived at retail” is sort of essentially unprovable in a macro sense.

    2) “Noticeable” is a weird word, because I pretty much don’t care if someone takes $1 from me or $1000 — in the end I’m making less money (regardless of scale), which makes it harder to run a “good” comics shop.

    “I’m reading too much into the use of “our”, I’m sure, but as a direct market customer, I don’t want to be taken for granted.”

    I think you’re reading too much into it, yeah. What I suspect Carr meant by “our” (though I haven’t asked him) is that brick & mortar stores run out of a physical location 365-ish days of the year, paying rent, etc., and (hopefully) working with their communities to expose them to a wide range of quality material — we’re out here every day doing the best job we can selling comics.

    That doesn’t mean that individual customers are inherently beholden to us, but rather that it ISN’T FAIR and ISN’T RIGHT that we (or, really, anyone) don’t get an EQUAL CHANCE at selling the same product in the territories and businesses that we’ve spent years and considerable amounts of money trying to cultivate.

    “but where’s the incentive for the publishers to change their behavior, if they’re already using sales strategies that work for them? Where’s the carrot?”

    Here’s the thing, Johanna, HOW *exactly* do we make that carrot?

    We can’t commit, for anti-trust reasons, individual stores for specific sales increases; and even if we did, we’re selling an entertainment item, not a widgit — future sales depend entirely on WHAT they are. It’s all nice and fine to say “OK, Top Shelf, stop undercutting me, and I’ll buy 10% more books next month”, but what if that’s the month that Top Shelf decides to publish something utterly uncommercial? ROB LIEFELD’S SWAN LAKE, perhaps?

    Further, the overwhelming majority of my suppliers DON’T engage in this behavior. How can I promise something to an offender in good conscience, then?

    Intellectually, I agree with what you’re saying about carrots, but I don’t see any way to codify it within the context of a position paper, even if the anti-trust issues didn’t exist. Which they do.

    Besides: I would think that the carrot is self-evident — happy healthy retailers sell more of your work, and you have hundreds and hundreds of competitors for that retailer’s dollars. Therefore the more you do to help them, the better a position or attitude they are to support you. This is an ongoing proposition, as well, not just a one time “we’ll order 10% more” deal.

    “All this position paper does is put down in print what’s already been happening and talked about for years. Stating it again, perhaps a bit more forcefully, does nothing to change the status quo.”

    First off, I think that formally codifying the position is of great value to both current participants of the market, and well as for future ones who don’t necessarily have access to the history of this debate.

    Second, one thing that publishers historically do is minimize the individual retailers concerns because they’re just individual retailers. I think its really important that they understand that a majority of ALL ComicsPRO retailers believe this is a concern.

    That’s my opinion, at least.

    -B

  13. Richard Marcej Says:

    As a self publisher and a publisher of others works….

    If I had the choice of offering my books through Comic Shops rather than sell them at conventions I’d opt to sell through the shops EVERYTIME. Sure, I might make a few more bucks selling person to person at a con, though by adding all my extra costs, table, hotel, etc… there’s little profit.

    But, with the attitude of MORE and MORE (not ALL of course) Comic Shops in recent years to not order from tiny publishers like myself, I think this attitude by ComicsPro is just one more insult that frankly keep me as a consumer away from the shops.

  14. Tommy Raiko Says:

    Isn’t the logical (if a bit long-term) solution be to devise a system that assigns actual on-sale dates to publishers’ products, with appropriate agreed-upon terms of sale that forbid putting those products on sale prior to the indicated release date?

    Obviously, there’s a lot of logisics on many, many levels that’d have to get hammered out in order to get to that point–especially in the non-returnable world of (much) comics retailing–but my understanding is that that’s basically the system with the retailing of many other media products like DVDs, music, or books. Which isn’t to say that those set onsale dates are never broken with those products, but at least there’s a general agreement in place.

    I defer to those more knowledgable about the business of comics, but it seems that that’s the logical direction this position paper would seem to be heading.

  15. Johanna Says:

    Wow, I’m sorry I couldn’t get back to this conversation earlier — there are some excellent points being made.

    I think a lot of it boils down to very different perspectives. Retailers say they want an equal playing field, meaning that they see themselves as equivalent to publishers in that they both sell to customers. But to publishers, the equivalence is elsewhere: retailers and customers (or more accurately, the distributor and customers) are both people who give them money for books.

    My point remains: while retailers have said in a variety of ways why con selling is bad for them from their perspective, they haven’t said why con selling is bad for publishers from the publishers’ perspective. And until they understand that perspective, they can’t put forth a convincing (at least in my opinion) argument. The closest they’ve come is “we won’t buy your books”. Which isn’t effective for two reasons: 1. lots of retailers don’t buy their books already, which is why the publishers started selling at cons and 2. boycotts in comics rarely work anyway. If a retailer thinks he can sell a book, he’ll order it, regardless of what he personally thinks about the publisher. (John Byrne’s assertions aside.)

    Dustin, you get the gold star for my favorite summary, thank you. I appreciate you sharing your unique perspective from both sides of the discussion.

  16. Johanna Says:

    Amanda, I want to address you separately because I greatly respect you and your opinion. You say this remains a problem. Ok. Let’s assume that publishers recognize the severity of the problem and agree to stop convention selling. How you do propose that they make up that revenue? Will it automatically come from the few retailers who stock their books ordering more? Assuming that it takes some years for retailers to be sure that publishers have changed their ways, what do the publishers do in the meantime?

    There’s also the question of “buzz books”. By having new product available at big conventions, publishers create publicity for these books, with one or two publications becoming THE talked-about work of the show as attendees tell their friends “you gotta go get that”. How will publishers replace that effect?

  17. Johanna Says:

    Brian, the Bone One Volume edition is an interesting example, because it was a limited print run. Saying retailers sold X% less than they could have is irrelevant to the publisher, because the whole run sold out. And the publisher makes more money selling to customers than going through Diamond, so it’s much better for them in such a case to minimize the retailer percentage. In the short run, anyway. In the long run, that may poison the well, making it such that they HAVE to continue selling direct because retailers want to punish them for being burned.

    You imply that the happy retailer will notice the well-behaved publishers out of the “hundreds and hundreds of competitors”. I don’t think that matters as much as we both wish it did. I think, as you say earlier, it’s fundamentally about the product, regardless of who puts it out. And I think a number of publishers are thinking “instead of competing with those hundreds, I’ll build markets elsewhere”. Which is what they’re doing.

    Tommy, yes, that would be a reasonable, mature solution that I’ve been told will never happen. The perception is that there are too many hobbyist or otherwise unprofessional shops out there that wouldn’t bother observing the dates, instead putting out material as soon as they got it (because they’re asked to pay for it as soon as they receive it).

  18. Johanna Says:

    And once again, I want to thank everyone for their comments, especially the well-known and respected retailers who took the time to elaborate on their position.

  19. John Tinkess Says:

    Johanna, when you say:

    “Let’s assume that publishers recognize the severity of the problem and agree to stop convention selling. How you do propose that they make up that revenue?”

    I think you might be overlooking the main point of this position paper which seems to me to be the early release or “debut” of new works at conventions. If, as publishers often say, they are selling to NEW customers or those without good stores then why do they find it so necessary to sell products that are not yet in stores? No one is asking publishers to stop selling at conventions altogeher, just to stop undercutting the retailers who support them by selling books that have yet to be distributed to retail.

    The dates for San Diego (and every other major con) are no big secret and with a bit better planning publishers should be able to find a way to get their books into stores at the same time.

  20. James Schee Says:

    Isn’t that one of the big perks fans get by going to cons though? After all for many fans like myself its a fairly expensive trip to even go to ones like Heroes, much less San Diego.

    That they’ll be able to buy things either comic shops don’t/can’t offer, con exclusive covers, books etc., or that hasn’t made it out to shops yet? (sort of like getting to see an advanced showing of a new movie, ahead of others?)

    Johanna was talking about buzz books above. It got me thinking about something I don’t see quite as often as I used to, but would likely never happen if the current idea is put in place.

    That book that someone finds at a con and its just amazing. He/She goes home just raving about the book, and tells their fellow fans about it. And even brings it in to their retailer, who is equally impressed. All of who can’t wait to order the book when they see its listed in Previews that month.

  21. Robert Scott Says:

    Johanna you ask how publishers make up the revenue? In my experience, if the publishers are to be taken at face value, there’s no money to be made up. I’ve been told by numerous publishers that the cost of setting up, flying in creators and shipping product means that they really aren’t making anything at the conventions.

    Are they being honest? I don’t know but taking them at their face value, there is no reason for this practice as it alienates them from an incredible asset.

    Hundreds of ambassadors for their product, people how continue to fan the embers sparked at the convention during the other 360+ days of the year when there is no convention in town.

    There are so many ways that publishers could work with retailers to ensure not only more succesful convention sales but increased direct market sales but publishers in question are often so myopic that the only thing they can see is the quick buck. It would not suprise me at all if they were the kids that opted for granddad’s shiny penny right away rather than a quarter later.

    Ultimately they don’t owe us anything but the reverse is true as well. If they don’t feel that the DM is an area that they need for their success, trust me, there are plenty of books out there for us to sell.

    I’ll leave you with another thought to ponder.

    If these publishers are truly selling to new customers and people without stores and not to existing DM customers (probably at the expense of DM retailers who have helped cultivate demand for the work) why are the overall DM sales #’s for those publishers not growing? If the publishers are indeed selling to new people, there should have been considerable growth over the last 5-10 years. I’ve yet to see any sales #’s to suggest any such growth, how about you?

  22. ADD Says:

    “why are the overall DM sales #’s for those publishers not growing?”

