Would you look at that? A sports reference. Send me in coach, I’m ready for the big baseball match!
It’s been a pretty crazy month for comic book retail – or at least it seems that way. All the information I have comes from my own personal experience within the confines of my store and bits of anecdotal stories from the internet (a notoriously flawed information source), so please, give me a little leeway with this statement. From the bits and pieces that I keep hearing, sales and interest are up across the board – and it’s not just speculators who are coming into the stores. There’s a smattering of lapsed readers and a good chunk of new readers popping in to try out the new books. Several Marvel-only customers have been dipping their toes in across the aisle, and in general, sales are up. A lot. It’s very tempting to take this victory and run a lap around the track, arms raised. But this isn’t over yet. Not by a long shot.
Me vs. The Angry Mob
01. FIRST HALF
The game goes like this. First quarter, DC announces their big line change. Fifty-two new books, a brand new continuity, blah blah blah. From that moment, the game begins. From my chair at the helm of the store, I start stirring up interest. Previews hits, I’m pushing copies at everyone. Everyone. File customers, regulars, new customers… the whole nine yards. Every person who walks through the door – hell, even people that I pass on the street – I’m filling them in on the impending changes. The reaction is quite varied – some are beyond excited, some are cautiously optimistic, and a few diagnose this change as the end of life as we know it, what with the massive black hole that is produced from the obvious failure-to-come. But the reaction? Doesn’t matter. It never matters that far in advance. What matters is the fact that people know. At that point, as long as you’re getting the word out, you’re winning.
The second quarter begins when you have to set your orders. This not only includes your initial orders, but the orders for the Final Order Cut-Off date which, in my opinion are even more important than the first round of orders. If you’re playing the game properly, you aren’t sitting back on the first batch of orders and hoping for the best. You’re continually pushing the launch, getting readers both old and new interested in books that they’re probably going to love, and you’re always making adjustments. During this stage, I fumbled a little bit. When I was going through the Final Order Cut-Off numbers, I was only taking into account the people who had committed already. I didn’t adjust for the any ballooning that would take place in the three plus weeks in between. This was a mistake that caused my numbers for the first couple weeks to be a little lighter than I would’ve liked. However, there’s ways of correcting errors like this.
The moment you realize something is up – either positively or negatively, you have to adjust, and you have to adjust fast. Damn the fact that the final order date has passed. The only thing that means is you can’t lower your numbers, and in this case, a person probably didn’t need to lower their numbers – they just needed to raise them. And so as the first book disappeared off the shelf, I hit the computer and feverishly changed our numbers of several upcoming books. Not all of those orders went through, but some of them did. Our Batman numbers came through perfectly – and our week four numbers would’ve been as close to pitch perfect as could be, had Diamond not fucked me over (but more on that in a little bit).
The second half ends right about now, when the orders for the last week come in, and you see what they’re doing on your shelves. While the numbers might be good, and it seems like everyone is winning to a certain extent, you can absolutely blow a fantastic lead by fucking up the second half. You should not wipe your hands and call it a day, letting your numbers for issue 2, 3 and 4 ride out. If you do that, you are absolutely going to lose the game.
02. SECOND HALF
This is where we are now. The first bits are done, and the first wave is pretty much over. You’ve surveyed the damage and made adjustments. Now, it’s time to go forward.
At this moment, Diamond is asking you to send in your initial orders for November. That means you’re looking at how all of your #1s did and you’re ordering your number 3s to suit. The luxury wasn’t there for the issue twos, but hey. Each first issue had a bit of selling time before those second issues hit the Final Order Cut Off, so you adjusted those, right? If you didn’t, whelp, it was nice knowing you. Hit the showers, because that’s a fuck up so monumental, it might as well yell out to everyone that you’ll be out of business completely within two years. Seriously, mark it on your calendar. Or no, actually don’t, because the writing has been on the wall for a while now, hasn’t it. You’re just barely scraping by, right? Right.
