Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Hey Small Press Publishers, Wanna Go Steady?

Recently, Dan Vado, head of SLG Publishing made the following statements regarding SLG's struggles within the Direct Market, in response to my last posting. And I wanted to address them separately so as not to further stray from the topic of that posting which was the ability of creator ownership to save the industry.

If I didn't HAVE to sell at conventions or online, I wouldn't. Chicken and egg situation perhaps, but the fact of the matter is that if I could make our monthly nut by just selling to the direct market, I would. The tremendous hassles associated with selling at shows or online would be well worth shedding if I thought people would buy our books from stores like yours.
I can't speak for other publishers, but from my experience I have NEVER seen a greater sense of direct market retailer apathy towards SLG than in the past couple of years.

My complaint isn't that the direct market can't sell our books, it's that it doesn't even seem to try anymore.

We sold more copies of one our most recent graphic novel releases at Comic-Con this year than the entire direct market ordered. That direct market order was less than 200 copies. Sure, we had the benefit of having the creator at our booth, but even if he hadn't been it would have meant that we would have sold a sizable fraction instead of outselling the ENTIRE direct market on that book.
I know this is affecting more publishers than SLG and you can say that the DM definitely shares similar feelings about many publishers as well. This is a serious problem but one that I think should not be difficult to reverse for SLG and other publishers in the same boat.

So in an effort to promote discussion about solving these problems I offer the following ideas:

Don't know if any publishers here who run deep discount sales direct to the consumer would care to discuss this but in light of the most recent round of McSweeney's, Top Shelf and now Picture Box sales (among others) I was wondering if the following would be attractive to you at all.

Speaking only for myself, other retailers feel free to chime in, these kinds of sales seem to undermine my ability to sell these books. Even if I were to blow them out at cost, I'm still well above the price you are offering these titles at, which means I'm still at a competitive disadvantage. Also I'd like to remind you that the only retailers who might be affected by this are ones who are supporting your work. Stores who don't stock your titles could care less what you do but those, like me, who take an inventory position on your work have to start looking at whether or not they should resort to minimal orders up front to keep from being harmed during these kinds of sales and/or wait on such sales myself to (re)stock up on the cheap.

Now obviously I'm not aware of (all of) the reasons that these sales are necessary nor do I expect you to make me aware of them but I do want you to consider that any time you capture sales directly from existing comic customers, you do diminish demand in the marketplace and good retailers will recognize this and order accordingly. You may see a higher markup on some items than you would by wholesaling to a distributor or retailer but that gross margin may pale vs the cost of losing sales into the DM and book markets where you have access not only to comic readers but also to the casual consumers who have no idea you exist and will never see your website or e-mail campaigns.

You become the proverbial snake eating its tail where sales will like these will dry up any outside venues for your work and you will have to work harder and harder to make up for that volume all by yourself until there is not enough business or margin left to support you.

What I'd like to see is more of a partnership with you utilizing stores like mine as your sales force. I'd like to give you the opportunity to send fans of your work(s) into a shop where they can touch and experience the work and also be shown the other work you publish as well as being confident that we are also doing the same with non comic folks who come in to see what the heck is in this weird shop to increase sales beyond what you/we have now.

With that in mind, I'd like to see these types of sales (as well as con sales) worked in concert with all retail outlets (not just the DM). Maybe a buffer that allows us to stock up on these sales books so that we can run a sale in tandem with you, where you can alert your current customers of the shops that have agreed to honor your sales prices and still sell to customers who have no local participating shop.

This goes for conventions too, where working with us on what books may be debuting could allow us to provide customers an opportunity to pre-buy the book through their normal channel and those retailers can provide bookplates or something similar so the customers can still obtain signatures at the con even though they haven't picked up the book yet, and we are still actively sending customers to your booth to buy other books, t-shirts, prints... and hopefully you are actively informing con attendees of the local shop(s) that you know will be there to fully support your work after the con is over.

Trust me, I run my business by looking for reasons TO CARRY an item not reasons NOT TO. By (re)introducing new customers to my shop and supporting sales of your work, you would be giving me a huge reason to continue to carry your work and even highlight it over other publisher's work.

So, are there any publishers who see this type of co-operative effort as something they are interested in working on and any retailers who would like to be part of something like this?

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