    I would think that would have to do more with the direct market’s overall obsession with superhero comic books than with convention sales of non-superhero graphic novels. What percentage of direct market shops carries any variety at all of titles from the publishers we’re talking about here? 10? 15?

    And anecdotally, it seems to me that the presence of non-superhero graphic novels is bursting at the seams every EXCEPT the direct market — I see more non-superhero titles in libraries and mainstream bookstores every time I visit one.

  23. Johanna Says:

    John, I think the publishers see the bigger conventions as premiere events, like with a special movie debut. Based on my experience, sometimes people are more likely to buy something when they’re in that con mode, especially if it’s new and that can’t get it anywhere else. They aren’t as likely to buy it back home, when they’re worrying about budgets, less willing to try something new, and not overcome by the atmosphere. Not to mention a debut book is eligible for awards in some cases (SPX) or more likely to be mentioned in news stories in others (SD). There are definite advantages to the publishers, and asking them to give them up just because one group of customers thinks it deserves to maintain an historical advantage, well, that’s not particularly compelling.

    And if it’s a matter of equalizing release dates, isn’t that something to be taken up with Diamond? They can sit on smaller titles for 2-3 weeks sometimes, especially during busy times of years, like convention season.

  24. Johanna Says:

    Robert, you’ve just said that pre-sales cover convention costs. So if you want to take that away from publishers, that would mean instead of breaking even, they’d lose money at shows. I’m sure you’ll say that they ought to be ready to bear that as a marketing expense, but I’m against something that will drive publishers away from appearing at many conventions. (I still remember the days when Top Shelf was a welcome breath of indy air at otherwise superhero-dominated shows.)

    I have trouble reconciling “ambassadors for their product” with the comments also being made about “there are hundreds of other choices”. Certainly, with so many options, it’s unlikely that any retailer is hand-selling all of those indy titles. They have to pick and choose, and at the end of the day, the publisher is going to do a better job of pushing their titles than anyone else. Perhaps my experience is jading me here, but I’ve only ever once been in a comic store where the retailer knew more about indy titles than I did. The interested customer is much better educated these days, and few stores bother with browsing copies or retailer recommendations of these kinds of books. Which indy publishers have you increased sales of in your store?

    Your suggestions for how publishers can improve direct market sales usually boil down to “give us more copies for free”, like suggesting “buy 4 get 1 free” offers at ordering. Which is nice for retailers, but difficult for publishers struggling with costs in, as you point out, an increasingly crowded market.

    As for your last question, as ADD points out, there’s been a great deal of growth, only it’s been in venues that are easier for those new customers to find and shop in: bookstores. The DM doesn’t grow because, given more options (and the increasing use of the book format), the customers choose elsewhere, places with discounts or friendlier service or more shelf copies or other advantages.

    Look, I like the direct market. I’ve been shopping there for decades, and I think I understand some of the unique challenges they face. But, in my opinion, there are better crusades to take up, mostly ones involving the much-bigger distribution problems. Maybe this was an easy one to get people to agree on, I don’t know. But it seems short-sighted and only likely to cause continued “defection” of certain publishers from the DM.

  25. Dustin Harbin Says:

    “Dustin, you get the gold star for my favorite summary, thank you. I appreciate you sharing your unique perspective from both sides of the discussion.”

    This is even better than winning the spelling bee. Again, any comment I make has to be prefaced by the assertion that yes, convention sales hurt comic store sales. Truthfully, even existing product being sold at conventions shrinks the pool of potential buyers for say, Sandman trades or something.

    But it’s a marketing benefit, I think. For instance, last year at SPX I bought a ton of stuff, and one of those things was Kaz Strzepek’s “The Mourning Star”. I came home, read it, loved it, ordered a bunch and told everyone who would listen about it. To date I think we’ve sold around fifteen copies of this $13 book. Five years ago or so I bought the pre-sale hardcover edition of Blankets from Chris Staros, which DIRECTLY led to me ordering very aggressively on that book when it came out. Instead of ordering one or two or none of the $30 paperback, I think we got ten or something, and to date have probably sold upwards of 60-75 copies. So there are benefits and losses, yes–but the direct market is already too beat up for infighting over pennies.

    Dustin Harbin
    Creative Director
    Heroes Aren’t Hard To Find
    Heroes Convention 2008
    http://www.heroesonline.com

  26. Amanda Fisher Says:

    Hi again Johanna,

    You have a lot of conversation going on here and a lot of great points being made so normally I’d let the Better Talkers take this one, but you asked me about how to replace the revenue for the publishers.

    To define the situation again: we’re talking about books we order ahead of time from publishers. The same books get sold at conventions before we can have them to many of the same customers who would have bought them from a retailer, then we receive our non-returnable orders.

    A better question is how the publishers would plan to replace the retailers’ lost revenue, not vice versa. The publishers get the money from the retailers via orders, they get the money from the comic customers via convention sales, and then retailers are the ones with the unsold, unreturnable shelf copies.

    Suggestions and answers have already come up in the comments section about how this can be handled, but I just wanted to refocus the definition because this is not something extra that retailers want to take away from publishers–this is something publishers have *already been* taking away from retailers. And the position paper just brings it back to the discussion that many great retailers are losing sales to this practice.

    I hope you know (or I hope I can convince you) that I do not like to encourage a retailer vs. publisher type of attitude, but in this instance it becomes more of a zero sum situation when the bill is left with the retailers and the sales are given to the publishers.

  27. David Oakes Says:

    “The publishers get the money from the retailers via orders, they get the money from the comic customers via convention sales, and then retailers are the ones with the unsold, unreturnable shelf copies.”

    Doesn’t this come down to “non-returnable”? Breaking a book at a convention or offering a special deal on a website is similar to changing content at the last minute, in that an implicit assumption that the retailer will be given opportunity to sell the book has been broken. (Whether the retailer should make that assumption is debateable, sure, but in the end it is their position in the chain. Of course, any retailer who buys a hot book due in August would be a fool not to assume his con going population will have already seen it.)

    I am not sure that returnability would be possible under Diamond and the DM as stands, or that it wouldn’t tip the scales too far in favor of abusive retailers. But isn’t one of the reasons that bookstores have been able to see such growth their ability to take chances and have more stock on hand, allowing them to exploit a popular book when it happens?

  28. morganagrom Says:

    It’s difficult to take this position paper seriously because there aren’t any retailers offering up real evidence of actually losing sales due to publishers’ convention sales. They say they lose sales, but do they really?

    Are there retailers out there who are still sitting on their initial orders of the Bone One Volume or Flight Volume One or Blankets or Lost Girls? If not, they sold everything they expected to sell when they placed their initial orders, so where’s the problem. True, they may have ordered copies thinking Bob would buy one (maybe Bob even pre-ordered one), but when Bob didn’t buy his they probably sold the copy to Steve or Alice or Joe. Any retailers who’ve placed reorders for these convention debut books has no cause for complaint.

    (Well, maybe they do – if it took them a couple weeks longer to sell out and place re-orders, then they lost a couple pennies worth of interest. Good luck though convincing the public that losing 10-15% of the direct market retailers each losing a buck a year is worth the publishers ending a popular convention practice.)

    At most, the retailers could complain that the convention sales cost them re-order sales. However, that’s not the point of the paper and retailers don’t seem to have a problem with publishers entering into competition with them selling to the public as a general concept – it’s just the advance sales that create the gripe.

    Interestingly, the paper ignores the fact that advance convention sales create buzz around books. Does buzz not increase sales?

    One has to wonder how ComicsPRO feels about publishers sending out advance review copies. Many publishers target reviewers who they feel might be predisposed to appreciate their product. Many comics reviewers already buy comics from direct market retailers. If these reviewers are getting their comics for free from the publishers, then they are less likely to buy them from their local comics stores, especially if they did not pre-order. Perhaps ComicsPRO can write a position paper about this practice too.

  29. morganagrom Says:

    That should read:

    “Good luck though convincing the public that 10-15% of the direct market retailers each losing a buck a year is worth the publishers ending a popular convention practice.”

    No one wants to lose 10-15% of the direct market retailers, especially for a buck each.

  30. morganagrom Says:

    Reading through this one part though, maybe the retailers do have a problem with any convention sales:

    “Market Efficiency
    In order for a market to function efficiently, all market participants should have equivalent access to the goods offered. If one or more participants has early access to market offerings, all other participants in that market are affected, whether through realization of full sales potential, or from less tangible concerns including reduced consumer confidence in a product line or a manufacturer.”

    “Equivalent?” So retailers get unsigned/unsketched copies, while convention attendees can often buy their copies signed/sketched. Perhaps the publishers should stop selling signed/sketched copies if the retailers don’t get those too, because otherwise it’s not equivalent. Or maybe every copy that goes out to the direct market should be signed/sketched.

    How about the part about “realization of full sales potential?” Does that mean that retailers shouldn’t sell at conventions at all, because it can affect the full sales potential for a book over the course of its publication life. That copy of Maggie the Mechanic that Fantagraphics sells at SDCC in 2008 is a copy that that person probably isn’t going to buy at their local comics store.

  31. Lisa at Neptune Says:

    Johanna said: “while retailers have said in a variety of ways why con selling is bad for them from their perspective, they haven’t said why con selling is bad for publishers from the publishers’ perspective. And until they understand that perspective, they can’t put forth a convincing (at least in my opinion) argument.”

    Here’s how they loose. If I buy 10 copies of Fantastic Comic #1 and only sell 3 because the publisher beat me to it by pre-selling at the convention, then I only buy 4 copies of #2-#10, instead of 10 copies. The publisher sold those 6 copies and made money on those, but in return they have lost the sale of 54 more comics. Now multiply that by the 100 retailers that belong to comics pro. Then assume that the bad will continues not just for the one series where the retailer lost sales, but over all of the series the publisher puts out. Now the loss is even greater.

