Tuesday, March 13, 2007

300 & the curse of the too popular book
Or why the distributor is not the retailers friend

Here we go again, another massive crossover opportunity missed and it looks like a combination of the publisher and the distributor has messed it up again.

300, Frank Miller's epic Spartan book that's now (as they say) a major movie is out in the states already and over here soon. Just like Sin City it looks fantastic. Whether it is as flawed as Sin City was - good looks are nothing without a good script after all, remains to be seen.

But that isn't the problem. There are now reports that the stocks of 300 at Diamond distributors and Dark Horse have run out and there's only 15,000 on the way (about a month at least).

Every single time we have a major chance to actually move the medium forward in some way we get screwed this way.
Every single time we have some book which will actually appeal to the general (non-comic buying) public we get screwed.
(I'm using we in the comic retailer we sense by the way.)

In the past few years the major comics that have made it into the public arena are:
Jimmy Corrigan, Palestine, Persepolis, Fun Home, Hellboy, Sin City, 300.
Forget Batman, Spider-Man and all the other superhero movies. They have very little impact in terms of comic sales. Lots more action figures, bed covers, lunch boxes and posters sold maybe, but very few extra comics.

But every so often we get a major comic that breaks out of the small world of the comic shop, whether it's a film that doesn't just reinforce the idea of comics as purely superheroes that the public have (Hellboy, Sin City, 300) or something picked up by the literate masses of Guardian readers (Jimmy Corrigan, Persepolis, Fun Home et al).
And then the trouble always seems to start.

The retailers start ordering more and more of the title.
And remember all the while that the retailer always takes these copies as sale or return. Which essentially means they better sell or it's no rent paid that month. Or maybe pay the rent but have family go hungry - that sort of thing.
Also remember that retailers have to do this sale or return thing with thousands of comics and graphic novels each month, so don't start on with the "but the retailers should know that they need a 1000 copies of Sin City etc.
First they don't know. It all depends on how successful the film is, what sort of mass media presence it gets etc. And all of that happens at least a month AFTER the orders needed to be in.

So in an ideal world the retailer would order fairly big up front and then when the book takes off and more and more customers are coming in asking for it, the retailer orders more and more and more.
But in the actual comic retailing world what happens is this:
The retailer orders fairly big upfront and then gets in touch with the distributor for some more only to be told by the distributor that there is no more.
This happened to us at Nostalgia & Comics with every single one of those examples.

It's caused by a few things, both pretty inexcusable. Particularly in the case of Hellboy, Sin City and now 300 it's a case of the publisher just not printing enough to keep up (unfortunately the publisher in all three of these cases is Dark Horse. Bad Dark Horse, bad Dark Horse).
But the distributor is also culpable in this. Every time we get told that we can't get any copies I can walk into Waterstones or Borders to see piles upon piles of the book we can't get hold of. Lets not forget, Waterstones and Borders take these on sale or return. Zero risk and huge discount.

I'm not saying Diamond (or any other distributor - but are there any other distributors now really?) should refuse to sell the books to the bookstores, but would it really hurt them to email the comic shops (that's probably only a couple of hundred accounts in the UK) and give us a bit of advance notice, seeing as we're the distributors bread and butter?

Or am I being ridiculously naive?

Whatever happens you can pretty much guarantee that comic shops are now going to find it really difficult to get hold of copies of 300. Not until the hullabaloo dies down and we get offered all those returns from Waterstones and Borders anyway.

No comments:

Post a Comment