Matt Johnson is a grouchy disgruntled owner of the comic shop Cup o' Kryptonite in Des Moines, Iowa. In the land of comics he believes in the holy trinity of Ennis, Morrison and Ellis as well as the illusion of a sane Alan Moore. His real world likes include bodychecks, baseball and beer.
I usually don’t have much nice to say about many of the companies that make up the industry that is comics. I tend to sound rather negative – and if you were on this side of the counter, you would probably feel similar.
However, one company has really started stepping up and presenting product in a way that retailers can get behind. That company is Image.
Not only has Image been putting out some tremendously good comics lately, they have been doing so with returnability attached to most first issues. For example, retailers who met or exceeded their orders of Saga #11 with their orders of Lazarus #1 would have the ability to return any unsold copies at a later date (usually three months later.)
Now, Saga is a VERY good seller for any shop with half a brain. It is in our top five – when it comes out – and though I never thought I would come anywhere close to selling that many issues of Lazarus, I was more than willing to spread the long term risk. With no returns on books you order, it takes a great deal of faith to order in extremely heavy quantities on a new book you know little about.
Consider for a second what was known about Lazarus before it hit stands. There is a good track record with Greg Rucka and Michael Lark, but Gotham Central was quite a while ago. We knew a basic premise and had seen less than five pages of art and story in the Previews catalog. The cover was extremely ambiguous. Frankly, Lazarus could have been good, great or… not.
However, Image felt it was worth supporting and wanted to stand behind their new product. By offering returns, it takes the risk off the retailer’s shoulders and put it on the publisher’s. Even better, they offered returns on the second and third issues as well. Now, retailers have the ability to see three whole months’ worth of sales before they need to freight.
But a crazy thing happened on the way to issue two of Lazarus… we sold this book like crazy. Not quite sold out, but we sold easily twenty issues more than I would have ordered originally without the offer of returns.
Image has done this several books, including East of West, which has become our best selling book in shop. They offered returns on Satellite Sam too, which hasn’t had quite the sales of the Lazarus or East of West, but that doesn’t matter. I have plenty of stock, I enjoyed it and can honestly recommend it to the people who I think will like it for the next three months.
Returnability appears to be working for Image too. Obviously sales are up on their books as they are currently a strong third on the industry sales charts and publishing FAR less than either Marvel or DC. And speaking of DC, it seems someone at Vertigo has noticed the success of this project because they have also started to offer returns with many of their new books. Why did we have so many Wake #1 in the shop? Not just because of the great writer/artist combo, but because we had no risk stocking. How did that turn out? Well, we sold out of our last copy of Wake #1 last week and have had to order second prints to stock with. (Currently, The Wake is our second best selling book too.) Vertigo is offering similar options on Collider and Trillium, coming soon to the shelves near you.
But what do you, the customer, get out of this? Well, it does do two things. The first is make sure the shops that sell these types of books (non superhero, creator and character driven storytelling) are able to have enough stock on the shelves for several months. It also, at least in the short term, decreases internet/eBay crazy price spiking. If there are a ton of books on the shelves, no one is willing to pay $20 for the copy of Comic X #1 the day after it came out. As a retailer, I say good to that. If a book can build and grow and develop value down the road, I have no problem with turning it on eBay. However, short term speculators and speculation does nothing for the industry.
I hope this little trend continues. I know that Image is planning on continuing it and we will see if Vertigo, who has a number of new books coming before the end of the year, keeps it up as well. I do think it has helped Image make serious moves up the sales charts. And I hope that the positive results of returnability could be implemented on large events from the Big Two. If you, oh giant corporate monster of a comic company, feel so very strongly about a project, stand behind it. Make us buy in bulk and push the hell out of it (though I won’t push something I personally don’t feel is quality) but stand by your product. In the end that is what this boils down to, isn’t it.
Why is returnability not offered with superhero books? If we know that returnability (even if only a percentage of the initial order is allowed to be returned) would increase sales and increase the numbers of books on the shelf and in the hands of customers, why not do this…. Or is it that you just don’t have enough faith in your product?