    Sure, that publisher earned some money at the convention, even if it was only enough to cover the cost of their table, but in the process the publisher lost a lot more sales in the long run. The publisher is selling comics at the convention – the retailer sells them the rest of the year. It doesn’t pay for the publishers to aggravate their sales force, does it? Especially if it decreases their sales, which it has been and will continue to. In the long run it is MORE harmful for publishers to continue to pre-sell and loose their relationships with retailers than the harm it costs retailers. We have plenty of other comics to sell – sure we loose money on the one they pre-sold, but when we stop ordering comics from that publisher we stop loosing that money.

    Instead of cutting off their nose to spite their face, the publishers should find more creative ways to market their comics, ways that don’t disenfranchise their sales force of comic book retailers (be they in stores or on-line). Doing so would benefit the retailer AND the publisher. The retailers are not out to defeat the publishers. We are out there day in and day out trying to get not just regular comic book readers (the people that attend the comic conventions) to buy comics, but the general public – people that wouldn’t set foot in a convention. Retailers are not growing the business just for themselves – but also for the industry as a whole, and the publisher benefits in the process. Retailers should not be seen as the bad guys here, because without us there’d be a LOT fewer comics being sold, especially by the independent publishers that are usually the ones involved in the pre-sales being discussed.

  32. Johanna Says:

    Amanda, if it’s truly a zero sum game, then you’re asking for the publisher to give their sales to retailers instead… and that means instead of 100% of cover price, the publisher gets 50% instead (roughly). Why would publishers do that when the only recompense the retailers are offering are statements about feeling better about them and vague comments that everyone will be better off?

    And really, the books we’re talking about — do the retailers actually get stuck with them? The specific examples mentioned so far all went to additional printings, so there was clearly plenty of demand. It’s not “I didn’t sell my orders”, it sounds more like retailers are asserting “I would have sold more”. And how can that be demonstrated?

  33. Johanna Says:

    Lisa, most of the examples where I’ve seen retailers complain about this situation aren’t comic series — they’re graphic novels. So the possibility of additional follow-on sales is minimal at best (and only applies several years later, maybe, when the creator has a new book).

    If there’s a specific series example you’re thinking of where this has happened in the past, please share it, because I’m stumped.

    I find it stacking the deck to call retailers a “sales force” for publishers, because most salesmen of that type have a lot more loyalty. As we’ve already been told several times, retailers are ready to sell one of the others of hundreds of options if they don’t like a particular publisher. That’s not loyalty, and it’s why publishers can’t count on DM retailers to be their “sales force”.

    And you can stop ordering comics based on whether or not you like the publisher, but if your customers want to buy those comics, they’re then going to go elsewhere, which means more sales you aren’t getting (and Amazon or Borders or other retailers are). If retailers are gaining the majority of their sales through other venues already, retailers trying to punish them by not carrying them are just accelerating that transition.

    Why should publishers consider DM retailers in their marketing if their products sell better elsewhere? Sure, it would benefit you, but what benefit does it to them if they know from years of experience that the majority of DM stores are more interested in spending more on superhero books and creating outlets for that kind of customer?

    (Forgive me, but it’s “lose money”, not “loose money”. The latter would be funds of easy virtue, not money you’re not gaining.)

  34. Lisa at Neptune Says:

    Johanna – maybe you didn’t read my whole post.

    Retailers market to non-convention people. People that don’t go to comic book publisher web sites. People that don’t know about the publisher or their comics or graphic novels. What is the publisher doing to reach out to these non-comic buyers?

    Sales people are loyal? Sure! When the company they work for treats them well. If that relationship starts to deteriorate because the company is taking their sales away, or their ability to sell, the sales people quit and find a new company that will treat them better. Really – that’s what happens. I’ve been in sales, my husband has been in sales. Ask around – sales people are only loyal as long as the company they work for is loyal.

    Sure, some customers will go elsewhere, but many will not. Again – ask around. Most people are very loyal to their comic book store, no matter how “good” or “bad” the establishment is. If they don’t see the comic on the racks they’ll simply think it didn’t come out or it wasn’t any good or the store already ran out. Believe it or not, there ARE people who like the excitement, the convenience, the
    BENEFITS of shopping at a brick and mortar comic book store.

    Also – a customer who hasn’t heard of a book or publisher is a LOT more likely to ask a local store owner if it’s any good, or what it’s about, than they are to go up to the booth at the convention and ask the publisher. Most people who go to the booths at conventions are ALREADY fans or have a pre-existing interest.

    Examples – I’ve got two from my store and I’m about 90 miles from the nearest convention. Atomica #8 and Sire: Revelation #1. I lost sales on both of those because people that wanted them picked them up early at CWW instead. Am I the only one? Obviously not, or this position paper never would have been written.

  35. Johanna Says:

    Oh, I read your post, I just didn’t agree with it. Few retailers do much outreach marketing at all, and the biggest growth among non-comics readers is coming through bookstores and online, not through the old DM. Publishers who do reach out to those non-reader customers often get yelled at, since many DM stores don’t like the perception that they’re being worked around. (Outreach works best when pubs can complete the message with an immediate sale, not send a potential customer to a store they may or may not be able to find that may or may not have the book in stock.) DM stores like to think of themselves as the only outlet for comics, which is less true every day, and they hate being reminded of that change.

    Yes, there are people who like the benefits of shopping a comic store… and there are people who are stuck with one that lies about whether or not something was ordered or even still in print because they’re too lazy to do anything else. (That’s for James, earlier in this thread.) All of this is just anecdotal, on both sides.

    You say people who shop cons have a pre-existing interest; I say the same is true of those who shop comic book stores.

    Thanks for providing some concrete examples. Did you make lemonade out of those cases? I would think that you now have shelf copies you can use to sell a second person on the Atomica series, for example, thus presumably doubling your sales on issue #9. Or did you stop carrying the books with future issues instead? (And were these committed preorders?)

    Wait a minute, I’m confused… SIRE: Revelations shipped June 20. Wizard World Chicago was in August. What’s CWW?

  36. Amanda Fisher Says:

    Well, right, what you’re asking is, “why *wouldn’t* a publisher who can get the retailers to order books (retailers assuming they can sell a certain number) ALSO sell the same books to consumers before the retailers even receive their shipments?” Because you are right, the publishers get both the retailers’ money AND the consumers’ money either way. It’s the retailers who get the short end of the deal.

    We’re asking publishers, who most of us feel shouldn’t be directly doing things to make it harder to sell (or order) their books, to realize that the practice hurts the retailers who carry their product all the rest of the year. Most publishers do care about encouraging good relationships with good retailers, so ComicsPRO is bringing this to them, again, saying, “this hurts your retailers, your main customers.”

    Also, the “sold out” examples given in this comment section don’t represent all of the material that can go unsold. And often, to a retailer, the fact that they didn’t sell the majority of their initial order within the first few months can be a big deal, even if you CAN sell out of the same book later in a year or the next year.

    This is an awkward place to start pulling out margins, cash flow, orders and other things to have to prove this is a real issue. On some of these things, we don’t even give the benefit of the doubt to the business, it’s just assumed that retailers everywhere are making it up. Let’s put it this way: it’s difficult to reasonably assert both 1. that this has been a complaint for years and years from different retailers on different message boards AND 2. that it’s just made up, that the retailers don’t know anything about their sales. At the same time, you can reference what publishers say about their convention sales without any numbers or data, and fully believe the necessity of their undercutting their retail partners.

    I understand that many consumers have had problems with particular comic book retailers in the past, but I do not believe that we can even judge MOST retailers by those experiences, let alone the retailers who are part of this position paper. It seems that when one hears an example of a practice that is unfair to retailers, rather than look to the publisher to make it more fair, one asks the retailer to come up with a way to compensate the publisher even more.

    It seems a very small thing, in this instance, to admit the disadvantage to the retailer. Pre-release convention sales don’t have to be the most pressing issue a retailer faces for it still to be an issue, and still worthy to bring to the attention of our vendors.

  37. Johanna Says:

    My point in asking “why should the publishers change?” is because I’m assuming ComicPRO really wants change. Which means they need to provide a convincing case, which means that they have to demonstrate that they understand the publishers’ point of view. And that, I’m not seeing. Retailers are asking publishers to lose money without any demonstrated benefit for them afterwards, which isn’t likely to achieve the desired change. As you say, this has been complained about for years, so restating “don’t do that” is unlikely to achieve anything. You say you’re bringing it to vendor attention — why now? Just because ComicPRO is relatively new and wants to set some things down formally? Have you seen an increase in this behavior? Do you think this is really going to change anything? Especially since, in the intervening years, the kinds of publishers most affected by this have become even less dependent on the DM?

    Even if I agree that this is unfair to retailers, it seems to me something that should be taken (also or instead) up with the distributor (shipping books more promptly during convention season, maybe) or through other methods (buying returnable at a lower discount?).

  38. Lisa at Neptune Says:

    Upon further investigation – Sire Revelations #2 was the issue in question.

    MANY retailers do TONS of outreach. Your insistence that comic book retailers are evil and out to screw anyone as their pocket books grow larger is completely false and unfounded. You moderate CBIA – you know better. You KNOW there are good retailers out there – you have met, helped, worked for some of them. Ignorance is forgivable when someone doesn’t have all of the evidence in front of them that you have. You are far from ignorant. Stop stabbing people in the back that go around supporting you.

    If publishers make so much money selling direct, and don’t need the DM, then they should stop selling via Diamond to us. If what you say is true, it’s a win-win for the publisher to just cut us out of the loop completely, not just at convention time. You seem to insist that we don’t care about them one way or the other anyway. But instead, the number of new, independent publishers listing comics in Previews grows every year.

