After not writing a rant-out-loud column for a while, I thought I’d make it up to everyone with a column including a few good ones. Most of the time, comic book retailing is status quo – we order merchandise each month, each week it arrives. Occasionally, something irritating happens and we deal with it. Then, there are the rare occasions when we in the direct market are getting royally screwed and/or misunderstood. We recently had a couple of those occasions, and I’m going to share my suffering with the rest of you. First, I am going to discuss DC Comics and their inability to both deliver books on time and to print enough books to meet the demand. Then, I’ll really go crazy when I mention how Diamond is letting Wizard Magazine royally shaft retailers. I might seriously have to concentrate in order to not use any bad language. If you like watching a train wreck or car accident, you’ll want to read this entire column!
Generally, I like DC Comics. We sell a lot of their stuff in my store. I read and enjoy a lot of their comics. However, they have really disappointed me, as a comic book retailer, over the last few weeks. I think their fans have been disappointed too. And they should be when they look forward to a comic book and it seems to never show up. The very WORST violation right now is All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder #4. I’ve been hearing about this darn bat-cave fold out for months now. Will we ever see it? The original arrival date on this issue was January 18th. Did you see it on shelves then? No, you did not. Did you see it a week or two later, or a month or two later? No, you did NOT. In fact, over the last month, DC has continued to promise us that it will come out “next week.” Then, they’ll push it back “one more week” and on and on. Since April 19th, they have pushed issue #4 back every week by another week. Then, we were almost assured it would arrive in our May 10th shipment, since it was listed in the DC weekly mailer retailers receive, as well as it appearing on the Shipping Next Week sheet they insert into our sneak peak comics bundle. Then, two days later, we receive a special email announcing that it is, once AGAIN, pushed back ANOTHER week, for May 17th. Forget it DC. I’m not telling anyone a new date on this thing. When and if it ever shows up, people can decide if they even want to buy it anymore.
This is not the only horribly late comic book on DC’s list either. Supergirl #6 arrived May 3rd, three months late, and they are already telling me #7 will be two months late. How is she supposed to have ANY One Year Later or Infinite Crisis relevance now that those events are basically over? Superman/Batman #25 is late, and DC has it arriving two months behind its schedule. For over a month now they’ve been hyping issue #26, but fans are already forgetting what the hype is about, and the issue is not slated to arrive until the end of May, if we’re lucky. Don’t give me the excuse of how sometimes things get late due to “extenuating circumstances” that are “out of DC’s control.” A corporation is expected to deliver its product in a timely fashion. Whatever happened to the adage “under promise and over deliver?” If a writer or artist has a situation that is keeping them from producing their product on schedule, then don’t ask us to buy it until you know you can get it to us. Have them do a couple of issues before you start to solicit it again, or put new talent on it, or cancel it outright. But don’t tell me January and then give me “maybe May.”
Then there is this whole One Year Later sell-out fiasco. I know both sides have already said their piece about it, but this is my chance to speak up on the issue, and I’m taking it. If you don’t already know this, it might come as a surprise – comic books are printed to sell out. Believe it or not, the publishers do not print a supply intended to last months and months. They look at the initial order numbers on the issue, on the numbers of the past few orders; they consider weather or not the particular issue has something going for it that might bump its orders, and then factor in a standard percentage of overage for damage and loss replacements. Then that number goes to the printer. Comic books sell out all of the time! But, it seems like when the publisher wants us to know how “hot” their stuff is, they make sure we know that their issues are selling out. Take One Year Later for example. I have lost count, but I believe that over twenty issues sold out – not a surprise, except that every single one was announced to the media. Do we see a headline on the comic book internet sites when Swamp Thing or Scooby- Doo sell out? Whether they are asking for the hype or not, they are definitely getting it from these sell-outs. And let us not forget that just because the publisher has sold out, does not mean that retailers have sold out. Anyone need a first print copy of Blue Beetle #1?
There is another disturbing fact about these One Year Later sell-outs: the fact that there were so many that occurred so quickly, and received second printings. I won’t go so far as to accuse DC of deliberately planning it. Dan Dido has already denied these accusations. But, he did also say that they did not expect the One Year Later books to bring in new readers. What? I must have misunderstood, because I was actually telling people that this would be a good time to get into DC Comics, since the stories were all starting from a new place, and the “how they got there” would be covered in the upcoming 52 series. In fact, DC seemed to have used the event to stop and re-start titles, bring new talent onto existing titles, and do some big changes in theDCU overall. But apparently these changes were not supposed to bring in a large influx of new readers. Seems like DC, if this is the truth, didn’t see opportunity staring it right in the face. Retailers, from the time DC announced this whole One Year Later scheme, were writing columns and talking on forums about how they were unsure how to order these. But DC appeared not to be listening, since it seemed that rather than doing an over print and shouldering some of the responsibility for stocking the product, DC chose to use their typical formulas with a slight over-run and then rush to a second print when the issues sold out, one after another, for over a month. I am glad they did second prints, but I wish that they could have had more faith in their product in the first place by printing larger overruns. Somehow, the whole thing became the fault of new readers and retailers and not the group of people who both knew what the books were about and had the means to produce them in whatever quantity they deemed necessary.
And finally, the main event: in this corner, Wizard Magazine and Diamond Distribution, and in this corner, direct market stores and their pocket books. Let the games begin! This is the second time these two opponents faced off on this issue, ladies and gentlemen. Last year the direct market won. However, this year, perhaps distracted by other events, the direct market was defeated by the team of Wizard/Diamond.
Wizard Magazine has produced a “movie special” issue once again this year. My store is getting them. In fact, every store that ordered the last issue, #176, is going to receive the same amount of the movie special as they ordered for Wizard #176. Why? Apparently Wizard threw this together so quickly they could not have possibly gotten it into Diamond’s Previews catalog in time for retailers to order it. Hmmm… not buying it? Me either! Let me also mention that even though Wizard missed the Previews deadline (again this year), Diamond sends out with our orders, as well as on-line, something called the Diamond Dateline that announces last-minute products and changes in already solicited products and gives retailers the chance to increase or decrease their orders. Wizard and Diamond had the chance to let us order this without it being in Previews, but they chose not to.
They pulled the same thing last year. Many retailers were angry and wrote to Diamond employees as well as folks at Wizard Magazine, and Wizard/Diamond ended up saying something like, “Oh sorry, we regret the error. How many would you like us to send you?” But Wizard would not give up nor be defeated on this issue. They threw it at us again, only it seemed like the window between the announcement and the issue’s arrival was smaller, and somehow our cry of outrage wasn’t quite loud enough to be heard over Wizard’s printing presses this year.
They justified the crime of sending, to us, without any agreement on our part to want or need the merchandise, by shipping it to us first and asking for money later. Heck, we can even go through the hassle of sending our unsold copies back and then be billed for only what we sold. It almost sounds like a good deal. But consider a few things here: 1. This issue is only a couple of weeks after the last one and a couple of weeks before the next one and will definitely sell in fewer numbers than what is being sent. 2. What happens if other “Diamond Exclusive” accounts do the same thing—just sending retail store owners comics or other products, without their permission? 3. What if you went to your local comic book store and they billed you for books you did not ask for, but allowed you to return any you didn’t like, but you had to do it within a certain window? Would you keep shopping there? Would you put up with buying more than what you ordered and going through the inconvenience of making sure you returned the right books at the right time in order to get your money back on the issues you never wanted in the first place?
If there is one thing my rants today prove, it is that we need better business practices/standards in the direct market. Knowing how the system works/doesn’t work, it amazes me sometimes that it’s even still around.