The retail view: Crescent City Comics Leo McGovern on Villains Month allocation: “ridiculous”

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by Leo McGovern, Crescent City Comics

Greetings and salutations, Beat-readers! My name is Leo McGovern and I manage a comic shop in New Orleans, Louisiana called Crescent City Comics–next month we’ll celebrate our fourth anniversary in our current Uptown location (we were out of business for a few years following Hurricane Katrina), near Tulane and Loyola universities and on a street that’s experiencing exponential growth, with restaurants, art galleries, coffee shops and music venues arriving since we’ve opened, providing nice foot traffic on a regular basis.

I love foot traffic (it’s the biggest difference from our pre-Katrina location) because it gives me and our staff ample opportunities to proselytize comics. Our favorite question is “What should I be reading?” because it gives us a chance to shill Hawkeye or Blacksad or Scalped or…I could go on all day, and that’s why I love my job. When someone returns to our store to grab up volume two or the next issue of whatever we recommended–that’s my fanboy glee, right there–I know we’re representing comics well.

The opposite side of putting books into new or soon-to-be-formerly-lapsed reader’s hands is fulfilling the expectations of our regular customers. I’ll focus on the New Comics aspect of this, because the topic hot on my mind right now is DC’s Villains Month and the story that the 3-D covers each book has been solicited to ship with will suffer from allocation, meaning your store may receive as little as 50% of what they ordered on some titles. This revelation comes weeks before the first books are to ship and only a few weeks since our initial orders were due.

What makes me feel worse is that, at C2E2 (where I attended this year’s Diamond Retailer Summit), DC’s Bob Wayne pointed out that the print runs on these 3-D covers had to be set before orders were due and suggested that we’d better nail our orders from the get-go, because FOC couldn’t be counted on for additional orders. Only now the orders we worked so hard to figure out are essentially meaningless–and it looks like retailers will discover how many 3-D copies they’ll receive whenever DC decides to let us know via e-mail, or on August 28th, which is when invoices for September 4th (Villains Month: Week 1) will go live on the Diamond website.

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The allocations can especially hurt retailers who didn’t buy the hype and ordered closer to their regular numbers. If a retailer regularly sells 50 copies of Batman (a likely title to be allocated, in my eyes, as it features the Joker and is the Villain Month book I ordered heaviest on) and they upped their orders by only, say, 5%, it’s possible that retailer will receive as few as 26 copies of the 3-D cover for Batman #23.1. Even if that retailer ordered 150% of their regular Batman sales and expect 75 copies to come in, they may only get 38 3-D covers and twelve regular readers won’t get the 3-D upgrade (and they’d have every right to expect that, as Batman is already a $3.99 title).

Now, I don’t want to go all Marc-Oliver Frisch on you, but this entire turn of events is ridiculous on DC’s part. When a publisher like Marvel or DC “warns” retailers that we haven’t/won’t place big enough orders on a particular issue or event, I want to know why they want us to order more heavily. Is it content-based or do they want us to increase orders so they can more easily make their sales quarter? It’s a fair question to ask when the Big Two are only parts of multi-media conglomerates.

The DC 3-D covers are a money grab–why else would they abandon their lesser-selling titles in favor of four inexplicably-numbered #23 issues of top titles?  At least September 2012’s #0 issues were presented as jump-on points for readers or integral back-stories (not that they all satisfied that definition) for existing and soon-to-be-launched titles–I haven’t been able to give customers a viable explanation for why there’ll be a Batman #23.3, or a Batman: the Dark Knight #23.4 other than “That’s what they decided to do.” If someone has any creative-related reason for this, I’m all ears, but it sounds like B.S. to me.

[In addition to running Crescent City Comics, Leo McGovern is the publisher of Antigravity Magazine, and a character in Josh Neufeld's New Orleans After the Deluge.]

Comments

  1. Glenn Simpson says:

    If by money-grab, you mean “doing something to make sure the product sells well,” then yes, it was a money-grab. Just like every issue is a money-grab. I imagine if they thought they could have gotten away with calling Dial H a “Justice League” title all along in order to get the people who will buy anything with “Justice League” in the title (see: Justice League Dark), they would have.

    Heck, the gimmick covers themselves are already a stunt – why is making it stuntier a bad thing?

    I think that doing a promotion where they couldn’t guarantee supply should have been shut down to begin with, but once they decided to do it, I’m not sure how they could have done it differently. All this means is “we tried to guess how many people would want, and we guessed too low.”

  2. Glenn Simpson says:

    There are some books that just didn’t justify a “villain” issue, and probably more good Batman villain ideas than there are Batman series, so it was never going to be a 1-to-1 thing anyway.

  3. Ethan says:

    Too bad about all this business. On a positive note, I swung into Crescent City comics while on vacation in New Orleans this past May. I had a nice chat with Leo and found the shop to very well organized and filled to the brim with comics appealing to all audiences!

