Comic book publishing is a tricky business. Thanks to decades of short-sighted business strategies with little innovation, retailers and publishers must rely heavily on getting readers to preorder books months in advance to stay afloat. Without preorders and pull lists, retailers play a dangerous guessing game when ordering comics. Since comics aren't generally returnable if they go unsold to readers, retailers are stuck with a loss if a book doesn't sell. This can cause retailers to be skittish about ordering new and unproven books, which can make it difficult for publishers to sell enough books to make a series worth publishing. The biggest casualty of this system is the ability to give books a chance to find an audience. In many cases, a series can be canceled before its first or second trade paperback hits stores.
All this frantic tweeting we do about preorders is critical but SO inefficient. We live in a world in which 99 percent of people won't do anything unless it can happen in ONE CLICK. Preorders now require phone calls or printing and filling out forms or visiting shops in person.
— Greg Pak (@gregpak) January 18, 2018
Compounding the issue, preordering can be a complicated process. While some stores, particularly large mail order retailers, offer online systems for preordering comics, and almost all stores offer pull lists. With these, readers can list series they want to buy each month and the comic shop will order copies and set them aside. These both require an active commitment from readers, both to follow upcoming releases religiously, and to let retailers know they want to buy them. Many preordering options are less than ideal for customers, and when publishers and creators, even at the largest comic book companies, talk about the importance of preordering, it can sometimes feel like a guilt trip that annoys readers.
After all, whose job is it to sell comics? A good case can be made that it shouldn't be the responsibility of readers at all. Customers should buy what they want when they want, and the comic book industry should make it possible for them to do so in whatever way is most convenient for the customer. But the reality is that preordering is necessary, and it isn't going away any time soon, so the most effective thing publishers and retailers can do is make preordering as painless and convenient as possible.
There are some attempts in the works to ease some of the pain. Diamond, the monopoly that controls comics distribution to the direct market, is set to launch an online pull list service on their PreviewsWorld website this Spring, connecting with local retailers and allowing readers to manage their comic book purchases online. Readers can set up a weekly pull list, order additional titles from the catalog, and even set up a wishlist for others to buy them comics. The service will be free for readers, but retailers will have to pay. Bleeding Cool detailed the service here.
But ahead of the launch of Diamond's PreviewsWorld Pullbox, a competing service has sprung up offering a similar service, free to readers, and with both a free and paid tier ($30 a month, with a free trial lasting until September) for retailers to participate. League of Comic Geeks, a website geared toward helping readers manage their comic collections, is expanding into the retail world with their own pull list service for retailers. A press release explains the features of the service:
Automated Pull List & Subscription Management: Save time by allowing your customers to manage their pull list subscriptions way ahead of the pre-order date. With a complete list of upcoming releases, they can manage and sync their lists as they wish. No need for the customer to visit or call the store to let them know about changes.
Customer Management: Track customer contact information and notes alongside their subscriptions so you never have to dig into your messy inbox or spreadsheets again.
Community Management: Instantly share news and announcements, from new products to special events and great deals with your customers and over 80,000 comic book fans in the League of Comic Geeks community.
Store Listing: With a built-in shop locator, it's never been easier for prospective customers to find and connect with your store.
Comprehensive Reporting: Need to print a list of all of the pulls for a particular catalog month, for a specific store location? Not a problem. Comprehensive reporting ensures you can review, export, and print anything at any time.
Both Diamond and League of Comic Geeks' pull list services are springing up in the void created by comiXology, which closed its own online pull management service last October. comiXology's service wasn't exactly easy to use, so it's good to see replacements that aim to do a better job. And League of Comic Geeks has a lot of experiencing in providing collection and pull list management software geared toward readers. Diamond has experience with retailers, but whether that experience is likely to imbue said retailers with faith in a news service will vary from retailer to retailer.
"We've been serving the comic community for nearly seven years now. Retailer tools have been some of the most highly requested additions we've received from the community. We're happy to offer these free cloud-based solutions for both retailers and fans. Together, with the community's support and feedback we can make a comprehensive solution to grow local comic shops and make it even easier for fans to stay informed and engaged," said Jordan Blanco of League of Comic Geeks in a press release.
Both services look like an improvement over the old way, and are definitely an improvement over the lack of a digital system. Which one will reign supreme, and how a fracturing of the market might affect the ease of online ordering, remains to be seen. In general, competition is a good thing, right?
League of Comic Geeks' service is live now. For more information and screenshots, retailers can visit: https://leagueofcomicgeeks.com/retailers while comic book fans can create their account at https://leagueofcomicgeeks.com.