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.
Johanna’s spot-on about the effect of Diamond’s reorder policy on magazines. However, although it’s never been stated to us as an official policy, I’ve noticed Diamond’s been more or less following this standard for at least a couple of years. During our first decade in business, Diamond would regularly overorder our mags, to keep them on hand to fill immediate reorders, and then place reorders with us over time, regardless of how old the mag was (which is why we’ve always listed Diamond’s order codes in our magazines, catalogs, and online). I remember in the late 1990s, our older issues were selling well enough that we took out an ad in Previews, listing the order codes for every magazine we had in stock, and we got a really big Purchase Order from Diamond for all those items. We also got a call from our Diamond rep, telling us they made a mistake allowing that, and we could never do that again, because of the extra paperwork involved in handling all those individual items. (Gee, I thought that’s what computers were for… :-)
In the last couple of years, Diamond’s been cutting initial orders on magazines, but we’ve been making most of it up on reorders within the first couple of months of release, although some would trickle in beyond a two-month window. Guess that trickle is officially dead now.
We’ve been hearing from retailers for years that they can’t get magazine reorders from Diamond, only books. (We even put a notice to that effect in our January 2008 catalog, so people would stop trying to place reorders for mags through their local comics shop, then end up waiting months and nothing would ever show up. A few people viewed that as an anti-retailer stance by us, but it was just our way of helping our customers AND retailers avoid the frustration of never getting their reorders.) At least Diamond’s made it official now, so we’re all clear on the rules.
I’m not as concerned about losing a few reorders, as I am about the long-term effect this’ll have, on us, on retailers, and the industry. Johanna’s right; our old stuff sells. Unlike Wizard and others, our stuff isn’t dated. It’s either about comics history, an artist spotlight, or a how-to publication, none of which relies on the latest comics crossover event, or Hollywood blockbuster, to make it marketable. If someone with an interest in comics history shows up in a comic book store (or flips open PREVIEWS) and has never seen ALTER EGO or BACK ISSUE! before, it won’t matter whether they see the newest issue, or one from three years ago; both are just as likely to appeal to them. Which is why we’ve always had a thriving audience for our older issues, and we try to keep them in stock.
It’s impossible to grow magazine readership these days through comics shops, with Diamond putting disincentives like minimums and reorder windows in place, and so many retailers only willing to order enough copies to fill their pull list, and not stocking a single extra issue for a new reader to discover. So we’ve got to keep pushing people to our website and our convention booths to buy them directly from us. We’ve made a push over the last two years to get more retailers to order directly from us (we offer discounts comparable to Diamond, and free shipping), and there are a few of the larger or more service-oriented retailers who’ll take the time and effort to do so, to keep their customers happy, and coming back to their stores regularly. To my mind, those are the ones most likely to weather the current economic storm, and stick around for the long term. And we’re about to sign up with Haven Distribution so retailers will hopefully have a more convenient route to reorder our mags; maybe Haven can come up with the right formula to be successful stocking the lower-priced items.
I understand what Diamond’s doing; cutting costs like everyone else the last couple of years. It costs a lot to warehouse tons of paper, and they’ve consolidated down to just 3-4 warehouses now, from the 7-8 they used to operate 4-5 years ago. In that 4-5 years, an awful lot of new paper has been printed, so do the math; if you’ve got 4-5 more years of additional printed material in the system, and 3-4 fewer warehouses to hold it, either there’s a black hole somewhere sucking up all that stuff, or Diamond’s just not stocking it all anymore. The logical choice is to stop warehousing lower-priced stuff, like comics and magazines, and save the warehouse space for big ticket books, which bring more profit. To do that, they’re moving into the retailer mentality of only ordering what’s preordered, so they don’t get stuck warehousing a lot of lower priced material. That’s a great short-term practice to cut costs, but a lousy long-term policy for growing (or even sustaining) your business.