Returnability Returns at Oni Press
Oni Press, promoting the release of Lamentation #1, has announced both returnability and a secret bonus initiative variant cover. They’re acting on the principle that selling to comic readers means selling to retailers first.
Launching this month, Lamentation is a three-issue horror miniseries written by Cullen Bunn (The Sixth Gun), illustrated by Arjuna Susini (Made Men), and colored by Hilary Jenkins. Each issue is 48 pages with a cover price of $6.99 US. Publishers have begun experimenting with sizes and formats as a way of battling inflation. A standard-sized comic at 28 or 32 pages for $3.99 can be a difficult sell, so adding more story pages provides more perceived value and time spent.
Lamentation will also be the first issue under Oni’s new returnability program. Previously, the direct sales market —- the dedicated shops that buy from comic distributors — was defined by non-returnability. That’s what convinced publishers to begin working with them back in the 1980s, when the system arose. Publishers could count every sale as a sale, without risk of product coming back to them, shifting that risk to the comic shops. Retailers were able to handle the risk because of the growing back issue market; comics that didn’t sell upon release would likely sell later.
As younger generations put less emphasis on collecting, lacking disposable income and/or space for a lot of objects, and as the trade paperback reprint collection has become more prevalent as a format, the back issue market isn’t what it once was. So to promote new releases, publishers like Oni are taking back some or all of the risk.
Oni has announced that this year, if a retailer orders five or more copies of a given issue in a creator-owned series (counting any combination of non-incentive covers), those issues will be fully returnable. That allows retailers to perhaps order an extra copy or two. With new series, if comic shop managers aren’t invested, they may purchase solely to meet pre-orders, without giving a book any display or shelf space. That means no chance to entice a browsing customer. By taking back that risk, Oni can encourage retailers to gamble on an extra issue or two of a comic, hopefully bringing more customer attention.
Oni’s also playing into the variant cover market that is so prevalent these days. Issue #1 has three covers available to order in any quantity: one by Maan House (Nightfall Double Feature), one by Yanick Paquette (Swamp Thing, Wonder Woman: Earth-Two), and one by Kyle Hotz (Web of Venom, Immortal Hulk).
There are also incentive covers: a 1-in-10 variant that features the House art without logo or lettering, a 1-in-15 black-and-white version of the Paquette cover, and a 1-in-20 black-and-white version by Hotz. Retailers have to buy the stated number of issues to buy one of the limited edition incentives, thereby making them rare from release date.
However, any retailer who met the retainability threshold on Lamentation #1 is getting for free an additional comic: a “secret edition variant” using the House art in a purple color scheme. President and Publisher of Oni Press Hunter Gorinson plugs their goal to “give retailers as many tools as possible to ensure the success of Oni’s titles in their stores with full returnability and a battery of surprises, like the Secret Edition and more, around every corner.”
Will the gimmick work? Retailers love feeling special, even if variant covers treat comics more like trading cards, ignoring the contents. In this case, the story of Lamentation features a young actress who finds herself, without auditioning, in a production set inside a haunted castle with a script that keeps changing. Bunn describes the book as set “in the realms of surreal terror and gothic mystery.” Gorinson praises the writer as “one of the comic medium’s most formidable writers of horror and the macabre.”
The publisher’s description is as follows:
“After weeks of grueling rehearsals, a new production is set to begin at the famed Requiem theatre: Razide’s Lament, three acts of gothic horror set inside a haunted castle with a story that some say is more than mere fantasy. Under the stern rule of a dedicated but temperamental director, the script seems to be ever-changing, and, more mysterious still, our lead actress has found herself cast in the role of a lifetime without so much as an audition. Her grand debut is fast approaching-and, with it, a barrage of razors in the night that will terrorize audiences and actors alike. There is no exit, no escape, and when the curtain finally rises, Razide himself will take center stage to cross the threshold into the unholy darkness that lies just beyond…”
Horror is one of the most popular genres in comics these days. By bringing back an older way of assigning risk, Oni demonstrates a faith in this book that should get comic shop retailers’ attention.