Much Viz Backlist No Longer Available Through Diamond
I’m late talking about this, but I want to make sure I capture it for historical purposes. I suspect, in years to come, some of us will be interested in tracing which decisions were made when and by whom as the direct comic retail market changed in unforeseen ways.
Last last month, Diamond declared that it would be drastically cutting back on reorders for periodicals. Anything deemed such could only be ordered for 60 days (2 months) after the initial release date.
Then, Christopher Butcher brought news that over 1000 Viz manga volumes would no longer be able to be backordered through Diamond. Diamond was selling them off, at discount prices, and if in future retailers were still interested in stocking earlier books in the series — which included such titles as Prince of Tennis, Crimson Hero, Case Closed, Phoenix, and Drifting Classroom — they’d have to get them elsewhere.
Putting these two pieces of information together suggests to me that regardless of the manga digest format resembling a book, Diamond clearly sees these series as periodicals, and they’re not interested in maintaining deep backlists in manga (or anything else). Looking at the full list at Butcher’s site, I see some completed series I enjoyed (such as Aishiteruze Baby and Sensual Phrase), but mostly, I see books that never clicked with me (getting Hot Gimmick off shelves is a blessing) or I lost interest in.
So I don’t have a passionate hatred for this decision … I’m almost in sympathy with retailer Brian Hibbs, who flatly says these books don’t sell. (A sentiment echoed by some of Butcher’s commenters.) However, I do like Inubaka: Crazy for Dogs, and including modern classic Maison Ikkoku is just dumb, although I can see how it would appear old-fashioned to some readers.
What does disturb me is that it appears that, from the comments of a Viz spokesperson, Diamond made this decision unilaterally. But then, many of their customers have mixed feelings about manga at best. While the format is one of the huge success stories for comics over the past decade, that success has come in bookstores, not comic stores. Many comic shop retailers are in the business because they love it, so they stock what they’re interested in, and many just aren’t interested. It’s a very wide-ranging product line, so it takes knowledge and effort to stock it wisely, and some stores don’t have the inclination or talent to do so. Then there’s the audience for it — some stores still have issues with serving female teenagers, seeing them as not “real” fans or intruders into the comic boys’ club.
In the bigger picture, there’s also the problem of sheer quantity. If a store wanted to be a complete provider, how would they store and display these 1000 volumes, even with just one of each? And that’s just one publisher, albeit the biggest North American manga publisher.
Perhaps Diamond is correct in viewing the audience for manga as looking forward, more interested in picking up new books than looking backwards to trying finished series. Does the window for attention for the manga reader work that way?
In tough times, retailers want to drive sales now. Giving customers a push to make them buy instead of putting off a purchase for later (which may or may not ever come) makes sense for them. Is Diamond trying to train customers to buy now instead of waiting for later by shortening the purchase window? Diamond is trying to face the future, selling what’s hot now, and ignoring what came out more than 3 months ago. That fits in well with the mindset of its biggest suppliers, DC and Marvel, who are always pushing something new, and if their customers have very short memories, well, all the better, since that way they won’t realize that this month’s “new” is just a poor copy of the new six months ago.
Good retailers who want to keep providing these books to their customers (which frequently include schools and libraries, who buy in batches instead of weekly) already have other distribution sources. If Diamond doesn’t want that business, because they think it’s not worth the trouble and doesn’t suit their view of the market, well, their loss. It’s the opposite of Amazon’s “long tail” strategy, which involves using technology to stock more than their competitors, for the long term, but maybe Diamond knows they have different kinds of competition these days.
I also wonder if the business model of the Direct Market – buy it cheaper in return for non-returnability – is affecting this. A bookstore can afford to carry a fuller line, because if the line doesn’t sell, it can be returned. A comics store can’t; once it buys it, they eat it if it doesn’t sell. The margins on these books are so small that it just might not be worth it unless the store is extremely focused on manga (like Christopher Butcher’s store, for example) or the books are hot enough sellers that the risk is minimal (Naruto, Death Note, etc).