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Sunday, July 01, 2007

 
Butcher, Beguiling, and Early Books -- Interesting, but I'm not sure it means anything: Christopher Butcher reveals in his comments on Fallen Son: Captain America: Iron Man: If Only We Had One More Colon in his comments on comics arriving in Diamond-serviced stores this week that the shop he works at, The Beguiling (certainly one of if not the best comic shops in the universe), does not subscribe to Marvel (and I'd presume DC's) Sneak Peek/First Look program(s).

You may or may not know that Diamond offers, for a flat fee, a varying number of titles shipped a week ahead of their release date. Supposedly so retailers can get a jump on "exciting" superhero "events," stores vary wildly in how they use these books, if they subscribe to the program. Some stores put them out on the counter for shoppers to browse, presumably to generate more interest for next week's books. Some shops don't share them with their customers, but use them as a guide for what they might need to re-order, should "events" merit. I even know of one Diamond account that sold them to a customer who wanted access to them for his comic book reviewing. I know that last one because it was me, circa 2000-2001. But let's not get into that semi-sordid story.

I do find it a little fascinating that the folks at The Beguiling don't participate. It could be that they just don't have time to review next week's superhero offerings, since they don't deal solely with Diamond are ordering and taking in new comics from multiple sources far more frequently than most Diamond-centric comic shops. It could be that they simply don't need to read or put out for display next week's books, because they have such a diverse customer base that superheroes make up only a piece of their overall retail pie. Now, there's a subject I would dearly love to see Chris Butcher or other progressive comics retailers address.

Ultimately I wonder, though, if it isn't just that those guys love comics, not just superhero comics, and since they live, breathe and eat the artform every day of the week, they're content to find out what's up in the Marvel and DC universes at the same time everyone else is? If at all?

One thing that really struck me on my three visits (over four days) to The Beguiling was this: Their pro-active approach to ordering and acquiring comics really positions them very well over any shop catered to solely by Diamond. I found books and comics in the shop on my visits that did not appear in Diamond-serviced stores for weeks to months later. Think I'm exaggerating? If, like me, you're lucky enough to have a graphic novel-friendly independent bookstore in your neck of the woods (you can find indy bookshops here, and check to see what their GN stock looks like), make note of what new releases they have by publishers like Drawn and Quarterly, Fantagraphics, First Second, Top Shelf and graphic novel imprints of mainstream book publishers.

Albany's independent book store is The Book House, and they have a fairly impressive graphic novel section. Often I notice they get books in weeks ahead of Diamond-only stores, because Diamond's focus is almost completely centered on those publishers in the front of the Previews catalog. I've found books at The Book House that I really wanted from publishers like those I named above, sometimes a month or more ahead of their arrival in even the best Diamond-serviced shop in the region. And you know what? I bought them there, at The Book House. If it's in your hand, the chances you'll buy a book (or anything) you want are far, far greater than if you look forlornly at the racks at your local shop and are told, "Yeah, we'll have that in a few weeks." To quote my friend Tim, and imagine him in an old codger's voice with his face all scrunched up as he says it: Whooo giiiiiiiives a shiiiiiiiitttt?

This is why I have long tried to explain to anyone that will pay attention that comic shops that want to make the most money -- the ones that want to sell comics to everyone that wants to buy them from their store -- will most certainly not be satisfied with only dealing with Diamond. Whether it's whatever independent comics distributors still remain, or dealing direct with actual mainstream book distributors (Fantagraphics was smart as hell jumping on that bandwagon), the best way to get comics and graphic novels into the hands of your customers, as a retailer, is to be incredibly active and interested in everything going on in comics, and crucially, to create relationships with every reputable distributor and source of comics that you can.

I remember when MQP released The R. Crumb Handbook, a hugely appealing little hardcover that gave new and old readers alike a thrilling journey through the life and work of Robert Crumb, one of the finest and most important cartoonists ever to take pen to paper. I found the book at The Book House, drove home 50 miles to find a review copy in my mailbox, and wondered what to do with the extra copy. I decided to give it away, and asked the publisher if they could provide extra copies to make it a major giveaway. Now, this is what happened, I shit you not: I had found the book in a mainstream bookstore, read and reviewed it, and given away a dozen copies on this website, at least a month -- and I think it might have been two -- before it was shipped to stores by Diamond. I'll never forget the day Jesse at Earthworld in Albany told me a "new Crumb book" had come in, big Crumb fan that he is. I could not believe it when he showed me a book that to me was practically ancient (although revered) history. I don't know if he believed me when I told him I had already reviewed and given away many copies of this book many weeks ago, but that's exactly what had happened.

Long story short, the Diamond method of distributing comics works great if they're floppies or graphic novels from one of their "premier publishers," the corporations that allow Diamond to have their monopolistic stranglehold on the less progressive and less powerful stores in the Direct Market. But I find what kicked off all this thinking of mine, The Beguiling not bothering with the First Look/Sneak Peek programs, kind of an interesting canary in a coal mine in terms of the attitudes and long-term vision of any given comic shop. I'd be interested to know how your shop (the one you shop at, or better yet the one you own or work at, if applicable) deals with the one-week-early programs.

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