I'll be the first to admit that I have a limited knowledge of how retailers order their comics. I'm aware that most comics aren't returnable to Diamond. I know that Diamond allows retailers to change the amount of comics they order prior to a "final order cutoff" date, which is usually set at three weeks before a comic hit shelves. I've also learned that comics with last minute creative changes are (allegedly) eligible for return, although I haven't been able to get confirmation of that from retailers.
Anyways, this story concerns DC's Villains' Month, which will feature special 3D covers so expensive DC had to up the cover price of most of their comics to $3.99 and are still taking a loss on this issue. Now the Outhouse has learned that the production of these covers will require retailers to place their final orders four weeks before the sales date, as opposed to the usual three weeks.
So why is this a big deal? Well, it means that retailers will have no opportunity to scale back (or increase) their orders if demand appears to be higher or lower than predicted after the first week of Villain's Month comics hit stands. This is an especially big deal considering that DC is quadruple shipping many of their top-sellers, with one book coming out each week in September. However, many of the multi-shipped issues will have different creative teams, most of which will allegedly tie into comics such as Batgirl or Katana that aren't technically being published in September. Due to the shortened ordering period, retailers will have no way to correct their orders for that last week of September should they discover that demand for these comics is higher or lower than what they expect.
This leaves retailers with an even lower margin of error than usual, forcing many to take extreme actions. Take for instance Cup O' Kryptonite, an Iowa comic book store/coffee shop. They recently announced that their customers would have to specifically order Villain's Month comics, regardless if they have a DC book on their pull list or not.
Here's an explanation as to why:
We will obviously not be ordering at the numbers and the quantities we would normally order at in September because you will not be ordering at your normal numbers. AND to make matters worse, due to the production time on covers, we will have to order issue four before issue one even ships. Normally the ordering of comics is an educated guessing game, this is the most extreme I have ever seen an order in the twelve years Cup has been in existence.
Please understand, in comic retailing there are no returns. We get a good discount and eat (comics are not very tasty) everything we don’t sell. Good to remember the next time you drop a bunch of books – books already ordered and not returnable – or complain that something is not in stock, we are trying to actually make money on this. This is our job and our livelihoods. If we ordered at the volumes we would normally order in September and the backlash I expect to see happens, we could lose our shirts.
By the way, here what's DC had to tell Cup o'Kryptonite when they asked what incentives the shop had to not drastically cut their orders:
I called DC last week and asked if there would be incentives or if I could be given SOME reason for ordering these at anywhere close to the regular monthly orders. I pointed out that September is the WORST month of the year for retailers, period, let alone to take a major gamble or risk. I was told that the covers do indeed look very nice and that production runs have already been set, so they may sell out before they ship… maybe making them collectible. I’m sure as collectible as the X-Men Hologram covers – Remember those – and the Robin copy cat ones. You can find most in dollar or even fifty cent bins now.