Diamond Sets Time Limit on Periodicals
As Matt High points out, lost in the news of Diamond Comic Distributors raising its minimum order level for publishers was this little tidbit:
For comic book periodicals and magazines, retailers can only order these books for 60 days after their initial release. After 60 days, Diamond locks down the code and does not accept any more reorders.
This may not affect brokered publishers, i.e. DC or Marvel, but as the two publishers driving Diamond sales, they’re setting the rules anyway.
For an example of what this means, let’s look at the fine magazines of TwoMorrows. When they cover an artist, they aim to create something of a reference guide to his (has it ever been a her?) career. Their magazines look backwards, in most cases, so timeliness of the content isn’t an issue when they’re covering a beloved creator of the 60s or 70s. But now, if you discover that they dedicated an issue to an artist you’ve just now gotten interested in, you better hope it’s come out within the last two months, or your comic shop won’t be able to get it for you. In the case of a bimonthly publication, that’s only the last issue that will be available.
Of course, in the case of TwoMorrows, you can order from their extensive website, where they give direct-to-customer discounts. So you’re getting a better deal in some cases, or at least, the discount covers the cost of postage. But while you get what you want, your retailer’s been cut out of the equation. Not only do they not get your money, but they don’t know that a magazine might have a new reader, so they don’t consider increasing order levels for next time. And TwoMorrows has to increase their picking and packing workload, which takes time away from actually making the magazines. (Really, they do excellent work on a variety of historical comic subjects. You should check out their publications.)
I can see why Diamond wants to do this — with a theoretically time-sensitive publication, like many serial comics, you want to concentrate on the now instead of the past, and managing what can be onesy-twosy back issue orders can quickly become unmanageable when you multiply by the number of publications they track.
This may also be a way to try and boost initial orders on long-term sellers. Better order now the quantity you think you’ll need on that magazine, not just for the next month or two but for forever. It also promotes the collector/speculator mentality of “get it soon, you can’t wait too long to make up your mind.”
Looking for the silver lining, this does open up a window for alternative distributors to consolidate back issue orders for retailers. I also wonder what might happen to back issues — you can’t offer them through Diamond, either by leaving a code open or by doing an “offered again”, since those have been restricted. Will we see more web-only specials direct from publishers? Bagged sets? Special deals direct to favored retailers?
However, it’s another nail in the coffin of small and young publishers. When I worked on Comicology magazine, back in the day, initial orders were not great. Retailers wanted to see what the first issue of the new publication looked like before committing, understandably, and it took a lot of good word of mouth for re-orders to start coming in and rising (as the editor told me, anyway). That kind of slow build is no longer possible.