Monday, February 26, 2007

Adventures in Retailing: Discounts

I've always wondered why so many comic shops only carried Marvel and DC, and maybe a smattering of Image.

There's so much good stuff at Dark Horse, Oni, Boom!, Archaia, and that's just naming some of the bigger small publishers. Were they just not noticing this stuff? Did they not look past the first half of the catalog?

And then I discovered my discount for the initial six months at Diamond for everything except Marvel, DC and Image. The discounts for those three are less than they were at my previous three-store operation, but they're within striking distance of it. A reasonable speedbump.

But my discounts on indy books? On manga? On Dark Horse? Ridiculously low. Much lower than I'd originally thought. And so, when I'm looking at initial orders for these first six months, when cash flow is king and Diamond is giving me C.O.D. terms, guess what the first fat to be cut from my budget is?

I can understand, to some extent, the smaller publishers. But the manga publishers? Tokyopop and Viz can't afford to get better terms with Diamond? Dark Horse, a premier publisher, can't at least offer something equivalent to Image? I don't know if the fault lies with the publishers, with Diamond or (more likely) with both, but I will say that the ridiculously low discount on these publishers makes the previous mystery of why so few stores order outside of Marvel and DC a little less mysterious. After six months of establishing your business on the comics that are actually profitable for you to sell, it's going to be harder to suddenly retrain your customer base to look for the indies you haven't been carrying. And as much as the financial burden of comics is already on the retailers, it's even moreso when the margin on comics is as low as it is with this initial discount.

DC and Marvel offer Final Cut-Off ordering, allowing us to adjust orders within three weeks of publishing instead of two months. Image offers up a big initial stock of trade paperbacks to new accounts. Dark Horse? Nothing. Tokyopop? Nothing. Viz? Nothing.

Guess who I'm feeling more loyalty to as a retailer right now? Now as a reader, I'm all about the small press, and as a retailer, I feel a certain responsibility to give my customers a selection, so I'm going to have to suck it up and take the hit. But I'm certainly not feeling warm fuzzies about it, and it is going to make me more gun shy about books I'm not personally interested in, or that I don't already know a customer or two who might be interested.

I don't understand the logic of it. I know where my sales are going to be, and where my discount for the indies will wind up being. After six months, I'll be right back to a more reasonable level. Why cripple new retailers in this way, when their cash flow and available cash is at its lowest? I understand requiring C.O.D., because Diamond doesn't want to get stuck holding the bag when over-ambitious and under-capitalized hobbyists (or even just good businessmen with bad luck) go out of business... doesn't mean I like it, but I understand it. But I don't understand why you'd go with such a ridiculously low discount, as it seems like sacrificing long-term profits (a successful store ordering every month) for potential short-term gain (more money coming in from new accounts that may not be able to ride out the six month period).

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