Yesterdays Rant about Independent Comics Being Doomed
Yesterday’s rant actually started an interesting conversation via e-mail with IC Geeks, and their Print on Demand project for comic books. I had the opportunity to flip e-mails for an afternoon with Noel Burns, who is trying to do what I am trying to do, get product in the hands of consumers, and sell some amazingly cool comic books that few people will ever see let alone read. While I am frustrated with publishers, maybe this is symptomatic of the comic book industry as a whole. It is much easier to flip an order to a single source distributor rather than go shopping around for the best deals, and this is one of the reasons that Haven Distro failed. Comic book stores have gotten complacent, and are not all that willing to go outside of their comfort zone even with better margins by purchasing direct from the publisher or independent distribution warehouses.
Here is the whole gory e-mail with permission to print from Noel, in the mean time you might want to check out IC Geeks and see what they are up to, it seems to be an interesting model.
Noel: I just read your article “One More Thing to Doom Independent Comics” and I had a couple of questions for you. Are you writing as a retailer or as a distributor?
Dan: I am writing as both, while I adored haven distro, we have been trying to fill in the gaps in our ordering process for our retail side. We decided to try to start our own distribution company to fill in the better selling titles that haven distro had that we sell continually and very well like Johnny from SLG, Squee, some boom studios titles like Farscape and Amory Wars, tarot witch of the black rose, Zenescope titles, zombies VS Cheerleaders and Moonstone titles. All of those publishers over the last couple of months filled in those gaps brilliantly.
However there are some equally well selling titles, but the publishers will not talk to us, that list is equally impressive as the ones that will. This means that as long as diamond does not stock them, I can’t get the back issues where we focus our retail side on, then I have nothing to sell. There is also a growing and well run list that we have that we can sell that backlist too that is independent of Tony Shenton (who I really admire and respect).
Noel: I agree that there are plenty of publishers who are not doing their > clients a service by not talking with people who want to sell their books. But, is part of it a problem in the way books are being sold? There is very little money for creators or publishers selling to distributors.
Dan: Depends on their model, diamond has a 35% discount for those people ordering under 2K worth of material per month. Why don’t publishers use the same kind of sliding discount scale? I know some publishers that do, and we will purchase as much as we need to get to a 50/60%
discount. Publishers already deal with the 60% discount window for Amazon and Diamond if they want them in those catalogs officially.
Noel: Some of these small publishers can make more money attending a con rather than taking their $.20 or $.30 they make from selling to a retailer or distributor.
Dan: Depends on volume and how the publisher works, for instance if I sell a comic on Amazon, why doesn’t the publisher also sell their comic book on Amazon? Some do, and have some very robust sales, Slave Labor sells on Amazon and on their own store including Cons. Blue Water does this on Ebay. Maybe publishers/creators should approach sales from a multi-modal process where they leverage all their channels including online, own store, and distribution to ensure a steady state of product in channel.
Noel: Do you think retailers would be willing to take less from independent > producers? Say 40 or 45% rather than 50%? I myself have owned a couple of retail game and hobby stores and I worked under a normal 40 to 45% mark up. I know the expenses of running a brick and mortar location.
Dan: I have worked with discount windows anywhere from 60% to 35% for my store. Realistically the discount does not matter in an online store because prices hold fairly static at 150% of cover price depending on the popularity of a comic. Retailers who order less than 2K from diamond are already familiar with 35% discounts. I know the expenses of running B&M, which is one of the reasons I don’t open a physical store, I always end up 1K to 2K in the hole depending on the simulation model I use.
Noel: What if a publisher were able to provide a retailer or distributor their full library at anytime? For example a new customer comes in and sees an independent title they think looks interesting. Would a retailer being able to order all the back issues for that customer and having them by the next comics day be worth loss of a few cents?
Dan: Yes. On demand would be awesome, but the customer would have to learn delayed gratification. The one reason why B&M even works is that the customer can touch, feel, read, and then decide to order right then and there and walk out with their product. Your idea would work awesomely in an on-demand print work over the internet. Digital goods through graphicly and comixology are also on demand and instant. I would happily lose a few cents to make a buyer happy, but the on demand model of in store and digital might preclude the idea from
working as intended.
