Bill Schanes, former VP of Diamond Comic Distributors is still having a wonderful time touring Europe's museums, galleries, comic stores, bookshops, and street art displays. When (if) he comes to London, I am going to have to treat him to something very liquid and expensive in a Soho bar of his choice.
He is also continuing to treat us to a history of his time at Diamond Comics, and Pacific Comics before that. Including how he started the comics publishing side of Pacific Comics hoping for five-figure orders on his first comics–and ended getting orders close to a quarter of a million.
Here's how it went down. Schanes posted to Facebook,
In the late 70's, both DC Comics and Marvel Comics were offering 60% off of the retail cover price to those distributors who purchased directly from them on a non returnable basis. At that time, both companies published standard 32-page full color comic books, with a cover price of $.50 on each new issue.
My older brother Steve and I already had 4-comic book specialty retail stores (CBSR), a large mail order company, and a couple of small publishing companies (Schanes & Schanes, and Pacific Comics).
We felt there was an opportunity to create a new business model within the comic book publishing industry, but with DC and Marvel both having characters which were well established for decades, and had loyal consumers who were buying their entire lines (i.e. many Marvel Comics collectors were often referred to as Marvel Zombies, as they bought every book Marvel put out, regardless of what the title, theme and or creative team were). The relative low cover price and small number of new monthly releases made it possible for fans and collectors to buy the whole line if they enjoyed the books and wanted to be completists.
We needed a creator who was a juggernaut, one which every collector and every CBSR would recognize, even if the character (s) involved would be entirely new.
Pacific Comics launched with the king, Jack Kirby, and his new creator-owned title called Captain Victory. Since we were going to launch our 32-page full-color comic books with a $1.00 cover price, twice as much as DC or Marvel were currently pricing their new 32-page full-color comic books, we knew we would need to incentivize the same distributors of DC and Marvel.
We felt we'd have one change to get enough copies into the marketplace, that we'd have to make the deal points irresistible, so we announced a unique set of discounts and terms, as we offered a sliding scale discount, based on the total quantity purchased on a per issue basis. Our discount schedule was:
1,000 copies or more 60% off the cover price
5,000 copies or more 65% off the cover price
10,000 copies or more 70% off the cover price
We originally had though a couple of the distributors would stretch to get to the 10,000 per issue level, on at least for a few issues, or at least on first issues, and then their discount would drop to 65% or 60% respectfully, which was still 5% more at retail than DC or Marvel was offering at the 5,000 copy per issue purchase commitment.
At that time, the distributors also were offering a sliding scale discount to the CBSR based on the total purchases made on a preorder monthly basis. Small accounts would get books at 40% the cover price, while the largest accounts might get up to 55% off the cover price. The average discount was probably closer to 50% off the cover price, so that's what I'm going use below to illustrate the Pacific Comics Vs DC/Marvel discount comparisons. Here's what the numbered ended up looking like:
Company Retail cover 60% off the Wholesale average Gross
price cover price. Price sold to retailers. Profit
DC $.50 $.20 $.25 $.05
Marvel $.50 $.20 $.25 $.05
Retail cover 70% off the Wholesale average Gross price cover price. Price sold to retailers.
Profit $1.00. $.30 $.50 $.20
From a distributor perspective, the logistics and operations costs of soliciting, receiving, fulling and invoicing DC, Marvel and Pacific were identical, as the comic books were the same size, same page count, same paper stock, and price points, plus they were printed and delivered from the same printer. The fundamental difference was the distributor had the opportunity to earn 4 times more each time they sold a Pacific Comic Vs DC comic book or a Marvel comic book. We also thought both distributors and CBSR would rally for the non-New York publishing company, who was creator-friendly, but also had a background as an active CBSR and distributor (one who understood the business from the ground floor up).
We also offered a 2% net discount for payment made within 10 days of shipment, while DC and Marvel didn't offer this option.
So, with the most important part being Jack Kirby's return to the comic book industry, and choosing Pacific Comics creator owned friendly agreement, plus an incredibly favorable pricing model, we felt we had the right ingredients to launch our new line of full color comic books.
What we didn't anticipate was that instead of 1-2 of the distributors ordering at the 10,000 per issue level, I seem to remember 8 or 9 of the distributors each ordered 10,000 copies or more of Captain Victory #1. I had conservatively forecast sales on Captain Victory #1 at 35,000 copies, and when our total orders came in at over 130,000 copies, we were shocked in the best of ways. I called each distributor to reconfirm their purchase order quantities, as at first I thought many of the midsized and small distributors had put the wrong quantity down on their purchase orders. The quantities didn't change.
Mike Grell's Starslayer #1 had initial orders over 140,000
Neal Adams' Ms Mystic #1 had initial orders just shy of 225,000 units
Boom, there goes the dynamite…as future publishers inspired by this Pacific Comics model might be called.