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'.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

On the Annotated Animated All-Stars

Click to pudseyfy your own image!Children in Need is a stellar charity from Great Britain dedicated to helping disadvantaged kids in the UK. It's been going for over 20 years now, spearheaded by British chat showlegend Terry Wogan it's raised hundreds of millions of pounds, over 20 million this year alone.
Their annual appeal is the big push - the BBC hands seven hours of programming time over for a telethon, and most other shows in britain have special Children in Need episodes, so it's practically an all-day event. Performers will sing and dance, many shows will do special mini-episodes (Doctor Who did one as a teaser to the upcoming "The End Of Time" and even David Suchet put back on the waxed moustache to play Poirot (I have GOT to see that one). All told, it's a star-studded piece of work.

British stand-up star Peter Kay (best known to Americans as The Absorbaloff in the Doctor Who episode "Love and Monsters") has done a great deal to raise money for equally notable British charity Comic Relief (sporting a more globally oriented take than CiN) by producing music videos featuring dozens of comedy and film stars. This year, he set his eyes towards Helping Children in Need. Everyone expected another entertaining celebrity jam video. That's what he delivered, but he surprised everybody with WHO he jammed with.

Children In Need - Peter Kay's Animated All Star Band from factory transmedia on Vimeo.

Having made friends with a lot of animators by doing voices for kids' show Roary the Racing Car, he got a jam together featuring over 100 animated characters from over 60 years of British and American animation. It's a breathtaking piece of work that took over 8 months to produce. The majority of the shows are now controlled by HiT Entertainment, which certainly must have streamlined the negotions, but when you consider all the animators, voice talent etc who donated their time, this is no less impressive than any fundraising jam.
I spent most of the weekend researching and freeze-framing, and I present for you entertainment a second by second rundown of the characters who appear in the video. I've pretty much stuck with the first appearance of each character, with weblinks for the shows where appropriate.
There's only a couple I've missed, and I'd appreciate help in tying up the last few missing folks.
-EDIT- Well that didn't take long, got most of the holes filled in already by the commenters - ta, mateys!

With that said, the management humbly presents:
A Guide to the animated All-Stars
00;01 Big Chris (voiced by Kay) and Rusty the Caravan from
Roary the Racing Car
(RRC). Chris is asking after Chippy Minton from "Camberwick Green".

00:17 Thomas the Tank Engine (TTE) heads from the isle of Sodor to the studio.

00:19 Bob the Builder (BB) and Scoop(BB) make their way to the show

00:20 Postman Pat (PP) heads from Greendale to the studio in the SDS mini-van

00:22 Fifi Forget-Me-Not from Fifi and the Flowertots (FF), riding in Mo the Lawnmower, head in

00:27 The eponymous Teletubbies meet Upsy-Daisy from In the Night Garden(ING).

00:29 Big Christine (Chris' Mum,RRC) tackles Postman Pat, while Buttercup & Daisy(FF) get an autograph from Engie Benjy (EB)

00:32 Flash (RRC), Penny from Fireman Sam (FS) and Bumble (FF) pose for a picture, but Stingo (FF) gets in the shot

00:37 The Teletubbies jam with Willy and Jenny Woodentop from Watch with Mother (WWM)

00:42 Andy Pandy (WWM) looks on as Bob the Builder and Postman Pat do a take

00:45 It's gonna get crowded from here, on - welcome to Bagpuss, Pingu, Sir Topham Hatt AKA The Fat Controller(TTE) Ted Glenn and Mrs Goggins(PP)

00:50 00:50 Ben 10 via satellite, with Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men (WWM)

00:52 Fireman Sam (FS) belts out a line or two

00:56 The cast of In the Night Garden - The Tombliboos, Upsy-Daisy, Makka Pakka and Igglepiggle

00:57 Frank and Buster, the Koala Brothers

01:01 Marsha (RRC) and Wendy (BB) do a duet With Big Chris moonwalking by, and IgglePiggle wanders into shot.

01:10 The gang from In the Night Garden are upstaged by Pingu.

01:11 Paolo and Mavis from Fluffy Gardens appear via stellite

01:12 The Teletubbies do a backup chorus (Singing, of course "Eh-ohhhhh!")

01:13 Zippy and George from Rainbow fiddle with the keyboards

01:14 Andy Pandy, Teddy and Looby Loo (WWM) are entertained by Big Chris as Sir Topham Hatt looks on and Pingu covers up in safety

01:16 Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward and FAB1 from Thunderbirds (TB) are swarmed by paparazzi but are quickly upstaged by...

01:21 Paddington Bear, axe in hand, arrives for the show

01:24 Tubb and Terence from the Rubbadubbers (RBD) watch Bill and Ben play with the drums as...

01:25 Norville "Shaggy" Rogers and Scooby Doo appear via satellite on a monitor Big Chris wheels in.

