Right now, Image Comics, Boom Studios, IDW and Dynamite are extending their returnable offerings to comic book stores, allowing retailers to order their books in confidence, able to return them if they don't sell. Which is the kind of thing the comic book direct market was not meant to do. Other publishers like Vault Comics make specific titles returnable, often on launch. This was especially notable for publishers coming out of shutdown, trying to support a market who were unsure as to what readers would be buying comic books, even if they were able to.
And while it might be technically possible for retailers to order tonnes of comics and send them all back, there are costs in terms of shipping, administration, workload and more – so in reality, retailers are persuaded not to order conservatively, and in practice only return a few.
Marvel and DC Comics have been resistant to such returnability practices at the moment. Marvel have never been keen on returnability, and DC restrict it to specific launches. But once in a while, when DC Comics goes for a big line-wide launch like the New 52, or the months where everything gets renamed for giggles, they have been known to go all out. And that's what they'll be doing for Future State. DC told retailers "all DC Future State titles will be solicited with full returnability throughout the two-month event." Which should help numbers and (hopefully) profits – as long as not too many are returned.
For those that are, this will be the big test for UCS Comic Distributors and Lunar Distribution, can they handle big returns as well as distributing the comic books? What sort of state will they be in, in the future? What will any of us? These, as always, will be testing times ahead. It least, for a big chunk of it, 2020 and 2021 is returnable.