Comic Store In Your Future – Going Through The Change

img_2837Rod Lamberti of Rodman Comics, writes weekly for Bleeding Cool. Find previous columns here.

In the previous column, I wrote about changes. How things change. How businesses need to change and adapt.

It is always easier to say this needs to change than to give solutions. This needs to get better. This isn't working and so on. April wasn't a good month for comic sales. Free Comic Book Day had less stores involved this year. Things aren't going as well as many would like. How will the comic industry get better? How will the comic industry sell more comics? So, here are some ideas. These are all just ideas.

Increase the page count of comics and keep the price the same. Even two more pages of story might help. More story means more entertainment.

Invest more into the creative teams responsible for the books. Awhile back I talked with an artist and asked him why was he no longer doing comic interior work. I enjoyed his work and thought he had a promising career as a comic artist. He told me after the 90s bust rates for artists had been slashed. That comic companies were looking for cheaper artists to work on their books. Comic companies started looking more outside of the United States for cheaper artists and that is why more artists from countries such as Brazil were being used. I was quite surprised. Granted this is only from me talking with one artist.

Give editors more power over the books they are on. I know the creative freedom argument is used a lot when a creative team doesn't get their way. Though the fact is just because a writer is a writer doesn't mean every one of their ideas is going to be a great idea. JMS introducing Osborn's twins from getting Gwen Stacey pregnant wasn't a great idea. An editor is supposed to be in charge of the direction of the book. The leader so to speak. An editor is a person having managerial and sometimes policy-making responsibility related to the writing, compilation, and revision of content for a publishing firm or for a newspaper, magazine, or other publication. Writers who write an established character or characters do so to get their writing out there along with a steady paycheck. If they want total control over a project they should publish their own comic. I would love to write Spider-man for Marvel. I also know I didn't create the character let alone own the character. Letting an editor give actual guidance and making a book feel more like a publisher's book along with trying to make it better is a win for everyone. A writer is only human. Creating a book is a team effort.

A return of a no overprint policy. Back in 2001 Marvel President Bill Jemas put in effect a no overprint for Marvel. Overprinting was limited to covering damages on a book and that was it. Some people were for the idea while others were against it.

Here is an open letter from Bill Jemas about the no overprint policy at the time to help better understand it if you weren't collecting comics back then.

An open letter from former Marvel president Bill Jemas:

Dear Comic Retailer,

As many of you know, Marvel has been in regular contact with key retailers looking for reasonable input with respect to our shipping and returns policies, our terms of sale and our overall distribution system.

While the majority of you do favor Marvel's 'no overprint/no reprint' policy, many have asked us to be more flexible in ways that would help minimize your own inventory risk. To paraphrase the input:

We sell a comic; we make a dollar.
We know Marvel doesn't make nearly a buck a book.
We have calculators.
We understand Marvel needs to control costs by minimizing overprints.

But when we order an extra copy, and we can't sell it, and we can't return it, then down goes our margin.

We toss the issue in the quarter bin.
We take a dollar loss, the losses add way up, the bins get way large.

Marvel doesn't overprint or reprint 'sold-out' comics; other publishers do just that. Some of you have asked Marvel to play ball, like the 'nice' publishers do.

Those nice publishers say they are helping cut your risk. You don't have to over-order in advance (and end up over-stuffing the quarter bin later). Go ahead, order as little as you like; sell as much as the readers will buy. Go ahead, sell all you want; they'll make more.

But those nice publishers don't talk about the dirty part of over supply ? the part where they reach into your pocket to grab most of the money that is generated by a hot comic. Most of you think that's dirty pool. Most of you don't want that kind of 'help' from Marvel. Most of you say:

When a Marvel book gets hot, and there are more buyers, than there are copies in the market, then I can mark up the book.
I tuck it in a plastic sleeve.
Our mark-ups add up.
Us owners get large.

Many retailers take a measured risk in ordering extra Marvel comics. When a book gets hot, they sell copies to their regular customers at cover price but hold back a handful to mark up and sell as collectibles. Just the last three copies for $10 each earns an extra $24 profit. Those retailers do not want Marvel dumping more books on the market and killing their 1,000% margins.

And this is why some of the leading retailers in the country helped frame — and now support — Marvel's retail policies. The top guys say:

We know it.
We just don't shout it.
We're too busy running our businesses to write letters or go on message boards.
We vote with our wallets.
The more flush we get, the bigger our orders grow.

