Friday, January 18, 2008

ComicsPRO Opinion Paper - Publisher Convention Sales

Yesterday ComicsPRO posted publicly our position on publishers pre-selling comics at conventions. I say "our" because Neptune is a full member of ComicsPRO.

Let me first give you a basic understanding of ComicsPRO, before I get into the position paper. ComicsPRO is the newest & largest organization of brick & mortar comic book retailers. I did a column about it on Sequart a while ago that explains the organization even more.

Now let me explain that the paper is called a "position paper" for a reason. It outlines the current situation and states what position current retailers find themselves in. It is not a solution paper - it does not make demands or call for solutions. It says how things are currently being handled, and then requests that publishers consider our position and take action. It is a tool that the organization has decided to show a united front to publishers and the comic book community, in the hope that the problem will be heard and that the parties involved can come together and find a solution that works for both sides.

This position paper is about retailers' problem with publishers who sell their comics at conventions before they are available for sale in stores (and this is both on-line stores as well as brick and mortar stores). The paper states that both retailers and publishers need to sell their product as a revenue stream, but outlines how the pre-sales can negatively impact stores, and how stores then end up cutting back on the comics they order from these publishers.

This paper is not an "us against them" paper. It does not say that publishers don't have the right to sell their products directly to the audience. However, it does ask that they NOT pre-sell them. Why? I'll explain it as simply as I can.

Stores have to order comics over a month in advance of receiving them. When we place the orders we do so with the understanding that every place that can sell those comics, be they on-line stores or vending machines or comic book stores, ALL get the comics at the same time. We are all on an even playing field and then use what we use - marketing, convenience, price, whatever - to get our customers to buy comics from us.

However, what is happening is that publishers will take copies of their books to conventions and sell them BEFORE the official release date for the product. Now stores that have already ordered the comic might have some customers who purchase the book at the convention, and when it arrives in the store they put it back on the shelf or don't buy it off of the shelf because they already have it. Then the retailer ends up with extra issues of the comic book. And, as you should all know by now, these comics are rarely ever returnable. So, one extra copy or 50 extra copies - it doesn't matter, it is money wasted for that retailer.

We brick and mortar stores have a high overhead cost, one of which is stocking comics, and if we see that a publisher is not abiding by the "release date" for their comic and causing to loose money, most of us have no choice but to cut back or stop buying comics from that publisher. Especially during convention time. Suddenly the equal playing ground is gone!

Remember back when you were in school and everyone started out the year with an "A" and it was up to each student to determine where their grades when from there? Well, in this case the publisher is the only student getting an "A" and the rest are starting out at "C" - a clear disadvantage to one group. That's not to say the "C" grade group can't catch up, but they've got to work a whole lot harder then they already do.

Or think of a race - if you were running the 100 meter and some of the runners got to start out several seconds before you did, you'd have a serious disadvantage. Those that started early would have a much better chance of winning than you would, regardless of who the better runner is.

In this position paper the members of ComicsPRO are stating the problem - publishers are getting an unfair sales advantage. And they ask that publishers end that practice.

This isn't really a big problem for us, out here in Waukesha. We aren't really that close to any big conventions. But this past year we did have a customer tell us he wasn't buying the first issue of a comic book he'd asked us to order for him, because he'd got it from the publisher's booth at Wizard. Thankfully we had another customer who wanted to check out that comic book, he bought that copy, so it all worked out. But this is most certainly not the case, especially for stores that are located near some of the major conventions. And as Brian Hibbs recently said on another blog discussing the topic, "I pretty much don’t care if someone takes $1 from me or $1000 — in the end I’m making less money (regardless of scale), which makes it harder to run a “good” comics shop."

My opinion - overall I agree. Any time other places are able to sell comics before my store gets them (like on days when my Diamond shipment doesn't show up on-time) I loose money. I don't like to loose money because it endangers the health of my business. On the other hand, publishers selling comics at conventions can help increase the interest in the comic book and lead to an increase of in-store sales of the following issues. But on the other hand, we retailers spend a lot more time selling comic books to the general public in a face-to-face setting than the publishers do - the publisher makes money when stores buy their product and they should support their sales force (the comic book retailers of the world) rather than taking business from them.

I've said this before and I'll say it again - publishers need to be more creative. Instead of re-selling or pre-selling what stores are already selling, or giving the same products away that they want retailers to buy, they should come up with ways of promoting interest in their comics that works WITH what retailers do, instead of against it. Make a convention issue that they sell or give away that has a link to the Comic Book Locater Service and the product code for issue #1. Sell issues of #1 AFTER they've been available in stores, instead of before, so that people that didn't see it in the store can still get it, and then they can ask their comic book store to get them the following issues. These are just two suggestions for ways that publishers could still get their product into people's hands at conventions while not disenfranchising comic book retailers.

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