  39. Amanda Fisher Says:

    A position paper is simply that, stating the problem formally as a group, not as individual retailers in various forums online. In some cases, the ComicsPRO position papers have detailed suggestions of how to improve the situation. In this case, the solution for undercutting our sales really SHOULD be “realize that we are important customers and this does affect our business, please stop.”

    I get that you are saying that when someone has an unfair busniess practice that makes them more money, they are not inclined to stop, even when asked directly. ;) But, this is a first step in the conversation: progressive retailers who are working together to improve their retailing environment DO see this as an issue and want to bring it to the table. How we deal with individual publishers in the rest of the conversation isn’t part of this particular paper. Some will take it more seriously, some won’t. But the fact that pre-release sales have happened before and won’t immediately change doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take the first step of explaining that it’s a problem. That way, later, part of the conversation doesn’t become “you never told us that this is a real issue.” (Having been on message boards before, you know as well as I do that often companies will say, “we talked to our customers, they say this isn’t a real problem.” So what we’re saying is that, “we are your customers, and this is an issue for us.”)

    I do like more active methods than position papers, but I will definitely defend the content of this one as being a real issue to good retailers, and that while stating it may seem simplistic, that it is still an important step in calling our vendors’ attention to the problem.

  40. Johanna Says:

    Oh, come on, Lisa, no one’s said anything about all retailers being evil or screwing someone. You’re exaggerating ridiculously. (The specific example I mentioned was something James went through, thus the callout, because he’s in a small Texas town with few comic shop options. That’s why he no longer shops at any comic store at all.) There are a number of excellent stores out there. There are also a number of superhero-focused stores that don’t know what “customer service” means. If we’re going to talk about “retailers” and “publishers” overall, we have to consider the good and the bad. How is acknowledging that there are bad stores as well as good “stabbing people in the back”? Is that because I don’t agree that this position paper relates to a pressing problem? (Or maybe it’s because I find, more and more frequently, my interests as a customer don’t exactly dovetail with DM retailer interests.)

    Yeah, there are plenty of new publishers listing in Previews every year — and I’m not surprised when many of them don’t make it to their first anniversary, because that’s their only plan for sales. In most cases, those aren’t the publishers we’re talking about.

    Let’s get back to your previous point. Aside from FCBD, what outreach to non-existing customers do many stores do?

  41. Lisa at Neptune Says:

    Just a few examples here: http://www.sequentialtart.com/article.php?id=823

    Speaking at libraries, at schools, working with literacy organizations. Donating comics to libraries, schools, hospitals. There is even a comic book store that donated enough money to literally BUILD A LIBRARY in their community. How about advertising? How about handing out comics for free at more than just FCBD? And WHY discount FCBD from outreach? That’s a pretty big day for getting new people into comic book stores.

    How many publishers that ONLY sell their comics directly, without the direct market, last over a year? What’s the percentage on that? Not web comics – comics that are PRINTED on PAPER. And wouldn’t established publishers have an even better chance at succeeding at selling on their own, instead of via retailers, if your premise is true? Yet they haven’t left to go off on their own either.

  42. Johanna Says:

    Lisa, I wasn’t discounting FCBD — I was saying that I already knew about that example.

    So long as DM sales are non-returnable, selling through Diamond is worth the minimal effort for most publishers, so there’s no reason for them to abandon it.

    Thanks, Amanda, for so clearly explaining your position. I much better understand where you’re coming from now.

  43. Robert Scott Says:

    “I would think that would have to do more with the direct market’s overall obsession with superhero comic books than with convention sales of non-superhero graphic novels.”

    Yeah, I’m sure you would but it doesn’t have a thing to do with it. What it has to do with is lack of work put forth by publishers creating the non-superhero work. There is almost a direct correlation between film and comics. The mainstream studios who not only produce a work but promote it well generally fare far better than indy studios whose far is limited to a few art house screens.
    Spiderman 3(#1), Transformers(#3) and 300(#7) were 3 of the top 7 grossing movies of 2007 America LOVES mainstream comic properties. Out of the other 4 Shrek, Pirates, Harry Potter and Bourne all have more of a mainstram comic feel than an you’d want to admit.

    How did Crumb, Ghost World, American Splendor… fare and don’t give me a screen average argument. Comics or Movies that want to compete for the consumer dollar must compete head to head.

    Retailers/Theaters need to have an expectation that the investment made in the product will deliver similar of profit, they’re not running charities and overhead costs are not reduced because we are trying to bring art/culture to the masses. Heck look at the Art Movie houses, they aren’t making any money either and many would make your bad comic shop examples look like shiny Barnes & Nobles!

    Let me ask you this Alan… Do you rally against Italian Restaurants that don’t serve French Food? Is McDonalds suspect because they don’t serve hot dogs? Is 31 Flavors suspect because they don’t serve Ben & Jerry’s?

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with a comic shop choosing to address Super Hero comics exclusively. That is why we are called SPECIALTY retailers. if someone chooses to specialize in a genre (like a Mystery book store) AND can make a living doing it, who are you to say they are wrong?

    Funny thing too. In a free market, sales venues tend to ebb & flow based on demand for product. Were there enough unmet demand for non Big 2 comics, those shops probably would move to add those books to there shelves just as they did Pokemon, YuGiOh and Sports cards in the 80′s & 90′s.

    But for that to happen there has to be a reasonable expectation of profit. And it must be driven from consumer demand, NOT from retailers buying poorly discounted, non-returnable product in the hopes that someone will show interest.

    When was the last time you asked the ticket seller at the theater to suggest a movie for you? Stupid notion right? When you go to a movie you know what you’re going for and even if its sold out, you probably have an informed 2nd and 3rd option. Until publishers are willing to work that hard to create product awareness, their product will not be attractive enough for most retailers to gamble on, especially when they have high margin, highly recognizable work that people are beating down their doors for.

    “And anecdotally, it seems to me that the presence of non-superhero graphic novels is bursting at the seams every EXCEPT the direct market”

    Squeeze me, uh baking powder? Mainstream bookstores rarely have more than 4-8′ of non-manga GN and comics most of which are Marvel & DC with some DH and Image. Not only that but it’s also a potpourri of worn and damaged books and rarely can you find a series, not to mention someone who knows the difference between the Ellis, Millar and Morrison(s) Authority.

    But then they get to return anything that doesn’t sell so why wouldn’t they stock some, they have no risk.

    As for libraries, absolutely. Libraries are designed to be everything to everybody plus they have no imperative to be profitable, in fact its the opposite. I have libraries that tell me send me anything you think I should have, if I don’t spend my budget it will get cut.

    Hey by the way, why aren’t you blogging sports or food, you should you know, everyone loves sports and food and you’re traffic would probably grow and grow and… oh, you prefer to blog on things that interest you? Huh.

  44. Robert Scott Says:

    “Robert, you’ve just said that pre-sales cover convention costs.”

    No I most certainly did not. I said publishers have claimed that they are only breaking even at shows. Pre-sales are a percentage of everything they sell.

    “So if you want to take that away from publishers, that would mean instead of breaking even, they’d lose money at shows.”

    No it would mean they would need to evolve their con sales plans (bonus is that by doing so they could do a lot more than break even). I guess you believe that if someone only eats PB&J every meal is told they shouldn’t eat it any more, that they’d starve to death?

    “I’m sure you’ll say that they ought to be ready to bear that as a marketing expense, but I’m against something that will drive publishers away from appearing at many conventions.”

    Why would making more money at conventions and in DM shops stop them from appearing at any let alone many conventions?

    “I have trouble reconciling “ambassadors for their product” with the comments also being made about “there are hundreds of other choices”. Certainly, with so many options, it’s unlikely that any retailer is hand-selling all of those indy titles.”

    Let me make it easier for you. By virtue of the fact that a store puts even one copy of a publishers book on their shelves, they have become an ambassador even if they dont handsell. If I put a copy of Love & Rockets, Blankets or Bone on display in my shop, more people will see it in a year than are likely to see it in 2-4 days at a con. If 500 stores do so, they will bwe seen by more people than all of the cons put together. From there, there will be stores that adopt and actively sell such books as well as suggest other titles by the creator or other creators within the line. Publishers who undercut retailers by making product directly available to consumers while withholding that product from retailers are far less likely to a) get shelf space and b) handselling support.

    So publishers can continue to erode their usefulness to a percentage of retailers and erode their profits from that quarter having to rely more and more on con sales and pity us e-mail begging, all of which has been business as usual for the last 5+ years OR they can try something different.

    “They have to pick and choose, and at the end of the day, the publisher is going to do a better job of pushing their titles than anyone else.”

    No the publisher won’t, that is why they have to sell before we get access to the books. It’s true a creator might hold sway over a convention attendee but why not count on an attendee being so excited that they’ll bring their LCS purchased copy to get signed AND buy something else? Or buy a 2nd copy to get signed and pass the unsigned copy around to friends?

    See the simple fact is the majority of Top Shelf, Fantagraphics, Alternative Press… con customers are actually there looking for the creators, they are not virgin cuatomers. As someone else mentioned, if they were virgin customers, there would be no need to have the newest issue there for them, because every issue is new to them.

    Another simple fact is that were I a virgin customer and after picking up Blankets, Moomin or Acme Novelty and taking it home to enjoy, what then? I don’t remember any of the other books or creators from the booth. Where do I go to see more of these books?

    I don’t want to order online without being able to look through them and my local borders and B&N either don’t stock them and can’t recommend similar work.

    I even discovered a couple of comic shops but they have to special order them, they no longer stock them because those publishers were leaving them with unsold product by preselling online and at conventions.

    “Perhaps my experience is jading me here, but I’ve only ever once been in a comic store where the retailer knew more about indy titles than I did.”

