Wednesday, November 25, 2009

On the challenge of waiting a week for comics

As you may know, December 30 will be The Day Of No Comics in the US. Given the fact that Christmas falls in an odd position of the week, resulting in delays across the board for UPS (from whom most dealers get their books), Diamond Comics Distributors has decided that it will make for less headaches all around to ship NO books that week.

That's got the potential to be bad news for stores. It means that there's no new items that week to spend Christmas money on, and most people will just go find something ELSE to spend it on, rather than wait a week. To be fair, a lot of people are away, not at work (where they usually get their books at lunch or after work) so the shops may be slow already, and a week without books might be a chance to take a vacation.

But enough stores have groused, and enough publishers have seen opportunities to make a bigger noise in a quieter week, that alternatives have popped up. Many small publishers ave created Indy Comic Book Week - a number of books that WILL be available the week of the 30th, in the hopes that regular buyers itching to buy SOMEthing will try their books out.

Some of those books will be available from smaller distributors who aren't taking the week off. This is also a great idea, as most shops buy from Diamond and no one else. When Diamond raised its minimum order limits recently, a number of books dropped out of Previews, which meant that to a lot of stores, they vanished off the face of the Earth. An event like this can help remind stores there are other sources for those books, sources they might keep in mind moving forward.
Other books will be shipped a week early from Diamond, and be embargoed with a street date. This includes the highly anticipated Blackest Night #6. DC has decided to make the book available on the "week off" to help give readers a reason to hit their stores that week, giving the stores a chance to get some extra sales.

Now, just about every other industry has street dates. CDs, movies, books, videogames, all are shipped varying amounts ahead of time to ensure that the stores have them first thing on the date of release. This allows stores to do midnight release parties or any other events they like, as long as they don't sell the item early. The street dates are carefully enforced, both by the publishers as well as by the stores. Some stores will gleefully snitch on their competitors, while others will follow the "Well, if HE's selling it early, I have to or I'll lose sales" mindset, usually resulting in BOTH getting in trouble. Penalties for breaking street date vary, from fines, to losing the ability to get advence shipments for a period of time. And for items like this, not having the items The Very Moment it comes out means you've lost those sales. So the system works, or at least works often enough to call it a success.

According to Bleeding Cool, DC will be asking/making comic stores sign an online affadavit verifying that they agree not to sell BN#6 before its street date of 12/30. Those who break street date could lose their early-ship preveleges if they have them. Also, if Diamond receives no complaints about a store, they'll get a limited edition copy of BN#1 as a thank you/reward.

Now, a lot of stores have already said they'll sell the book(s) as soon they get them, and hang the free book. The argument is that the fans will not wait a week for the book, and will find the one guy who sells it early, and that's sales lost. There's a lot of validity to that argument. But it doesn't mean that ship dates can't work, since they work perfectly well with all the other aforementioned indudtries.

This may turn into a very useful experiment.

If we can get street dates to stick in the comics industry, it opens a great deal of doors for new distribution methods. The most obvious is the potential for books to be shipped a day early (maybe even more) for ALL dealers. Folks who get their books a day early have the luxury of putting the books out at night after close, and having them available minute one on New Comic Day. Yes, it means you have to stay after and put them out, paying more to your employees or just using up more of your time, but ask a dealer how much of a pain it is to put the out in the middle of the day, either shooing the customers out of the store or trying to keep them away from the shelves as they get filled. Just about every other store stocks the shelves when the customers aren't there - it's just more efficient.

Also, consider trade paperbacks and hardcovers. Right now, they're shipped along with the regular books. They're shipped one or two-day rate. That's expensive. If a valid street date system was in place, the heavy and expensive TPBs and HCs could go out a week ahead of time, ground rate, and get to the stores before the street date at a tidy savings. That's money right back in the store's pocket, making those books that much more profitable.

Enforcement is always an issue for things like this, but in most cases an honor system with teeth would likely work fine. If store A puts out its books early, Store B would likely be happy to file a complaint against them. In larger cities, odds are something akin to those secret shopper services could potentially be set up - a rep for Diamond would visit stores, see if the books are out early, and let them know they've broken the agreement. I know of at least one store in my area that I'd LOVE to help catch if they were doing that.

As for the punishment, there's a couple of possibilities. If a store has a complaint registered against it, they might warrant a warning, or at least a notification of the complaint. It's certainly possible rival stores might turn each other in out of malice, so it's not a perfect way of finding out. If a store is proven to be breaking street date (a rep showing up, photos, whatever) they might lose a "preferred customer" status. That status might include that prevelege of getting the books a day early, and perhaps even a better discount. Maybe only a percent or two, but that can mount up but fast. The key is to make the penalty harsh enough to make the average store think twice if the benefits are worth it.

If you write the rules for the 90 percent (to make up a number) of people who'll follow them, the 10% who don't won't make too big a dent against the 90% who are. Again, similar rules are in place for industries FAR larger than comics, and they pretty much work. It doesn't seem that big a hardship asking the comics industry to behave as well as other retail sectors do, considering the potential benefits.

Just sayin'.

1 comment:

  1. The problem is that neither Diamond nor the publishers wish to be the "police".

    My working assumption is that DC hopes this fails so that they don't have to talk about it again until 2015...