Mags: Get ’em quick at your LCS, or get ’em from us

Diamond Comic Distributors has just announced some big changes in how they deal with publishers, which probably won’t have any effect on Marvel and DC, but the smaller guys like us are eyeing the new policies very closely. The one that’s generating all the hubbub lately is their decision to raise their order minimum (ie. the bottom line amount of orders after their discount) to $2500 per item. Basically, any order for less than that amount will not be sent to us in most cases, although I’m hopeful they’ll make some exceptions for longstanding publishers (like, um, us).

It doesn’t really affect new issues of our mags (or any of our books, since those have higher cover prices), except for BrickJournal, which sells most of its copies outside of comic shops (although the comic shop sales are a nice benefit, and losing those will hurt, and they are on the upswing in comics shops). But it will affect our ability to do “Offered Again” items—resoliciting something to alert people who might’ve missed a book the first time it was listed in PREVIEWS. Naturally, the second time something’s listed, it gets fewer orders than the first time, and frankly, we do rely on O/As to generate some much needed income on our lower selling books. Without it, any number of worthy, but really niche items that we want to publish, probably won’t be able to be published.

But just as disturbing to me is Diamond’s new policy, stating that once a MAGAZINE is listed in PREVIEWS, they won’t accept reorders after 60 days of the item’s release. (And I hope I’m reading that right; if it’s from the scheduled ship date, that cuts the 60 days down even more if we ship something a week or more later than planned.) So 60 days after its release, Diamond will basically erase the item from its system, as if it never existed, and even if it’s a runaway best seller, comic shops won’t be able to reorder it after that point. And of course, since Diamond wouldn’t want to get stuck with extra copies of something after that 60 days, I’m sure they’ll be cutting their initial orders on magazines.

Although in the past it’s never been stated to us as an official policy, I’ve noticed Diamond’s been more or less following this standard for at least a couple of years. During our first decade in business, Diamond would regularly overorder our mags, to keep them on hand to fill immediate reorders, and then place reorders with us over time, regardless of how old the mag was (which is why we’ve always listed Diamond’s order codes in our magazines, catalogs, and online). I remember in the late 1990s, our older issues were selling well enough that we took out an ad in Previews, listing the order codes for every magazine we had in stock, and we got a really big Purchase Order from Diamond for all those items. We also got a call from our Diamond rep, telling us they made a mistake allowing that, and we could never do that again, because of the extra paperwork involved in handling all those individual items. (Gee, I thought that’s what computers were for… :-)

In the last couple of years, Diamond’s been cutting initial orders on magazines, but we’ve been making most of it up on reorders within the first couple of months of release, although some would trickle in beyond a two-month window. I guess that trickle is officially dead now.

We’ve been hearing from retailers for years that they can’t get magazine reorders from Diamond, only books. (We even put a notice to that effect in our January 2008 catalog, so people would stop trying to place reorders for mags through their local comics shop, then end up waiting months and nothing would ever show up. A few people viewed that as an anti-retailer stance by us, but it was just our way of helping our customers AND retailers avoid the frustration of never getting their reorders.) At least Diamond’s made it official now, so we’re all clear on the rules.

I’m not as concerned about losing a few reorders, as I am about the long-term effect this’ll have, on us, on retailers, and the industry. Plain and simple, our old stuff sells. Unlike Wizard and other mags, our stuff isn’t dated. It’s either about comics history, an artist spotlight, or a how-to publication, none of which relies on the latest comics crossover event, or Hollywood blockbuster, to make it marketable. If someone with an interest in comics history shows up in a comic book store (or flips open PREVIEWS) and has never seen ALTER EGO or BACK ISSUE! before, it won’t matter whether they see the newest issue, or one from three years ago; both are just as likely to appeal to them. Which is why we’ve always had a thriving audience for our older issues, and we try to keep them in stock.

It’s impossible to grow magazine readership these days through comics shops, with Diamond putting disincentives like minimums and reorder windows in place, and so many retailers only willing to order enough copies to fill their pull list, and not stocking a single extra issue for a new reader to discover. So we’ve got to keep pushing people to our website and our convention booths to buy them directly from us. We’ve made a push over the last two years to get more retailers to order directly from us (we offer discounts comparable to Diamond, and free shipping), and there are a few of the larger or more service-oriented retailers who’ll take the time and effort to do so, to keep their customers happy, and coming back to their stores regularly. To my mind, those are the ones most likely to weather the current economic storm, and stick around for the long term. And we’re about to sign up with Haven Distribution so retailers will hopefully have a more convenient route to reorder our mags; maybe Haven can come up with the right formula to be successful stocking the lower-priced items.

I understand what Diamond’s doing; cutting costs like everyone else the last couple of years. It costs a lot to warehouse tons of paper, and they’ve consolidated down to just 3-4 warehouses now, from the 7-8 they used to operate 4-5 years ago. In that 4-5 years, an awful lot of new paper has been printed, so do the math; if you’ve got 4-5 more years of additional printed material in the system, and 3-4 fewer warehouses to hold it, either there’s a black hole somewhere sucking up all that stuff, or Diamond’s just not stocking it all anymore. The logical choice is to stop warehousing lower-priced stuff, like comics and magazines, and save the warehouse space for big ticket books, which bring more profit. To do that, they’re moving into the retailer mentality of only ordering what’s preordered, so they don’t get stuck warehousing a lot of lower priced material. That’s a great short-term practice to cut costs, but a lousy long-term policy for growing (or even sustaining) your business.

Or at least, that’s my $.02. Your mileage may vary.

Anyway, the moral here is, be sure to pre-order our stuff (especially magazines) at your local comics shop, or from our website, or there’s no guarantee you’ll always get it. (But use your local comics shop if you have one; we want to keep all the remaining ones in business.) And our books should still be readily available through Diamond. But particularly for magazines, don’t expect your local comics shop to be able to get our older issues for you, unless they’re willing to order directly from us.