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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

 
Retailing: Where I'm Coming From -- In the comments that follow my interview with retailer Robert Scott, you can read Robert's comments on what he sees as a disconnect between his point of view on comics retailing and my own. The gist of his point is this:
"I don't really have a problem with you asking for higher standards from DM shops, it's that you seem to give small press publishers a pass on those same standards."
My response to Robert was such that I felt it was worth a post of its own, so here it is:

Small press publishers' standards of professionalism don't much interest me, Robert, so maybe that is the disconnect.

Firstly, you'd need to define "small press." Because I see a big difference between, say, Fantagraphics, which I know will turn out dozens of major books every year that I am interested in, and PictureBox or Alternative Comics, which at the current time may turn out anywhere from two to a half-dozen.

As a retailer, I recognize and respect your right to demand that they fulfill whatever obligations they enter into with you, through their agreements with Diamond or however else.

But as a consumer and as a reader of comics, I don't spend a lot of time thinking about the issue. It's not on my radar.

As far as publishers who have to pass the hat to stay alive, as both Top Shelf and Fantagraphics have done (and both with the support of this site), I have no problem with that at all. If things have gotten so dire that self-starters like Gary Groth and Chris Staros have to go directly to consumers hat in hand, then that just goes to show that the direct market hasn't supported their work to the extent it deserves. And you can argue whether the direct market has a responsibility to support great comics vs. comics retailers know they can sell, but again as a consumer, all I care about at the end of the day is whether I have access to the kind of comics I want to read. And that is what Top Shelf and Fantagraphics publish. And increasingly, those are the kinds of graphic novels I am finding earlier and easier outside the direct market.

It would be great if Eightball came out annually like clockwork. It would be fantastic if Drawn and Quarterly offered co-op to retailers. But artcomix are more about art than commerce, and again, as a reader and consumer I'd rather read one issue of Eightball every three years at ten bucks an issue than every issue of New Avengers every month for those same three years, at any price. I place a high value on the quality of the comics, and little to no value at all on whether artcomix meet their ship date. I agree it is important to you and I hope you try to work with the publishers to better meet your own needs. Since Fantagraphics and some other publishers have been dealing more and more with mainstream bookstore distributors, I wonder if this has forced them to be more stringent about scheduling? Certainly their book trade catalog would indicate that this is so, but I have no idea how they are meeting their schedules in terms of getting the books out on the promised dates. I do know they arrive in mainstream bookstores days or weeks before Diamond distributes them, which is why I no longer rely on a Diamond-dependent comic book store to acquire the books that mean to the most to me as a reader.

So yes, I see we have a disconnect, as you would expect a businessman with his unique needs and problems and a consumer with his unique needs and problems to have. Since I interviewed you and have learned more about your store, I am sure I would like to shop there and obviously you have a wide variety of comics from a wider-than-most-DM-stores number of publishers. I understand and appreciate your frustration, but at the end of the day, as someone who has observed a changing comics industry since the very early 1970s, I do believe things remain in flux and I no longer believe that comic book stores that rely on Diamond are necessarily where the majority of the comics that I want to read will be sold or found in the future.

I believe stores that seek out alternate means of distribution other than Diamond will thrive. I believe stores that find ways to work with non-superhero publishers will thrive. I believe many new ways of doing things are developing and will continue to develop, and I hope that smart retailers find a way to work with all the publishers they deal with in order to make their own businesses more profitable and stable.

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