New message from Image Publisher Eric Stephenson re second printings: “We listen to you.”

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201212131654 New message from Image  Publisher Eric Stephenson re second printings: We listen to you.
Well, all week there have been ruffled feathers from retailers following a rather blunt email from Image marketing director Jennifer de Guzman that suggested that second printing of proven sellers were not in the offing. You can read the statement below, retailer ruffled feathers here and some Image creators explaining the thinking in this Robot 6 thread. And now Image publisher Eric Stephenson has spoken and feathers will one suspects be settling back:

Believe it or not, we listen to you.

Just as you use the information provided to you by your customers to place orders for our comics, we use the information we get from you to set our print runs. Like you, we modify the numbers a little bit. We always assume there will be reorders and we make sure to overprint. Most of the time, our final number provides us with just enough inventory to satisfy demand, but more and more frequently, we’ve been selling out.

When we sell out – and more importantly, when you sell out – we know we’re all losing both time and money. It typically takes three weeks to a month to get a second printing to market, and that’s three weeks to a month we all could have been selling more books. That’s frustrating.

It’s doubly frustrating when a book like Saga, a bonafide hit by the creator of Y: The Last Man, Runaways and Pride of Baghdad, Brian K. Vaughan, and his insanely talented collaborator Fiona Staples, continues to sell out even as it gets deeper into its run. We did five printings of issue one, three printings of issue two, and there were second printings of issues three to six. We are, as I type this, preparing to go back to press on the first trade paperback collection.

And like the previous six issues, Saga #7 sold out, and given that orders hadn’t skyrocketed upwards from issue six at FOC, we decided that it was probably time to bring the second printings to a halt. Using the information we had at our disposal – your orders – we figured the generous overprint we did for this issue would satisfy demand.

By “we,” incidentally, I mean “me.”

It was a rash decision made somewhat in haste and a little bit out of frustration, and I think it was that sense of frustration that bled into the retail newsletter our PR & Marketing Director Jennifer de Guzman sent out earlier this week. For those of you who found the tone of that newsletter condescending or abrasive – you have my apologies. In communicating my frustrations to Jen, that inadvertently got passed down to you, and that should’t have been the case. We also should have given you more of a heads up on how we were handling this, so that you weren’t completely blindsided by a sudden change in policy and again, that’s on me.

We can’t go back in time and fix the past, though, so instead, we’re going to move forward.

Like I said up top: We listen to you.

So we’re going to reprint Saga #7, and we’re going to offer that reprint to you at a massive discount.

For the second printing of Saga #7, every account ordering 25 copies or more by its FOC date, will get them at an 80% discount, making your cost per copy right around 60¢. And for anyone ordering fewer than 25, we will be extending Image’s maximum discount to you, regardless of your usual discount.

The order code for the second printing of Saga #7 is NOV128073. FOC will be 12/24, and the in-store date will be 1/16.

We did a pretty hefty overprint on Saga #8, too, but looking at current reorder activity, I’m guessing we won’t hold onto that stock very long. More news on that as it develops, but if we have to reprint that issue, too, we will.

In the mean time, though, we simply cannot reprint every single issue of this series on an indefinite basis, so with the FOC for Saga #9 in the not-too-distant future, I’m going to ask you to help us out and make sure to double-check your orders on that issue when the time comes. I have an advantage here in that I get to see this stuff before you, but I promise you – this series is only going to get better from here. Brian and Fiona have some amazing things planned, and you are not going to be disappointed if you continue to support this series.

Thanks, and again – my apologies for the way my frustration on this issue was communicated. We won’t leave you out of the loop on decisions like this in the future, and in fact – make sure to check out next weekly newsletter for full details on our reprint policy going forward.

Here’s de Guzman’s original which tipped off the kerfuffle:

I have some bad news: SAGA #7 is sold out. Sounds like good news, right? Well, it’s not. First, it means that retailers under-ordered it. And second: We will not be reprinting it. Should we have overprinted? We did. Should we have told you specifically “Order a lot of this one”? Well, did we really need to?

