Hibbs on Diamond

Retailer Brian Hibbs comments on Diamond’s recent decision to impose a higher benchmark for products they carry — following fears that great comics will be strangled in their cradle. His viewpoint is somewhere in the middle of those commenting, and pretty much backs up our own feelings:

No, really, we don’t need your shitty zombie comic book. We don’t need your adaptation of some William Shatner novel, and we sure as fuck don’t need your half-baked superhero universe.

What we DO need is “the next BONE”, the “next” STRANGERS IN PARADISE, or CEREBUS or EIGHTBALL or GRENDEL or whatever title you want to fill-in-the-blanks with as a paradigm of slow-build-to-significance item.

Here’s the real problem: Diamond’s purchasing department. There are some really great guys working there, but they don’t really have a great aesthetic judgment. That’s not a knock, necessarily, but in 20 years of buying from Diamond I don’t believe that they’ve EVER had a year where they had the entirety of, say, the Eisner nominees in stock at or around the time of the nominations.

I don’t believe that Diamond would recognize the “next BONE”. Not from hatred or anything, but because they have policies in place to be “fair”, that for a decade or more essentially treats all projects as interchangeable widgets.


Diamond does have a bunch of procedures in place to screen material but some things do fall between the cracks. As we’ve stated here before, Diamond is a monopoly, no question, but it’s also a benevolent one — they could have done all the things that people say they are doing years ago but didn’t. Why?

But Diamond is also the gas that makes the direct market go. They’ve developed a system of such tremendous efficiency that a slight breakdown – the non-delivery of back-up copies of SCOTT PILGRIM #5 this week for instance — are a blow.

Like Brian, we don’t mind seeing less crappy zombie comics and William Shatner novel adaptations (have those EVER worked? They’ve been tried many times before!) But is anyone even interested in creating the next BONE? We’d argue that SCOTT PILGRIM is the newest comics sensation, and that succeeded in tankoubon format.

Continuing to develop.

Comments

  1. I agree with you here mostly. The thought of some stricter filtering of small press books is somewhat appealing simply because the thing that most turns me off from buying those books is the fact that there are too many to search through to find real quality on a limited budget. I would point out that someone mentioned – I can’t find the link, but I’m pretty sure it was at blog@newsarama – that the first volume of Scott Pilgrim wouldn’t have met Diamond’s pre-order limit. Given the aesthetic limits of Diamond’s purchasing department that you mentioned, I don’t believe they would have picked up on the unique gem that is Scott Pilgrim, and we’d all be missing out.

  2. Everyone’s missing an important point when they cite Scott Pilgrim as “the book that almost wasn’t”: SP was put out by Oni, a company that had already established a strong track record and reputation in the industry. SP is creator owned, but it is *not* self-published by typical small press standards. Had O’Malley released the book on his own, we may have missed out on it, but that really has nothing to do with Diamond – Would he have had the marketing power, on his own, to promote the book as well as Oni has?

    People need to realize that times and comics have changed. Everyone’s worried that the next SiP or Bone is being pushed away by poor standards in the purchasing department, but that is not the case. I guess it’s time for full disclosure: I worked in that same department for roughly 2 years. I can say, from experience, that nobody is *submitting* the next Bone or SiP to Diamond. I’m not saying that future classics aren’t being written, but very few of them arrive in Timonium. A good portion of books being submitted and rejected are PvP clones and collected livejournal comics. People like to rant as if we were in there screwing over the next Richard Pryor for the current Dane Cook. Not the case. I WISH people could just see what comes through there. Sure, there are books that occasionally fall through the cracks, for one reason or another (which, usually, are never truly known by the public), but when that happens, Diamond usually rights the wrong, as in the case of Comic Foundry and Hope Larson’s book.

    This is going to be hard on everyone, but the established companies will have a better leg on which to stand. It’s the garage, AKA “vanity” publishers that won’t fare too well in this. It’s going to be harder for Diamond to turn down an Oni or an Aspen book than it would be for them to turn down Will West’s Comic Calvadade #0 (Dear Comic Industry, Please top making Zero Issues. Thanks.). Also, is small press even the dream anymore? Everyone cites TMNT as being this from-the-basement-to-Hollywood concept, but these days it seems like a lot of people are doing small press with the hopes of getting on the radar of some larger company, in the hopes of one day doing Batman. Note, I didn’t say that applies to “everyone”, but there are many creators out there whose creator-owned imprints/companies just started gathering dust once those Marvel projects started coming in. New creators, instead of sending your stuff to Diamond, why not just send it to other publishers and see what they think? After all, they’ve been doing this for a bit, so they would know talent. Take their criticism and use it constructively.

