In recent days, Bleeding Cool has been aware of a number of complaints from comic book retailers regarding the behaviour of comic book publisher Scout Comics, and the selling of retailer-exclusive variant covers directly to readers. An exclusive variant cover programme enables retailers to get a limited run of a certain comic, with a cover exclusive to their store, in return for buying hundreds or thousands of copies, which they can then sell exclusively from their store, in person or online, for the price of their choosing. They pay for the artist, they pay for the print run, and everyone wins.
However, Bleeding Cool has been contacted by a number of comic book retailers, upset that Scout Comics seemed to be selling the variant covers that they thought were exclusive to them, through the Whatnot app, directly to readers and collectors, in competition with the retailers in question. Retailers state they were told that any overprint of the exclusive covers was restricted to comp copies for creators, industry-standard numbers in case of distribution damages and a few for the Scout Comics showroom which has been open since May 2018.
The Scout website states "These covers are limited-print runs that are EXCLUSIVE to the retailer (sans a few creator and Scout showroom copies of the print overrun)". But instead, retailers have seen what they perceive as many more copies sold by Scout in competition with their own offering when they thought they had paid a premium to be exclusive. One retailer told me, "essentially, we have a silent partner we are funding to undercut our brand and market." Another retailer asserted to Bleeding Cool, "this overprint is not just the industry standard amount, but sometimes double or triple the print run. These Retailer Variants have been showing up on Scout's various selling platforms, which include but not limited to their webstore, mystery boxes and more recently on Whatnot…"
It is also noted that often the price paid by a collector for an exclusive retailer variant cover depends on the declared print run, with Scout Comics exclusive runs often being limited to 250. If the print run is actually significantly higher, that may create a problem with the trust of collectors.
Another retailer tells us "Various times we have been made aware by our clients that they bought our variants on Scout's Whatnot or another platform cheaper than the price I was selling them. It's severely undercutting our brand, our investment, and the property itself."
Those who raised this issue on the Whatnot app, during the sale of their own supposedly-exclusive retailer covers, found themselves banned from commenting further or seeing if any more of their exclusive covers were offered. It seems unfortunate that the retailers who are angriest about this, are those most likely to order and sell high on Scout Comics titles. When contacted, Brendan Deneen CEO of Scout Comics provided the following statement which we reproduce in full;
"Scout appreciates the close relationships we've established over the years with our retail partners and we are particularly proud of our retailer variant cover program. As Scout has grown, this program has evolved from informal to where we are now in the process of formalizing it.
In our response to the few retail partners who have expressed their discontent with aspects of the program, we were equally disappointed to hear that there have been miscommunications that led to their dissatisfaction. Scout strives to behave fairly and treat others as we wish to be treated. Where it has come to our attention that some retailers feel our actions are not what they anticipated, we are concerned that personnel may have independently negotiated these retailer variants and failed to follow our presentation protocols in regard to explaining how we determine the entire print run.
Scout is not competing with or undermining our retail partners. To the contrary, we are providing them with access to our titles in a way that is profitable for them. We actively promote these shops and are constantly looking for ways to help and collaborate with them. As many people know, Scout has a retail showroom at Scout HQ in Florida. It's a comic shop that only sells Scout Comics and has been open since May 2018. Participants in our retail variant cover program are advised that overprint issues of their cover will be sold in the shop as well as some issues given to the creative team. We do not sell the retailer variants on our website (one of our biggest revenue streams) and none of our policies have changed over the past few years. Our participation in the highly successful and quickly growing platform known as WhatNot has caused some increased scrutiny. Retail shops are also active on WhatNot and many are seeing great success there.
We are formalizing existing policy to reflect this brand new revenue stream that helps both our creators and company, especially during a worldwide paper shortage. We are currently creating contract templates with variant retailers to avoid any future misunderstandings. While we have no contractual agreement to hold off on selling residual copies, in good faith we wait several months to avoid becoming competition."
In a subsequent conversation, Deehan clarified further, stating;
"We have only been approached by one unhappy retailer. You mentioned you have been contacted by others, and we encourage them to reach out to us directly. Our goal is to print great comics and support both creators and retailers. If there has been any miscommunication or misunderstanding that led to unhappy retailers, we will always work with them to make it right."
He also tells me;
"We do not overprint to the extent that some of the retailers are saying to you. A lot of times we cover the cost of the cover as well. That's stated on the same website that you're quoting."
"50-100 total. These are for comps, possible damage replacements, and the Scout showroom."
"At the end of the day, Scout is a business, and we profit when everyone else profits. I do not believe any of the retailers who did variant covers have failed to make a profit on their investments. But again, we encourage them to reach out to us (or me) directly whenever they have concerns about anything."
As ever, communication seems the key. While Scout selling copies in person from its own headquarters store may not have impacted retailers, selling copies on Whatnot has made them international, online sales, far more visible and thus has thrust copies in front of stores' own customers, potentially for less than the retailer is charging. Thanks to Whatnot, retailers can now see these sales openly and publicly, and this has caused the problem.
Hopefully going forward retailers will have a better understanding of the way that Scout Comics works and can make judgments based on that. And for Scout Comics to do a better job of telling retailers what's what and what's… not. Here's a look at screencaps for some of the sales which have caused such upset.
And here are the full Scout Comics terms and conditions for retailer-exclusive covers, as they stand now.
- SCOUT RETAILER EXCLUSIVES PROGRAM
- The pricing for an exclusive variant is as follows:
- $4.75 an issue for 250-499 copies.
$4.50 an issue for 500-799 copies.
$4.00an issue for 800-999 copies,
$3.75 an issue for 1000 or more.
- We don't put a cover price on exclusives. Retailers tend to sell their variants from $10-$25 each, but MSP is totally up to the individual retailer.
- Variants are typically printed on a 100lb stock glossy or matte cover. Other speciality covers (foil, glow in the dark, etc) come with an additional cost.
- If there are multiple covers chosen (i.e. virgin variants or B&W editions) then an additional $150 plate charge is added to the cost.
- If you provide art for your cover, there will be $150 discount.
- Almost every Scout title is available for variants, so if you don't see one you want, ask us, it's likely available!
- Each title's creator has the final approval for the cover art though.
- These covers are limited-print runs that are EXCLUSIVE to the retailer (sans a few creator and Scout showroom copies of the print overrun).
- Please inquire about specialty covers (GitD, foil, spot-foil, metal).*
- *currently Black Caravan titles are only offering regular 100# cover variants and metal covers as options.