Monday, March 12, 2007

Current events in comics retailing

This is the first in what I hope will be a series of interviews with my local comics dealer, a veteran in the field with over 30 years of retailing experience. In the future I hope to discuss his philosophy on running a comics store, changes in the industry, and his role in the development of comics retailing (seriously). This retailer, however, spends almost no time on the internet and has never read this blog. I'm not sure that he'd want to be associated with it (hell, I'm not sure I want to be associated with it), so until I can give him a better sense of what I'm doing here, I'm keeping him and his store anonymous.

I’m assuming you sold out of Captain America #25?

Yes we sold out, but we had no problems supplying our regular customers. Within an hour we were besieged with phone calls from people who had read about it—I believe it had made national news by Wednesday morning, and we just told them we didn’t have any additional copies. We also had people calling who patronize other stores and asking if we had it, but our priority is to our regular customers. We didn’t really have a problem other than having to answer the phone with a greeting that we were sold out: "Hello, ________ Comics, we are sold out of Captain America #25." And we were then greeted with silence, then they asked if we had any copies of Captain America #25, and we told them no. Then they then asked if more were coming in, and if they could reserve some copies. We told them that it would be on the newsstands in a few weeks. But our regular customers had no problems. Anyone who wanted it got a copy. I could have sold more to the lunkheads, but I saved copies for our regular customers.

I think this kind of stuff keeps comics interesting, keeps retailers on their toes. We did place an immediate reorder that morning, and we’re getting it on the 21st. Once again we won’t be selling them to non-regular customers for the time being. Hopefully anyone buying it will buy the Ed Brubaker trades, which we've been selling the dickens out of.

Did you suspect Capt. America was going to die in this issue?

Absolutely not. Nor do we expect that he’s dead now. I know Brubaker is playing it straight faced, but even if they killed him, so what? Some editor will come in and bring him back. I told customers that if they believed he was really dead, Mickey and Donald are going to double suicide next week in distress over Michael Eisner failing to take over Topps. This would be the first time I would be wrong in 30 years of retailing if he actually stays dead. I hear people online are expecting that the Punisher or the Winter Soldier will take his place. We expect Steve Rogers will eventually come back to great fanfare, and Marvel will sell a title featuring him alongside a title with Bucky or the Punisher wearing the Captain America costume. It makes sense from a marketing standpoint. Ultimately, we hope it will shine attention on Captain America and more people will read the comic, cause it’s darn good. And Ed Brubaker too. We always try to sell his comics, and they’ve always done well. Except Dead Enders for some reason.

Would you have ordered more copies if Marvel had given you more information in its solicitations?

I would have ordered at the same levels that I ended up ordering at. My initial order I would have doubled, maybe slightly more than doubled. With the new quantities coming in on the 21st, I basically ended up doubling my order.

[If I had known ahead of time] I just would have gotten them all the same day, but we still would have had a problem with the individuals wanting to come in and buy multiple copies for them, their friends, and relatives. But I called that morning and was able to take advantage of Marvel’s production overrun, although our Diamond rep says there will be shortages still. So we cut our order by 15. By then the bloom will probably be off the rose a little. Our customers are pretty informed, we’re not a mall store.

Did you sell any copies of 300 this weekend?

No, we’ve been unable to get them from Diamond since before the holidays. It’s been very frustrating, we’ve been trying to get them for a long time. I probably could have sold 20 copies the last couple of months. We had some before the holidays, and sold out then. There’s not a day that goes by that someone doesn’t call asking about 300. I consider that more of a flaw in the distribution system than the problems with Captain America #25. It’s part of our larger gripe with Diamond, how they treat publishers like Fantagraphics and NBM, telling me that their titles are unavailable. I have to call Gary Groth to get more copies of Fantagraphics books. We suspect it's because they’re not Diamond exclusives.

The fact that there have been no copies of 300 in the pipeline to retailers is ridiculous. It’d be like having no copies of Spider-Man trades when Spider-Man 3 hits. So I’m more perturbed about that, actually. We’re supposed to have five copies coming, but it’s not enough. I have no idea who’s getting their orders filled.

So do you blame Dark Horse or Diamond?

I suspect it’s probably a Dark Horse problem, not a Diamond problem. [EDIT: I have since received a phone call from my retailer friend confirming this, based on his conversation with a Diamond rep; he also mentioned that Dark Horse is a Diamond exclusive.]

Are you worried that demand will drop before you get them?

You’re always able to sell more when the immediate demand is there. We always want it in stock anyway, but we were impressed with the previews [for the movie] that came out last year. Based on the quality of the previews we expected greater demand once the movie came out. But Sin City has legs, it’s done very well on DVD. And it’s fueled demand in Frank Miller, and comic book-y, ultra-violent movies. Frank Miller and Quentin Tarantino type stuff.

How is Beasts selling? I hear it’s out of print already. [I then have to explain to my retailer friend what Beasts is.]

Oh that’s that real goofy one. I can’t imagine the production run was really high on that. I know what you’re talking about now. I suspect it wasn’t a really large production run. It did okay at best. It’s not really up our alley; I think it might sell better in a bookstore. It’s not really a comic book; I think most of the contributors aren’t coming from comics, but commercial art. There were some comics artists, but most of the contributors weren’t. And the comics artists were all coming from alternative comics. I think it was designed for a different audience [than what we have at the store].


Anonymous said...

Several comments for your retailer friend: Over at The Comics Reporter, several retailers talk about stocking 300 and the success they've had with the book. It seems that Diamond HAS had the book in stock for a great portion of the last few months, but that retailers need to backorder it, in order to get it in stock.

Other retailers will chime in that Baker & Taylor and other book distributors have probably been able to keep the book in stock better than Diamond. Given Dark Horse's inability to keep Sin City or Hellboy GN's in stock, a number of retailers stocked 300 in-depth and much earlier, in order to capitalize on sales.

General comment: Using the internet to find information isn't just for the average comic reader. The CBIA is a great resource for retailers, and even with all the rumors flying between Marvel and Diamond, regarding future Captain America #25 availability, it seems that anyone who read their e-mails last week should have been able to order more copies for delivery this week.


Dick Hyacinth said...

I'll pass these comments along, but I think he thinks of the internet primarily as a place where people debate which member of Alpha Flight would be best suited to serve as a Green Lantern. Maybe these interviews will coax him into checking out some of the more serious sites. I'll be sure to mention the CBIA to him.

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