In summary, you can:

— Call it a 'make to order' policy, which keeps Marvel's wasted inventory to a minimum. Keeping inventory costs down has helped Marvel keep its cover prices low.

— Call it a 'no flooding' precept, which rewards retailers who take a risk with Marvel.

— Call it 'limited edition' marketing, which spurs additional demand from collectors and increasing 'on shelf day' foot traffic. With respect to this last point, the feedback is enthusiastic:

Readers came back.
They came for content.
They came to hang out.
They like to collect.
Readers come in regularly.
They come in on Wednesday.
Wednesday had been a good day.
Now Wednesday is a great day.
Wednesday is turning into Saturday.

Still, one nagging problem remains: Retailers who under-order a hot book need more copies to service their customers. To help ease this tension, Marvel has been publishing MARVEL MUST HAVES. These are compilations of 'sold-out' books that are sold at a reader-friendly cover price. The distribution of MUST HAVES has satisfied 'reader' demand without a chilling effect on the value of the original monthly comics.

We learned through one of our many retailer calls that the trouble with MUST HAVES has been the three-to-four-week delay between the monthly book 'selling out' and the shipping of its replacement.

Today, Marvel will take a big step toward fixing that problem. TRUTH: RED, WHITE & BLACK, our 'most likely to succeed' book for November, is being over-printed as a MUST HAVE.

Like previous MUST HAVES, this will be a compilation:
It includes THE ULTIMATES #1 (featuring Captain America) and CAPTAIN AMERICA #1 (his Marvel Knights debut).

Like previous MUST HAVES, it will have a nice cover price: only $3.99 for a combined retail value of $7.74.

Unlike previous MUST HAVES, this one will be overprinted. Marvel is printing 15,000 in advance of any order.

Unlike previous MUST HAVES, this one will be available for shipping on November 27th, one week from the date that TRUTH: RED, WHITE & BLACK hits shelves.

Hope this works for all of you.

Bill J.

Was it just over a decade ago there were still quarter bins for comics?

I must confess the "Must Haves" seemed against the whole idea of no overprinting. I find it odd to argue no overprinting and then say this will be over printed.

A smaller print run of a title would most likely force me to order a little more knowing after the title arrives there are no more to be had. Would that spill over to the customers? Meaning would customers be more inclined to come in to make sure they picked up what they wanted knowing it would be harder to get? Would less people silently drop their pull boxes? Less means more? People often times want something that is limited or harder to get over something that is easy and overly plentiful. In the age of the internet which makes getting things easier would it make much of a difference?

More re launches. Just kidding.

Changes to the trade paperback collections. Meaning maybe having hardcovers or trades that collect a storyline wait a year after the storyline is done. How much does collections of story arcs hurt comic sales?

No more 2nd printings. Sometimes it seems 2nd printings are announced just to get a title more press exposure. Foolkiller had a second printing. Then got canceled.

More foil and gimmick covers. More variants. Again just kidding.

Less comics every month. Right now to me at least, there seems to be too much product out there. Meaning it is clogging up the marketplace. Variety is good. Different comics for a wide range of tastes. Though often times a comic seems to be just thrown out there and doesn't offer much that other comics don't already offer. New comics can easily get lost in the sea of product.

When new people actually come into the store they often get blown away from all the new comics offered. Overwhelmed.

Pre order edition bundles. It was a success for Valiant's X O Manowar for us. Valiant's Secret Weapons didn't have as many people pre order. It doesn't help that Marvel just put out a title called Secret Warriors (yes, another Marvel title that will get canceled within a year) but, could pre order bundles be a good long term idea?

Advertise outside of what comics advertise at currently. Find those new readers. Let people know that comics are still being published. Advertise how great comics can be.

Get the fans behind your product. Meaning when I was a collector I manage to get others into comics. If your customers are excited and enthusiastic about your product they often times will bring in others. People want to be entertained. So by goodness put out some good material.

Make comics returnable for comic stores. Comic stores could order more and not worry about over ordering. If bookstores can why not comic stores?

Again these are ideas. I am by no way saying they are all good ideas. Odds are there are ideas out there that have not even been thought of. Though one that just came to mind. Comic publishers sending massive amounts of cash to store owners to promote their products and their bottom line sounds good to me.

I know which I idea I am most for. How about you?

About Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.