Image Says "Second Printing" Is Nothing But "Under Ordered" Misspelled

By Todd Allen

394683983667602 Image Says "Second Printing" Is Nothing But "Under Ordered" MisspelledHave you noticed there are an awful lot of Image titles getting second printings?  And third printings?  I just went to my mailbox and in the last 8 days, here are the sellouts/multiple printing announcements I’ve gotten:

  • Saga #1 – 2nd and 3rd printings
  • Manhattan Projects #1 – 2nd and 3rd printings
  • Prophet #23 – 2nd printing
  • Glory #24 – 2nd printing
  • Rebel Blood #1 – 2nd printing

5 books / 8 individual printing / 8 days.  Seems like a lot.  Seems like things are selling out a lot.  And there’s a flip side to this.  Image’s publisher, Eric Stephenson speaks at length on that flip side:

Selling out – it’s great PR, but ultimately, it’s not exactly great business. It creates a roadblock between readers and the material they want to read, and between retailers and the books they want to sell. In short, it does more harm than good.

And it’s true.  This is one of the reasons I’ve been a proponent of digital — infinite supply and you’re not at the whims of whether your local store ordered shelf copies of what you want.  Stephenson also has some comments about retailer ordering habits:

A couple retailers have made what I consider to be a fair comment: We should have known a new series by Brian K. Vaughan would do well and could have printed way more than we did.
But using that exact same logic, here’s the thing:
They also could have ordered more.
And, following that timeless rhetorical method, with the straw man built up and knocked down, Stephenson starts trying to address the disconnect between initial orders and reader demand.
In some cases, like Prophet, I completely understand why it might be under-ordered.  Prophet is a continuation of an old, half-forgotten series done in a drastically different style.  It is not reasonable to expect a retailer to know how to order it unless they’ve sat down and read it.  Now, getting a retailer’s attention to do that may be easier said than done and some of the effort for that needs to be on the part of Image.
On the other hand, something like Saga should be a little more obvious.  And if the retailers are saying Image should have known then the retailers really should have known too.
The thing is, Image really is having an awful lot of multiple printings coming out these days.  It suggests that retailers are chronically under-ordering Image titles and/or under-estimating reader demand.
Why could this be?
1) Having become accustomed to ordering independent books lower over the past few years?
2) Relying too much on pre-orders when customers might want to examine a book on the shelf or don’t hear buzz about the book until much closer to release date?
3) Not enough working capital/budget to order everything they want to and Image is the low man on the totem pole at cut time?
It isn’t like Image is the only company with this problem.  Marvel is double-shipping books they don’t think are sufficiently ordered.  Everybody does multiple printings of something.  Image just seems to have a much higher percentage of this activity going on. Prophet and Glory are still on multiple printings 3 months into the new runs — that’s highly unusual and speaks to not having a grip on the customer demand.  Should a publisher know the customer better than the retailer knows the customer?  A rude question, but that’s what a publisher has to ask when the orders and demand have such a dramatic disconnect.
I’d be very interested in seeing an Image sales chart adjusted for all the extra printings.  I suspect Image is doing better than they appear to on the Diamond charts.
On the whole, there are a lot worse problems to have.  Still, this is a problem.  It creates inefficiencies in supply and the creators make less money on multiple printings than they would on one big printing.
It’s worth reading the entire Stephenson piece.  There’s some nuance to it.  But when you look at what is clearly a pattern, it does make a person scratch their head a little.

Comments

  1. It could also be “under printed” misspelled.

    Actually, what I think we are seeing is a rising tide lifts all boats experience. DC’s new 52 has brought in new customers. And those new customers are trying new books.

    Basing our orders off of similar books, which has usually works, produces orders below what we should be ordering.

    Although, I must admit that we overordered three of the books which tells me that demand for them is not as great, at least locally, as the press would have us think.

  2. It’s a tough nut for retailers to crack. I sympathize for both sides of the issue. But not all retailers are cut from the same cloth. Still… it boggles the mind when by most accounts a particular title looks like a sure bet … and still it’s treated with a wait-for-success ordering practice. It’s almost a catch-22. Lead the readers with content, or let the readers create the demand.

    A bit of both?

    But just like retailers, readers are not the same. The question is how each store responds to their specific needs. I admit, from hindsight it looks like retailers are caught with their pants down, but that’s a surface view. As I said, I have sympathy on all sides of this.

