Valiant Brings Back Tie-In Purchases, a Comic Code Concern, With Book of Death

Book of Death: Legends of the Geomancer cover

Valiant has announced that their big summer push will be titled Book of Death, an “epic, four-part event revealing the future fates of X-O Manowar, Bloodshot, Ninjak, and more in July”. Along with this miniseries, they’re offering the four-issue Book of Death: Legends of the Geomancer — but only as a “retailer-incentive companion series”. That means you can only buy certain amounts, based on how many issues you’ve ordered of the main series.

It’s an obvious incentive strategy that seems sensible to a company. Heck, they do it all the time with variant covers, telling retailers they can order one of HOT ARTIST VARIANT for every 25 or 50 or 100 of STANDARD BOOK they order. But restricting an entire issue based on sales of another product has a historical component that I’m not sure they’ve thought about.

Book of Death: Legends of the Geomancer cover

See, saying “you can only buy X if you buy Y” is a called a tie-in sale, and it was one of the issues driving the Senate hearings on comics and juvenile delinquency back in the 1950s. As discussed in Amy Kiste Nyberg’s excellent book Seal of Approval: The History of the Comics Code,

“Testimony by retailers and newsdealers indicated that tie-in sales were a common practice in the industry. Distributors and wholesalers, however, denied that such practices existed, insisting that no retailer ever had to sell a comic book that he or she did not want to handle.”

Or here, at this site with transcripts of the hearings:

The Hearings were only supposed to be for two days, but a third day came about because of the issue of tie in sales. Newsstand dealers insisted that it was a regular occurrence and it was why the crime and horror comics were being sold. They said they wouldn’t be selling them, but the distribution companies wouldn’t give them the better selling magazines like TV Guide unless they took and sold the crime and horror comics.

From the interim report of the Senate hearings:

Legislation has been enacted by three States, New York, New Jersey, and Idaho, to prohibit what is known as tie-in sales practices.

Of course, then, the perception was that dealers were forced to accept objectionable titles in order to get others they wanted or found more suitable. Here, it’s almost the reverse — they’re trying to artificially create a collectible in order to raise sales on both titles. My brief reading on the subject suggests that now, it’s most cared about if the products are unrelated. Since these two comics series are being pushed as part of the same story, that’s not an issue (and I would hope someone at Valiant has checked out that it’s legal to do this).

Book of Death (and isn’t that a charming title to get excited about?) will be on sale July 15 at $3.99 for 40 pages. It’s written by Robert Venditti with art by Robert Gill and Doug Braithwaite and a variety of variant covers. Book of Death: Legends of the Geomancer is written by Fred van Lente and drawn by Juan Jose Ryp. There’s no set price on its 24 pages, also on sale July 15, and not available digitally. Cover, shown here, is by Marguerite Sauvage. They’re promising that the tie-in series will feature “never-before-seen stories that won’t be collected in trade paperback” about “a character that is not only new to the Valiant Universe, but is also vitally important to its history” in an effort to goose sales of both comic miniseries.

Update: A long-time retailer weighs in.

If you’re a store who has a dozen customers who all want to read Legends of the Geomancer, you’re gonna have to order hundreds of copies of Book of Death in order to accommodate them. And unless you have hundreds of Valiant fans shopping at your place, I don’t know that you’re going to order that many…

The current comics market combined with our current economic state is not one where you can afford to give people excuses to not read something, and it would be too easy for someone to say “well, if I can’t read all of this Book of Death event, then I won’t read any of it.”

… this particular stunt isn’t a good idea, and I hope they reconsider making Legends of the Geomancer more widely available, especially given the strong creative team on the book. To be fair, Valiant is offering some generous deals to retailers to make it a little easier to order the numbers necessary to obtain the rarer book (such as returnability and deep discounting) but it’s still ordering a lot of one comic in order to get a precious few of the other, and it feels almost wasteful getting too many of something you’re just going to have to destroy for returns later.

There are workarounds, of course, such as selling the main Book of Death for cheap and hopefully moving more copies that way. But I want good comics to be easier to find, not harder, and I’d be a lot happier just being able to order what I think I can sell to customers who just want to read the books, rather than jumping through hoops to fit my business plan around someone else’s marketing gimmick.

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