Monday, January 21, 2008

ComicsPRO position paper rumbles on.......
I'm with Dirk on this one...

I've seen this one building for a few days and to be honest, haven't the energy to post about it more than this.

But I just read Dirk's take on it and think he's pretty much bang on about it.

To summarise: ComicsPRO, the retailer organisation for comic shops, came out with a position paper that essentially complains about comic companies debuting books at conventions before making them available to comic shops and then pretty much demands they stop.

This was very quickly rounded on by Tom Spurgeon, Johanna, Alan David Doane, and I'm sure, many others (but like I say, no energy for this sadly). Brian Hibbs does put a good argument on the opposing side as well.

As for me, I can sympathise with the retailer's lot, having worked in one a goodly portion of my adult life, but feel it's a little akin to bullying, and seems to completely miss a lot of the main points about the failings of the direct market. Of course, the UK, having far fewer big conventions, probably has never seen the impact upon sales that ComicsPRO asserts is happening in US stores.

ComicsPRO are having a go essentially at publishers like Top Shelf, Fantagraphics, D&Q, SLG and others who routinely sell at shows and, according to anecdotal evidence sell a goodly portion of their stock at shows.

(from Dirk's piece: "In his interview with Michael Dean for The Comics Journal #277, Top Shelf co-publisher Chris Staros noted that roughly a third of his sales come from “mail-ins and convention appearances.")

Similarly these publishers are by and large ignored by the majority of retailers. If you want a UK specific example of that look at Paul Grist's interview with Matthew Badham on the FPI blog a short while back:

"I think I ended up printing 3000 copies of the first issue. Then I decided to try and sell them. That was a matter of sending out a sample copy to all the comic shops in the UK and selling it directly to them. And from that I found that, out of the hundreds of comic shops in the UK, there were about 15 willing to sell something like that."

15 shops willing to even try to sell something as obviously good as Paul Grist's Kane. It's the same, or even worse in the states. So if you're someone like Top Shelf or Fantagraphics and are never that far above break even are you really going to stop selling these books at conventions just so you can be routinely ignored by the majority of the shops that ComicsPRO says are being hurt so badly by your actions?
I think not.
Remember this is Top Shelf and Fantagraphics; both of which nearly went bust a few years back when a distributor went under. They had to beg, literally beg, for us to buy extra books that month just to keep the cash flow going so that the banks didn't close them down. But ComicsPRO is expecting them to cut off maybe up to 1/3 of their sales?
(And as is the way with these things I can find no direct link to the plea they put out, but try these anyway.... here and here.)

The shops it does hurt, people like Brian Hibbs and others who do stock a full range, are caught in the unfortunate middle ground.
I'm sure people like Brian do all this anyway, but surely, this is just one of those things to grin and bear? Indeed, based on our smaller experience in the UK convention sales don't bite that hard.

Take the most recent convention. The Birmingham Comics Show. Loads of people there selling books that the fans could have bought from us at Nostalgia & Comics. And quite a lot of new books as well that were being sold on debut. But, although this is only anecdotal and frankly guessing, evidence, I don't think we did all that badly out of it. I'd be guessing that 75% plus of our standing orders wouldn't buy new when they knew they were getting it from us, such is the customer loyalty we try to foster.
And the good thing about conventions is the amount of extra trade we do on those days from people from all over the country who travel especially down to it. How do I know? Well, just by looking at the fans - there were an awful lot of Nostalgia & Comics bags at the show and we don't just give those away at the till.

We also tend to get actively involved in the shows, hosting extra signings at the store, buying extra copies of the convention debut direct from the publishers or creators so we've got it in as well. Like I say, maybe this is unique to the UK with our smaller (geographically and financially) market.

Another thing with these publishers, most of the convention debuts are perennial stock items, things we plan to have on the shelves for as long as they're in print, things that sell over and over again. Take Andi Watson. He sells at shows. But for the distributor shipping late, he would have debuted Glister 2 at the Birmingham Show. My take on that is that if Andi sells someone a Glister 2 and they shop in Birmingham then maybe, just maybe, we'll get the sale for Glister 3, and then a copy of Breakfast Afternoon, Slow News Day, Love Fights, Paris and everything else he does. It doesn't have to be a sale lost in the long term.

So maybe I'm really wrong, maybe I'm talking out of turn. But I just can't see it.
Yes, it's a bad deal on retailers in the US if they really get hit that badly by convention sales. But do ComicsPRO really expect these publishers to just roll over and go out of business waiting for the majority of the comic shops to stock them? This is precisely the reason that publishers like Fantagraphics and Top Shelf are trying to get their books carried in major book stores. They need the sales. They need more exposure, more outlets stocking them. And if the direct market isn't doing that they have every right to look elsewhere.

In the end it comes down to a simple equation. Would the good shops, like Nostalgia & Comics, a lot of the Forbidden Planet International stores, Page 45, Gosh, Comix Experience et al rather lose a small proportion of sales to the conventions and keep the publishers in business years down the line, allowing us to sell their quality works over and over and over again or would we rather lose them for good for the short term gain?

And this was meant to be quick.

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