Publishers react to bar code decree

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200709190202 Publishers react to bar code decreeAs reported last week, Diamond will now require bar codes on all the products it carries — a concession to the looming reality of POS systems and barcode scanners. A couple of publishers talked about it on their blogs and speculate that it will lead to even more fragmentation of the industry:

Simon at Icarus points out that it isn’t as simple as it sounds.

I don’t think Diamond in introducing this rule is intentionally whittling down the number of vendors, but there is no doubt this is yet another headache for the many already cash-strapped indy and self publishers. Yet for those who are able to surmount the additional cost (and I think most will), the advantages of an automated system for ordering will work to their benefit; books that retailers would have forgotten otherwise will now have their own trackable sales history.

Elin Winkler of Radio Comix was taken by surprise by the announcement and explains it’s more expensive than you might think:

This will be an unexpected expense (from what I read, a non-refundable $750 registration fee, plus $150 per year renewal), but at least I keep track of news online and found out now, instead of oh, say, January. So, we have some time to start saving up for this. Considering we were also saving up $750 for a ViSA registration for the adult site (NSFW!), that puts us at $1500 we are trying to save up. I could print an issue of Genus for that kind of money.

But, you gotta do what you gotta do. I’m actually more irked that we’ll have to have a big ugly barcode space on the front covers of all our comics. I also worry for publishers who are smaller than us, who will not have the finances or ability to jump through this hoop. I foresee a return to small press comics that are sold more like fanzines, or sold online, bypassing Diamond completely. Which means, sort of how the undergrounds were before the direct market even existed. The comic industry always seems to cycle back to the past.


From where we sit, Winkler’s speculation isn’t that dire: micro publishers are probably better served by alternative means of distribution where they aren’t competing directly with CIVIL CRISIS. It also backs up the idea that the APE-MoCCA Art Fest – SPX circuit is creating a separate market for alternative/art comics, something we’ve been increasingly noticing.

Much more discussion in Winkler’s comment section.

Comments

  1. I tried to point this out in her LJ, but there is a limit to it, so I will post it here…

    Most of these systems just require an unique barcode. Barcodes and UPCs are not synonymous.

    A UPC is used to generate a barcode according to a certain format. UPC is usually intended for consumer products and thus cost beau coup bucks. An ISSN is a free unique identifier given by the Library of Congress for serial publications only (which comics qualify as), that can be used to generate a EAN barcode, which is used by bookstores in general to track product.

    That will drive down your costs to, umm, the time to submit the stuff to LoC and finding a free barcode generator that can generate EAN compliant barcodes online (or pay for one, I have seen them for under $50).

  2. Rich Stahnke says:

    This was being discussed on another forum and someone pointed us all toward this:
    http://www.iwantmybarcode.com/

    Where you can buy a bar code for your comic for $35. If you’re a small press publisher who only produces a handful of issues a year, then buying them piecemeal would be the way to go and the $750 fee can be avoided.

    Would these bar codes suffice and fill whatever purpose Diamond is hoping for? I don’t know, but this move doesn’t have to mean dire financial problems for small press folks.

  3. To add to Bill’s post, there’s also the BIPAD number, which is actually the same as the UPC. The pricing structure is more similar to ISBNs, so they’re more affordable for those who want 10 numbers, not 100.

    The ISSN/EAN with 2-digit add on is mainly used for magazines in Europe, but as long as Diamond’s software system is compatible, it should do. And all the LoC requires is a photocopy of the cover.

  4. If a publisher is worried that the barcode will ruin the cover, why not put it on the back?

  5. “I’m actually more irked that we’ll have to have a big ugly barcode space on the front covers of all our comics.”

    I’m sure they’d let you put it on the back or inside cover. Wouldn’t they?

  6. She mentioned in her blog that she is worried if she puts it in the back or in the inside, it will be a hassle for retailers who bag and/or board their comics…

  7. People, if you look at the comments at Elin’s journal, you’ll see her concern about putting the barcode on the back is for the retailers’ sake, as they often bag and board comics and would have to take the comics out of the bag to scan them. This happens so often here — people comment about stories without looking at the source material. It bugs me!

    But anyway, SLG has been putting barcodes on the back covers of our books for more than a year now. It is a bit costly to get the ISBNs and UPCs. However, having an ISBN means you can sell your comics on Amazon.com. Having a product that can be scanned by a POS system means the comic book industry is finally catching up with the rest of the publishing world, which has been using ISBNs and ISSNs as worldwide standards for more than 30 years.