    Does anyone want the blood, sweat, tears and lack of due and respect of the small press when you could be the Wizard Artist of the Month? I hope you can note the sarcasm, but I think people are too wrapped in what comics were, rather than focusing on what they are of could be. Ever since that announcement about the benchmarks, the internet has engaged in the longest eulogy to the direct market imaginable, when it should be heralding the dawn of a new era. After all, aren’t comics about death and inevitable resurrection?

  3. Whereas at least 2-3 times a year someone brings in something cool and interesting with real craft and chops into my individual store for me to carry, telling me they’ve been rejected by Diamond, as I roll my eyes. Which means there are probably 10 times that number out there, maybe.

    Just saying, Will

    -B

  4. Tom Spurgeon says:

    No.

  5. Oz Carver says:

    I’m with Hibbs on everything in his article until that second to last paragraph, lamenting the decline of the double-sale. I completely understand where he’s coming from financially, but the double-sale is a fairly recent development as GNs didn’t start to become widespread until about a decade ago. Personally, I see the era of the double-sale as just being a bridge between the age of floppies and the age of OGNs. And you can’t expect to be on a bridge forever.

    Or to put it in another light, are there any other industries (entertainment or otherwise) where retailers first sell the product in little bits, and then a second time as a completed package? Fiction *used* to do it, as it shifted from serializations to books, and the music industry *used* to do it, as it shifted from singles to albums. It was ultimately temporary for both, and I don’t think comics should count on being any different. Especially considering its much smaller consumer base. But, that’s just me.

  6. You know, Brian, it’s a numbers game. I don’t doubt that you have experienced that. I’ll even go as far to say that it’s very well possible that 10 times the 2-3 rejected publishers fell through the cracks. When you really look at it, though, how big of a number is that? I’m not saying it’s neglegible, nor am I trying to justify it. I’m just saying that there’s a catalog that’s roughly 480 pages, shipped 12 times a month. So, if we’re talking a given year, these missed books would equal about 2 pages worth of Previews coverage. Now, maybe we’re saying that they’d be the most worthwhile 2 pages of the year, but it’s still 2 pages. Mistakes happen. Diamond can’t catch *everything*.

    It’s not right that those projects are being missed, but I think a lot of it has less to do with Diamond and more to do with the marketplace itself. I have to disagree that it’s the distributor’s job to market your product. I made this argument elsewhere, but here it is again: no customer knows who distributes the orange juice to local their store – they just know that it will be there when they go shopping. If it’s not there, the customer doesn’t blame Tropicana – he blames the store. Comics are the only industry where the customer/layperson is taught to hate the distributor. People go around heaping all of this “moral responsibility” talk and expectations on Diamond, when this is a *business*. You have customers ranting about “I hate Diamond”, when many don’t even understand the workings or the true role of Diamond in the distribution cycle. A lot of this spreads from rejected creators, but a good deal of it is taught by retailers themselves, which isn’t necessarily the most professional way to run a business. Maybe this is due to the fact that the hobby is such an insular community. I’m all for the little guy. Believe it or not, Diamond is comprised of little guys. It’s staffed by people who are cut from the same cloth as those railing against it. We’re all “the kids picked last for sports”, but that’s why most of us got into comics in the first place.

    A better question to ask is “Why should anyone do this on their own anymore?” Honestly, besides the feeling of can-do accomplishment that might come from self-publishing, is the industry really on the same page anymore? I’ve often wondered by people submitted directly to us instead of going to an established publisher. It’s like people don’t do their homework on the industry. I’ll admit that there were times when a book would come through and I’d say, “This would sell through Slave Labor, but not on it’s own.” That might sound bad, but retailers told us that they don’t necessarily trust unknowns these days. It’s that simple. The problem is that the blame goes back and forth. Retailers, online, sometimes blame this situation on Diamond, as they aren’t sure if Diamond will cancel the series before it’s over. What many don’t see, though, is that #1 of that comic was created over a 5-year period. The creator couldn’t handle the normal distribution schedule, and the book kept getting pushed back, resolicited, anything to get it out, and the fanbase has disappeared by the time it’s released. Inevitable low sales result in cancellation. Too many of these started on the cusp of sales anyway, so raising the benchmark is an attempt to stave off these situations, and hopefully repair the trust relationship between creators/retailers/Diamond. There’s more at stake now, which should result in some interesting things from all parties involved.

  7. Oz:

    Television shows & DVD boxed sets?

    -B

  8. Oz Carver says:

    Brian,

    I was considering that too, but for the most part people don’t “pay” for television shows the first time around. Even if it’s a cable exclusive, they’re not paying for each show individually.

