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Ah, and speaking of barcodes, Scott King runs the letter Diamond has sent to their vendors:

Dear Vendor:

Please be advised, that, effective for product shipping to Diamond Comic Distributors, Inc. (Diamond) as of January 2008, Diamond will require all items to be marked or labeled with the appropriate scanner friendly bar code. Solid packed case quantities of items should also include bar codes on the case label or case markings. The preferred placement of the bar code for printed matter is on the front or back cover.


More in link.
Steven Grant also has some of his always-informed commentary on the barcode matter:

Diamond’s logic in this is a little hard to figure out. According to their public statement, the idea is to make it easier for comics retailers to sell your comics, which suggests this is one of those expenses that will pay for itself in increased revenues. Implicit in the statement are two facts not in evidence: are there really a significant enough number of comics shops that even employ a barcode scanner checkout system, and is a barcode on a comic that isn’t otherwise selling much enough to encourage them to order (not to mention sell) significantly enough additional copies to make it worth a publisher’s while to spend the additional money? I can’t imagine a lot of comics shops, which are frequently fairly touch and go financially themselves, are going to want to shell out for a barcode scanner either, unless Diamond is somehow underwriting them but somehow that stretches credulity. I certainly haven’t been in any comic shops that use barcode scanners. If you’re does, please let me know.


While we always enjoy Steven’s commentary, this one seems to miss some of the salient points. Diamond IS attempting to persuade as many shops as possible to use a POS system, making it as affordable as possible. Bribing them, you might say. Implicit in Steven’s commentary is the basic question of “Why is Diamond doing this?” This is another question we surveyed retailers on in Baltimore a few weeks ago, and while some people gave us a straight ahead answer, others were baffled that we’d even ASK such a question: the answer is self evident. It is the way forward. It will make more money for everyone.

The mechanism for thisk, granted, is not entirely transparent. Brian Hibbs wrote a terrific Tiling at Windmills last week which addressed much of this better than we could:

As you probably know, Diamond is on the cusp of offering an “inexpensive” POS solution, with a DM-specific front-end. Some of you will recall the impact on the general level of professionalism that Carol Kalish’s cash register program (Where Marvel provided, at bulk cost, basic cash registers to a whole fleet of stores who had previously been using the “cigar box” method) had on the DM. A lot of it was incremental, but I think a Right Turn can be measured from that event, and I think the impact of POS upon the DM will be ten times greater. While I personally am unconvinced that Diamond’s platform is the best POS solution available to the Direct Market (As most of you know, I’m utterly in love with the MOBY POS system), it’s fairly clear that Diamond’s program will be a major spur for many stores to finally make the leap, because Diamond are the primary, if not sole, source for so many retailers.


Why is POS such a good thing? Several reasons, but the biggest one for our purposes is that no longer will retailers figure out what sells through based on what they WANT to sell through. With a paper and pencil method — a tally system much like a condemned man counting down the days until his execution on a prison wall — retailers may not even pay attention to books that aren’t on their personal radar. With an objective actual sell through system it may turn out that MOUSE GUARD or JOHNNY THE HOMICIDAL MANIAC sells more month in and month out than the latest Civil War or Countdown spinoff. Instead of spending time (as many retailers do) lookingon the shelves of the store to see what they’ve sold out of (a system prone to many lapses of memory) a retailer can see that they are down to one issue of, say Watchmen or Simpsons Comics, and reorder BEFORE they sell out, lessening the chances of a disappointed consumer walking out empty handed. THAT is how it makes more money.

The catch is that good retailers already noted what actually sold in their stores, and crappy retailers may still not pay attention to facts that go against what they want to sell. these retailers are more accurately hobbyists, and that’s fine. The future lies in the thin wedge of stores that are on the cusp. The converts. POS is a tool to convert more stores to selling a wider range of products.

We realize that this short summary may not have convinced the doubters. This is an important topic and it’s one we hope to return to very soon.

Comments

  1. We’ve been using a barcode scanner for over a decade, so we appreciate their use on comics. I’m fine with them on the back cover if the publisher doesn’t want to put them on the front.

    Lee Hester
    Lee’s Comics of California

  2. I wasn’t surprised when the rumors started circulating and even less so when I received the Diamond letter the other day regarding the changeover. I’ve been self-publishing for over 10 years and the last couple of years the floppies (single issue comic books) I barely break even on. It wasn’t until 4 years ago my first trade paperback came out with a bar code (required for non-direct market like Barnes and Noble / Borders) that I can actually track my sales through Diamond on a day-to-day basis.
    It does take the guess work as to who is low on your book and you can ship out before they run out mentality which has been working pretty well for me. The floppies are a thing of the past for me. I’ll do short run print on demand for review copies and for conventions, but have restricted the stories to perfect bound format bar code and all. If I can get them into the bookstores as well, which I have. I’ve expanded my audience and have a larger profit margin than the single issues and then put the trade out. This method works best for me since I’m single entity publisher/writer/illustrator. It’s more about just surviving in this industry and not being a “hobby publisher,” it’s about thriving and having to acknowledge this is a busines. I’m still having fun, but for those of you who run your business (store front or publisher), you know it’s also your responsibility.

  3. One more thing to add to my bloated comment on this topic. I love comics and I liked the smell of the just printed book when I open the box from the printer. It does sadden me that some books I produce won’t see the single issue format, because that’s why I fell in love with reading comics the first place. Computer, iPhone, reading tablets — those cannot replace the tangible comic book. Until a better system that may or may not come along, some of us small pressers have to look at alternatives in keeping our book on the shelf.

