Approaching a Limit as X Goes to Infinity

By far the most important element of selling anything is getting someone to take the time to notice and learn about whatever it is that you're selling. Our biggest roadblock at MacGuffin is getting people to know about and come through the door. Selling them a comic is cake compared to that. If someone never takes notice of the product, they can't ever become a consumer of that product.

I've talked about the benefits of selling a graphic novel to fans of a movie adapted from it as opposed to selling a monthly series. DC seems to agree with that principle since they've two consignment programs to take advantage of the visibility of the last two films based on their comics. First was V for Vendetta, which any direct market store was able to get as many copies as they were willing to pay shipping for to display and sell at no charge for three months (assuming they met some very basic requirements, namely keeping the product on display in some format or another during that time period). The brilliance of this should be obvious to just about anyone who's paying attention since it allowed retailers to create nice big displays to grab customers' attention, at which point three quarters of the work is done. As I said, we did very well with this program and did not miss a sale during that period because we were never without a copy of it (something I can't say for the Serenity trade, which was out of print for about 2 months earlier this year -- otherwise it would likely have challenged V for Vendetta at the top of our best seller list).

DC is following up the success of that program with one targeted at Superman Returns. They've made four different Superman titles available on consignment with the same terms as V for Vendetta and I know that we're taking advantage of it at MacGuffin to set up a Superman display to coincide with the movie (it will be replacing our much smaller X-Men display in the next couple of weeks). I don't know if it was the result of a marketing push by DC or simply smart merchandising by a category manager, but our local Borders had an endcap of their graphic novel section devoted to V for Vendetta (as well as Watchmen and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) and Barnes & Noble featured V for Vendetta on their front table for several weeks around the movie's opening. I expect to see similar displays for Superman Returns.

Strangely, no such display exists for X-Men at either store (though that was before the huge opening this weekend). Our own X-Men display is built around The Dark Phoenix Saga and Astonishing X-Men but is much smaller than we'd like it to be simply because we can't afford to sink money into inventory that may or may not move. Despite the fact that there is almost no direct tie between Superman Returns and any of the trades we're offering, our Superman display will be much larger based solely on our ability to stock it without tying up capital. With V for Vendetta DC assumed the risk by allowing full returns on whatever retailers ordered, likely because they were dealing with a title that has been and will continue to be in print for years to come. They really didn't risk much of anything. We had two consignment copies left over at the end of the return window but chose not to return them because it wasn't worth the shipping cost (one of them has since sold anyway). As much as both companies try to cling to their role as periodical publishers, DC seems much more willing (likely due to the success of their Vertigo books in bookstores) to utilize graphic novel sales when appropriate.

There's one big, flashing reason to buy product on a returnable basis and that is to find the sales ceiling for that product. In general, it's not too difficult to guess how often we will sell a copy of Y: The Last Man or Squee. It's usually not even difficult to guess how many copies of the latest Captain America hardcover we'll sell in the first couple of weeks. What's much more difficult, though, is to predict the sort of value that increased exposure will have on a comic or graphic novel. While I expected V for Vendetta to sell well, we would have lost a sale or two had DC not offered their consignment program from simply not having enough copies available (and possibly more had the display been less visible with fewer copies). I had no idea how many non-comics readers were going to come in for Civil War and we sold out on Free Comic Book Day, something that frustrates me to this day (despite ordering more than I thought we could sell). I'm simply not smart enough to predict the exact impact of a movie on related graphic novels so it's much easier to under order and lose a sale or two than to over order and be stuck with money tied up in slow turning inventory.

The idea of returnable merchandise may be something of a lightning rod in the comics industry, but more and more companies are seeing a potential benefit to allowing at least limited returns as a means of ameliorating risk to retailers and increasing the odds of getting product in front of customers.


Blogger Chris Thilk said...

Just wanted to let you know I really enjoy your blog, especially these last two posts on movies and graphic novels. I've mentioned each of them on my own blog.

Keep up the good work and drop me a line some time.

10:05 PM  

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