    Now that I think about it, though, movies *do* share comics’ current business model. But even Hollywood is seeing first-run profits shrink as DVDs and digital downloads (and, unfortunately, digital piracy) grow more rampant. I doubt we’ll ever see the disappearance of movie theaters, at least in our lifetimes, but Hollywood’s larger consumer base makes it hella easier for them to profit at both ends.

  9. Oz Carver says:

    Though even movies aren’t a real parallel — whether the consumer sees it in the theater, waits for the DVD, or does both, they get the complete story every time. But still, probably as close as anyone else comes to it.

  10. Though I guess TV shows aren’t sold by “retailers”, so maybe that’s not an exact comparison.

    What I will say is that, speaking as a comics-oriented shop that sells muy more books than floppies, the overwhelming majority of “OGNs” have little-to-no commercial prospects, while that same material in cheaper periodical format have at least a chance.

    Consumers, as far as I can tell, are unwilling to throw down $15+ for something they don’t KNOW that they want — they’re willing to try and sample to a much greater degree on a $4- item.

    Further, there’s not a single BONE TP that we’ve sold even half as many copies of, in the 18-ish months since we’ve installed POS that we sold of any post-, say, #20 ISSUE of BONE. Looking at something like Adrian Tomine’s output, that’s probably closer to triple.

    -B

  11. “I was considering that too, but for the most part people don’t “pay” for television shows the first time around.”

    A lot of people buy individual episodes of TV shows on iTunes. Apple announced last year that they sold 200 million episodes in three years.

  12. I have to say, as a barely-on- the-radar boutique publisher, Diamond has been nothing but fair with us. It helped that our brand manager was a big fan of our first offering and he helped us put together a plan that enabled us to sell 700 copies of our first graphic novella, Rex straight out of the gate. Those numbers would have just surpassed the new Diamond minimums (the book was $9.95).

    When we solicited our second book last fall, I somehow knew the numbers would not be as impressive and they weren’t. We got in orders of 350 (for an $11.95 book) which met the old benchmark but I canceled the book nonetheless as it felt like a doomed project. Even as I was arguing against publishing the second book our Diamond rep was coming up with various (and intelligent) ways to save it.

    So our experience with Diamond has been completely pleasant in the limited amount of time we’ve been in existence.
    -Jay

  13. Oliver says:

    tankubon? pardon my ignorance, but what is that?

  14. >tankubon? pardon my ignorance, but what is that?

    A tank manual, I would assume.

    Tankoubon on the other hand is the Japanese equivalent of “trade paperback” in general usage.

  15. cbrown says:

    That’s the first time I’ve ever heard that term, too. This thread is super-educational.

  16. Synsidar says:

    The word “tankubon” had 3,400 hits on a Google Web search, while “tankoubon” had 98,800 hits. Note that Wikipedia’s main entry uses the spelling “tankōbon” and lists “tankoubon” and “tankobon” as transliterated terms.

    The use of “tankubon” doesn’t bother me.

    SRS

  17. I hate to be anal about this, but “tankōbon” is just as much “transliteration” as the others. There are multiple romanization styles for Japanese.

    tankoobon = tankoubon = tankōbon = tankôbon =/= tankubon

  18. “I made this argument elsewhere, but here it is again: no customer knows who distributes the orange juice to local their store – they just know that it will be there when they go shopping. If it’s not there, the customer doesn’t blame Tropicana – he blames the store. Comics are the only industry where the customer/layperson is taught to hate the distributor.”

    That may be true, but Diamond’s not blameless in the situation. If the orange juice distributor sold me their catalog through the grocery store so I could order Tropicana with the right amount of pulp, I wouldn’t blame the grocery store when my juice was too pulpy, I’d blame the distributor who supplied the wrong kind.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Discussion over Diamond’s recent raising of their pre-order limit has sparked again over at The Savage Critics and The Beat. Essentially the debate seems to come down to how Diamond chooses what to carry and their seemingly poor aesthetic. MacDonald brings up the appealing idea that maybe we won’t have a flood of crappy zombie books and such other useless comics clogging up the indie channels now, but Hibbs fears that, in the process, we may miss out the “next BONE,” or other such small press/self-published success stories. Is cleaning out the clutter worth potentially driving away the next Strangers in Paradise or, dare I say, Scott Pilgrim? I’m afraid we may be setting a standard that says, unless you’re able to get your foot in the door at a publisher at least as big as Image or Dark Horse or maybe IDW and Oni then you should just turn around and go home. Considering how badly comics needs new talent to keep things fresh – as the big guys keep eating up talent like Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction – I think that may be a poor standard to set. […]

  2. […] Retailer Brian Hibbs comments upon Diamond’s new preference to levy a aloft benchmark for products they lift — as well as following fears which good comics will be strangled in their cradle. His outlook is somewhere in a … Read more:  THE BEAT » Blog Archive » Hibbs upon Diamond […]

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