This is SAGA we’re talking about. Issue #7 was its return after a brief hiatus that had fans of the epic byBrian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples as restless as cats in heat and following on the heels of the release of a trade paperback that is moving like wildfire (it’s is still on the New York Times Bestseller list). And its FOC came just two weeks after I quite single-mindedly harangued you about order numbers decreasing with each issue of even our most popular titles, using math. (Math, people!)

What’s even worse news is that orders for SAGA #8 decreased 4% from orders on #7. It will not be reprinted either. We have decided to cease second printings of single issues of titles that are known over-performers in hopes that it will help initial sales find their proper level. That’s marketing-speak for “You know this sells, so you’d better make sure you order enough!”

This isn’t meant as a punishment or some weird scheme to drive up prices of single issues on eBay. The weeks of delay in waiting for the second printing cost you sales. Knowing you can count on reprintings has encouraged caution when none is called for, and that hurts you as much as it does us.

And there’s absolutely no reason why there shouldn’t be more readers of our best-selling titles now that the $1.00 Image Firsts editions of FATALE #1, THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS #1, SAGA #1, REVIVAL#1, and THIEF OF THIEVES #1 are available and (should be) in your stores. They’re there to help you evangelize, so spread the good news! (Can I get an “Amen”?)

It’s not empty boasting to say that SAGA is the best new series of 2012 — it’s borne out by review after review, recommendation after recommendation, and when we see sales go down on an issue, we know that there is a problem, and it isn’t with the book itself.

So believe in the titles that sell and believe in your ability to sell them. There might not be a second chance.

Here are some #2s on this week’s FOC list that you may need more of (with even more math!):

CHANGE #2 — Orders presently are 38% lower than orders for the debut issue. If you haven’t read CHANGE #1 yet, please give it a look. Its writer Ales Kot had a breakout hit with WILD CHILDREN this year, and CHANGE taps into the same sensibility.

THE LEGEND OF LUTHER STRODE #2 — Orders are 21% less than orders for #1, which has sold out. This is a known seller by creators whose traction in the industry is growing — Justin Jordan, who also writes Shadowman for Valiant and Tradd Moore, who has drawn a variant Deadpool cover for Marvel and a story in the digital Legends of the Dark Knight for DC.

NON-HUMANS #2 — I know. It’s late, and lateness is a death knell for sales numbers. But! This is the return to Image by Whilce Portacio, and a 33% drop in orders seems a mite steep, considering that NON-HUMANS #1 sold out.

-JdG

Comments

  1. “80% discount”
    That is very generous. Well done Image.

  2. That was about as classy a way to wrap this up as possible, I think…especially since what Stephenson they’re going to do is exactly what I suggested over in that Robot 6 thread. ;^) But yeah, giving them the warning that the way they have to order is changing with the next issue they order (rather than retroactively changing the game) is definitely the right way to go.

    In the future, though, Image *may* want to relax the “no second printings” rule on the first issue of each new trade/story arc, or at least do a heftier overprint knowing orders on those issues will likely trickle in for a longer period of time and in larger quantities than ordinary issues.

  3. Nice reply.
    I agree that both the original statement and her replies to retailers on Twitter and what not were rude, abrasive, and unacceptable.
    Nice to see that they took notice and decided to remedy the situation.

  4. Torsten Adair says:

    I don’t see any notice that they are not reprinting initial issues:

    “We have decided to cease second printings of single issues of titles that are known over-performers in hopes that it will help initial sales find their proper level. ”

    A title can’t over-perform if there are no sales to judge.

    The problem with overprinting at Image: the creators pay Image to print comics. I’m sure that Image has some say on overprinting, but a massive one might not be economically feasible.

    As for new story arcs, I think Image needs to remind the retailers to reconsider orders, especially if it ships at about the same time as a trade collection, which can be used to entice customers. Maybe Image offers a discount… for every trade collection you buy, they’ll offer the next issue at a discount.

