Back in February, Bleeding Cool reported on Diamond Comic Distributors' new policy that was reducing publishers' abilities to make variant covers returnable. Since the pandemic, lockdown, and shutdowns that affected the comic book industry, a number of comic book publishers had increased the amount of comic books that they made returnable to comic book stores. The idea was to protect retailers from sudden changes of demand due to stores having to close, customers not able to shop and economic strictures being imposed. Some publishers have reduced that returnability but it still remains at a greater level than it once was. But one result was that it has been easier for retailers to order tiered variant covers at 1:50, 1:100, even 1:1000 if they were free to return the overordered amounts. But with more and more variant covers, the process of returning comics had become harder, and more expensive
So Diamond's Purchasing Department made changes to programmes that feature both returnable and variant cover incentives. Publishers would still be able to offer returnability on products offering two or fewer covers, but not for products with a greater number of covers. Diamond stated that administration and maintenance costs for both Diamond and retailers will be better managed in this scenario. "We spent a great deal of time over the past several months analyzing the data we've collected on returns," said Geppi Family Entertainment Chief Purchasing Officer Tim Lenaghan at the time, "The overwhelming conclusion was that books with more than two covers had return percentages four to five times greater than those with two or fewer covers. Return percentages increased even more when incentive variants were introduced into the equation."
And so Diamond had required that newly solicited product in 2021 only include a returnable incentive for books that have two or fewer covers as part of their solicitation. Publishers could continue to offer more variants and incentive variants on any books that are not returnable. Lenaghan stated "We recognize the often-valued role that both types of incentive programs play in the marketplace, and our goal is to focus these programs in a way that benefits both publishers and retailers. Tracking and submitting returns on books with multiple covers is a time-consuming, cumbersome process for both retailers and Diamond. Additionally, this streamlined approach should assist publishers in determining which programs are most effective in driving their own sales efforts."
The plan was for to phase out any combined variant/returnable programme by the end of the second quarter of 2021. Of course, that was before Marvel comics and IDW announced they were going exclusive with Penguin Random House, leaving Diamond with just the lower discount dregs. Because at the Diamond Retailer Summit over the weekend, Vault Comics announced that the variant/returnability programme was returning, and that they had reversed Diamond's policy on the issue. The first recipients of a variant cover programme AND returnability would be the new series Rush by Si Spurrier and Nathan Gooden, and Radio Apocalypse by Ram V, Anand RK, and Aditya Nidikar. But they are asking retailers to support this change with their order numbers if they want to see returnability become the new norm.
Vault also stated that in 2022, they would only be releasing one new title a month, in order to focus their catalogue going forward into 2022. Let's see how that goes down… the Diamond Retailer Summit continues.
EDIT: Apologies to Vault and AfterShock for the mental mix-up blip, and thanks to Donny Cates for pointing it out.