Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

January 18, 2008

ComicsPRO Releases A Position Paper On Convention Sales of Comic Books


Via an e-mail from Joe Field of ComicsPRO comes what is presented as the text for a position paper on the phenomenon of publishers selling comic books at conventions and shows before they're made available in the Direct Market.
Issue Presented:
Direct Market retailers purchase their inventory under a non-returnable arrangement. With very few exceptions, Direct Market retailers are obligated to pay for the material they purchase from a wholesaler, regardless of their ability to ultimately sell that material. This non-returnable arrangement is one of the cornerstones of the current distribution system.

Some Direct Market-oriented publishers gain a significant portion of their sales from direct-to-consumer sales at conventions and other fan-driven gatherings. ComicsPRO acknowledges that publishers should have access to as many revenue streams as possible in order to become and remain profitable. ComicsPRO asserts that direct-to-consumer sales of material prior to their release to retailers adversely affects potential sales in Direct Market stores belonging to our membership. When customers have already purchased products directly from a publisher before the retail channel is even able to stock these items, the cash flow and bottom lines of Direct Market retailers are noticeably impacted.

Market Efficiency
In order for a market to function efficiently, all market participants should have equivalent access to the goods offered. If one or more participants has early access to market offerings, all other participants in that market are affected, whether through realization of full sales potential, or from less tangible concerns including reduced consumer confidence in a product line or a manufacturer.

Convention Sales
Conventions, even regional ones, will have national sales impacts. East Coast-based customers frequently travel to West Coast conventions (and vice-versa). It should not be assumed that sales impacts are limited to the region where the event is hosted.

Request for Action:
ComicsPRO requests that publishers refrain from selling direct-to-consumers in any manner until the same product is received and available for sale by all members involved in Direct Market retailing.
You know, I'm all about ComicsPRO, but this is a terrible paper.

1. It doesn't stake out a new position or provide any explanation for the informally existing position that isn't already widely known among the people to whom it's directed.

2. As direct convention sales have been around for a number of years now, and retailers have complained every year, the lack of any numbers on the point of sales lost even on a limited case, limited store basis, as a side paper or a resource even, makes it look like a phantom issue.

3. As much as you can assert a compact exists between stores and publishers on the basis of non-returnability, most publishers who participate in convention sales can assert the retailers as a group haven't held their end up of any such compact by the group's almost complete lack of interest in their product. Many publishers feel that the majority of their show sales go to people who are not served by comics shops. Without any evidence to the contrary, why shouldn't they?

4. Personally, I think the position paper barks up the wrong tree. No one owes any specific market fealty. Adopting the position paper would almost certainly have a drastic effect on certain publishers' bottom line, if their public rhetoric is to be believed, for nothing in the way of concrete reward by a neglectful, sometimes disdainful retailing community. A position paper that relies on the idea that retailer are owed something here might bolster ComicsPRO's position among the rank and file, but it isn't going to convince anyone of anything. One compromise that might be more fruitful to pursue is asking that companies declare or otherwise communicate their intention to sell a book in other channels, or ahead of a drop date, so that orders could be adjusted if someone really thinks advance availability is going to cost them sales.
posted 9:10 am PST | Permalink

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