    Or the retailer needs to get creative with selling digital comics when a paper issue sells out. Diamond and Comixology both offer Image digital comics to stores. A discount for something which isn’t on the stands helps the bottom line, and reduces the risk of having unsold stock. The retailer could then offer a discount if a customer then pre-orders the next paper issue, resulting in a new regular customer.

  5. Torsten: “The problem with overprinting at Image: the creators pay Image to print comics.”

    This is NOT TRUE and I already pointed this out to you when you said the same thing over at Robot 6.

    http://robot6.comicbookresources.com/2012/12/image-comics-ends-second-printings-of-known-over-performers/#comment-117545

  6. Jason- you’re being a bit pedantic. The creators do pay for overprinting in terms that if those issues don’t sell the cost comes out of money that the sold books generate that would otherwise go to the creator. In other words, the creators don’t cut Image a check, but the cost comes out of their cut, so creators DO pay for overprints.

  7. RJT: If this were the only time Torsten had said this, I’d agree that he maybe just stated it vaguely, but this is what he said over at Robot 6:

    ” At Image, creators pay the cost of publishing and printing. That is… Image sends the creators a bill for services rendered. Then the creators make money when the issue sells. So to print 250K copies… if a creator has that much money, they could afford to print and distribute themselves.”

    Torsten is under the impression that creators are cutting checks to Image Comics. This does not happen. And yet he is flinging this misstatement all over the internet, despite my efforts to point this error out to him with a half dozen quotes from Image founder/former publisher Erik Larsen:

    http://robot6.comicbookresources.com/2012/12/image-comics-ends-second-printings-of-known-over-performers/#comment-117584

    Sorry, but as a fan of all of the great things that Image Comics does for creators, this bugs the crap out of me. Get your facts right!

  8. Jason- But isn’t a middling distinction? The creators don’t cut Image a check, but Image’s fees are Image’s fees and the fact that they come out of the back end as opposed to an upfront payment doesn’t change the fact that the creators bear the financial risks if overprinting doesn’t pay off. They do “pay” for overprinting as the cost of overprinting comes out of their share of profits. I suggest you read Nick Spencer’s posts on the subject. He does a better job than I do of explaining it.

  9. I think the whole story reflects issues with DM as a whole. If the publishers would offer a legitimate decreasing returnability system where they leverage the risk to them to be higher at the start of a series/arc then I think you would see different FOC orders. As the series or arc ages, say around the 4th issue, the risk goes 100% to the retailer as it does today.

    Now I agree that some retailers appear to be taking advantage of Images old stance of reprints to leverage the risk of ordering new series. The retailer puts in a low ball order with the bet Image will go back to press so they don’t get stuck with a bad stock. If it turns out to be a hit well they can get the second print quick enough to fill the the need.

    My opinion is based on the increase in sell outs of new Image series in the last year. It points to two potential scenarios or a combination of the two. The first is my thought on retailers above and the other is that Image changed their print policy internally last year so that they are printing almost no over prints to generate sell out buzz on the retail level to increase sales as the public perceives something as hot since it is selling out. ( Whether those sales are legitimate or speculators is another question all together)

  10. Well, what really bugs me about it (and moreso in his Robot 6 response than here) is that Torsten insists on making grand statements on the subject, but he’s doing so using completely false assumptions. And because he’s speaking from some position of authority as “That Guy From The Beat,” it’s worrisome to me that he’s blatantly misleading people.

    And I agree that Nick Spencer’s comments (at least the ones posted at Bleeding Cool…if he has more elsewhere, let me know as I’d love to read them!) are invaluably insightful. I would say, though, that I don’t think it’s a middling distinction because, well, it’s a lot easier to stomach risking money that isn’t in your pocket yet than it is to actually spend money you already have.

    Think of it this way: you’re Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, and you’re looking at sales on “Saga,” and you see they’re going down on the first issue of a new story arc. You think that’s wrong and you want to overprint to meet what you, Brian and Fiona, see as the real demand for that issue so that you can maximize the number of copies of your work sold. And just so we have a number to throw around, say that you want to print 5000 extra copies, which (using Jim Zub’s math from a couple weeks back) will add $4000 (80 cents a copy) to Image’s upfront costs that have to be paid back before you see any money. But if you sell all 5000 copies, you’ll pay off that $4000 and net an extra $1500 in profit (30 cents a copy).

