Dark Horse and the 300
Dark Horse seems to owe much of their survival to the movies. On the one hand, they publish Star Wars tie-ins; on the other, several of their graphic novels have been adapted into successful films (Sin City, Hellboy, and now 300).
Usually, a comic company tries to take advantage of that kind of free promotion by selling lots of related comics. DC, for example, had a consignment program with V for Vendetta where retailers could stock up and then return extras if they didn’t sell. (But they did. It was the best-selling non-manga graphic novel of 2006.)
Dark Horse, however, has a spotty history of supply problems. Comic retailers have been upset by their books being out of print just when movie-related interest is peaking, or worse, seeing the books available in bookstores while Diamond is saying they’re out of stock (and thus unorderable).
With this latest blockbuster ($70 million opening weekend against a $60 million cost, exceeding all estimates), Dark Horse tried to learn from history. (See, for example, this December 2005 post talking about how the 300 book was out of stock while the movie was in production.) Just before the film opened, retailer-focused site ICv2 ran an article claiming plenty of copies of 300 were in stock.
Some 14,000 copies out of a recent shipment of 35,000 copies of the 300 graphic novel are still available, another 15,000 copies have just arrived, and a second 15,000 copy shipment is en route.
Unfortunately, retailers placing orders for the book through Diamond got a “back order” status, showing that the claimed “available” books weren’t. ICv2’s followup digs further:
Dark Horse VP Business Development Michael Martens … explained the situation. “The information I gave you last Wednesday was several days old,” he said, “and in that time a lot of copies evaporated.” The 14,000 copies that had been available as of Friday, March 2nd had been sold, and Diamond was out of stock as of last Thursday, March 8th.
That was the day the first article ran. He goes on to say that the 15,000 books that “just arrived” meant in the US, and they were still on their way to Diamond. Hopefully, they’ll be available this week sometime, but
they’ll be used to fill the back orders that accumulated last week. Martens promised a favorable allocation of those copies for the direct market vs. the book channel, with some copies left to fill comic store orders that come in this week.
Note that he introduces another complicating factor — part of those 15,000 are going to bookstores, so if demand is still high, retailers may find that group quickly gobbled up. But that’s not the worst news:
Last, the additional 15,000 copy order “en route” from Asia is around two months away, meaning that the copies currently in stock in retail stores, soon to be at Diamond, and at book wholesalers will be all of the supply available to the market for some time.
Meanwhile, Amazon says it has the book in stock, and at a 40% discount (as of this writing). Although this seems to have gone better for Dark Horse than in previous years, 300 still wasn’t as consistently in stock as retailers would have liked.
If we had to rely on Dark Horse and Diamond’s ability to get us the product in a timely fashion, I know that we would’ve experienced frequent periods of unavailability. I’m not really happy about not having any faith in this supplier, but we learned from the last few movies that this is, unfortunately, the way we have to do business with Dark Horse to make our customers happy.
Mike Sterling also points out a key fact: “traditionally, demand for movie-inspiring comics tends to drop off as soon as the movie itself is released.” The window may have passed.
Heidi MacDonald suggests that they should have reprinted a lot more than 15,000.
is Dark Horse’s cash flow really so bad that they couldn’t just front order enough books to meet demand for a movie that the studio has been touting as a “four quadrant hit” for four months or so? It’s not like they would ever get stuck with them–Frank Miller is a best selling author and his books are perennials.
Heidi has since removed that speculation from her post.
I know it’s tough for publishers to anticipate demand, especially now that so many of them are printing overseas for cost reasons, which involves a long period of transit time. And I still remember Kitchen Sink going under reportedly because they tied up too much money in Crow tie-ins. But dang, when you can’t get the books the weekend’s biggest movie is based on, even with reasonable lead time… this is just another reason it’s tough to be a comic retailer.