Percentages And Longboxes.
I have an idea, and once this column is out, I’m going into hiding because every comics retailer is going to hate me for it.
As some of you might have worked out by now, I have a bit of a problem with dyslexia. Most of those columns go through several rewrites and rereads because I have to boil down to what I’m trying to get at. The chances are, any subtext you’re reading into this isn’t there, because life is short enough without being passive-aggressive. One of the reasons I don’t get into it on the message boards is mainly that I’ve had a lifetime of people reading what I’ve said and writing ‘OH, ACTUALLY, YOU MEAN THIS BY THOSE WORDS and then finding myself in the position of having to argue a point I didn’t make in the first place. Another thing I’ve found is that inviting people to actually talk to me on Twitter means a slightly more …civil dialogue takes place. It’s easy enough to get into a slanging match with what is essentially a picture of M.O.D.O.K saying things you don’t agree with, quite another to be in conversation with a real person whose face you can see. As I’m very fond of saying, if you haven’t said directly to me, then you haven’t said it. I suppose one trait of my character is that, very simply, I don’t need anyone to agree with me and nor can I be bothered to explain that the words you’ve read are what I mean, and I’m neither bothered nor obliged to correct your misunderstanding.
Calm and unbothered by the general state of things as I may be, if there’s a thing that gets on my nerves, it’s ‘Didn’t we do MARVELOUSLY?’ style publicity announcements that aren’t actually much of a thing to be pleased with yourself about. ‘Comic Sells Out Of Print Run.’ is one of the particular annoyances. What that usually means in reality is ‘Retailers Asked For This Many Copies Of A Comic.’ Publishers will knock a couple of extra thousand copies before the final cut off point and then retailers decide to up their order as the publisher has hyped the shit of said comic on social media.
A extra thousand or two sales is…nice, but in real terms, it’s like me offering a cup of tea and 5 biscuits to my colleague and taking along 7, his eating all 7 and me going on Twitter and shouting ‘DEMAND HAS EXCEEDED INITIAL EXPECTATIONS FOR BISCUITS!’
(Which isn’t unlikely knowing me, but still…)
Comics possibly have something of a problem with Orwellian Doublespeak where words and phrases no longer have the meaning that we assume them to have. In particular, writer and retailers saying ‘Comic X has SOLD OUT’ on the day of retail release. Which, a pedantic fashion, is accurate. The whole press release would more accurate if it read ‘Copies of my comic are no longer available to reorder at a retail level from Diamond. Your comic shop may or may not have lots of copies left, given that it only hit the shelves 3 or 4 hours ago. Probably give them a call first, but you probably don’t need to leave work or anything.’
Here’s the idea: Most retailers who stay in business and have managed to turn ordering new comics into a profitable venture are well aware of how cycle sheets work. The essence is that you keep track of how many copies of a comic you’ve sold and adjust your orders accordingly. It’s why publishers have pushed variant covers as a thing, as it’s a temptation to simply ignore the fact that Suicide Squad has been dropping in sales for the last few months to order an extra 30 copies so to obtain the Jim Lee variant that’ll sell to someone for a tenner or so. This conveniently ignores the fact that the extra copies ordered to obtain the variant are going to sit in the back issue boxes unwanted forever.
So, if we’re doing the counting anyway, here’s an idea; what if we (as in, the retailer community) tell Diamond what percentage a book has sold, which would be copies sold from the shelf or eBay minus copies unsold or still sitting in standing orders. After a year or so, we should have accumulated enough data to understand how well a comic is doing on a retailer to customer level and start working with that information. The percentage, rather than the figures, is important.
Once we start finding that Batman or Avengers do about 80% sell-through, All-Star Western does about 40% etc, we start grading comics on their percentage. Those top end books are an ‘A’ franchise and so forth. Those books that are A grade are charged as they usually are. Titles that would be traditionally below that sell through number are offered on a higher discount to retailers, barring unlikely variables in the solicitations/creative teams. Aquaman would normally be offered at say, 50% cost to retailer unless Alan Moore and Adam Hughes are on it, for example.
I suspect this would lead to publishers being more cautious about releasing endless attempts at launching ‘Cloak & Dagger For A New Generation’ or whatever. There’d also be greater recognition for the actual sale of comics to customers, more of an effort to try to work out what is selling to the public and less attempts to woo the retailers. Perhaps we might find people like reading stories rather than events. I’d be a lot more confident taking chances on high risk titles if there was less of a non-returnable investment on trying them out. I suspect I’m not alone in that mindset.
What could be understood, perhaps, by writers and editors is that when they’re creating the latest revamp of Mr Miracle, Black Panther, Firestorm or suchlike is that if they’re poorly received by retailers, it isn’t so much a lack of faith in the talent behind the title. Its more that we have the history of the title informing our orders. Your version of Alpha Flight might contain a creative spark something akin to Alan Moore’s early issues of Swamp Thing or such, but while you’re running around plotting it, we’re sitting on a stack of the last three series that nobody has bothered or looked at for years. As it stands, we never want to see the words ‘Alpha Flight 1′ again in a copy of Marvel Previews again. We might be less resistant if we were being charged less for taking the risk.
Interviews and Previews of New Stuff are on hold until all the post Thought Bubble fall out has finished…falling out. Regular service resumed next time.
(In other news, one of my bosses was interviewed on the nature of selling old comics Rob of 30th Century Comics discusses investment with the Sunday telegraph here, and come and visit us here. I’m nicer in real life. Edits and such were done by Reece Jones, of Cult Of Den fame. Go make friends with him.)