Last week, Dinesh Shamdasani, the e-CEO of Valiant Entertainment, forced out by new owners, the Chinese investment firm DMG, spoke to the assembled retailers at ComicsPRO in Portland last week.
It got a strong reaction.
— Matthew Price (@nerdage) February 23, 2018
Very emotional hour at ComicsPro, from @dinesh_s' amazing speech, Len Wein's wonderful widow, & the great Dave Hawksworth's widow. <3
— Mathias Lewis (@midusunknown) February 23, 2018
There was no official recording. But cobbled together from a number of phone videos and attendees, here's how it went down. He begins referring to Marco Davanzo, Executive Director of ComicsPRO…
You know, when Marco asked me to give the keynote at ComicsPRO this year, I thought the same thing that all of you are probably thinking right now which is why not ask someone important? Why not ask someone who knows what they're talking about? I didn't want to do it. How was I supposed to come here, to ComicsPRO, and tell all of you, some of the smartest people in the business, something you didn't already know. Also, I knew come February I probably wasn't going to have a job. But here we are, this year's keynote delivered by someone who isn't making comics, who isn't selling comics and who currently has no formal ties to the comic book industry.
But actually, that's why I said yes. Because this situation presents a unique opportunity. You see, I'm not beholden to anyone right now. I'm not trying to sell anything or push an agenda. I know, that sounds like a set up for a rant about everything everyone is doing wrong and everything broken in the industry but that's not how I feel. Despite my situation, which let's just say is…not what I hoped it would be – let's just leave it at that – I'm very optimistic about comics. I look around and I see an industry in which a publisher like Valiant can come roaring back, tell some amazing stories and grow to become a successful business. Perhaps the unique opportunity this speech presents then is that I can talk openly about how we did it. And here's the headline: we did it by betting on comics retailers.
We made a conscious choice before we launched Valiant to focus on the direct market. That's why we bucked the conventional wisdom at the time of hiring one person to do both the marketing and sales jobs. We were one of the first in the industry to split the jobs. And I'm very happy to see that that has since become common practice because it's vitally important to the industry that every publisher have someone whose sole responsibility is thinking about comics retailers.
That's also why when we hired Atom Freeman, Valiant's Head of Sales who you've nominated this year for an Industry Appreciation Award, his first job at Valiant was to call every retailer in America. He spent 9 months, sitting at a desk all day calling stores. Not to sell them mind you, we had nothing sell yet. But to ask for advice. Ask for feedback. How should we launch? How should we market? How should build our collections program? It was that relationship, asking for advice and listening, that was frankly the most important relationship behind Valiant's success. So important in fact, that sales grew to become our biggest department.
It's also why once we had launched and had books to sell the primary function for the sales team was not to push-sell. That sounds crazy, right? But we believed that if we had them focus on communication we'd sell more comics and we had them communicate with you, the retailers. Communicate what we were building, as far in advance as we could, why we thought it was exciting, why we thought it would sell well. But even more importantly, their job was to communicate retailer reactions and thoughts back to us internally and it gave us a sense of what was going to succeed and what was not before it arrived in stores. We knew what to lean in on and what to change. And it worked! Every year our sales went up. Every year we beat our projections. 2017, last year, was a monster year for Valiant. Valiant had the biggest independent ongoing launch of the year in X-O Manowar and the biggest independent mini-series launch of the year in Secret Weapons and a slew of other big launches from Bloodshot to Ninjak to Quantum & Woody and many others. All because we listened. And because we trusted that when a Valiant fan walks into a comic store they will find a passionate guide who we bet, more often than not, would be the difference between that fan buying just the one Valiant book they came in for and someone who would come back every month and eventually buy our whole line.
I've gotten to know and becomes friends with many of you over the years and I've learned that none of you chooses this business because you thought it would be a path to wealth and fame. I've learned that you chose it because you love comics. And it's that passion that has historically saved comics again and again. It's that passion that has built an industry for movies, TV shows, video games amusement parks, and licensing to draw from. It was that passion that embraced Valiant as company and me as a fan and supported us in our dream to bring our favourite comics back to the marketplace. It's that passion that will propel comics into the future and, I believe, as long as publishers trust and support the direct market, that passion will keep comics growing.
Every time Valiant, as a company, bet on comics retailers to step up and hand-sell our product, our books, you did. I will be eternally grateful that you bet your own livelihoods on our passion project. We all owe you and your passion a debt of gratitude. But, that's not all we owe you because the job you've chosen to do is not an easy one.We owe you the best stories we can produce. We owe you the best marketing tools we can concoct. We owe you the best possible margins. We owe you ears to hear your experiences. We owe you all the support we can possibly bring because, at the end of the day, you carry our dearest treasures, our comics to your relationships with the customers that love your stores to sell our books. And I know the rhetoric that is being disseminated in our industry about the death of the direct market. I sit at ComicsPro every year and overhear comics retailers being told they aren't ordering enough or worse aren't ordering properly or intelligently and I'm here to tell you that if you're not getting the support and tools you taught us at Valiant to give to you from someone else then you must teach them. And if that doesn't work then bribe them, demand from them, do whatever you have to to get them from everyone else because it works. What you're asking for works. It's why Valiant worked. And we, all us comic book fans, need you to keep succeeding.
There's plenty of things I don't know but one thing I do know is the future of comics is retailers. I'm committed to comics and at some point, down the road, I'll shave my silly retirement beard off and I'll start again, and if you'll have me, I'm going to be bet even harder on comics retailers again. But for right now, let me just say you've got a great team at Valiant in Adam, Hunter, Fred, Warren Shaynce. They don't need me, they'll keep the trains running if they're allowed to. And let me just end by saying thank you. Sincerely. Thank you for embracing the Valiant dream, for supporting us and for keeping comics growing.