Publishers Respond to Con Sales Debate

More updates on the issue of convention pre-sales:

Alan David Doane talked to publishers about whether they planned to stop convention pre-selling. (An after-the-fact obvious idea that I wish I’d thought of!) Many would only agree to comment anonymously — a shame, but understandable, given the tenor of some of the discussion. One had such bad experiences with monopoly distributor Diamond that he “indicated that his future efforts will work around Diamond to get right to retailers wherever possible.”

Another “major non-superhero publisher” told Doane that they considered pre-sales “a key marketing tool in building good word of mouth for their books” and that

convention sales in this way improve sales within the direct market by creating additional demand for a given work. He told me that if convention signings on new books are done away with, there will be less demand for the books, and therefore lower sales for the direct market retailers.

That many of the discussed works went on to sell out and require additional printings suggests that he’s got some basis for his opinion. Of course, no one can know how much demand there would have been without pre-sales. Frank Santoro was willing to go on the record:

We need those sales and that connection with our core audience…. The benefits are endless. There are no downsides.

He goes on to say that the direct market is only about 20% of his sales, which makes his choices reasonable for him. (I’m not familiar with Santoro’s work, but here’s his website.) Larry Young also responds, saying that they’ve never done pre-sales and so don’t plan to change anything.

Doane goes on to wonder whether this discussion brings to light a bigger issue, that of how or whether direct market retailers are prepared to face a future of change. He likes to soapbox much more than I do (I just don’t have the energy for that kind of passion), but it’s a good question, and one I’ve been pondering myself lately.

Let’s end with Dirk Deppey’s colorful metaphor about how direct market retailers are prisoners of a superhero-focused branch of the industry:

Indeed, given the disparity between how much retailers depend on Big-Two superhero titles and how little they depend upon — well, everything else, really — it’s difficult not seeing this argument as the equivalent of an older brother picking on his younger siblings because he’s powerless to do anything when Dad comes home drunk at night and beats the shit out of him. ComicsPRO cannot yet affect meaningful change where Diamond or the Big Two are concerned; one suspects that they need to vent their frustrations somewhere.

10 Responses to “Publishers Respond to Con Sales Debate”

  1. Joshua Says:

    Here’s my take on it (note that I don’t go to conventions any more, and barely buy anything except manga, which I still buy from my LCS even though I could get it cheaper and more conveniently elsewhere, so I’m not just rationalizing my preferences):

    The plural of anecdote isn’t data. Some retailers claim that publishers are leaving money on the table by selling at conventions in advance of availability to the shops. (This is separate from the claim that the publishers are making money that rightfully belongs to the retailers.) It’s hard to assess counterfactuals, but since the practice has gone on for years and retailers have been complaining for years, this amounts to claiming that publishers are just too dumb to recognize their own interests even when it’s pointed out to them. You’d think that they would notice the better total sales on titles that they never did this with, but maybe each individual publisher is working from too small a sample, or doesn’t keep careful enough track of their sales, or retailers respond by cutting all orders from the publisher and not just ones that they’re afraid will be on sale early at cons so the publisher can’t tell the difference between the general sales trend and the activity on that particular title. It’s a hard sell, though, to persuade your supplier that you know his business enough better than him that he should take your word that he’ll make out better by giving you more favorable terms.

    On the other hand, you’ve got the publishers saying that these sales are important part of marketing and generating buzz. And again, while there’s a plausible story to explain why it would be good for everybody, without data publishers are just asserting they know the business better than retailers. Obviously another tough sell there.

    I think if publishers and retailers wanted to get past the clash of dueling assumptions, they’d have to carefully track and share data about sales on titles where they did or didn’t offer them early at cons, and perhaps even experiment with offering at some cons and not others to see how regional sales went (though I can imagine that would be difficult if there aren’t near-simultaneous cons in different regions prior to when the book hits the direct market).

    As to fairness, like Johanna, I tend to see that as something of a red-herring. Last I checked retailers get the lion’s share of the cover price of the books they sell. Is that fair? Who knows? It is, however, what the publisher has to agree to in order to get the books in the shops.

  2. Larry Young Says:

    A $12.95 graphic novel for a company with an F discount and the 3% reorder penalty takes in $5.44 for the retailer, $5.18 for the publisher and $2.33 for Diamond. Not exactly the lion’s share for the retailer. :)

    EVERYONE works hard for their small margin, in comics.

  3. Joshua Says:

    The “lion’s share” just means the largest of two or more amounts, which is precisely what your example shows.

  4. Larry Young Says:

    It’s my understanding that it’s “a disproportionately large segment of the whole,” which makes your point read separate from what you intended.

    But I don’t mean to be pedantic; just pointing out that retailers aren’t getting a disproportionate amount of the cover price. If you only mean they’re getting the largest slice, that’s cool.

  5. Simon Jones Says:

    Rather than simply breaking down the price that way, you should also consider the profit margins. Publishers pay for a hefty amount for production. Most of the retailer’s take goes towards overhead like rent or shipping. The party actually taking in the lion’s share is… heh, I’m sure you can figure out where I’m going with this.

  6. Joshua Says:


    Why? I mean, you can always choose some measure or tell some story about why the amount you’re getting is fair, or should be even higher, but honestly, why is it manifestly more fair that e.g. retailers can make a living at it while many on the art and writing side have to have day jobs to support themselves? If margins ought to matter, should retailers be willing to take a smaller discount from publishers who offer a better page rate or a higher ratio of staff to freelancers?

    The point isn’t that retailers have it easy, since as Larry points out everybody works for their small margins, but that talk about “fairness” in business transactions mostly comes down to being able to spin a good yarn to justify your self-interest. I’m much more likely to believe that fairness is a motive when you’re offering *better* terms to your trading partners than they would have agreed to. Otherwise, the acid test is just this: would you rather have the deal on the terms offered, or not? Is there a deal that both parties would prefer to the current one?

  7. Simon Jones Says:


    I wasn’t actually arguing with the point you were making, merely offering another way of defining who actually gets the largest slice of the pie.

    I’ve long since moved past arguing on the basis of fairness, compassion, or charity at all in comics. Ironically, it’s retailers who convinced me that idealism doesn’t matter in the face of actual market conditions and the all important dollar, however I wish it were not the case.

  8. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » Jan. 22, 2008: You’re aiming for readers Says:

    […] Direct Market, part III: Here’s Brian Hibbs, Lisa Lopacinski, Heidi MacDonald, Simon Jones, Johanna Draper Carlson, Alan David Doane and Richard […]

  9. Randy Lander Says:

    Wow. Deppey compares retailers to abused (and abusive) children, Doane basically calls the direct market as a whole a dinosaur and ComicsPro takes a stand on a remarkably minor issue instead of trying to fix some of the real problems, and does its best to make the retailing community *look* like the dinosaur it is often made out to be. Three possible responses from me:

    1. Ah, must be Tuesday on the Internet.

    2. Wow, there’s nobody in this argument I can agree with.

    3. I wonder if ComicsPro will ever write a position paper I support?

  10. Johanna Says:

    I’m looking forward to seeing future position papers, myself. If nothing else, it’s interesting to see what issues they feel are worth addressing.




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