  8. The thing is that stores that are bagging and boarding their new releases are pretty much exactly the stores that aren’t doing any business in an outfit like Radio.

    -B

  9. My big concern with putting the barcodes on the back of books was, as Jennifer has pointed out, to save retailers time on having to pull books from bags & boards to scan them. I know from many retailers I have talked to who carry our adult material that they keep them bagged & boarded behind the counter, and my hope was to make things easier on them. ^_^ But if it’s not a big deal, then, heck yeah, I’ll put the codes on the back! The artists will like that better, for sure.

    We’ve always put ISBN barcodes on our TPBs, so it’s not like it’s an alien concept for us. We started it even before we had any kind of bookstore distribution, just because we wanted to be prepared for the future. ^_^ And we’re still researching what method we’re going to choose for the codes we do finally end up using for our regular comics. There’s a lot of information to go through and a lot of different choices out there. I do like what Simon Jones has done, the whole having a specific code for his company- it might be spendy, but it seems like a good idea.

    And I admit to a bit of low-key grousing because I think important information like this should be told to suppliers- I’d like to have at least gotten an email about something I’m supposed to be compliant with, instead of having to read about it on a news blog! But who knows, maybe notification emails about this new policy are still forthcoming and just haven’t been sent out yet. Solicitation time did just happen, so the reps could be swamped. Who can say?

    And to Bill- yeah, my LJ is fairly locked down to comment posting from people I don’t know or anonymous posters. I’ve had a lot of difficulties from anonymous posters in the past, so I just do that to save myself the hassle!

  10. “This happens so often here — people comment about stories without looking at the source material. It bugs me!”

    Sorry, but I don’t have time to read every link. Hope it didn’t ruin your day.

  11. michael says:

    I admit it, I’m one of those people on occasion, but I try and at least all the comments first.

    Here, for instance, I was about to go off on how sinister this seemed and that, once again, Diamond was the culprit, trying to ream the small guy while boasting about Marvel and DC.

    I’m not sure that’s still not the case, but after reading what Jennifer and Elin had to say it does seem like more of an inconvenience for some rather than sinister plot.

  12. Elin–>
    You probably already know this, but UPC barcodes can be safely shrunken down to around 82%~85% and still be compatible with most scanners. The regular UPC A is about 1.91″ x 1.015″, at 82% magnification it’s 1.565″ x 0.833″. The absolute minimum is 80%, I’m told, but it isn’t recommended.

    You can also truncate the barcode vertically, which doesn’t affect the readability of the barcode at all (just a smaller target to scan.) But depending on how it’s done, you might cut off the human-readable portion of the 2 digit addon.

  13. Elin — Dan was just saying how odd it was that no one from Diamond contacted us about this. You would think that if they were requiring publishers to put barcodes on comics, they would have assembled some sort of FAQ about how to go about this.

    ISSNs seem like a good way to go for small publishers — for comics, anyway. They’re free. We use a program called Easy Barcode Creator to make barcodes.

    And off-topic:

    Sorry, but I don’t have time to read every link. Hope it didn’t ruin your day.

    I think if you’re going to comment on something, you should try to be more than cursorily informed as to what is going on. But whatever. The Internet is full of people who are too busy to care about seeming foolish.

  14. One would think Diamond would have contacted their current “vendors” prior to announcing the damn thing to retailers since the publishers need to hurry up and prepare while it won’t affect most retailers since many don’t use scanners yet anyway and the new rule doesn’t burden them in the least. Which is one reason why it does seem a bit more like Diamond creating a nice roadblock to small publishers which they likely hope won’t raise their ire in the same way the increased minimum order did a while back because most people won’t dispute the need for this. I question once again how Diamond has treated the people who create the products they make good money to distribute and can’t help but wonder if this isn’t another step in their publicly stated aim at slimming down the catalog by removing the smaller publishers from being able to meet their demands.