    So what? There’s lots of people who know more about Indy comics than me, you might even be one of ‘em. Doesn’t stop me from having the largest Indy selection in San Diego and one of the largest in the Southwest. Or being an Eisner judge and sponsor, or a self published indy writer. The only reason I go to SDCC during the day is to find new indy stuff that I know nobody else here will stock. If I don’t know something about a book, I’ll google it.

    “The interested customer is much better eucated these days,”

    Odd claim. How are they getting interested? Are you telling me that out of the blue someone decides to spend $1,000 or more to attend SDCC or NYCC or Wizard World TX (travel, lodging, food and purchases) to educate themselves on comics? I had no idea.

    “and few stores bother with browsing copies or retailer recommendations of these kinds of books.”

    Newsflash, those stores aren’t doing that for spandex books either and you know what??? They’re selling the spandex books, lots of ‘em. Why? Because people are looking for them. Retailers are a funny lot. Show them a way they can make more money and they usually do it. And no, just telling them to stock more indy and less spandex is not showing them a way to make more money.

    In fact maybe you can tell me since you asked how a publisher would make up the loss of presale revenue, how would a retailer make up the loss of spandex revenue on top of the added expenditure of adding indy comics?

    “Your suggestions for how publishers can improve direct market sales usually boil down to “give us more copies for free”, like suggesting “buy 4 get 1 free” offers at ordering. Which is nice for retailers, but difficult for publishers struggling with costs in, as you point out, an increasingly crowded market.”

    Tough, its a cost of business. If you are a publisher who wants me to stock you’re product, you have to give me a financial reason for doing so, especially if you are not sending me customers. If I can take $5 and turn it into $12 with one publisher but only turn it into $10 with you, why should I invest in you. Either you have to have a track record of driving sales for me or you have to find a way for me to earn $12 with your books. At least if I ask for buy x get 1 free, you only give me a free book (which even with a GN only costs the publisher ~$2, oh such hardship) if I commit to buying a predetermined number of books from you. On top of that, I have no guarantee that any of the books will sell, so for me to take even an incentivized offer, I’m still going to have to work to sell the book. So Publisher You invests $10 in 5 $15 GN and sells them to me say @ 4×45%off + 1 free= $33 ($23 gross profit) in order for me to match that $23 I have to sell at least 4 of the 5. Who has more risk? Publishers who are ill equipped to promote their work really shouldn’t be publishing but if they insist on doing so and competing in a commercial market, the first thing they need to do is take their biggest benefit (extremely low cost of production) and leverage it.

    “As for your last question, as ADD points out, there’s been a great deal of growth, only it’s been in venues that are easier for those new customers to find and shop in: bookstores.”

    Nope. Your talking about growth %, and sure, going from 0% the book market is going to show a higher % against the mature DM. Talk to me about actual dollars, especially if Manga is separated out.

    “The DM doesn’t grow because”

    Actually the DM does grow, just not on the efforts of ineffective publishers. Publishers who don’t need to turn a profit because they’ve been funded by grants or are doing it as a hobby/sideline.

    “Look, I like the direct market.”

    Why, its dirty, poorly lit, smelly, uninformed and unresponsive.

    “I’ve been shopping there for decades, and I think I understand some of the unique challenges they face.”

    I don’t think so, at least not after reading this thread.

    “But, in my opinion, there are better crusades to take up, mostly ones involving the much-bigger distribution problems.”

    I’m not sure where you see a crusade. A group of retailers said they don’t appreciate publishers cutting them off at the kneed by taking irrevocable orders for a product and then selling it themselves to the same people we sell toweeks or months before we receive them and would like the practice to stop. I saw no mention of repercussions, no curses of eternal damnation, no name caliing. Just a simple (and obvious) declaration that hopefully might lead to communication between publishers and ComicsPRO that might result in a mutually beneficial result.

    “But it seems short-sighted and only likely to cause continued “defection” of certain publishers from the DM.”

    I don’t know that the retailers care if the publishers defect. It’s not like Previews is getting any thinner.

    I can tell you that few publishers are prepared to deal in a returnable market where they may have to cover runs of 10k + with no gaurantee that they won’t see 9,999 returned and not all in resellable condition. Heck they can’t afford $2 retailer incentives for the DM from what you’re telling me.

    Ultimately what it comes down to is that publisherswho sell to the public prior to selling to the DM, without informing the DM of that are lying to the DM about the product. It becomes the difference between a first run movie house (i new feature $10) and a second run movie house (2 semi recent features $8).

    If you are selling the book as a new book on an initial solicitation, they should not be going behind ANY retailers back to take the initial swell of sales. If they want to do that, tell the retailers. Let them decide if they want to reduce their orders to coincide with the decrease in demand from what historical sales data said would be needed and if they sell through they’ll order more later.

    If you believe that unreasonable and a crusade, you definitely don’t like the DM nor do you understand it or retail/business in general.

  45. James Schee Says:

    Well one thing for sure, this position letter has certainly fostered discussion of the presale issue. Which in the end is a good thing, as it lets the information get out there and hopefully will make all sides aware of the concerns.

    It seems what it falls down to is people wanting what they deem is fair. I’m just not sure that what is fair for retailers, is the same as what’s fair for publishers or what’s fair for fans at the con.

    Yet hopefully this will foster enough discussion that the next time a publisher has a presale item at a con that it’ll bring about the publisher and fan talking about when the book is due in stores. Plus how perhaps the customer should wait (especially if they already preordered it) if they have a good comic shop that supports those types of books.

    Because at least in my experience, and perhaps I’m wrong here. If you don’t live in one of the areas that has major cons regularly, the con you go to is a rare event. So if you are a supporter of books like TS, Fantagraphics and the lot, and have a shop that aids you in that.

    Then it would behoove you to be loyal to that shop, as that’s how you get your comics throughout the rest of the year. Perhaps I’m asking to much of customers?(of which I have been one) I don’t know, I would certainly hope it wasn’t.

    Though on the other hand for a fan like myself who is not a DM customer any longer, and has been forced to find other avenues to follow books I want.(including cons)

    If I go to a con, I want to be able to pick up books I don’t have. It would suck to go to a con and not find a single new work by a creator there whose work I enjoy. So I would hope if they have some available early I could pick one up, and don’t feel like I’m hurting some retailer out there. Because you wouldn’t have gotten my money anyway.

  46. Robert Scott Says:

    Johanna, you asked this of Lisa but I’m going to respond too.

    “How is acknowledging that there are bad stores as well as good “stabbing people in the back”? Is that because I don’t agree that this position paper relates to a pressing problem?”

    I think part of the problem is thatyou are lunping in CPRO with every other DM retailer and I think that’s a bit offputting. Look it’s not that CPRO mambership bestows nobility BUT if you look at the operations represented you would be hard pressed to find any better. Not only that but every member that voted for that paper paid $300 for the priviledge. Meaning they took $300 hard earned dollars (nearly $30k overall in 2007) to create a group that could bring some civility, some energy and some industry specific knowledge to bear to better the industry and help everyone benefit.

    How much have publishers invested in such a cause? 99% won’t even offer co-op money to help advertise their books, let alone spend $30k working with their competitors.

    So if you want to point out the innefficiencies of “some” DM stores please know that it is highly unlikely that you are going to find any of those shops paying $300/yr in order to do their jobs better.

    They are moot, invisible to indy publishers and not worth mentioning in your argument.

  47. Retail Weekend Fun | Savage Critics Says:

    [...] also strongly suggest that people go and read the comments on Johanna’s piece about the paper, as I think there’s a lot of pretty high-level quality commenting going on by many retailers [...]

  48. ADD Says:

    Robert Scott said:

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with a comic shop choosing to address Super Hero comics exclusively. That is why we are called SPECIALTY retailers.

    Then don’t be surprised when non-superhero publishers have to work outside the direct market in order to survive. You’ve just shot ComicsPRO’s argument in the face, if this is really what you believe.

    If someone chooses to specialize in a genre (like a Mystery book store) AND can make a living doing it, who are you to say they are wrong?

    I never said it’s wrong to specialize in only one genre, but most of your comments here seem to be setting up straw men, Robert. What I believe is wrong is claiming to be a comic book store when, in fact, you operate a superhero store. It’s false advertising. And what is even more wrong is pretending to be a professional retailer when your store opens late, regularly lies to its customers and actively works to discourage any customers that are not aging male superhero fans. If that doesn’t describe you and your store, relax and smile, secure in the knowledge that you are doing good work. If not, for much more information on my ACTUAL position and beliefs about the direct market, read my essay A Future for Comics, now also available as a handy PDF white paper download.

  49. Rory Root Says:

    “Perhaps my experience is jading me here, but I’ve only ever once been in a comic store where the retailer knew more about indy titles than I did. The interested customer is much better educated these days, and few stores bother with browsing copies or retailer recommendations of these kinds of books. Which indy publishers have you increased sales of in your store?”

    Good lord woman where do you shop? Right IIRC some place that misled you as to whether Diamond would fill single copy orders.

    To answer your last question almost all of them. Superhero GN’s are in the minority here with less than 20% of our rack space, and yes we carry all that are in print, and a few hundred that are OP as well. Manga, Art/Alt, Non Fiction Comic Strip and many other categories add up to substantial sales.

    I’d be quite pleased if folk would stop judging the upper echelon of comic stores by the bottom feeders. It’s as if the gourmet restaurants in the market were judged by how the greasy spoons operated.

  50. ADD Says:

    “I’d be quite pleased if folk would stop judging the upper echelon of comic stores by the bottom feeders.”

    It’s up to the progressive stores to separate themselves from the majority superhero convenience stores and their anti-comics policies, Rory. One major step would be to create a list of best practices that all professional businesses should adhere to. Has ComicsPRO issued a paper like this for its members?

    Here are some of the practices I personally endorse:

    Professional comic book stores are clean.

    Professional comic book stores are well-lit.

