October 19, 2004
Getting What You Asked For? The Problem With Variants
Two smaller American comic book industry stories that popped up yesterday together throw a spotlight on the issue of variants in the Direct Market of comic book shops and related stores. The unexpected second coming of variant covers as a common sales inducement has caused concern for many retailers who see variants as potentially (1) an artificial spark for sales that isn't based on content and (2) an unnecessary reminder of gimmick sales of the early '90s that may inevitably lead to another generation of customers leaving comics entirely once they feel overwhelmed and manipulated.
The potential number (3) highlighted here is that yesterday's stories of a missing variant shipment in Los Angeles and a screwed-up solicitation promising variants where none exist may show that variants put too great a burden on an already delicate system of non-returnable sales. Late-arriving variants, as is the case with the Wolverine comic book whose shipment disappeared
from a Diamond distribution warehouse, burden the retailer by giving him product after the surge of interest has subsided. Promised variants that don't show up means the publisher has to fire out an unplanned comic book, or as in this case with Devil's Due
, has their orders cut with a phone call from the distributor explaining the situation.
Both cases take money out of the hands of the simple mechanism whereby money simply exchanges hands for items sought and provided and into the shadowy comics side world of auctions, speculation, and artificial collectors' items. In fact, both of these screw-ups may make certain comics of even greater value in that market, which one would think is an indictment of its general industry value. Don't expect any of the companies who benefit in the short-term from the boost in sales on the bottom line or for the publicity of a higher sales number to stop anytime soon.
posted 7:58 am PST
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