PR: What Not to Do: Raising Price Dramatically After Order

Top Cow offered hardcover collections of Midnight Nation (in November) and Broken Trinity (in December) at the price of $34.99. However, they’ve decided to upgrade the editions.

Top Cow Productions has announced significant upgrades to its Deluxe HCs of Midnight Nation (NOV082307D) and Broken Trinity (DEC082300D). The size of each collection will be increased to an oversized 8-1/2″ x 11″ and will ship with a deluxe slipcase containing a 24″ x 36″ full color poster folded and inserted within. The package will be shrinkwrapped with a sticker containing the book’s UPC/ISBN and price.

Oh, and each book is now priced at $100. For a slipcase and poster? They may call the books oversized, but they’re now only the size of a sheet of copy paper. Note that as of right now, Top Cow’s website still shows the old, inaccurate information.

Top Cow website

(I left the babe in there because she’s so representative of the publishing imprint’s work. I don’t know why she’s on the website, though — it doesn’t appear to be an ad for anything or have any label.)

Retailers now have about a week and a half to decide if they think they can still sell any of these books at triple the price. Or to attempt to contact customers to find out if they still want the books. I found out about this because a reader (thanks, Ray!) told me that his mail-order comic supplier had asked him to either confirm his order at the new price or they would cancel it. But what about those retailers that aren’t paying attention? What about customers who don’t hear the news and get sticker stock when their book arrives? They can refuse to purchase it, of course, but that leaves the retailer in a bad spot and may cause hard feelings all around.

Please note, I’m not calling retailers lazy by assuming some may not notice. Retailers are given updates and changes all the time, and it’s very easy to overlook something with all the other tasks they’re also trying to take care of.

This is one of the reasons Brian Hibbs said, in reference to Marvel’s post-order adjustments:

No other solicitation or notification of change holds the same weight as the original “Previews” solicitation. Nothing. Only a fraction of the necessary audience is going to see non-”Previews” solicitations. Whether that be on the retailer level or on the consumer level. I submit to you that all of the changes listed above have transformed each of those projects into something other than was solicited in very real (and probably legally actionable) ways. … These are different projects that we would have ordered differently if we had had the correct information at the time of solicitation. And it has to stop.

One can only speculate why Top Cow would do this. Maybe orders were so low that they needed to increase the income per volume in order to cover the cost of the print run. Maybe they needed more cash fast, and they’re hoping enough retailers don’t notice the change. I’m having trouble thinking of a reason that doesn’t leave a bad taste, although I welcome correction.

Similar Posts: PR: What Not to Do: Promotional Giveaways § Business Followup LinkBlogging: Retailers Dislike Price Drop, Wayne to Stay in NY § Diamond Omits Love & Capes #11 From Previews Catalog § Dark Horse Digital Comics Should Be Cheaper: Brigid Makes the Case § Cold Cut Levels the Field


30 Responses to “PR: What Not to Do: Raising Price Dramatically After Order”

  1. Ed Sizemore Says:

    I think the babe is one of the operators on Tow Cow’s 976 phone service.

  2. El Santo Says:

    I kept trying to read this entry, but my eyes kept drifting toward the babe. Curse you, Top Cow!

    (The company, not the gal.)

  3. Filip Sablik Says:

    Hi Johanna,

    Just a couple of quick clarifications, we did upgrade the hard covers because we felt the work deserved to be presented at a larger, more impressive size. These books will be roughly the same size as DC’s “Absolute” line or the Omnibus Walking Dead hard covers and are priced at a similar price point.
    They will also contain additional back matter material that would not have been included in a smaller, less prestigious edition.
    In addition to making them order adjustable for retailers, we are also making them fully returnable when they ship; so retailers and fans will have a second chance to pass on the product if they choose. I also reached out to bring these changes to the attention of retailers on the CBIA.

    Occasionally a publisher makes changes because we think it will make for a better product;)

    Take care,

    Filip Sablik
    Publisher, Top Cow Productions

  4. James Schee Says:

    The babe is the Witchblade character I think, the bracelet on the right hand looks like it anyway.