    Professional comic book stores are well-organized.

    Professional comic book stores are open on time, all the time.

    Professional comic book stores have prices clearly marked and up to date on all merchandise.

    Professional comic book stores operate their business in accordance with local, state and federal laws, including labor and employment laws.

    Professional comic book stores do not favor one genre or sub-genre over another.

    Professional comic book stores recognize that all comics are comics, no matter what country they originate from, or what format they are published in.

    Professional comic book stores actively welcome all people interested in buying some kind of comics to shop at their store,

    Professional comic book stores recognize the transition from periodical pamphlet comics to more appealing and enduring graphic novels, and accommodate the readership’s clear preference for comics with a spine and a complete story.

    Professional comic book stores actively seek to buy from a variety of distributors, not relying on one monopolistic distributor for the entirety of their business, and not settling for receiving books “whenever Diamond ships them,” but rather, as soon as they are available, in order to better serve their customers.

    Now, if ComicsPRO as an organization insists its members adhere to standards that meet or exceed these, then I’d agree you and your colleagues are all working for positive change within the direct market. If not, then you continue to allow the bottom feeders to thrive and use quality retailers such as yourself as cover for their shoddy, amateur practices.

    Please let me know where online I may find ComicsPRO’s position paper on this issue. If it doesn’t exist yet, please keep us posted on its progress. Because until then, a lack of professionalism in the majority of the direct market’s stores, and impotent declarations like the convention sales position paper, will only work to cripple ComicsPRO and its attempt to build a reputation for its members as professional retailers worth supporting.

  51. Johanna Says:

    Robert, I think our assumptions are so far apart on this issue that it’s becoming futile for us to continue discussion on the topic. (Plus, your tone is inappropriate for an adult discussion.) For instance, you go from saying that you’re the best source of information for many customers on any given publisher to saying that if you need to know more about a pub, you’ll google the information. Why you assume that new customers don’t know how to use a computer, I don’t know.

    The “interested customer” I was talking about has a lot more information on comics available these days, whether NYTimes articles or EW reviews. No cost needed to find out more about the many comics covered in the general press. And unlike you, if we’re talking non-superhero books, I don’t separate out manga, because doing so really does skew the numbers.

    Rory, I wasn’t insulting shops so much as acknowledging that I’m also a non-representative customer. :) I wish I had one of the truly outstanding stores, like yours, in my area, but the closest is Big Planet up near DC. We have some good, well-stocked ones with a wide variety of titles, but even so, their focus remains superheroes and back issues. And I wish many more people were in areas with those top 10% of good stores. It’s easy to forget what a good shopping experience should be, just as it’s easy for those great stores to forget what some customers have to put up with in order to get comics in their area.

  52. Alex Says:

    “Then don’t be surprised when non-superhero publishers have to work outside the direct market in order to survive. You’ve just shot ComicsPRO’s argument in the face, if this is really what you believe.”

    Alan,

    You have no idea what you’re talking about, on a very fundamental level.

    You seem to think that non-genre publishers are flocking to big box bookstores because of lack of support from comic shops, but I suggest you produce some sales number to back up this continual assertion.

    I think you’ll be very surprised just how much the DM sells versus the bookstore market.

    You’re really out of your depth in this discussion. Your particular brand of armchair punditry doesn’t hold up when actual numbers and actual experience are on the table.

  53. ADD Says:

    Thanks for trying to set me straight, Alex. But I’ve said all along that my opinions are based solely on what I can observe as a buyer of comics and graphic novels, frequenting as many comic book stores and mainstream bookstores as I can. I’m merely calling it as I see it, with my own eyes, every time I enter a store that sells the books I (and my kids) are interested in.

    If you’re saying there’s no place for informed consumers in the discussion, good luck to you. Until such a time as you can lock me and other consumers like me out of the debate, I’ll continue to weigh in. But thanks again for your attempted belittling, it says a lot about your own opinions.

  54. Johanna Says:

    If people can’t be respectful of others and differing opinions, then I’ll have to start deleting and banning. These last two comments are inappropriate and have no place in this discussion.

  55. ADD Says:

    Oh, and Alex, you’ll be delighted to know that my “particular brand of armchair punditry” will extend to some expert testimony on this issue in the next day or so, when my blog features the opinion of some of the very publishers ComicsPRO’s position paper was drunkenly aimed at.

  56. ADD Says:

    Apologies, Johanna. I’ll try to maintain a more dispassionate stance. It’s well worth it for the value of the ideas being generated here.

  57. Another Response to ComicPRO » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] Spurgeon responds to the ComicPRO position on convention pre-sales, calling it “a terrible paper”, “a phantom issue”, “bark[ing] up the [...]

  58. Jesse Says:

    When items are solicited through Diamond for PREVIEWS, certain information is requested of publishers and manufacturers.

    Pertaining to this thread is the information that lets Retailers know if a comic or other product is going to be sold elsewhere before DM Retailers get it. There is even a Diamond caution code assigned to these comics and products as a heads-up to Retailers. In this way, Retailers can make an informed decision as to whether they want to carry these comics or items. ComicPRO’s paper is specifically speaking to, if I gather correctly, the publishers who DON’T let Diamond and Retailers know beforehand about selling their product elsewhere first. Therefore, Retailers rightly have the expectation that they will be the first to sell a Publisher’s books when they order them, yet are disappointed when they find the non-returnable comics were sold elsewhere first without any forewarning.

    If Publishers want to sell their comics elsewhere first, they need to let Diamond and Retailers know beforehand. It’s only fair. (And yes, sometimes the fans suffer when Publishers don’t do this.)

  59. morganagrom Says:

    “When items are solicited through Diamond for PREVIEWS, certain information is requested of publishers and manufacturers.

    Pertaining to this thread is the information that lets Retailers know if a comic or other product is going to be sold elsewhere before DM Retailers get it. There is even a Diamond caution code assigned to these comics and products as a heads-up to Retailers.”

    What’s the exact language in the distribution agreement? If it’s as cut and dried as you say it is, why isn’t any mention of that clause in the position paper. The paper speaks more in terms of equity and moralistic duties. Could it be that convention sales are considered de minimus activities for the purpose of marketing and promotion? (Which of course they are.)

  60. Robert Scott Says:

    ADD said
    “Then don’t be surprised when non-superhero publishers have to work outside the direct market in order to survive. You’ve just shot ComicsPRO’s argument in the face, if this is really what you believe.”

    Everybody that I know of in CPRO or out, wants publishers to work outside of the direct market.

    A) why would I be suprised?
    B) what, about the request to stop selling books before they are released, could possibly have anything to do with selling outside of the DM?

    Are you saying that you don’t think book sellers and the ABA would have anything to say about Scholastic selling/delivering Harry Potter direct to the public weeks or months before they got it?

    Oh and speaking of Harry Potter, the BM and DM both somehow managed to get the books at the same time through multiple channels.

    “I never said it’s wrong to specialize in only one genre, but most of your comments here seem to be setting up straw men, Robert.”

    Actually you have set them up to be substandard because of there choices. I can accept that they are substandard for your specific needs but your needs have no bearing on the store and they owe no apologies for choosing to specialize in spandex. If I want a good steak, I don’t go to a seafood specialist and demand it, and then rant about what a blight the seafood restaurant is.

    “What I believe is wrong is claiming to be a comic book store when, in fact, you operate a superhero store. It’s false advertising.”

    Uh, superhero comics are comics. They may not be the ones you fancy but that doesn’t change the fact that they are indeed comics. That they are in more demand and translate into all-time best-selling movies, may infuriate you but to contine your derogatory screeds against them is just silly.

    “And what is even more wrong is pretending to be a professional retailer when your store opens late, regularly lies to its customers and actively works to discourage any customers that are not aging male superhero fans.”

    Wow! You can’t get much more irrational than to tie those all togehter hand in hand AND also claim that it has any relevance to the CPRO paper, since that is supposed to be what this thread is about, right.

    “If not, for much more information on my ACTUAL position and beliefs about the direct market”

    If this isn’t your actual position, why are you making it? As for your opinion on the future of comics? Not interested, I’ve been helping to direct the future for the last decade from inside the industry, not waiting for somebody with no industry experience to tell me how it shoud be.

  61. Johanna Says:

    Robert, I’ve already warned participants once. Treat everyone here with respect or go elsewhere, please. Another post like the one above and I’ll start deleting. You can disagree (even vehemently) with an opinion without being dismissive toward the person.

  62. ADD Says:

    “If this isn’t your actual position, why are you making it?”

    I was referring very specifically to your mischaracterization of my earlier comments, as you almost certainly must know.

    To echo Johanna, it’s become clear to me that there’s no value in continuing a dialog with you, Robert. Unlike some of your peers like Amanda and Rory, you are unwilling to do anything but continually move the line and engage in personal attacks not pertaining to the subject, which is the professionalism of retailers claiming to be professionals but acting like petulant children through the recent, impotent stomping of feet known as the position paper on convention sales.

    Johanna, I apologize if this response once again pushes the line of acceptable dialog on this topic (delete it if you feel that’s the right thing to do), but you have my word that I won’t respond to Robert again in this venue.

  63. Robert Scott Says:

    Johanna said
    “Oh, I read your post, I just didn’t agree with it. Few retailers do much outreach marketing at all, ”

    As opposed to who?

    Do you understand that the majority of marketing in EVERY OTHER ENTERTAINMENT MEDIUM is borne mostly by the producer of the product?

    Blockbuster, AMC Theaters, Game Stop, WalMart, Best Buy, Borders… All receive co-op funds which pay for most, if not all of their advertising and events.

    You would see a significant increase in DM store outreach if the same programs were avaialble to comic retailers as are available to video, game and book retailers. This is another reason why I continue to lobby publishers for better discounts. If they can’t be bothered to do the simple things available from book publishers, then give me a chance to make more money on your product so that I can work promotions on my own.