  4. @Glenn
    What I mean by “money grab” is they actively decided not to publish some regular $2.99 titles but are replacing them with $3.99 one-shots featuring gimmick covers (which may be very cool and worth the extra dollar) that, as Brian Hibbs said, “prey(s) upon the lowest and basest instincts and compulsions of the customer base.” He said that specifically about there being two covers available, the now-announced 3-D-less editions DC intends to flood the racks with, knowing we’ll need to carry them both and that some completists or speculators will pick up both covers (also, that’s 52 issues over the course of the month that will need at least 1 & 1/2 books’ width of rack space to properly display both covers, and that will push other books off the rack, at least until the 3-D covers sell out), but I think the quote can apply in general to the 3-D covers as well. It’s a money grab because, short-sightedly, they’re replacing the worst-selling titles with product they know will move at a higher rate and create the September sales bump they need. What happens in October when those worst-selling titles return? They’re not going to retain any of the 3-D sales bump because the 3-D books aren’t directly tied to the regular series they’ve replaced, the speculators and completists that picked up Batman: the Dark Knight #23.4 won’t care about the returning titles.

    We can certainly frame both Marvel and DC as being two gargantuan money grabs, you’re right about “every issue” being one. Marvel at least has a logic to be applied–I can explain to a new reader the concept of a #0 or even a .1, but I can’t crack why there’d be 4 #23s. For the record, I think DC’s #0 bit last September was not a money grab (at least not more than we’ve just established everything being) but a good publishing idea–they were all lead-in or jump-on issues that directly served a series–I can build on that!

  5. @Ethan

    Good to hear from you–thanks for the kind words!

  6. Glenn Simpson says:

    So is it DC’s job to protect purchasers from themselves? They can’t let people take responsibility for themselves for one month?

    Are you really going to have 3-D covers on the racks? Given their short supply, shouldn’t you reserve everything you get for your subscribers?

    What happens in October? The same thing that happened in August. The same thing that would have happened in September had they not done this. It’s one month where things are different.

    Explain that DC is doing an all-villains month and the numbering is a little funky to appeal to collectors and not to worry about it, just get the ones with characters or art they like.

  7. I lost interest in DCU books a while ago, but my housemate still buys some. Well, except for the month in question, because none of the series he reads are “worthy” of coming out.

  8. “What happens in October? The same thing that happened in August. The same thing that would have happened in September had they not done this. It’s one month where things are different.”

    Not really; the books will still be fanboy bait and speculator crap.

  9. rhood says:

    I agree with G. Simpson that it should have been a no-go right from the get-go. Explain to me how this is a promotion if people can’t get the books!? From my point of view all it does is upset people and maybe turn then off of comicbooks and/or DC publishing, and that just the opposite of what DC is trying to accomplish………yes?

  10. You know, I haven’t read periodical Marvel or DC for more than twenty years (Infinity Gauntlet was the point where I realized I had completely lost interest), and now read pretty much exclusively stand-alone graphic novels.

    I honestly don’t know how or why you guys put up with this insane bullshit. Everything I read about how these books are made these days is antithetical to how a talented writer and/or artist tells a decent serialized story. There are so, so many other options available to you now. Is Batman really that important to you?

  11. Well I think my shop will be okay because there’s a lot of people like me who don’t want to stupid 3-D cover.

  12. Carlos says:

    ” 3-D covers are a money grab”
    Didn’t Bob Wayne stated that even with 3.99 price they’re still gonna lose money on these covers due to costly manufacturing.

  13. Pedro Bouça says:

    It does seem to me like a DC experiment to turn its line on just a few weekly comic series starring the A-list characters. The numbering seems to point on that direction.

    It is a good idea, to be fair. Seems to have worked fire for Spider-Man at Marvel (even though the whole “One More Day” mess stole its thunder), even though it wasn’t EXACTLY weekly at the time. We will see.

  14. v wiley says:

    The sad end run here is that retailers spent time promoting these books under the pretense that there would be product to sell. Now I imagine that with severe allocations and pre order subscriptions very few if any 3D copies will actually make it to the racks. Sure, the regular 2D covers will be there. I don’t think they will make up for the losses on the 3D ones, however.

  15. Hopefully I will get to see a few 3D covers at local shops before they go into hands of collectors. I love seeing new ideas, but won’t compete or pay more to purchase this. The regular $3 version would be fine. Or a bent up $2 copy. Or a trampled and bent up $1 copy.