    Now, if you have to pay for the printing costs yourself, up front? Well, do you have the $4000 or not? If you don’t, then the question is completely moot.

    But if you’re paying off the back end, then the question isn’t “Do you have the money Y/N?”, it’s “How confident are you? How comfortable with risk are you? Are you okay with waiting an extra couple months to get paid if you know the ultimate total amount will be higher?” If you’re Brian and Fiona, and you just KNOW that you can sell those extra 5000 copies, and you’re willing to gamble that it may take another 2-3 months to sell all those copies but in exchange for waiting you’ll get X+$1500 and then you’ll have the potential to sell issues 2, 3, 4, etc. of that story arc to those 5000 people at another $1500 a month profit? Well, that’s a completely different ballgame than “You want more copies? Write us a check!”

    (Obviously, this assumes that Image is willing to let their creators gamble with their own potential profits in this fashion. Since Image is the one fronting the money in the first place, they would never agree to an overprint that would risk them losing money, but this is all based around an assumption–perhaps a wrong-headed one, admittedly–that there is a potential to let creators fiddle with their order numbers so long as the money coming in from the initial Diamond order pays for both printing and the Image fee.)

  11. “And just so we have a number to throw around, say that you want to print 5000 extra copies, which (using Jim Zub’s math from a couple weeks back) will add $4000 (80 cents a copy) to Image’s upfront costs that have to be paid back before you see any money.”

    Sorry, this isn’t accurate — printing, like shipping, is the most expensive for the FIRST copy printed (or pound shipped), “every” additional copy after that gets cheaper and cheaper and cheaper.

    The MARGINAL cost to add to a pre-existing print run is virtually nothing, dimes at most…. and, in many case, you can actually DECREASE your per-unit cost by moving up to the next “break point” of printing. It can be cheaper to (numbers from a hat here) to print 20k copies than it is to print 18,500.

    Where it costs you “80 cents a copy” is to go BACK TO PRESS for 4k more copies — but if you increase your print run from 16k to 20k, those 4k copies are only costing you (say) 15 cents a copy, making them EXTREMELY profitable IF they get sold.

    Meanwhile, the retailer’s wholesale cost is fixed in amber — whether I sell 1 copy of a comic, or 10k, I’m still paying the same wholesale cost, because Image doesn’t recalculate discount based on volume — your Image discount is based on your overall DIAMOND discount, which simply doesn’t change past a certain point.

    (And, if we’re talking about a non-“brokered” publisher like, say, Boom!, reordered copies are MORE expensive, because Diamond assesses a 3% “reorder penalty”)

    THAT is why retailers prefer that Publishers and distributors are the one to actually hold inventory — WE have the highest per-unit cost in the chain

    -B

  12. giuliano says:

    @Jason Green

    what Torsten is trying to say and you don’t seem to get is that with Image (as opposed to other publishers) the more they print the more the authors risk to see their profite decline if the book doesn’t sell. Think of this in this way: the publisher over print because he thinks retailer under ordered, the book doesn’t sell, the authors lose money because of the publisher assumption; I think is clear that the publisher can’t overprint given his policy (he makes a decision, other pays for the mistake).

  13. Guiliano: No, see, I *totally* get that, and I didn’t say anything to contradict that. The reason why I point out that Torsten’s statement–that “the creators pay Image to print comics”–is because there is a huge difference between the creator literally paying for the copies out of pocket vs. the creator risking their back end profit. There’s a mighty big difference between “If I want more copies, I have to pay for them, right now, out of my pocket” and “If I print more copies, I could potentially make more money, but I could also make less money/no money at all if they don’t sell.” Weighing the potential for profit vs. the risk involved is basic Investing 101.

    Brian: Very good point….I was just working with the only set of relevant numbers I had handy.

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