Anyway, you’re setting your month three orders, and if you’re doing things right, they should be pretty okay. You’ve been asking customers every week about which books they’ve been enjoying, you’ve been adding and dropping things from their files, and most of the hard work is done. (You’ll still need to account for stragglers, but that’s always a given.) But now, you should have yourself a larger customer base. Those new readers and those returning lapsed readers? They have a whole world of comic book reading that they have yet to experience, and they are just yearning to get into some good stuff. Over the past month and over the months to come, you should be able to discern their tastes fairly well, and you should be able to recommend books from there. Just because they are in your store now, don’t think that they will be active about their pull list, or discovering new things. They don’t know this world as well as you do, and they are looking for a guide – and you should never. EVER. Just let them use the internet as a guide. EVER. That place is full of absolute bullshit, and is an accurate representation of jack shit. Talk to your newer customers and get their opinions. Add books and drop books. Keep them happy, and you’ll keep their business.
And old customers. Don’t forget about those people. They are the ones that brought you to the dance, and the reason you’re still in the game today. Make sure that they are getting the books that they want, and more importantly, make sure that their purchasing habits are still within their budget. A bevy of number ones is tempting, but if they just added 52 books to their file, they’re probably feeling a bit of strain. Make sure you’re talking to them every time they walk through your doors and help them make the cuts they need to make. If you don’t do this, you could very well see them disappear from your shop when it all becomes too much, and you do not want that to happen.
And finally – bulk up on your other orders. Just because this whole initiative came from DC, you shouldn’t assume that those new readers won’t want to try books from other companies. In fact, one of the best moves DC made when putting together the line-up was including several different genres. There’s almost a book for everyone in that line up (just missing a more humourous book and maybe a romance title or two) and selling other books towards taste will work out, if you approaching things properly. Again, it comes down to recommending books to people that they would like, and not the ones you would like them to read. Do this. Get on this. Get them buying smarter, and get them loving comics. If you can do this, all of your orders will be stronger as a result. Which is how you win this particular game.
FINAL ORDERS FOR THIS WEEK
- The final week of DC #1s just shipped, and each and every one of those books are on your final order sheet right now, alongside the second prints. You’re changing these orders now, right? Increasing, lowering, whatever you need to get those numbers as perfect as you can get them. Do this. This is maybe one of the most important things for you to do this week. Myself, I’m a little hamstrung for a few of the books. Diamond fucked up my order and as a result, I’m missing half of my Aquaman and Savage Hawkman orders. And worse: I only received 20% of my Teen Titans orders. Not even enough to cover all of our subscriptions, which is just the worse fucking thing. If only this industry had a remotely competent distributor, that would be awesome. Anyway, without these books on my shelf, I’m guessing at my orders for #2s. Wish me luck!
- The first issue of Spaceman is on the list. This is the new book from Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso, the guys behind 100 Bullets and the Batman Flashpoint tie in. Azz is also the writer of Wonder Woman. Think you can move a few copies of this book? How about for a dollar? Because that’s how much it is. Spend the next couple of weeks smoozing the customers, and put that book right up at the till on release week, and offer everyone the book for a dollar. Or hell, free with a Wonder Woman purchase, why not. You’ll lose pennies, but potentially make a lot more money in the long run. What do you have to lose?
- Jonathan Hickman’s new Plus project starts in a few weeks. The first title in this line is the Feel Better Now one-shot that’s on the list this week. Have you been doing all that you can to promote this book? It’s the first he’s written and drawn for quite some time, and he’s not going to collect this until he gets three more of these one shots done. That’s gonna take some time and you’re going to want this on your shelves… well, maybe not until the collection comes out, but you want to have a good stock of this book. Making sure your Red Wing customers will have access to this book should provide you with a good base number. What, you sold out of Red Wing? Well then you’re numbers should be more than that. Go. Do.
- The beginning of Jason Aaron’s run on Incredible Hulk begins here. This run is emerging from the ashes of Fear Itself and has writing from the guy responsible for the latest X-Men event. If those bits of information tweak anything in your brain, go with that feeling, and adjust. Oh, and keep in mind some guy named Marc Silvestri will be handling the art chores. Whoever that is. (Wink.)
- Have you seen an increased amount of interest in the new Wolverine and the X-Men book? Well that could be because Marvel recognizes where the final order cut off falls and has been pushing that book heavy this week. You should probably up your orders a little, unless you’ve already gone all in on that particular book. At least match your Schism numbers. Also, the price of this went from the advertised $4.99 to $3.99. So keep that in mind.