    “and the biggest growth among non-comics readers is coming through bookstores and online, not through the old DM.”

    Prove it. Show me comp increase #’s that show the year to year comp increases in the BM and online is any better than the DM.

    “Publishers who do reach out to those non-reader customers often get yelled at, since many DM stores don’t like the perception that they’re being worked around.”

    What do you consider reaching out? If you really mean publishers who are selling direct to customers, early and often at a discount, of course they’re going to get yelled at.

    If a publisher sells me a book that retails for $20 but sells it to the public for $15 is lying about the actual retail of the book and/or the discount they are offering me.

    If a publisher is overtly or covertly allowing wholesale customers to buy product in the belief that this is new unreleased product when in fact they have already been selling to the public they are engaging in a dishonest practice.

    “(Outreach works best when pubs can complete the message with an immediate sale, not send a potential customer to a store they may or may not be able to find that may or may not have the book in stock.)”

    I’m glad I missed that lesson in business school. Why then, when I go to most professional product manufacturers, do they have a list of retailers in my area for me buy the product? What is it that you and indy publishers know about outreach thatthese succesfull multimillion dollar businesses don’t know?

    You are clearly and demonstrably wrong in this.

    Alsp consider that most indy publishers outreach consists of a website and a mailing list of current customers. That’s not out reach nor does it generate new readers. Putting there work in as many venues as possible and supporting those venues efforts will.

    It’s why every attempt by Sears to abandon B&M and go back to catalog sales fails.

    “DM stores like to think of themselves as the only outlet for comics,”

    Source please? And also please explain how this errant supposition relates to the CPRO paper? Or did I miss a paper where CPRO demanded that all comic publishers only sell to the DM?

    “which is less true every day, and they hate being reminded of that change.”

    They who? I wonder if THEY hate it as much as BLOGGERS hate being reminded that most of there assertions have no basis in fact?

  64. Robert Scott Says:

    “Robert, I’ve already warned participants once. Treat everyone here with respect or go elsewhere, please. Another post like the one above and I’ll start deleting. You can disagree (even vehemently) with an opinion without being dismissive toward the person.”

    Where was I disrespectful?

    Are you asking me not to point out factual errors or that some people are posting on authorities about things that they have no experience in?

    Should I not point out that posts and accusations are being made, which have nothing to do with the position paper?

    I am not name calling, I’m not taunting and I can factually back up every statement I’ve made.

  65. Johanna Says:

    Using words like “irrational” and “silly” and dismissing people as not worth listening to are inappropriate behaviors here. You are welcome to present your opinion so long as you do it politely and respectfully, which isn’t what we’re seeing.

  66. morganagrom Says:

    Ironic to talk about factually backing up statements, when so far the only “lost” sales mentioned on this thread are some number of copies of Atomica #8 and Sire: Revelation #2 (whatever these are). Nothing however about retailers who couldn’t sell through their initial orders on the big ticket items like Bone One Volume or Flight Volume One or Blankets or Lost Girls because of their convention debuts. Why is that?

  67. Robert Scott Says:

    Morganagrom said:
    Ironic to talk about factually backing up statements, when so far the only “lost” sales mentioned on this thread are some number of copies of Atomica #8 and Sire: Revelation #2 (whatever these are). Nothing however about retailers who couldn’t sell through their initial orders on the big ticket items like Bone One Volume or Flight Volume One or Blankets or Lost Girls because of their convention debuts. Why is that?”

    A couple of basic reasons is that these are not “records” that we keep. In the past many have individually discussed them with publishers as they happened but were dismissed.

    There have been no losses this year because there has been no convention pre-selling yet, being the 3rd wk of the year and all.

    Sales info also tends to be proprietary, so some businesses may not want to share their numbers with the public or their competitors.

    I can tell you that knowing that the Bone One Volume was a limited run I ordered more of the HC than I sold of all Bone HC combined and I ordered more SC than HC. I wanted to have them in stock through the holiday season. I did, in abundance, even after selling copies off to other retailers.

    That was quite a bit of money to tie up in inventory, a lot of which had to be resold at or below cost and I would not have taken such a strong position if I had any idea Smith was going to be selling it first at SDCC, at least not without checking with my Bone customers first to find out if they intended to buy it there.

    Now let me ask you.

    Can you give me a single reason why Retailers should have to place non-cancellable, non returnable orders with a publisher without knowing that the publisher intends to sell the book to the buying public first.

    That is the only question that really needs to be discussed here in regards to the CPRO Position Paper.

    Not are stores carrying enough non superhero books or are they opening on time or how much outreach are retailers doing but…

    How is it fair for a publisher to say, “Commit your order for my new release” and then deliver a book that is not a new release, one they’ve already been selling for weeks or months.

    If you can explain how this is a fair and equitable business practice, I will bow down to you.

  68. Dustin Harbin Says:

    I keep reading this (incredible!) number of posts on this topic, and my mind continues to return to the idea that the problem is not comic stores or publishers, but the shape of the “direct market” distribution system. Comparisons continue to be made to bookstores, record stores, Harry Potter, etc., but I wonder how valid these comparisons are.

    Not being able to return all or a part of unsold stock is a huge HUGE block to specialty comics stores being competitive, especially in marketplaces where there are numerous mass market booksellers. Ditto for street dates–I’m sure many of the retailers reading this will remember when Viz and Tokyopop started signing exclusivity deals, and suddenly we found ourselves having to wait three weeks longer than Barnes & Noble to get certain mangas. This after supporting these companies for years and years, long before manga became “hot”.

    I think the problem here is not whether it is unfair for publishers to presell at conventions. Sure, it’s unfair, but it’s also how it is, and it certainly isn’t going to change. And it’s way down on the list of hamstring injuries the direct market faces before it can be truly competitive. Does Diamond not share some culpability here? Diamond, for all intents and purposes, is our agent in the distribution world–if you carry any books by Marvel, DC, Image, etc. Is it not up to Diamond to use its resources within the market to make our businesses as profitable as possible? But this is the famous problem in a system dominated by a monopoly–a monopoly that is imposing more and more restrictions on what it will carry. I think that a publisher that can find a way to generate revenue outside of the direct market is a smart publisher, detrimental as that may be to our bottom line. If you were a publisher, would Dimaond’s position as (functionally) the sole distributor in the direct market not worry you?

  69. Johanna Says:

    You can order returnable through alternate distributors, or since many of the “worst offenders” have been doing this for years, you already should know which orders to cut. Or if you really want to talk about cancellation or returnability options, shouldn’t that be taken up with Diamond as well as the publishers? Especially since Diamond is restricting how many options publishers have in their offerings these days?

    (Talking about “fairness” in business makes me itch, because it always reminds me of toddlers whining about who gets the last cookie. Studies have shown that humans are hard-wired to worry about “fair”, but it sometimes goes against logic.)

    And as for what “the publisher intends”… you and I both know what happens to the best intentions of publishers. Aren’t there bigger issues to be tackling? (Edit: Heh, Dustin and I posted at the same time.)

  70. Johanna Says:

    For those anticipating Robert’s answer, I’m afraid he will no longer be participating here after sending me the following message: “F*** you and your hyocritical ignorance.” Not exactly the kind of respect for debate I was trying to foster.

  71. morganagrom Says:

    Good thing Jeff Smith isn’t as propietary about his sales information as some.

    http://forum.newsarama.com/showthread.php?t=20193

    Apparently when he debuted his book at San Diego he sold approximately 400 copies of the softcover and 100 copies of the hardcover.

    87,000 from all around the world attended the SDCC. http://www.comicbookresources.com/news/newsitem.cgi?id=4026

    So we’re talking about a grand total of 500 books that were bought by at most .575% of the 87,000 attendees from all around the world. It sounds like this was a pretty scarce book.

    Beyond that, it’s difficult to have a conversation about cause and effect without knowing more concrete data. Who knows how many copies you ordered? 10 copies? Seems hard to believe 10 buyers were not to be found in the next 6 months. 1000 copies? Probably hard to move that many convention debut or otherwise.

    As for why the publisher should be able to advertise his book as new and then debut it at a convention? Easy, it’s marketing and promotion. The books are available in limited number to people with convention memberships, but not members of the general public. Also, the debut sales have the ability to get people talking about the book, which has the ability to bring in more sales through the retailers. It’s kind of like advertising, except the publisher actually gets some money out of the deal. Would it be any different than if instead of selling the 500 copies, Smith gave away 500 copies to lucky attendees? Would the outrage exist? Any objections to sending out advance review copies to bloggers to spread the word (even if it’s at the expense of the bloggers’ retailers)?

  72. Dena Brooks Says:

    OMG, his answer was F You???

    I can’t believe he posted that here. I actually thught he was making sense for the most part but he shouldn’t have posted that here.

  73. Johanna Says:

    No, he posted something here that was marginally more acceptable (in that the disdain was implicit instead of explicit); I got that in email. Either way, I warned him twice.

  74. Johanna Says:

    morganagrom, I giggle every time you bring up review copies, because that’s one of the reasons I’ve cut way back on my local preordering. I’d be interested to know how many reviewers were on a standard publisher mailing list.

  75. Carr D'Angelo Says:

    Johanna:

    I will agree with you that you are reading too much into the word “our”in my quote. I think the whole sentence is fairly clear but to expand: When a Publisher wholesales me a book but reserves an exclusive sales window for themselves to market the book to the same potential customer base (i.e. “our customers”–all our customers), that Publisher functions as both my supplier and competitor. That’s an uneasy relationship. A classic conflict of interest.

    I would balk at any publisher offering any retail outlet an exclusive sales window. Top Cow released Wanted to Barnes and Noble 90 days or so prior to the DM without telling us. That is not a good thing.