  3. Image is knocking it out of the park lately. Dropping more Marvel and DC books for Image. Could care less about the next “event” book. Blue Estate, Prophet, Saga, Chew, and Fatale (in no particular order) are easily amongst the best books out today.

  4. Jimmie,

    Retailers view it more as Image with their pants down. But Image wants to blame retailers and retailers blame Image. I’m waiting for the day when a publisher will man up and actually blame themselves. Retailers do it all the time with their customers. We will say that we didn’t order enough. The publisher seems to share the same line rather than saying that they didn’t print enough. The publisher has the cheapest cost in the chain, so they are the one’s that should shoulder the most risk.

    Although, they did offer returnability on this book, which was a great incentive. I would much rather have a large overprint than returnability. They actually know how good the book is. We just order off of some hype and the names of the creators.

    I know with Saga that we ordered 1 and a half times our top selling Image book and only ran out at one of our two stores, which now has some copies transferred from the other store.

    Maybe other retailers didn’t order as aggressively. I wish we had ordered more aggressively for the store that sold out as restocking between our stores takes time because they are far away from each other.

  5. Regan, valid points.
    Also, you run a good store (I recall very well from the CBIA). As I said, I have sympathy for all sides of this issue. It’s a constantly evolving issue with a wide range of variance across the board — depending on the title, the store, the reader, the expectations, the publisher.

    I’m sure all sides would like to read the tea leaves and make the best decisions. But catching lightning in a bottle is not a scientific method, at best. Haha!

  6. jaroslav hasek says:

    you know, back in the 2000 dot com bubble hay days, when people talked about the internet breaking the business model, it wasn’t all hype. it was (among other things) for specific inventory issues like this, (which are far from unique to the comics biz). print runs, stocking fees, demand estimation etc etc are all obliterated in favor of the digital delivery method in which there are no marginal selling costs. print one or 100 billion and its all the same (~almost) cost to the publisher.

    the trick is not ruining peoples lives during the transition period. no one seems to care about the printers being cut out of the value chain. conversely, no one is eager to see the demise of the unique comics retail industry that is in jeopardy. hopefully there is room for everyone to flourish. we’ll all just have to wait and see.

    i don’t have much sympathy for stephenson here, though. why should the struggling retailers take all the risk? if stephenson really believes the problem is retailers being too conservative with their orders then he should make his books returnable.

  7. He did make Saga returnable.

    Also, I’m in favor of the digital method, as well. But I’m also a firm believer that it serves a different audience (with some crossover readers). The people who didn’t get a copy of Saga in the store *wanted* it in the store — not online. It’s quite possible to serve both audiences, I believe that’s the best of both worlds.

  8. Mario Boon says:

    digital never goes out of print…

  9. I don’t think Image “should” have known better on Saga, to be honest. I ordered higher on Saga #1 than I do on books like Uncanny X-Men and Avengers, and still wanted to go higher, but looking at the sales on the last BKV monthly book on the stands, Ex Machina, gave me a bit of pause. Some will argue the assumption that everyone who buys Y TPs will come running for a new monthly comic, but that isn’t correct, many of them are just TP buyers in general. It is an imperfect science, and the nature of this beast of having to predict demand on over a hundred SKUs every week.

  10. its costs more to print and ship 2 smaller print runs than one large one….but if you can’t sell the large run, they you’re screwed.

    Besides those additional costs and money being left on the table from turned away customers, the under-order habit seems like its cutting away at profitability for the creators and publisher…which means cancellations.

  11. RegularSyzedMike says:

    Returnability as a rule instead of an exception seems like it would solve a lot of this. I understand why non-returnable became the practice back when comics were made from newsprint and were easily damaged and also collected for speculation…not to mention they aren’t on stands at 7-11 anymore.

    The only companies selling single issue comics are (for the most part) careful with their (now more durable) inventory. Putting the weight on them to predict a title’s coming popularity using 1980s point-of-sale systems is unrealistic.

    Publishers and distributor(s) should pick up the slack for the failing market for once.

  12. I agree with Ryan Clem. We got a LOT of new business from the DC relaunch, and these customers are hungry for new good comics, and will try just about anything.

    Another factor is that while it’s not happening at the same pace everywhere, there is a recovery going on, and people’s wallets are opening a little wider than before. Customers of mine who have not tried a new title in over a year are trying things again.

