Friday, March 09, 2007

Adventures in Retailing: Bitch, bitch, bitch

Kind of interesting to read the various reactions around the Internet, from the retailing perspective, on Captain America... and find myself agreeing with none of them.

Joe Riley's angry tirade against Marvel seems unfair and a bit pissy that Marvel didn't anticipate the retailers' every move and counter it. Yes, Marvel could have given the info about the overprint a little earlier so that everyone could have gotten onboard with a direct ship delivery next week instead of having to wait another week until March 21st. Yeah, I'm a little annoyed about that turn of events, too. But you know who I'm most annoyed at? Me, for not going with my instinct and trying to put in an order on Wednesday. Instead, reality slapped me in the face at 2 PM on Thursday when I realized that even if they weren't available, I should call in to Diamond and see what future plans would be. Retailing isn't supposed to be easy, it's supposed to be work, and you're supposed to use your head and try to think about what's coming. Frustrating when it doesn't work, and certainly Marvel could have made things easier, but this is not something for which editorial heads should roll.

Customers are coming into your store, excited about a comic book. Many of them are not regular customers, but new people, full of potential to buy comics from your store. If they're leaving frustrated, it's at least partly your fault, because they *can* get their comic, they might just have to wait a week or two for it. If they've ever tried to buy a hot videogame or videogame system on release day (and the odds are good that they have) they're going to understand that. Unless you gripe at them about Marvel's short-sightedness and how they're trying to screw your business, in which case they might just decide you're right and comics aren't worth it.

Of course, Garner Loudermilk's defense of Marvel is arrogant, insulting and factually wrong. First of all, he considers DC's over-printing of Superman a mistake, lamenting that "now the book is barely worth a little over cover." He further spews "If Marvel has learned from DC's mistake then I for one am glad of this. If they over-printed the book then there is no chance of the book rising in value."

Garner, as someone who watched the entire industry nearly collapse thanks to assholes speculating on comics like commodities, allow me to offer a hearty "go fuck yourself." Rising in value? Bullshit. A secondary market where the book rises in value benefits Ebay, and those who view comics as stocks and bonds with four-color covers. It doesn't help Marvel (should they not print a trade, too, just in case?), it doesn't help retailers in the long run, it doesn't help the fanbase, it doesn't help the industry. Your knowledge of the comics industry is about 12 years late, so maybe you ought to clam up and do some research before you go shooting your mouth off.

Garner also offers this gem: "Where it went wrong is store owners failing to capitalize on it. Don't blame the industry, blame yourself. You knew it was selling, you read three months ago in Previews when it said someone was going to die. If you failed to order up on it and are losing out on sales, it's your fault."

In point of fact, no one read three months ago in Previews that someone was going to die. You know what we read? "CIVIL WAR - CLASSIFIED - More information to come." Except it didn't. Again... get your facts straight before you start making accusations. What the hell does a marketing associate for a toy company know about comics retail, anyway? Then he goes on to blame the fans for not pre-ordering:

"But if the customers didn't have it on their subscription list at their local comic shop then again that is their fault, not Marvel's."

Yeah, fanboys, why didn't you know that Captain America was going to die and that CNN and every news organization was going to pick it up and it was going to sell out? Why didn't you plan to buy a comic you don't regularly pick up three months ago because Marvel said it was going to be big? They've never lied about that kind of thing before, and really, shouldn't everyone be buying their comics three months ahead of time instead of coming in to the shop to browse and buy what they're interested in then?

Again, what Garner knows about comics retailing could clearly fill a thimble. But he's got a Grand Canyon sized bowl full of disdain for retailers and comic fans.

But I think I might start calling Chris Butcher before I place any of my comics orders in the future... he has some sort of crystal ball that always allows him to get things exactly right. And if some of us were caught unawares by the level of the demand, we must be idiots. Because anyone who didn't *know* that it was going to be a giant media event and thus quadruple their regular orders so they could sell out the next day rather than the day of is clearly not doing their job properly. As we all know, there are no variables to ordering comics retail, and if you don't guess everything 100% correctly all of the time, you are not doing your job properly.


Karl Ruben said...

Congrats on buying the shop! These retail oriented posts of yours have been really interesting. That said...

If there's anyone that's capable of defending themselves in the blogosphere, it's probably Chris Butcher, but I didn't read anything even close to what you did in his post. Was there some retailer-only, bile-inducing subtext I didn't catch?

Randy said...

I like and respect Chris Butcher, but I found his comments about "I ordered right the first time" a little anger-inducing. Largely because Chris has been doing this a long time, and he knows how much of ordering is basically educated guessing. Nobody gets it right 100% of the time, and certainly predicting just how well Cap #25 was going to sell was beyond the norm.

Just seemed a bit like poking folks who hadn't done anything wrong, other than not guessing just how much higher this one was gonna sell.

AntiGravity: Your New Orleans Alternative said...

Hey Randy, what's up?

I'm not a retailer, though I have worked pretty closely with retailers in the past, so I do have at least a cent of insight here, I think. The difference between Marvel hyping Cap #25 and past instances is that it wasn't simply "Something big is going to happen!" I remember Quesada saying, on more than one occasion, "Something big is going to happen, and trust me, I can't tell you why but you'll want to order more copies than you normally would." It's vague, yes, but for some reason this "hype" just felt different to me.

Anyway, Marvel's in a no-win situation regarding the solicitation. If word of Cap getting killed would have broke three months ago (even a month ago) there's no way the media attention would have been this big. I remember very vividly when word of Dark Knight Strikes Again hit. Tons of new people hit the comic shop I worked at, but guess what? The first issue wasn't slated to come out for months. When #1 finally hit? Those people didn't come back because it was out of sight, out of mind. Cap dying would have been big news three months ago, but would retailers have seen a big influx of people three months later? I think "No." Marvel made the right move. Yeah, retailers can't read the mind of a corporation, but spoiling it three months ago wouldn't have created a different situation.

Randy said...

Leo, I agree with most of what you said, but here's the key problem... Marvel knew just how big this was going to be, so they could have prepared for it better. They couldn't let the retailers (or even Diamond) know the truth, I agree, because your DKR hype situation is exactly right. I worked both, and I remember the frustration of telling new customer after new customer "It's not out yet, but we can have it in three months."

*But*... retailers would have been stupid to order, say, five or six times their usual Cap numbers based on anything Quesada said. He's been wrong before, about what's going to be big, and at that point you're betting your entire business on something you don't even know, which is foolish to say the least.

Marvel knew this would be under-ordered, if they were right about the story being big. They did the right thing in having a big overprint ready. But they did the wrong thing in not having a system worked out ahead of time so that that overprint was immediately released to Diamond, such that retailers could reorder it and get it the next week without problems.

As is, if you missed the Thursday noon cutoff by even 15 minutes, you're getting your books an extra week late. Now, if this was a regular deadline, that's one thing. But the usual deadline for Diamond direct ships is Monday at about 3 PM, so why the Thursday at noon date?

Basically, I think Marvel (and Diamond) got this one 95% right, and even though I'm one of the guys who got screwed a little bit in terms of missing out on a week of Cap reorder sales, I'm not angry at anyone about it. Just mildly annoyed at what seems like a random change of procedure that made an already unpredictable boon more unpredictable to capitalize on.