Hahahahaha! "Rumor has it that Marvel is contemplating allowing no reorders." God damn, if that’s not a "ne plus ultra" perfect example of "Same Shit, Different Day", I have no idea WHAT is!
TILTING AT WINDMILLS #26
By Brian Hibbs
Although they're no longer the titans they once were, we still think to think of publishers in terms of the "Big Two": Marvel and DC. Put them together and the represent more than half of the Direct Market, and they're the focus of this month’s column.
Marvel has been getting enormous criticism in the last few months, much of it valid, because of the perception that they're abandoning the Direct Market. This is going to sound weird, coming from me, but, from Marvel's point of view, it makes a certain amount of sense. After all, we are a fickle and unpredictable market. Orders can fluctuate wildly based on factors outside of their control, and, as a publicly held company, they have an obligation to squeeze as much profit as they are able. Marvel, by necessity, must continue to primarily focus on the short term, because the second the "let up," the stockholders are going to take it in the shorts.
Looking at our market from the outside, it's a wonder we can function at all. Information and product is caught in the bottleneck of the distributors, and most retailers haven't anything even slightly resembling healthy business practices (A slight digression: Capital City has just added a new feature to their Top Comics charts - a percent of total, and a cumulative percentage. These two numbers really show how skewed the marketplace is, and how much of our survival is tied to a handful of comics. In the April charts, the top 10 comics account for 13.49% of all orders for the month! The top 25 is 26.94%; the top 50 is 42.2%, and the top 100 a whopping 62.14% of all orders for the month. This is suggest to me that too few stores are carrying anywhere near a full line of comics, or product of any kind of diversity). If I were head of Marvel Comics I know I would be looking closely at virtually anyway to get away from this sick and self-limiting system. After all, you can hardly sell anything but superhero comics in it. Sure, you get retailers like me, and Carol Denbow, and Matt Lehman, and the DLG, and etc., etc., ad nauseam, who are always looking for a new way to expand our marketplace, with material geared at a wide variety of consumers, but how often do they actually sell more than a handful of copies? Not too damn often. The direct market has become a catch-22: non-genre material "won't/doesn't sell" because we're selling to the same, finite group of customers, but we'll never expand that finite group without non-genre material. Marvel has the potential clout to bring in thousands and thousands of new readers, but do they really want them to see the typical, messy, hole-in-the-wall, fanboy comic shop?
Even an outsider like me can make the quick calculations that Marvel could be saving thousands of dollars by eliminating the distributors (we've all heard the rumors that Marvel is trying to buy Capital City, right? Whether true or not [I'd suspect not - seems to me there's some dangerous legal questions there], it's interesting to speculate), and by bypassing the comic shop, they can provide the face that they want the consumer to see, rather than the ones we want to show them. Do I feel betrayed? Hell, no! It's good business sense on Marvel's part, but I do think they should get on one side of the road, or another.
The press releases cry, "Hey! We're on your side! We want to be your friend! The Direct Market is our partner, and we're not going anywhere!", yet the deeds speak otherwise: Announcing the planning of Marvel stores, the sneak attack of the Marvel Mart, the rumors of No Reorders, (wait! Another digression, if you please: Rumor has it that Marvel is contemplating allowing no reorders. The story goes is that it's a big strain and hassle when retailers are very conservative on a product (say, the $5.95 Marvels), then reorder up the wazoo once it hits the stores. The concept is that by limiting retailers to initial orders only, we'll have to show greater faith, or else we might "miss out". And, I betcha most retailers'll play right along. "Don't want to miss the Next Moon Knight!" you'll cry [well, maybe not you], so you'll up your orders, and have an even worse sell-through and cash-flow. Again, as of this writing, it's still only a rumor, so don't panic yet!), all of these actions seem to belie the "commitment" Marvel says it has. It's either one or the other, kids. Don't insult our intelligence by sneaking around behind our backs, please. If you want to hit the road, that's cool, and if you want to stay likewise, but please don't say you're going to stay, then disappear for weeks at a time - in much the same way we wouldn't want you to say you're going, then have you hang around all the time, mooching out of the fridge. Relationships are two way streets - pick a direction, please.
On the other hand, there's DC. While DC has certainly made their share of bonehead moves (we talked about the Green Lantern fiasco within the last few months, as one example; another would be the renumbering the entire line to #0 for Zero Hour - in a glutted market it hardly makes sense to me to do a one-month event on a line of 40 some-odd superhero books, that forces us to throw our cycle sheets straight out the window; one final example would be the revelation that I recently received that neither Mike Carlin nor Paul Levitz reads every book that DC produces. Hell, if I can find the time to do so [as well as reading every other comic that comes through my door!], then I am wholly dumbfounded that the Executive Editor and the Publisher can't manage to do the same!), they've never wavered in their support for the Direct Market. DC has historically put more money back into the market then they "should" have (based on things like market share), and has systemically taken such actions as instantly reprinting material (often in a less expensive format) that has sold through faster than we imagined it could (Death of Superman being a recent example)
DC also has what appears to be the largest commitment of any publisher in stocking trade paperbacks and other backlist material. We all get Coming Comics, right? Look at the backlist pages! There's at least 120 different items listed there. Assuming even a moderate level of stock-depth, they've got to be carrying over a million dollars at full-retail there. What does Marvel have? 11 books that are listed as permanent stock items, right? I can't speak for anyone else, but in my store it's the new comics that provide the bread and butter for keeping the doors open, but it's the trades, and the backlist that makes me profitable, and allows me to expand my business beyond the tiny fanboy ghetto that we, as an industry, have become.
The last thing we can laud DC for is their commitment to non-genre material, in a serious way. Vertigo has been strongly supported by the company, and one can only hope that the new Paradox line will get the same support. Hardly nothing from these lines has/is going to set the Direct Market on fire with their sales, which makes the support DC gives even that much more amazing, but without that support, such lines invariably fizzle (can anyone say "Epic"? I thought you could....). And DC consistently gives new launches from the imprints the same level of support that it gives to any of the super-hero line.
Again, I've had more than my share of problems with DC in the past (Right, Bob? Right, Bruce?), and I have less than no doubt that I'll take them to task over hundreds of issues in the future (that's why I have a column, after all); and, when given the choice, I will always opt for creator-driven business, than corporate-driven (any given corporation might be our best hope today, but, in the end, their only allegiance is to furthering themselves - it's the individual people who make a corporation good or bad, and the "good" ones could be gone tomorrow, leaving you nothing but ashes - the day Dave Sim leaves Cerebus, or Peter Bagge leaves Hate...well, that's the day those books go away forever), but when forced to choose between the "Big Two", I don't think there is any question where our support must go.