Monday, February 04, 2008

The More Things Change The More They Stay The Same

Goodness Gracious! Hot on the heels of another retailer sore point, Boom! Studio's decision to bolster weak orders of their new title North Wind by posting the entire series for free online but only AFTER taking three issues worth of irrevocable orders for the book from Direct Market Retailers, comes the ComicsPro Position Paper on Convention Pre-Sales.

The last few weeks saw the blogosphere jump as a group of retailers, the newish trade group ComicsPRO, dared to publicly propose that comic publishers stop selling new releases at comic conventions, before the books are available to the comic retailers also. Their main concern was that this head start frequently takes sales that would normally be made in DM shops leaving retailers with product that becomes more difficult to sell. Most of the hue and cry came from pseudo journalists who seemed to be looking to drive traffic to their respective sites or possibly to maintain the incoming flow of free review product from publishers. Can't kill the golden goose now. Unfortunatley the incestuousness of those blogs causes the same erroneous information to appear in so many places that the old adage, "repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth", comes into play.

Now for those of you who don't know me, let me quickly say that I am the founder of the Comic Book Industry Alliance, the largest and probably longest running group of Comic Industry Professionals, including retailers, publishers and distributors. The group has accomplished a lot over its 10+ years as well as garnering some animosity (deserved and undeserved). I am also a member of ComicsPRO. Not a full member, I can't vote on things but I endorse what they are trying to do enough to offer some financial support. With all of the complaints levied against comic shops as being unprofessional it really is hard to understand the uproar over a group actively seeking to work together to raise not only their own standards but the standards of the industry.

Too, the group was borne out of direct response from publishers and distributors who claim that it is too difficult to work with 2000+ individual retailers, and stating their desire for a group that could speak for retailers with one voice.

ComicsPRO is a new and relatively small group. ~100 dues paying members to date, give it somewhere between $10,000 and $30,000 of operating captal (depending on whether members are full or associate). This means that most of the work is done by member volunteers and as such they are going to stumble as they move from crawl to walk to run. And yes, this paper was a stumble, not in intent but in execution. To assume ill intent, such as these retailers wanting to harm the very publishers that they're investing so much time and money in, is ridiculous.

Truth to tell the ideas behind the paper are not new, I addressed them right here almost two years ago as I broke down what I felt were the responsibilites of creators, publishers and retailers within the market. Check this out, just one of the points you can read by clicking the publishers link above:

Stop debuting projects at conventions AND use conventions for what they are really for, OUTREACH. The only shops that are damaged by convention debuts are shops that ARE ALREADY SUPPORTING YOU. As hard as it can be to get shops to carry your work, why make life less rewarding for those who are buying in to you? You should know what conventions you're attending in advance, create a flier listing all known area retailers who suport your product line and in conjunction with these retailers develop a bounce back reward program that will drive these motivated buyers into those shops. These shops are your sales reps for these communities the other 361-364 days of the year, don't cut them off at the knees by selling into their customer base and running off at show end. Sow the seeds, tell the customers that you know that Comic Shop A will be there for all of their current and future needs and if they take this flyer in this coming week, not only will they discover a great shop but they'll get an exclusive freebie.

So just to get everyone on the same page lets just lay a few things out. Publishers believe that pre-selling their work at conventions, seeds the market helping retailers sell more books. The problem with that is that most publishers making this claim year after year, are the same ones claiming that they must sell at conventions because so few of their books are being sold in the Direct Market. So which is it? If this outreach is really working, doesn't it seem at some point, we'd actually see the proof?

It's also odd that some publishers claim that they are selling to new customers or customers who don't have a comic shop. I have to wonder, if these folks have no outlet for or knowledge of the product, where is the need to have the newest product available for them in advance of any other retail outlet? Wouldn't everything be new to them?

The truth is that every book pre-sold (especially those sold without prior warning) affects a retailers ability to sell their copies. If a publisher tells me that they are offering me a NEW RELEASE, I look up my sales history to determine how many copies I've previously sold of books with a similar theme, creator(s), character(s)... If history shows I should sell 15 copies in the first month but 5 of the customers who historically would have bought it from me get to buy it weeks or months early at a convention, I'm potentially looking at reduced sales of 33%. It also means that the publisher is no longer delivering a NEW RELEASE, at best it is a recent release. Don't force retailers to start using preorders to force customers to buy in store, unless you want to start seeing zero orders when nobody turns in a preorder.

Sure, over the next month or two, I may sell them but I may have sold more. No matter whether they eventually sell or not, I never catch up to what would have sold and by tying up the money invested in those 5 unsold copies (x all of the other titles pre-sold at the show) a series of harmful results is triggered. Ironically, harmful to the publishers as well as the retailer.
  1. It keeps me from being able to spend that money restocking other books, books from many publishers, possibly even the one pre-selling.
  2. It negatively impacts sales history. Now, the next book in the series will get orders based on affected sales. This could prevent Diamond from accepting the listing or increase the cost of printing based on a lower than optimal print runs.
  3. It makes retailers suspicious of all future offerings and they could just decide to forego that publishers work. Decreasing the venues carrying that publishers work.

Have you seen Previews lately? Its not getting any thinner. There are plenty of listings and the ones from publishers not actively competing with retailers for consumer dollars are going to be rewarded with more orders.

In the mean time, any publisher soliciting through Previews that would like to make more money in the direct market and at conventions while also eliminating a lot of stress and expense, give me a call or an e-mail. If you're willing to talk honestly and listen to a few suggestions with an open mind, I'm positive we can work out a WIN-WIN scenario that will give you the results that are currently eluding you and forcing you to do things like pre-sales and airfreighting titles at the last minute all to break even year after year.

No comments:

Post a Comment