01:33 The Koala Brothers sing a few lines, as Andy Pandy tunes in Muffin the Mule (WWM) on a monitor

01:36 A quartet by Officer Steele (FS), Farmer Green (RRC), Ted Glenn(PP) and Mr. Carbuettor (RRC)

01:39 The Wombles re-unite for a good cause

01:41 Lady Penelope's driver Parker (TB) shows he can't sing

01:47 Peppa Pig appears via satellite
(Running gag explained The monitors during the video are all staticy and need adjusting. Here, Big Chris is reading the copy of the flyer about the recent digital switchover Britain did, as America recently did, converting from analog to digital TV broadcasts.)

01:50 Stretchy, Tiny and Sporty from
Little Robots (LR) appear with Sweep, Sooty and Soo from The Sooty Show (TSS)

01:55 Pudsey Bear, mascot of Children in Need gets a guitar solo

01:58 Spud the Scarecrow (BB) plays the maracas

02:13 Roary (RRC) and Thomas (TTE) duet as Bob's cat Pilchard (BB) is chased by Jollop the Dog (EB)

02:20 Roary and Thomas again, as Pilchard, Jollop and Jess(PP) race by

02:24 Tubb, Terence and Finbar (RBD)

02:27 Ajay and Nisha Bains from Postman Pat fittingly lead the ladies (Marsha, Fifi and Primrose, Big Christine and Wendy) in a performance of "Jai Ho" as the gents (Elvis Cridlington, Postman Pat, Officer Steele, Fireman Sam, Big Chris, Bob, Mr. Carbuettor) look on.

02:57 Ajay joins the gents, along with Virgil Tracy, Parker and Brains (TB) in a chorus of Tubthumping As they all jump, the members of International Rescue all follow the song, "get knocked down and get up again"

03:25 Roobarb and Custard appear via satellite with Tiny's help

03:35 Pingu makes his way down the beach for the finale

03:44 All appear again, with new arrivals Splashy (RBD) and a couple folks from Camberwick Green.

03:54 The Night Garden gang fly overhead in the Pinky Ponk

04:00 Angelina Ballerina appears on Big Chris' cell phone screen

04:08 Spongebob Squarepants appears on Big Chris' cell phone screen

04:18 Slugsy (FF) appears behind Stingo

04:33 The first shall be last - Chippy Minton arrives just in time for the end of the song.
The video is available for purchase (profits to CiN) via several online websites, tho alas the Itunes link (which features a six-minute version of the clip) is not available in the US. Visit the Children in Need website for more information on donating, as well as more info on the work they've done to help the children of the UK.
Personally, I think it's a shame that nothing has been done in similar fashion and scope here in the US. We had Bob "Thank God I knew Andy Kaufman" Zmuda's American version of Comic Relief which fizzled years ago, but really the only remnant we have of this type of thing is the legendary Jerry Lewis MDA telethon. And I fear that when Jerry passes on, we won't even have that.
EDIT - Two more great reference works have popped up - The Sun has a guide to the Sgt. Pepper-like album cover, and Wikipedia has a list of all the characters who appear in the medley.

Friday, November 13, 2009

On the increaing potential of contracting H1N1 in comparison to increasing chances of hitting the Powerball


OK, listen...

Unless you're in one of the high-contact groups like health care workers, the odds of getting H1N1 are just not that high. And if you DO get it, again, unless you're in a high-risk group like the very young, the very old, or the very frail, the odds of it turning into anything other a really bad case of the flu are equally small.

There's been under 5 thousand deaths from the H1N1 in America. FIVE. THOUSAND. It's five thousand too many, but compared to, say, the REGULAR Flu, it's a crepitation in a cyclone. I can't even do the math on how small a percentage of the US population that is because my calculator doesn't have that many decimal places.

So why are we all terrified to the point that we're expecting Randall Flagg to show up any minute?

Because it's been driven into us every day by the news, to the point that we're convinced that a dose of the Swine Flu comes with every purchase greater than ten dollars at the mall. The news chronicles almost Every Single CASE of the thing that gets contracted. It couldn't possibly be doing that if there were an appreciably large number of them. So naturally, if all one hears is that Yet Another Person has got it, it sounds like far greater a pattern (and problem) than it is.

Nothing is an issue, problem or occurrance anymore – it all jumps straight to CRISIS. People become convinced that every single threat seen on television will affect them...usually because the tease before the commercial usually sounds like "The new threat, and how it could affect you". The goal is not to inform, the goal is to keep you watching, preferably through the commercials.

Plus, people fall back on the old chestnut "Well, it doesn't hurt to play it safe". Well yes, it can hurt if the amount of preparatives outweighs the good they serve. It's the same reason we need four forms of ID to withdraw our own money from the bank (since apparently every fifth person born is an identity thief), we can't bring a half-pint bottle of water onto a plane, or take photos of our own kids at a local park.

Think about it, how many times did you turn into a candy bar, regardless of the number of times your mother warned you what would happen if you kept eating them?