    One more thing. There’s an old saying in the comics retail biz. I *think* it’s attributed to the late Rory Root. (I’m sure someone will correct me if it’s not.

    “Retailers order 2 of everything. 2 many, or 2 few.”

  13. with regular books that get returned, they go to a warehouse and get resold at a discount as “remainder’s”, which wind up on discount tables at bookstores. More often than not the product is damaged from shipping, and being in a store handled by clerks and customers.

    Would anyone buy slightly damaged remaindered comics weeks after release?

    There would be a lot of cost in pulping returns, and indie comics already have razor thin margins. I duno whats the answer here.

  14. RegularSyzedMike says:

    @Joey: I guess digital is the answer then.

  15. For those who want digital.

    There’s clearly a demand for print when several books continue to sell out. There are multiple avenues to different audiences, thus there might be multiple answers to the problem.

  16. Apparently Hoax Hunters #0 has also sold out. There is still the digital option available with comixology or the Image app but I hope retailers will order a bit more of the second printing run. Reprints are not good for Image and they are not good for the creators either.

  17. Ahh… the games afoot! The question is always who will blink first. It seems to me that everyone is playing the margins and nobody wants to get caught with his (or her) pants down.
    Here’s another thought, maybe there is just too much product being published every week, and maybe the retailers figure there’s always more coming next week, and after that there is the continuous stream of compilations and collections.

  18. Ron Catapano says:

    There are a few reasons I see for ordering light on many Image titles.

    1) DC’s new 52 – these are selling at high enough quantity that they’re responsible for using most of my customers comic budget.

    2) Marvel is shipping so many of their titles twice a month that it’s taking up extra shelf space that would have been used for other titles.

    3) Last but not least, for a long time Image has put out very few titles worth carrying. It’s only in the past year that Image seems to be getting more sellective in what they publish.

    If they continue what they’re doing I would expect initial orders to increase but this will take some time.

  19. Dennis V. says:

    I think Image has a severe case of “Marvelitis”–they love to toot their own horn accouncing immediate sell outs. There are just way too many titles that are not available for reorder even on their first day of release (heck, in some cases, even a week before their release).

    Also, it really bites when a retailer cannot get their damaged Image comics replaced when some titles are “sold out” even before they ship.

  20. Denis: the damaged copies are Diamond’s fault, they are the ones that wont replace the damaged copies…

    Ron:3) Last but not least, for a long time Image has put out very few titles worth carrying. It’s only in the past year that Image seems to be getting more sellective in what they publish.


    FALSE: Image has been publising great titles for the last 20 years, if I just look at the last 7 years (when I got back into comics) theres always 5-6 new titles or tpb / HC that I pick up every month based on the solicitations in Previews.

    But I mainly read non superheroes, I will give you that.

  21. Torsten Adair says:

    1. DC made their New 52 titles returnable, on a limited basis. (I believe a retailer could only return a certain percentage of copies ordered.) Of course, those first issues, and many of the second and third issues, went to second printings.

    2. Image has a different business model. The creators pay for the cost of publication and distribution, so would most likely either have to put more money up front to overship, or come to a new agreement with Image on returnability and accountability.

    3. Image could offer a different discount for returnable copies. Some stores might choke on the margin and not participate. Others might gamble. Image could even make it an either/or offer: Order at your Diamond margins. Any copies returned get charged back at the lower discount.

    Image then takes those returned copies and sells them at conventions, or transfers them to the creators, who can sell signed copies.

    4. Do comics shops promote #1 issues? Given that readership drops off on subsequent issues, retailers should market the heck out of each new #1. Offer a pre-order discount on the title, and perhaps continue that discount if the customer subscribes for a year. That same subscriber would also get a discount on the trade collection.

    5. Do comics shops have book clubs? Make that #1 issue the title for the week! Of course, since it’s a book club title, readers get a discount to encourage them to participate in the discussion! (Don’t have a book club? Have an event space? Start one! You can sell more product, plus refreshments! And promote your other events in your store! Because you want to get people into your store to see all the cool stuff you sell! And that generates word-of-mouth which generates new customers!)

    6. I get the same emails that Todd gets. Boom! just announced that Suburbia #1 has gone to a second printing. Dark Horse sold out of #0 and #1 of “Dawn of the Jedi”. Has Marvel done any second printings lately? Or is it all overship?