  16. @Glenn
    It’s not DC’s job to protect purchasers from themselves, but the allocation kerfuffle means they’ll be at an additional premium to collectors. We encourage buying comics for reading with collectibility being an added benefit, but no doubt we’ll sell copies to people who’ll immediately flip them (which wouldn’t have been too big an issue until we found out the level of allocation–the 50% number being thrown around means people will come out of the woodwork and we’ll have a very busy morning that first Wednesday in September). If we receive all the copies of Batman #23.1 that we ordered, we’ll fill all pulls and have over 40 copies for the rack (I’m sure pulls and ordering philosophy will be a column on its own, but long story short is we sell mostly off the rack and pulls are a smaller part of our business than they are for some stores). Out of that 40, half will get to regular readers (I hope) and the other half would be up for grabs. I’m sure we’ll have plenty of requests to hold the book, so we’ll pull those, but someone who regularly pays $3.99 for Batman will likely be out of luck by Thursday afternoon. The people who want to read it will be able to get the $2.99 version, but the people who regularly want to read it are the people you want to reward with the extra special gimmick, but they’ll miss out.
    We’ll see about October–DC will launch some new titles to try and stunt the loss, and Forever Evil is well-timed, so maybe it’ll be a more normal month than I’m thinking. I can’t help but remember reading the passage in Marvel Comics: the Untold Story where, back in the ’90s, they finally realized that every time they did a cover gimmick the sales rose for that issue but the next lost a chunk from the issue before the gimmick, and that happened across the board.

  17. @Allen “I honestly don’t know how or why you guys put up with this insane bullshit. Everything I read about how these books are made these days is antithetical to how a talented writer and/or artist tells a decent serialized story. There are so, so many other options available to you now. Is Batman really that important to you?”

    I agree with you about other options. When we get a potential reader who walks in from the street and says “What should I read?” we rarely start off by showing something from the Big Two, or even superheroes. I always ask, if that person isn’t familiar with comics, what TV shows, movies or novels they’re enjoying and see where that leads–if they’re not intent on super-heroes it almost always leads to genre or non-fiction books. But there’s still a big readership looking for Batman every month (every week now, with all the spin-offs, but still the main Batman title sells double, for us, what any of the spin-offs save Batman/Superman right now), and they deserve to be serviced regardless of whether I could live without what they like. There are plenty of people we talk to who are looking specifically for Batman, or to catch up on Marvel in general (they’re much more likely to walk out with a trade paperback than new comics), and some actively dislike collected editions–they’re intent to jump in with single issues, and if they want to hunt down the issues we can’t provide, more power to them. The tricky part of retail is servicing the disparate tastes of all the readers, collectors and casual fans out there. It can be done, but this 3-D brouhaha has made it exponentially more difficult where DC is concerned.

  18. Leo, I know why retailers sell Batman. You folks have to stay in business. But the things that made me lose interest in the whole fandom thing (aside from just essentially getting sick of superheroes) seem to have only gotten exponentially worse since I stopped. I can’t figure how fans feel they benefit from continuing to come back for more when they can now collect hundreds of other books that aren’t dictated by editors to frustrated talent.

    Nothing in all the announcements of “villains month” says anything about why these stories are interesting, vital or even necessary. It’s like a month of fill-in issues pumped up to look flashy and be more expensive while ongoing stories are put on hold. Yikes.

  19. @Allen
    I wasn’t trying to condescend, I’m sorry about that. As a 25-year reader I feel the same way you do. We’ve seen the cycles (story and sales gimmicks) and how they repeat, and that informs how we as fans look at everything related to the Big Two. I was attempting to relate how my attitude as a retailer is different for Marvel/DC than everything else–I treat the Big Two as pop music/popcorn movies/Sharknado, where the consumers who want that stuff already exist and will peak when something really big/weird happens, and everything else as concept albums/art movies/Breaking Bad where recommendation and word of mouth are more valued.

  20. Hey, no offense taken at all.

    The metaphor I generally use is sit-coms. Cranked out on an assembly line, plentiful in number, some better than others while most are pretty fair to bad. There are some favorite sit-coms that I’d gladly spend some of my time watching, but they’re still only sit-coms. Nobody’s going to mistake them for Norman Mailer. It’s a factory producing a steady diet of product to feed a relatively stable audience interest (ha!), not regarded as a meaningful artistic expression, nor is it meant to be.

    I have no issues with people enjoying what they enjoy, I just wish so much of the rest of the medium didn’t live under its shadow.

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  1. [...] Beat – The retail view: Crescent City Comics Leo McGovern on Villains Month allocation: “ridiculous” – Do you care about which version you [...]

  2. [...] Brian Hibbs, owner of Comix Experience in San Francisco, and Leo McGovern, manager of Crescent City Comics in New Orleans, offer their opinions on the announcement and how it will likely effect them and their [...]

  3. [...] and talent relations take a nose-dive on the Internet. Just last week, retailers Brian Hibbs and Leo McGovern called DC out on its handling of a line-wide publishing stunt in August; a “head of DC [...]

  4. [...] a comment on his post regarding DC’s allocation of their Villain month promotion, veteran retailer Brian Hibbs mentioned that he had quit the retailer organization, [...]

  5. [...] situation has resulted in one big mess, and retailers are not amused. Leo McGovern from New Orleans calls it “ridiculous” and “a money-grab,” and admits he has considerable trouble [...]

  6. [...] situation has resulted in one big mess, and retailers are not amused. Leo McGovern from New Orleans calls it “ridiculous” and “a money-grab,” and admits he has considerable trouble [...]

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