    Dan Cooney
    Writer/Illustrator of Valentine
    redeyepress.net

  4. Torsten Adair says:

    PREACH IT, SISTER HEIDI! What you say is the truth! Every week, I check my sales reports at my Barnes & Noble, and reorder those titles which aren’t automatically kept in stock. I can check sales back a year, and return books which don’t sell, or keep that one item which might only sell during the holidays. And with an incredible database, I can search for old and upcoming titles, such as Demon With A Glass Hand or Marvel Vault.
    And… i’ve been doing this since 1994, when I worked for SuperCrown Books, using the IBID system. Time to enter the 20th Century and run your business as a BOOKSTORE.

  5. I only know of one comic store in my area that uses the bar code/scan system: Humungo Comics in Pottstown, Pa. It’s not a big store, it’s not in a big city, it’s not even the comic shop I shop at – but even he comments that he can’t imagine doing it otherwise.

  6. We’ve been using Comtrac (a DOS-based, frustrating lumbering beast of a POS) ever since I began working at Dragon’s Lair. And I know it was in use for years before, so they were computerized for at least 10 years, probably more. We’re still using the POS now that I’ve bought my store.

    And I can’t imagine running a shop without it. It is possible to run a great shop without POS… one of the best stores in the area doesn’t use POS, which I was shocked to learn from the owner in San Diego a couple years ago. And they’re as indy-friendly and booming as you get. But having a POS does make it a whole hell of a lot easier to track sales, figure out what’s selling and what isn’t, etc.

    That said, I’m still kinda baffled by the required barcode thing. We’ve been using a barcode scanner for years, but when books don’t have a barcode, we still have them in the system via the more cumbersome typing method. We’re still tracking the sales. Yes, it saves time at the registers, and yes, it’s great to have a barcode, but I was never particularly put out that *everyone* didn’t have them. Although I guess I will admit to flashes of annoyance when there’s a line at the counter and, say, Spawn comes up and the barcode is inside the front cover, which is as good as not having one, taking away valuable time in running the transaction.

    Overall, this is probably a good thing, and Hibbs nails it when he talks about this having a positive impact akin to Marvel’s cash register program on the basic level of professionalism in the industry. But I remain unconvinced that the requiring of barcodes was a necessary step in POS implementation, and more convinced that it’s more of another way to raise the bar for small press to get into Diamond’s catalog, and thus into your average shop.

  7. As people have pointed out in replies to the other posts on this topic, there are a variety of low cost ways to get barcodes for your books, some that would only require you not having a latte from Starbucks on that day to afford it.

    I don’t understand why so many people are so resistant to the idea of allowing stores (and Diamond) to better keep track of sales of smaller publishers. It’s not like we’re going to order LESS of their products with a barcode on it. I only see the potential to order MORE, because it won’t get lost in the shuffle.

  8. Rakarich says:

    Though barcodes are very useful for retailers, I believe Diamond could also help Retailers (and Parents) by creating a UNIFIED “ratings system”. I believe it would help avoid alot of unfortunate situations that have arisen over the last few years.

    In no way shape or form am I saying anything should be censored, but I just think some unified “letter code” for all comics would be great. (Do I sound old? I hope I don’t sound old. Sheesh!)

  9. You sound old. ;)

    Seriously, the 2 big problems I see with a unified ratings system are:

    1. Who rates the stuff? Marvel has a ratings system that, bless their hearts*, is incomprehensible. While we don’t know the criteria for their different ratings, we also don’t know who is placing them on the books. who would rate the items in a unified system? Diamond? The Publishers? An independent organization? While we’re at it, who’s going to pay for it?

    2. How and when will the items be rated? Thanks to digital delivery, the content of a comic or graphic novel can change right up until the printers start printing. To be a useful tool, the ratings would have to be available at the time of SOLICITATION, and the sad fact is that even with Marvel and DC, the books are solicited before they are done most of the time. It does no one any good for a book to be solicited as a TEEN book (to use the video game ratings system) and have it show up as a MATURE book. That opens a whole BOX of cans of worms.

    As much as I would like to have an easy system that can be explained in a brochure that I can hand to Jane Mom or Joe Dad, I just don’t see how it could be done in a way that satisfies ANYONE, much less EVERYONE.

    Back to barcodes: Heidi, I started a poll in the CBIA for retailers asking who uses barcodes. I know that the CBIA membership isn’t universal, but I think it’ll be a good barometer of what reality might look like. I know you’re on the CBIA occasionally, so you can check it for yourself, if you want.

    * That’s my required Southernism for the month of September.

  10. I’m personally against Diamond being in the position of rating comics because too often it seems they’re willing to write the rules to give an edge to their exclusive publishers (the fact they waited until publishers only had a month or two to put in place a system for bar codes is just another example of this)- what if they allow a DC comic with a “woman in refrigerator” moment to be called “PG 13″ but then put an “X” on Eightball #22?

  11. To be fair, publishers were given (slightly) more than *3* months to put a system in place for barcodes.

  12. TheBlueGoldfish says:

    Hi there,

    A while back I brought some software so that I was able to print out my own barcode labels. The software was not really that good as it would never properly create my barcode labels. In the end I found a British labels company who printed my barcode labels for me at a low cost. It saved me a lot of messing around really!

Trackbacks

  1. [...] [Publishing] Scott King has the letter that Diamond Comics Distributors sent to publishers, explaining their new policy on UPC barcodes. (Link via Heidi MacDonald.) [...]

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