    ::shrugs::

    The books are too expensive for me, though I may look for a less deluxe copy of Midnight Nation as I vaguely remember liking the first issue. (WAY back when)

    Still as long as no one gets stuck with them on either the retailer or fan side. Then that’s good I guess.

  5. David Wynne Says:

    In addition to making them order adjustable for retailers, we are also making them fully returnable when they ship

    I can only applaud this.

    Top Cow are a bit of an odd fish right now- every time I read or hear about the company doing something (like the guaranteed 2:99 price point for example) I’m impressed and interested. And then I look at the material… that screen shot is a pretty perfect example of why I’m not reading any Top Cow comics right now, and haven’t since I was a hormonal teenager.

    I wonder if they realise just HOW off-putting the cheese-cake stuff is for a lot of people. If Avatar can manage to shake off that image- and they seem to, which is quite a feat, let’s be honest- why can’t Top Cow? Put some clothes on Witchblade and Cyblade (…and whichever other blades might be wandering about…) and maybe more people might give them another look. As it is, I can’t be the only one unwilling to give money to a company that presents such a, dare I say it, mysoginistic public image, can I?

  6. Ron Marz Says:

    @ David, the cheesecake stuff IS gone, if you’d look at what’s inside the books. The image in question here was a con exclusive cover, which tend to be sexy shots, since — no surprise — they sell considerably better. But if you’d care to not judge a book by its cover, you might be surprised at what you read. Full issues here, though unfortunately the viewer splits a few double-spreads.

    http://www.topcow.com/Site/readers/firstborn1/Default.html

    http://www.topcow.com/Site/readers/witchblade116/Default.html

    If you choose to, you can judge the material for what it is, rather than measuring it, unseen, by a decade-old perception. Hope you take a look.

  7. Timothy Greene Says:

    Am I the only one who finds the whole “Stupid Publishers Tricks” mentality to be unnecessarily rude and confrontational?

    It is bad enough to insult anybody as being stupid. Sure, some publishers make some mistakes (or do things YOU may perceive as being a mistake), but I assume most are hard working intelligent people just doing their best.

    But it is the “tricks” element that bugs me. As if they are all deceitful and are trying to “trick” people. Or worse, that their profession and attempts to succeed in a competitive market are little more than “tricks” for your amusement.

    Can you imagine Top Cow or any other publisher setting up a blog entry called “Stupid blogger tricks” or “Stupid reviewer tricks” where they comment on what they perceive as the idiotic practices of some online “journalists”? I can’t. They just don’t do that. You know why? I assume it has something to do with class, respect, and civility.

    The folks at Top Cow aren’t stupid. They aren’t out to trick anybody. And you, ma’am, are no Letterman.

  8. Johanna Says:

    Oh, golly, it’s the title thing again.

    It’s not literal. I’m willing to change the feature title, but no one’s ever suggested anything better to me. (And I clearly shouldn’t be the one to pick the new name.)

    Plenty of people call bloggers stupid or similarly insult them all the time, without the clearly exaggerated context, so your hypothetical doesn’t work.

  9. Johanna Says:

    Ron, does that mean Witchblade actually wears clothes now? In all her costumes?

    Top Cow spent years building this impression of their comics as wank material — it’s not surprising it’s taken deep hold. Especially when those kinds of images are still so prominent all over their website.

  10. David Wynne Says:

    Mr Marz, with the greatest respect, I’m not sure how to respond to that. I actually have that Witchblade comic, since it was given away for free at the Birmingham comic expo last year; and what with the chesecakalicious first page and the four page nude scene later in the issue, it was one of the main factors contributing to my perception that little has changed at Top Cow. As for that Firstborn comic, with it’s gratuitous buttshots of semi-clad female demons, and a cover featuring a woman who is for all intents and purposes naked (and, I might add, being menaced by decidely phallic monsters), if anything simply bolsters that impression.

    I don’t wish to suggest any deficit in the quality of the writing- indeed I’ve heard a lot of good things- but the visuals are so off-putting that I never get that far.

    I don’t consider myself a prude- I’m a huge fan of Warren Ellis’s work, and I particularly enjoyed his recent Anna Mercury series, for example- but there is a difference between having a sexy women in a comic and blatant objectification for the sake of tittilation.