    And I can add a relevant factoid about Bone One Volume. Those 500 sales did cost the DM. Because Jeff under-printed from his orders, our committed advance orders were allocated. Jeff keeping 500 copies to sell at SDCC is actually an accountable number of books that were ordered by DM stores yet not delivered to them. 20k in sales the publisher kept for themselves.

    That’s not insubstantial.

  76. Teresa Says:

    After reading the ComicsPro statement regarding the above referenced subject and reviewing the current chair persons/companies, I have a few questions. What Publishers are your seeing at your conventions with these products? Are they small press? Are these the comics that are cancelled by Diamond due to low initial orders? Are offering convetion exclusive or store variant covers considered to be on the same playing field as the comics these publishers are offering that this organization has taken a stance on? For instance, Lone Star Comics had an exclusive variant for the Wizard World Texas convention that was later offered to retailers via the Diamond Previews (FEB073060) after the convetion. Should retailers have had the opportunity to order this comic and have the opportunity to have it in stock at the same time the convetion was held?

    I think taking such a stance on Publisher’s opportunity to generate interest in their product is trivial when maybe more concern should be the major Publishers offering substantial discounts on mailorders via their magazine that the direct market is selling to the end users. Or what seems to me as a huge conflict of interest, Wizard magazine, the source for what’s hot, going to be hot, ect. selling products on ebay, even graded comics, the same day as the original release of the comic to retailers (ie Captain America 25), or again offering Wizard exclusive items to get the consumer to purchase statues, toys and other merchandise from them that they are able to advertise for free in their book that we sell to the consumer. Or another conflict of interest, Diamond Comics parent company of Diamond Select Toys that sell directly to the consumer.

    So to make such a statement against Pubishers when in fact some retailers are guilty of doing the same seem to contradict the strong stance in which your organization has taken. I believe there are many other conflicts and monopolies within this business that may need addressed prior to this particular problem, so I’m interested in ComicsPro’s opinion/stance on these.

  77. Brian Hibbs Says:

    Just to quickly come in for some purely technical points:

    @ morganagrom

    “What’s the exact language in the distribution agreement? ”

    There’s no language whatsoever in Diamond’s terms of sale to retailers about caution codes or what thresholds there might be towards those. I have no idea whatsoever is in Diamond’s contracts with publishers.

    All returns and adjustments are solely at Diamond’s discretion, per the TOS.

    Diamond will NEVER, I would not judge, “police” publishers on this issue — Diamond works very hard to not be seen as the “bad cop”

    @ Teresa

    “Are offering convetion exclusive or store variant covers considered to be on the same playing field as the comics these publishers are offering that this organization has taken a stance on? ”

    Why would they be? When those kinds of variants are offered, it is clear to all retailers that we’re getting “second chance” on them, and they are not new nor timely.

    “I believe there are many other conflicts and monopolies within this business that may need addressed prior to this particular problem”

    In my opinion, “You should cover X rather than Y” is never ever going to be a fruitful conversation.

    -B

  78. Jesse Says:

    Everyone, this is the Solicitation Caution note used in Diamond Previews:

    “Note: This item may be available through other retail outlets before shipping to comic book specialty shops.”

    If a Publisher plans to sell their comics prior to shipping to Retailers, or post it FREE on their online site at the same time as it ships, they should announce it in Previews when soliciting, using the Note above, or something comparable. Isn’t this a case of certain Publishers wanting to have their cake and eating it, too?

    And with all due respect, ADD was being just as rude as Robert. “Drunkenly” comes to mind. You yourself compare those who speak of fairness as reminding you of “whiny toddlers.” You disproportionately scolded Robert and let ADD’s snarkiness slide.

    As for the PRIVATE email Robert sent you: And again, with all due respect, the correct response would have been to email block him, not relate something he sent you privately, even as rude and crude as it was, and then banish him.

    Just my two cents.

  79. Johanna Says:

    Jesse, if you look earlier in the thread, I did scold ADD, and he promptly apologized. He took the warning, Robert didn’t, which surprised me, given the various reputations of both. That’s why I posted the email. Sometimes it’s important to know what people are saying in comparison to their public, “reasonable” face.

  80. Here’s… JOHNNY.3 | AdHouseBooksBlog Says:

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  82. Kenny Says:

    I realize I’m late to the party here, but after reading all the comments, I *really* want to add in my 2 cents….

    It seems to me the elephant in the room not being addressed by retailers is the distribution system. If a book is non-returnable, isn’t that Diamond’s fault? I mean, I’m just the equivalent of a simple caveman when it comes to retailer issues, but why are the retailers upset with publishers over returnability when Diamond is the one who controls that?

    On a different topic, I’ve lived in 10 cities in 10 years and have gone to many different comic shops. I’d say 25 is an underestimation, but I’ll work with that number. Out of those 25 shops, not one retailer knew *anything* about books from Oni, Top Shelf, etc. Only three shops would let me pre-order indy books. The common response was, “We don’t carry indy stuff.” So, why should I, as a consumer who wants to read indy books, care about a retail environment that has frequently hindered my shopping?

  83. Jesse Says:

    Hi Kenny,

    I’m sorry you’ve had so much bad luck finding a good local comics shop. I used to be a Diamond rep for the Southwestern United States, and I’ve visited at least a hundred stores where you would not have had this problem. (Yes, I’ve seen several that would match your 25, too.)

    Perhaps it’s your locations that have been poor?*

    As for your white elephant, I’m sorry, you are misinformed. Diamond only ENFORCES the DM rule of non-returnable comics. It’s the Publishers who wish to make them non-returnable, and in exchange, they offer retailers a better discount than if retailers bought comics through the so-called newsstand distributors (most of these, however, have stopped selling comics.)

    At any time a Major Publisher wanted to sell their books on non-returnable basis, I’ll bet Diamond** would make it happen, for a fee, but it would be a losing proposition for those Publishers. It would hurt smaller publishers, too, if they wanted to constantly sell on a returnable basis. They’d have to pay Diamond a return fee to take books in like they ship books out; then there’d the storage problems, loss of income from sold books, etc. Returnability on a case-by-case basis works much better.

    *Have you tried buying comics from online services like mine? I’m not sure if Johanna appreciates anyone pushing their wares, but here goes nothing: if you place an order over $25 from http://www.ComicsUnlimited.com we’ll ship it to you free within the continental United States. Our service is fast, our selection is HUGE and we expertly package your comics. If you click on the address above, you can see that we know all about Oni, Top Shelf, Boom!, etc. Oh, and Johanna writes a column for us called GRAPHIC NOVELS WORTH READING!~ And we’re not the only game in town–there are many other companies who sell comics online.

    **I don’t speak for Diamond Comics with any authority whatsoever.

    Thanks for reading!

  84. Tommy Raiko Says:

    “It seems to me the elephant in the room not being addressed by retailers is the distribution system. If a book is non-returnable, isn’t that Diamond’s fault? I mean, I’m just the equivalent of a simple caveman when it comes to retailer issues, but why are the retailers upset with publishers over returnability when Diamond is the one who controls that?”

    The system by which material is generally distributed into the comics direct sales market (or rather, the ramifications of that system) indeed underlies much of the reactions and feelings on this issue.

    But that system–especially the non-returnability aspect of it–is a little more complex than just laying all blame on Diamond, nor is it exactly right to claim that Diamond “controls” non-returnability independent of its vendor publishers.

    The direct sales comic book market was built on the premise of deep-discount, non-returnable, placed-in-advance sales.

    As things have evolved, sure there are many non-trivial criticisms of the current distribution system, and naturally Diamond will be the first, best entity to have to figure out how to evolve and change as the future unfolds. But while distribution issues do underly a great deal of the rhetoric in this issue, it’s still not quite right to think that Diamond is the sole cause or only cure for the issues being raised in this position paper.

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  88. morganagrom Says:

    There is a simple compromise solution, though since it is not being suggested by a vocal retailer or a prominent blogger, it will almost certainly be ignored:

    The publisher allows returnability of initial orders of convention debut books after 90 days from the direct market shipping date and only for publishers within a 100 mile radius from the convention.

    Why 90 days? If a retailer can sell through their initial orders then they suffer no real harm. The most they would have lost is potential re-order sales which for the purpose of determining whether convention debuts sales cause loss is not a loss at all.

    Why 100 miles? If there is any loss to be had, logically it would be suffered most by stores who are local or within a moderate drive from a convention. A store in San Diego or Los Angeles is more likely to see a greater percentage of its customers attend the SDCC than a store in Boston or New York. Similarly, a store in the greater DC area is more likely to see a greater percentage of its customers attend SPX than a store in San Francisco or Arizona.

    Perhaps this can be arranged through the distributor. If not, it would probably not be very difficult as a one-on-one transaction between the publisher and the individual retailer. The retailer sends the publisher a letter letting them know that they are within 100 miles from a convention where the book debuts and they were not able to sell through initial orders in 90 days. They send the book with a copy of their invoice to the publisher. The publisher sends the retailer a check.

    At first glance, this might seem inconvenient for all, but that just means it’s a good idea. In practice, retailers will probably sell through the bulk or entirety of their initial orders within the 90 days and the publishers would be able to continue to debut at conventions while offering an olive branch to the retailers who are most likely to suffer any harm to be had from the convention debuts.

    This is a fair solution that would address retailer concerns and publishing realities.

  89. Johanna Says:

    I like it, but no one’s listening to me anymore. :) But I appreciate your attempt to propose a solution that takes into concerns from both sides.

  90. Rabu Patel Says:

    I just wanted to let you know that someone is messing with your site. Hackers maybe? Because I keep seeing posts here that are then one later, and these people keep claiming that their post has been deleted, and blaming you! Be careful, and keep up the good site.

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