Monday, March 19, 2007

Opinion on Cap #25

I finally got around to reading Tilting @ Windmills by comic book retailer Brian Hibbs. I thought he put it well, expressing opinions similar to those I've had on the topic.

"Finally, we come to Trust, and this is the part of this that really bothers me the most: our suppliers don’t feel they can trust us enough to make a proper informed judgment of our stocking levels.

Let me be perfectly clear about a couple of things: its not just a Marvel problem, DC has certainly done it as well (most recently on the first month of Countdown, where they wouldn’t even officially confirm the series existed until the day Previews shipped). Further, I do really understand how much the impact of the internet has upon the ability to keep a “secret”.

On the other hand, I’m pretty largely unconvinced there’s a need for secrets when it comes to things like this. It was absolutely common knowledge when Superman died that it was going to happen, yet, even among comic fans, there was an enormous desire amongst the readership to see the execution of the story.

Here’s the difference between that and this: for Captain America #25, it’s not just that I didn’t have enough copies to meet demand from the waves of media interest. That’s pretty much a given, but nothing that could be planned for in any case. No, I think that the more fundamental problem is that I didn’t order enough copies to meet demand from regular readers who might be interested in the event. Even without the media frenzy, I think the book would have swiftly sold-through at retail, nationwide, regardless. Not in a day, no, but before the end of the weekend most certainly.

I don’t like telling customers “no”. I don’t even really like telling customers “Yes… but not today”.

Yes, indeed, we were told, in some venues (though certainly not ones available to the totality of comic book retailers), by means of personal assurances that we should order lots. And that’s always appreciated. But without the “why” attached to it, it’s virtually impossible to tell the difference between “lots” and “Lots” and “LOTS!”, if you see what I mean?"

He's right! Had we known about Cap #25 and been asked to keep it a secret, I think we could have. Maybe we'd have hyped it, saying "you'll want to be SURE to pick up Cap #25" but we could have kept it a secret, if it really needed to be a secret. We had people calling, wanting to know when that issue was coming out, not knowing we'd sold out two days prior. That is an indication to me that the secret could have been leaked earlier and not have hurt the sales momentum of the book. In fact, retailers not knowing could have hurt it MORE because we simply didn't have enough copies--none of us.

"Finally, I think there’s some very real concern about Wizard magazine having advance knowledge of this event (and, as a print magazine, clearly they had to have that information weeks ago), and it either accidentally, or very much on purpose leaking to their sales arm, and their affiliated retail stores, giving them a clear market advantage.

For myself, giving an opinion as an individual, I believe that Wizard did engage in “insider trading”. I believe this because of the sheer scope of the eBay listings (all since taken down, by the way, once the story got out), and because there is a long history of anecdotal stories from the Valiant and early Image days of Wizard where they engaged in such practices in their local regional market of upstate New York. Having a circumstance where one source is the disproportionately largest disseminator of information (to the point where Wizard can “make” the news), where that source is also one of the most widely used “price guides” (and therefore can “set” the prices for an individual item), where that source also has arms that deal in direct consumer sales, as well as conventions and their “exclusive” manufactured goods, then I think that can not help but be a recipe for trouble.

Wizard is not doing anything, that I am aware of, that is illegal. The comics aftermarket isn’t a regulated one. However, I believe it is deeply unethical to report on news and prices while at the same time selling items that can capitalize on that news and those prices."

Again, this is dead-on. While Wizard did not engage in anything illegal, it does appear that they might have profited on insider knowledge - looks like they're ones Marvel and DC can't trust. Wizard has been accused of similar things in the past, and there are many people who point out every month the insane prices Wizard lists for comics in their monthly - while also selling these same comics on their web site.

I think this was a great discussion of some of the things going on in the comic book industry that often get swept under the rug. Click here to read the whole column.


James Meeley said...

It just astounds me, truly ASTOUNDS me, how so many people fail to see the harm in what Marvel has wrought from this, not only in the immediate present, but the collateral damage that will come down the road from this. Hibbs gets it and so do you, Lisa, but there are so many more who just seem oblivious to things.

Of course, it isn't helpful seeing retailers who defend Marvel's action, either, like they do here:

You'd think with a name like "Comic Heaven" that you'd be one of the places most outraged at not being able to supply your customers (especially the new ones) with the comics they want. And people wonder why this business is in the state it is....

Benson said...

Marvel screwed up something awful.

As a fan and internet hound, I could tell from whatever minor hype there was surrounding Cap 25, that something was up about the issue. It wasn't until 10 a.m. that morning that I'd heard how important the issue was! The freaking Associated Press broke the story an hour before the stores opened in Arizona. I lucked out and hit the store first thing that morning. I returned not even three hours later and the store had sold out.

When they killed Supes, the countdown was MONTHS before the dastardly event! It built up like a wave and crashed when Supes 75 came out. The frenzy was immeasurable!

Just think about how many more issues of Civil War, the tie-ins and all the Avenger and Cap titles Marvel could have sold/solicited if they put it out there that Cap was gonna bite it!!

The fact that Marvel announced, on the same day the first printing was released and sold out, that it was running a 2nd printing, means they completely missed the trolley.

A little heads-up would be nice.

Speculation sucks - especially from a fan's perspective.

Didn't Martha Stewart go to jail for insider trading?

Shouldn't Wizard be held up to the same standard?

Yeah, it's kinda "apples and oranges" but CRIPES! If you got that info, YOU'D have made a couple more bucks that day!

That's snaky!!!!

Lisa said...

You are both right on the "surprise" factor. Even the Comic Haven guy is right that surprises can be good - but not when it comes to ordering merchandise. Like Hibbs said, it stinks having to tell people "no" or "yes....but not today, maybe next week." Granted, some of those folks were people who just want this one comic book for an "investment." But I know that in the last couple of weeks since that issue came out, we have seen a lot of new people and many of them did not leave empty handed, even if they couldn't get their hands on a Cap 25 - so YES, that part was good. Bringing new people to comics is always good, but having to tell them, "sorry, I didn't order enough, try back next week" is never a good thing when you are trying to impress someone. Just posting on a retailer forum "no one ordered enough of this" is not sufficient. There is big, and there is HUGE - there is order double your usual and there is order 10 times your usual. Marvel didn't say anyone ordering X of Cap #25 can get full returnability - and they'd have known no one would return them. They didn't say we are doing a large overprint because this event is that big and no one ordered enough. They didn't say order at least equal to or double your Civil War numbers. They just said, order a lot this is big - but they have said it before and sometimes it's not as big as what they claim and I've been stuck with stacks of books before. But this was bigger than just BIG and they really didn't make an effort to let me know that when it came time for me to order my merchandice. It would have also benefited Marvel because they could have sold more comics to me and every other store, so they also lost out. THEY KNEW what they had going on and yet they hid it from the very people they were selling the product to. Put that into any other business type for a second and consider it - a supplier not giving the buyer complete information on a product just doesn't make sense.