    This is the main source of my consternation with Top Cow as a publisher- the material suggests that the publisher is going the same market as Heavy Metal magazine; but those working at the company keep shouting from the rooftops that “we don’t do that stuff anymore!”

  11. Johanna Says:

    Filip, thank you for stepping in with the facts. I was confused because an Absolute is 8 1/2 x 13 (well, 12 3/4) inches, not 8 1/2 x 11 as the revised solicit says. I’m glad to hear that they’re returnable — that should avoid a lot of issues. I appreciate your correction.

  12. Ron Marz Says:

    @ Johanna, when I took over the book 5 years ago, I said I wasn’t interested in writing stories that were excuses for the main character’s clothes to fall off. It’s been that way ever since.

    Am I completely happy with all the covers? No. But that’s not something completely within my control. What I can control is the story content, and to be honest, the main characters wear considerably more clothing — like full body armor — than most Marvel and DC heroines. More often than not, the lead character is dressed as what she is — a NYPD detective.

    To be fair, it’s a mature readers title, so there is some nudity, as well as language and violence, but they’re all elements of the story, and present for story reasons. It’s certainly not for everyone, but it’s also certainly not what it used to be.

  13. Ron Marz Says:

    @ David, as I said, it’s a mature readers title, and certain covers are not my decision. The story can be sexy, profane and violent … but the story is what matters.

    I wrote the sex scene you mentioned as part of the story, showing a character making what is ultimately a bad choice in trusting the wrong man. People are often naked when they have sex, so I thought it was more honest to show it — though there is no frontal nudity — than be coy about it.

    You cited the things you found to be, I guess, “blatant objectification.” But you didn’t bother to mention that the main character wears a jacket and knee-length skirt through the entire WB issue. Certainly your taste is your own, but I think you’re cherrying-picking a little bit here.

    That said, I truly appreciate your feedback, and I appreciate that you’ve at least looked through the material. I hope you’ll actually give it a read as well. Thanks for the time.

  14. Matt Adler Says:

    I too got that notice from my mail order provider, and I cancelled my order. I felt a little bad taking away the sale from them, but it’s hard to see how the minor additions could be argued as worth the increase, so I find Mr. Sablik’s response a little disingenuous.

    As for Top Cow’s output… it seemed back in the late ’90s, a lot of imprints that were formerly known for either mindless action or T&A started recruiting some interesting writers on innovative projects (Ellis and Millar on Wildstorm’s Authority, Straczynski on Top Cow’s Rising Stars and Midnight Nation, Bendis on TMP’s Hellspawn and Sam & Twitch). But when Marvel snatched them up, it seemed like most of these imprints retreated back into just trying to revive/maintain their existing properties.

    Whenever the publisher or my mail order service offers a special, I sample these revamps/relaunches… Witchblade, Broken Trinity, whatever. No disrespect intended to Mr. Marz, who I grew up reading on Silver Surfer, or any of the writers involved in these revamps, but I have found every single one of these comics forgettable. I really think the limitations come in the subject matter; the publisher knows that the majority of people buying a Witchblade comic want to read about a babe kicking ass. So a talented writer like Mr. Marz can do his best to inject characterization and subplots, but thematically it can never stray too far from that.

  15. Alan Coil Says:

    Johanna,

    I insist that you DO NOT change the title.

    As you have mentioned in the past, it is a takeoff on the old Letterman Stupid Human Tricks, with the emphasis on Stupid Tricks, not on Stupid Publishers.

    And if some publishers can’t see that, maybe they are a bit dumb.

    Back to the main subject, publishers need to get their act together and get the submissions to Diamond Previews properly in the first place. This constant changing of solicitations every week (take a look at the list of changes in Diamond Dateline each week) makes busy-work for retailers, most of whom have enough work as it is just trying to keep their stores open. How many hours a year are they wasting communicating with their customers concerning the latest changes? Which books are late? Which upcoming books will have extra pages added at the last minute causing a price increase? Which variant covers have been added/cancelled/ had artist changes? Which books have title changes? Which books have character changes? The list seems to go on and on.

    Publishers, stop making it so hard for retailers. Retailers are your friends.

