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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Top Shelf Convention Sales Proposal -- Brett Warnock of Top Shelf Productions has issued a response to retailer Robert Scott on the topic of artcomix publishers selling their wares at comics conventions before Diamond has shipped the books to comic book stores in the direct market. Brett's response, and a proposal to help mend fences with retailers who don't like the practice, come in response to my recent interview with Scott, who in addition to being a San Diego retailer also heads up the retailer organization The Comic Book Industry Alliance. Here's a sampling of what Brett has to say:
"For us, convention debuts truly are a matter of survival. We've stated publicly many times that roughly a third of our annual income comes from convention sales. And launch books play a significant part in that. This is simply not a practice we can afford to eliminate. Period.

...I propose a volunteer program along the lines Robert talked about, wherein as much as possible, publishers and the CBIA work together and the publishers give advance notice to the CBIA, when they become reasonably aware that a book might launch at a particular show. It's not always an easy task, though, because the publishers are at the whims of fate, as they wait for copies to arrive directly from the printer — often times from China or Hong Kong. Publishers might only know this information a week or two in many cases (or less).

Moreover, these publishers should build-in to their projected convention inventory needs a modicum of overage dedicated to selling (at wholesale, of course) to retailers in the city of the convention in question. The advance notice would allow for retailers to inform customers to notify their staff and clientèle.

The onus on the member publishers would be the need for honesty and transparency concerning debut books. That said, the onus on the CBIA would then be to first contact the member publishers in advance of a show (maybe three or four weeks ahead), and simply ask; "Do you have any debut books at the show? Any attending authors we should know about?" Copies of these launch books would then be available either before the show opens to the public during set-up (why the gods created the mobile phone), or at any point during the show.
I've excerpted Brett's post, so please click on over and read the entire thing, as it is quite enlightening and goes a long way, in my opinion, toward solving the problem retailers have with publishers debuting books at conventions.

Another point I agree with Brett on is that direct market retailers need to have returnability of product as one of their tools. At the moment Diamond does not offer returns, putting all the risk of whether a title will sell or not in the hands of the publishers and retailers. It's long past time Diamond grew up and started acting like a professional distributor, and I'd strongly encourage the CBIA, ComicsPRO and individual retailers to lobby Diamond heavily to start taking returns on some basis. This would immeasurably strengthen the stability of the direct market and allow it to be more competitive with mainstream bookstores, which is where a lot of buyers of comics and graphic novels (including manga in the equation, of course, because they are comics and we are talking about the overall market for comics, here) are spending their dollars. Borders, Barnes and Noble and independent bookstores can afford to be a little more experimental when it comes to ordering comics because they know they can return it if it doesn't sell. Diamond should find a way to make that happen for the retailers that allow it to exist, and those retailers should tell Diamond they want returnability to have a more level playing field with mainstream bookstores.



Blogger Brian Hibbs said...


See, this is EXACTLY what we're talking about when we say you have no idea what you're talking about, ADD.

I already wrote a really long piece on why returnability actually doesn't make any mathematical sense for the DM (http://savagecritic.com/2008/01/how-returnability-works-or-why-dm-is.html)

Returnability is sensible for a generalist, but not for a specialist.

But let's say we do this... now WHO pays for the extra overhead, shipping and expenses in dealing with returns?

Publishers? Top Shelf is already pleading poor. (and fair enough)

Retailers? I'm not willing to trade 5-10% of my discount on the CHANCE that I don't know how order correctly... and, anyway, if I want to do that, I can always use B&T or Ingram or someone.

Consumers? I'm going to assume that adding 25%-ish to cover price is going to be a non-starter for you.

Creators? We could cut their wages, I guess, but *I* am not in favor of that?

Diamond? Why should they? Unless you can PROVE to them that their sales WILL increase by AT LEAST AS MUCH as their increased costs (and, honestly, I've looked at the math, and you've got a very uphill battle there), they're pretty unlikely to ever consider such a move.

Who pays, Alan? SOMEONE has to. RETURNS ARE NOT FREE.


19 February, 2008 13:17  
Blogger Alan David Doane said...

"See, this is EXACTLY what we're talking about when we say you have no idea what you're talking about, ADD."

Despite your rather insulting tone, Brian, I decided to post your comment as an example of the kneejerk responses the direct market tends to throw out there, even to overtures like Brett Warnock's that indicate a willingness to try to find a solution.

I find it very, very hard to believe that the co-publisher of Top Shelf Productions would have put this idea out there if he was A) Not willing to negotiate its details and B) Not serious about giving it a shot.

So instead of trying to shut down the discussion right out of the box, how about throwing out some counter-offers or ways for each participant in the retail chain to share some of the pain?

Hopefully some retailers aren't afraid of trying to force a little maturity onto the direct market so that it can compete with its superior competitors in the mainstream bookstore arena.

19 February, 2008 13:28  
Blogger Brian Hibbs said...

You didn't answer the question.

Also, read what Brent said again -- he didn't offer to take returns in this proposal; YOU are the one talking about that.

I'm assuming I'm going to see Brent at WonderCon this weekend, so I'm sure we'll talk about the merits and drawbacks face to face (like... how does selling direct at 60% off in San Diego help me in San Francisco, exactly), and not on a message board.

In the meantime, answer the question: WHO PAYS?


19 February, 2008 14:59  
Blogger Alan David Doane said...

I did answer the question, Brian, when I asked you:

"[H]ow about throwing out some counter-offers or ways for each participant in the retail chain to share some of the pain?"

In other words, if everyone pays, then it's fairer for everyone. I don't claim to have a blueprint to solve the problem, but a good first step, I think, is my suggestion that retailers, publishers and distributors should all talk together about making returnability a viable part of the direct market. Do you agree or not?

19 February, 2008 16:03  
Blogger Brian Hibbs said...

"retailers, publishers and distributors should all talk together about making returnability a viable part of the direct market. Do you agree or not?"

No, I most certainly do not -- returnability is already available for anyone who wants it -- it is called Baker & Taylor (or Ingram, or...)

B&T has no minimums, any retailer can use them at any time (and plenty do!)

Why try to make Diamond do something it isn't designed to be?

The essential calculation of the Direct Market is that we traded discount for returns; that's what the market IS.

If you want to do business outside of that parameter, B&T is sitting right there, easier to use than Diamond is, that's for sure.

[Again: I use B&T all of the time; I've yet to return a single book, however, because it is a stupid waste of time, money, and resources, on everyone's part]


19 February, 2008 22:36  

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