    7. Since the Direct Market allows publishers to print to EXACT orders, what does it take to sell out an issue? How much is the typical overprint? What does Marvel/DC/Diamond do with those extra copies? Do the stores eventually reorder the leftover copies?

    8. Say a store doesn’t have the paper copy but does sell a digital copy. Do the creators get a smaller royalty on the digital copy?

  22. I’ve thought for awhile now that the terminology of “sold out” is dramatically overused, especially when print runs fluctuate. No different than how a POD book might sell out. It looks good on press releases, but obviously it’s done on purpose. Printing less than needed creates higher demand, while trimming costs.

  23. What about Image’s publishing schedule. Sure, Saga should ship regularly, but a lot of the other books are unknown properties and unknown artistic teams. Infinite Vacation is an example of under-ordered, high-demand product. And then the issues stop coming out. Readers know that Image will publish the trade, and typically at a reduced cost, so why not wait for the collection?
    I’m enjoying Image books right now; they are telling great, cutting edge stories. But you have 20 years of high-profile and late-shipping books (sometimes never-shipping).

  24. James says:

    I dont think the 2nd printing on these are done on purpose.

    Prophet and Glory got glowing reviews – who would of thought they would sell. I still want to pick up both of these after hearing good things! Haven’t heard of Rebel Blood.

    Saga was underordered, obviously. Everyone should be reading it.

    What I dont understand is the 3rd printings. And so soon after the 2nd. I’d like to know how many of both were made. Because that does seem a little put on. Wouldn’t it be easier (and cheaper) for the publisher to do a liitle math based on the last few weeks of reorders and just multiply accordingly??

  25. Hello. First off, I’m no close relation to Eric, above.

    Second, I’m posting this from the perspective of a casual comics shop customer. Or, at least, my version of one.

    I don’t have a subscription at my local shop. I don’t do all my new comics shopping at one store (we’re lucky to have several in the San Jose area). I don’t go every week. There are very few titles I buy every issue of. I check out several new books when I shop. Some I just browse. Some I flip through. A few I buy to take home and check out. I often buy books because they feature a favorite artist or writer. I frequently mutter in disgust and put the book back on the shelf when the art on the inside is no match for what’s on the cover. The last time I went at least once a month to the comic shop was when Brian K. Vaughan still had 2 regular series coming out (which was only for a short while after there were three). I often go and don’t find anything I want. Several times in recent months a book I was looking for was not available.

    One thing that gets me into shops is online previews and reviews at the various popular comics news sites. I check at least four a day with the rest of my morning news. Some of the most talked about titles of the last many months on these include Image’s Mud Man, Saga, King City, Nonplayer, Orc Stain and Prophet. Saga was easy enough to find. The same shop that had that for me turned me on to Nonplayer. The rest, I have had to hunt all up and down the San Francisco bay to keep up with. If I could easily get Image titles online in print I would do that. It took several months to track down one elusive issue of King City. I don’t buy digital comics. I do read web comics.

    Anytime I’m in a shop looking for particular titles it’s a safe bet I won’t find at least one of them. Sometimes the book hasn’t shipped when I thought it had. More often I’m told “we only got one of those, I guess it sold” – as was the case with the much hyped Mud Man #1. Most commonly the shop hasn’t ordered it and the clerk has never heard of it.

    I also look for comics my son might like. His favorite is Scooby Doo. It is very rare to find more than the most recent issue available. Shop owners! If you take nothing else away from my little ramble, do yourself just this one favor. Order more Scooby Doo. They’ll sell.

  26. Torsten Adair says:

    Another reason to order Scooby Doo:
    There is no expiration date on that title!

    Each issue has two self-contained stories, with enough wit to keep adults entertained!

    With more than 100+ issues available, and few reprints, it’s likely that a customer hasn’t read them all. It’s a great impulse buy… smart shops rack them near the entrance, usually below the cash register at kids’ eye level.

  27. Lower print runs means a more collectible comic. I for one love it! I got a bunch of first prints that and variant covers that are now worth a lot of money. So from the collecting side of things I think it helps..It’s also fun to hunt down that elusive first print #1 you want.

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  1. […] a pack of marshmallows » The Casual Comic Shop Customer I wrote this in the comments to an article on The Beat about Image Comics‘ response to questions about the high frequency of their recent titles going back for second […]

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