  16. David Wynne Says:

    It feels weird typing “Mr. Marz” every time during a conversation like this, but at the same time it also feels weird referring to someone whose work I’ve enjoyed reading and who I have respect for in over-familiar terms, so…

    Mr Marz- As is so often the case in these kind of discussions, personal taste is playing an important role here- in this case taste in art. The art on those comics is very much not to my taste. As to why, let me put it this way- reading your comment was the first time I realised that the female character in that sex-scene is not the same character we see in the rest of the issue. On a second look- well, actually more like third or fourth look, seeing as I have that book at home, like I said- I realise the fact that she has different colour hair should have tipped me off to that. Unfortunately, since she’s identical in every other way, I didn’t pick up on that.

    Of course, if I’d read the words, I’m sure that would have been made clearer. And maybe there’s a reason for their physical similarity- perhaps they’re sisters?

    But the point of all this is that, while it’s clear that there are definitely efforts by some creators and other professionals at Top Cow to distance the company from it’s past, it’s pretty obvious that not everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet. It’s depressing to see people with such fine intentions hamstrung by their own colleagues, but that seems to be what’s happening here.

    I’m reminded of when one of Top Cow’s marketing people started a thread at Warren Ellis’s engine forum (or it may have been panel & pixel, the two tend to blur together in my appallingly bad memory) asking what the professionals present thought the company could do to raise it’s profile, and was rewarded with a chorus of “ditch the cheesecake”. The poor fella (whose name escapes me at present, though I remember that he seemed like a nice guy) retreated into the seemingly stock position that “we already did!”, but the fact remains that the impression people have of the company is based as much on the current output as it is on the early stuff. Sure, if you dig deeper, there may be more to the work than there used to be- but if it still looks like the same product, why should readers be expected not to think it’s anything else?

    Maybe someone in editorial needs to have a word with the artists, and perhaps point out that not every image of a nude or semi-nude woman needs to have her chest or behind clearly visible- especially if it’s in a scene that’s meant to be imparting an important plot or character point. Maybe Creators need to make a bit more noise about the way their work is presented and marketed (hell, I don’t work there, maybe you have stand up arguments about it every day, I don’t know).

    I have no problem with sexy, profane, violent stories- in fact, I tend to enjoy them. My own work is both violent and somewhat profane. It’s the presentation that matters here- a great story is a great story, but a great story told in an irritating voice is still unlistenable.

    I want to thank you, though, for even having this conversation with me. It must be tempting to write every dissenting or critical voice off on principle, especially when working for a company who has been so maligned, and I wouldn’t blame you for doing so. Please believe me when I say that my comments are given in the spirit of constructive criticism, since I’d love to see more of the smaller companies and imprints grow in market share, particularly those that are producing material in genres outside of the traditional super-hero furrow. This industry needs more diversity of populist material, and Top Cow could be very well placed to provide that.

    Anyway, thank you for reading. Sorry I’ve rambled so much.

    Also, sorry for taking so much space in your comments section, Johanna!

  17. David Wynne Says:

    …bloody hell, that comment was even more long winded than I thought- WALL OF TEXT ALERT

  18. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » Jan. 23, 2009: The $65 question Says:

    [...] [Publishing] Top Cow raises “deluxe hardcover” prices by $65… after solicitation Link: Johanna Draper Carlson [...]

  19. Jeff Flowers Says:

    It’s a shame this has happened, because I feel that Midnight Nation is a good comic. It may also be a bad move because of the current economy.

  20. James Schee Says:

    Top Cow does seem to be trying to diversify. Ron’s even got a CO book with them, Dragon Prince, that all ages.

    First issue can be read free here
    http://www.topcow.com/Site/readers/dragonprince1/Default.html

  21. notintheface Says:

    The ironic thing was that Gary Frank’s depictions of women in that series, while pretty, were free of exactly that type of gratuitous cheesecake, especially by Top Cow’s then-prevailing standards.

    It was my first comics exposure to JMS.

  22. Marc-Oliver Frisch Says:

    “In addition to making them order adjustable for retailers, we are also making them fully returnable when they ship; so retailers and fans will have a second chance to pass on the product if they choose.”

    Please correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t product returnable by default when it’s not as solicited?

    It seems to me that the fair thing to do here would be to resolicit the books, instead of leaving the ball – and the hassle – in the retailers’ and customers’ court.

