Dark Horse and the 300

Frank Miller's 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.

Frank Miller's 300

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.

Tom Spurgeon has collected some retailer reactions about the whole thing. As usual, Chris Butcher sums it up well:

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.

Update: 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.


  • Well, I think we probably have another week or so of strong 300 sales before the inevitable drop-off, hopefully.

    I actually started loading up on the 300 hardcovers a while back, given Dark Horse’s usual inability to supply books once there’s any measure of significant demand. However, to give Dark Horse credit, every time I ordered 300, the book was available, with the singularly annoying exception of that one canceled reorder (due to DH’s temporary shortage) that would have had a stock of them arrive the week of the movie’s release. Ah, well. I do have more coming this week, though, so that’ll have to do.

  • Jim Kosmicki

    The local Hastings store had a decent size stack of them — and not to add insult to injury, but 300 was one of the books that DH offered in a scratch and dent sale recently through their mailorder outlet, so while they were reprinting, they were also accepting returns from the bookstore market, just prior to when they would be ordering new, fresh copies.

  • Randy Lander

    It’s been a stressful (but exciting) third week of business for Rogues Gallery, with Captain America #25 and the booming business of 300. I’ve been scrambling with Diamond and my book distributor to try to get copies of 300 in, as we’re down to 1 last copy from our previous big order.

    Currently, I’ve got backorders in two places, and I’m holding my breath that they’ll come in sooner rather than later. But it does seem that the interest in the graphic novel is higher (and, I’m guessing, a little more long lasting) than the similar waves of interest we got for Hellboy and Sin City.

  • I wonder if that’s because it’s such a simple purchase? Sin City, there are, what, 6 books? Hellboy, similar. Batman/ X-Men/ Superman, way too many, making it very confusing for the customer — and none are just like the movies. Vendetta or 300, though, there’s just the one book, and they’re pretty faithful translations. Simplicity sells, I think.

  • I think your observation is correct, Johanna. Plus, once people have bought 300 several decided to read some of the other Miller books too, so we’re selling Sin City again, and Ronin thanks to DC’s consignment. (Even some of the Batmant stuff is selling-which has been out so long that most Batman fans have multiple copies already.) But it IS definately cheaper and easier to pick up just the one book, and I think that stores were more prepared and stocked up early this time.

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