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January 10, 2007

Dirk Deppey on Cowboys and Aliens

Journalista's Dirk Deppey does some much-needed phone and web work based on charges floating around that Platinum Studios engaged in market manipulation regarding its release Cowboys and Aliens, paying select retailers marketing disbursements that could then be applied in a way to supplement sales of the item. That would in turn goose sales levels, with the result being an opportunity for publicity based on the resulting sales claims. It worked out exactly that way, in that Entertainment Weekly, using sales figures from one of the stores anecdotal evidence says was moving copies of the comic for a vastly discounted price (up to 100 percent), declared the comic the #1 sales winner for December.

What Deppey finds is a story that sort-of strings together without revealing causative links that would indicate a darker, crasser series of actions, although these circumstances fall in place in almost amazing, and therefore quite dubious, fashion.

As everyone notes, Rich Johnston has admirably been beating on this for months, although it's really Entertainment Weekly's tacit endorsement, even if unintentional, that closes the circle and makes this a greater concern. It's hard to believe that a magazine like EW would publish a list from a single source, big market or no, clearly marked as such or not, without checking basic methodology, particularly as I believe -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- they only publish such lists intermittently if at all.

In fact, I never thought this would happen, and kind of relegated what Platinum was doing to a realm of containable, correctable, common behind-mylar-doors behavior that might include things like publishers paying retailers back to order their material so they can make sales minimums, or companies publishing something at a massive loss in order to get a first-issue sales boost. These are manipulations of the system that everyone recognizes as such, with a clear cause and effect. I thought there were enough existing safeguards in how people counted comics sales and what legit press would run. Boy, was I wrong.

The questions that remain surround the nature of the payments made to the stores and why the marketing initiative was done this way instead of merely doing a straight-up giveaway, EW's sudden endorsement of a single store's sales chart in its pages right when it would benefit one publishing company the most, and whether or not statements made by Platinum officials to Dirk Deppey about motivation and policy will hold up to continued scrutiny.

It should be interesting to see the comics industry take a kind of ethical gut-check, too, when it comes to sales levels, whether paid for through Midtown Comics in a bizarre, complicated scheme or simply falsely asserted through an interview. What may be oddest about all this is that anyone felt it necessary to pull strings so that it would appear that a comic book sold X number of copies when simply making the claim on its behalf might have gone unchallenged.
posted 1:27 am PST | Permalink

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