  23. Ray Cornwall Says:

    A few points as the guy who got the notice:

    First of all, I’m completely cool with my mail order company (mailordercomics.com, plug plug) for how they handled it. I was given the option of a refund or of upgrading to the new edition. I have another day or two to make up my mind.

    Marc-Oliver Frisch nailed it; it’s the changing of the solicitation that makes the item returnable, not some generous move on Top Cow’s part.

    And as Johanna points out, this book isn’t Absolute-sized; it’s closer (albiet a little bigger) than a Marvel oversized hardcover. If one of those books can go $35-40, why is Midnight Nation $100? After all, there is plenty of material published by Marvel in that format by both creators at a more reasonable price point.

    What most mystifies me is the decision to swap the format on the fly, giving retailers two weeks to make decisions about a now $100 book. If Top Cow really believes in this format, why not give these products a full release cycle and promotion? I would have understood cancelling the original solicits and resoliciting the book in the new format and size. This move comes off as less than fair to the Direct Market retailer.

    I found all this very interesting considering the remarks by Diamond’s VP of Purchasing, Bill Schanes, in a recent Newsarama article (http://www.newsarama.com/comics/010921-Schanes-Diamond.html). He said the following:

    “…but we also have to ask publishers what they’re going to do to help themselves? Often times, publishers feel their responsibility to the product is done once they hit send on that final e-mail. We don’t feel that’s fair — we feel that they should be driving business to the retailers, and helping Diamond help market their product. We don’t think it’s the responsibility of the distributor to be 100% of the sales, marketing and commercial arm of the publisher. We can augment their effort, but we should not be the only effort.”

    For these $100 products, Top Cow has abdicated the responsibility of helping Diamond and the retailers market these products. If Top Cow was really serious about these products, they’d get a full solicit and the marketing push that retailers would need to sell them. Instead, they’re being sold with no promotion, no hype, and the stink of a last-minute tripling of the price. No doubt about it, it’s a Stupid Publisher Trick.

    I did have to note the following: Ron Marz’s Broken Trinity has been, to date, the only comic that my wife picked up and read without any prompting from me. She enjoyed the book. She’s never read any graphic novel I’ve recommended or pushed, even though she reads two to three books a week. There still might be some T&A at Top Cow (I don’t think they’ll ever get it completely out of their DNA), but I give them kudos for creating a comic that my wife liked.

  24. Alan Coil Says:

    Ray said:

    “Marc-Oliver Frisch nailed it; it’s the changing of the solicitation that makes the item returnable,…”

    Just wanted to mention that this is not necessarily true–Marvel changes solicitations all the time, but no longer does returns.

    They should, but they don’t.

  25. Ray Cornwall Says:

    Doesn’t Marvel get away with that by moving to the later date of final ordering?

  26. Alan Coil Says:

    Well, so far they do.

    DC doesn’t play that game. They continue to take returns. Marvel, being the biggest fish in the pond, sits wherever they want to.

  27. Ray Cornwall Says:

    I decided in the end that I wasn’t being given enough info to justify the price increase and am not buying the book. If Top Cow later does a rerelease, I’d be happy to reconsider, but for now, I just don’t feel comfortable laying a Benjamin with this little info. And that’s a shame- I should be the exact sort of customer that Top Cow wants for this book. I loved Midnight Nation, I love deluxe books (I actually own every Absolute book), and had a pre-order for the original book. But I just don’t feel a three-sentence paragraph basically asking me to pony up an extra $40 for a slipcase, a poster, and a few more inches really gives me enough info. Sorry.

  28. Johanna Says:

    I appreciate the followup — it’s not always that real-life stories have endings. :) I hope you don’t regret your choice, but I don’t think you will.

  29. Ray Cornwall Says:

    Well, if the product is relisted or gets good reviews, I can always find it in the aftermarket, albiet probably at a higher price than MOC (plugplug).

  30. Matt Adler Says:

    MOC is great, but the harsh truth is that if a number of retailers get stuck with these books because of this switcheroo, we’ll be able to get this on eBay probably in the 50% off range, beating the MOC discount of 38%. And I have to admit, that influenced my decision to cancel the order.

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