Noel: I am working on a new model for getting independent books out and your article seemed to speak to the frustration I too have been having. I hate to say that one of the biggest problems I see is having a middleman/distributor involved. There just doesn’t seem to be enough money for creators with so many people trying to get a (chunk of the) pie.
Dan: I would be awesomely happy if the publisher would go direct to retail, but our economic model in comics is based on a single source distribution system that publishers want to have an exclusive contract with. Now many publishers that I do work with will sell me stuff that no longer meets that exclusive list. From my understanding (and I could be wrong), Diamond is only interested in new, so where does all the old Marvels, DC, IDW’s and other comics go once they are out of stock at Diamond? It would be awesome to the publisher and the author to offer back issue non-diamond exclusive product direct to retail. But then those publishers would have to ramp up and be willing to do smaller orders than one big honking order to Diamond. It is easier for the publisher to send one big honking order to a distribution system, and have them carry the overhead of smaller shipments.
While I would love publishers to sell direct to retail, some publishers simply are not geared towards customer support, nor do they seem to be interested in that process. I would and have and will continue to purchase direct from the publisher for my store, but Haven also filled an important part of process with their flat 50% discount. Just depends on the publisher the store, and how those two groups can handle a relationship. Happily though, 1/2 the publishers I want to deal with for back list items will work with me as a store on a sliding scale of discounts depending on how much I order.
Noel: I hope you understand this is more about finding away to get more independent books out and able to make money for them than a means to run distributors out of business. I am curious about your thoughts though.
Dan: Not trying to run distributors out of the business, but realistically who is left? Diamond and Tony, with some other intermediary distributors who will not sell to online only stores, or other restrictions that makes things even more interesting. There are a lot of companies out there that are not ready to go publisher to retailer, even some distribution companies are not responsive or put in clauses that are anti-online only stores. Much like Comics Pro, it is their game, and they can call the shots, but then they lose out of me purchasing things from them, and remembering how they operate for the rest of my life.
The good part is that my online store is growing 100% Y/Y for four years (doubling every year) because of the independent comic market, the people who are in it, and the awesome response I get from some very dedicated and wonderful publishers. All this during a brutal recession, who would have guessed that the independent market would be this awesome.
I am assuming you are going to publish this, and I am thinking of publishing this on Comics Forge because this is an interesting conversation right now. You are ok to publish this as long as you fix my poor typing. There are a lot of things that are awesome about this industry, but
publishers need to step up to the plate and understand that they have huge back catalogs that some resellers like me would love to get their hands on. If we can’t get it and put it into the retail cycle, then who’s that helping exactly? The author, no, the publisher, no, the comic book reviewers around the planet, no. Those backlist products sit in a warehouse not being sold and are a dead investment, when they could be read and enjoyed by customers if we could just get them into their hands.
Editors Note: I cleaned up my very poor typing and grammar mistakes throughout this discussion and it really does cover part of the issues with being any kind of store that wants to sell independent comic books. There are some very cool comics out there that are independent and sell well, but are impossible to get because the publisher won’t pick up the phone or answer an e-mail.
I want to thank Noel for giving me permission to file this e-mail conversation, and I welcome anyone to jump on in and opine on the subject. How do we fix this? What is the best solution to the problem? While Diamond is awesome for newer than new, were do all the older IDW’s, Dynamites, Boom Studios go unless they start selling direct to retailers.
- Sad news in Comics Distribution today Haven Distro to shut down (comicsforge.com)
- One more thing to doom independent comics (comicsforge.com)
- Where to shop now that Haven is closed for all you online only retailers (comicsforge.com)
- Comics Top Grossing iPad App Six Wednesdays Running (graphicpolicy.com)
- Rick Worley’s “A Waste of Time” Out November From Northwest Press (graphicpolicy.com)
- Ghostbusters #1 Comic Sells Out (graphicpolicy.com)
- “Action Philosophers” Comic Books (freethoughtblogs.com)
- Why are publishers turning down money? (comicsforge.com)
- Diamond Announces Digital Distribution Deal (stumptowntrade.wordpress.com)