  15. Torsten Adair says:

    1. Barcodes can be entered by hand. If a comic is bagged, a postit note can be taped to the front listing the code and price.
    2. Diamond could create their own barcodes, either using their own numbering system or by generating ISBNs under an umbrella code. Barnes & Noble does that for remainders, using 0-641- .
    3. Technically, you don’t need a barcode, just the number. The barcode makes things easier, but eventually Radio Frequency IDentification will make barcodes obsolete.
    4. If Diamond generates a barcode, will they pass the cost on to the publisher? Will they create a barcode which the publisher can photoshop into the production art?
    5. I agree that the barcode defaces the cover! And so does the price! This is Art, not commerce! And the title should go too! Readers should be able to recognize the work by the artwork alone! And the staples distract the reader! Begone! [end satire]

  16. The desire not to put the bar code on the cover is not inherently a desire not to subvert art for commerce. It can be a desire to protect commerce — the front cover of a comic is actually the primary advertisement that a comic book has. It should attract and entice. That’s commerce. The bar code is inherently distractive — it is required not only to take up a certain amount of space, but also to be high in contrast, creating a strong visual noise. (Notice that few of the products at your local supermarket have the UPC on the front display space.)

    So the question is: by putting the bar code on the front cover, are we easing processing of the book at the cost of selling copies of it?

  17. “The Internet is full of people who are too busy to care about seeming foolish.”

    Or polite, it would seem.

  18. Nat: Given that the absolute best selling comics on the market almost always have a barcode on the front, I’m going to guess that answer is “No”

    Toren: while you’re technically correct that one could manually type in a barcode, one could also use the “lookup” feature any reasonable POS system is going to have… but both slow down the transaction, and, typically, heavy comic buyers are buying 10+ comics at a time. On a busy Wednesday, when you already have a line five people deep, you’re looking to dramatically speed UP the process, not slow it down.

    (plus I find manually typing barcodes to be… difficult at best. You really need to be focused on that, AND be an accomplished typist to not screw it up (and sell the “wrong” thing [from the computer’s POV]), or maybe have to start over, slowing things down either further.)

    -B

  19. We started using barcodes years ago, and have found that they help sales. The big cost is NOT putting on a barcode, but rather getting set up with ISBNs for all of your books. Having an ISBN for your book puts it into the real world of “Books in Print” etc

  20. Torsten Adair says:

    I have been a Head Cashier, during the holidays, at one of the highest volume Barnes & Noble store in the country. We carry many products which have special ISBN barcode stickers because the publisher didn’t put one on the product. (board games, greeting cards, plush dolls) Yes, it causes problems when we have to stop and look up product. But we have the luxury of staffing and multiple registers. As a consumer and a resident of New York City, I can tolerate waiting in line. As I often joke with the customers, at least they have something to read while they wait!
    I taught myself tenkey typing when I worked in a library and had to search ISBNs by hand. recommended.
    I wonder how many art and design magazines place the code on the cover? As a reader, I ignore it, along with any corner treatment, like the Image I, or the Marvel issue number box. EXCEPT for MAD Magazine! They made the barcode a running gag, starting with the first UPC cover back in 1977!

  21. Matthew High says:

    Interesting anecdote. Back another lifetime ago, when I worked for Antarctic Press, I went around and visited virtually every comic book store in a 6-state area – maybe 500-600 stores total. I kept a written tally of the stores, how they were laid out, what they carried, etc. One out of every three stores automatically bagged their new comics *before* putting them out for sale. Not just back issues – I mean everything. While it seems kinda anti-consumer-friendly to me, apparently a large chunk of the comic-buying public deals with it that way all the time.

  22. Brian: and how are those comics selling compared to how they sold before they had the bar code on the cover?

  23. WarmOtter says:

    >>>1. Barcodes can be entered by hand. If a comic is bagged, a postit note can be taped to the front listing the code and price.

    Couldn’t a publisher provide barcode stickers (or a PDF on their website) for retailers to put on copies they bag?

  24. “Couldn’t a publisher provide barcode stickers (or a PDF on their website) for retailers to put on copies they bag?”

    The PDF thing is a good idea, the hard part is getting that information to retailers. Providing barcode stickers can be trickier, since publishers don’t actually know which stores are stocking their products unless they do the legwork themselves, or pay Diamond for that information. Having Diamond distribute such stickers would probably also cost money, since Diamond charges for similar services, like distributing advertising materials.

    Really, just putting the barcode on the front cover of the comic saves the maximum amount of time and hassle for everyone involved. If it expedites the sales transactions for the retailer, then it’s worth it.

  25. “Couldn’t a publisher provide barcode stickers (or a PDF on their website) for retailers to put on copies they bag?”

    Atomic Comics in AZ has been doing just that for years now, including many of Slave Labor’s titles, which is why (I think) some people have been a little snippy lately.

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