- Posted by Johanna on January 17, 2008 at 6:43 pm
- Category: Comic News
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”.