Returning to Minx

In the interest of actually posting something besides weekly release lists in the month of February, I'll point out that this is the sort of thing I like to see:

According to a weekly e-mail distributed to retailers, DC Comics is extending the sales incentive offered on their first Minx title, Plain Janes, (the possibility of full returnability) to the entire 2007 Minx line.

This isn't the first time DC has taken on the majority of the risk when it has faith in a product (the first twelve issues of 52 were almost fully returnable). The economics of the comic market, though, are built on non-returnable sales by a publisher or distributor (i.e. Diamond) to retailers at a healthy discount. A publisher offering the same discount along with up front returnability (assuming some very shallow order minimums are reached) is still a fairly unusual practice in comics (so much so that I couldn't tell you the last time anyone other than DC offered anything comparable).

Now, when it comes right down to it, returns are not a great thing, since they cost both the retailer and publisher money. Limited examples of returnability, however, are a great thing because they allow retailers (who generally order conservatively because whatever doesn't sell turns into dead money) to take a much bigger chance on a new release than they otherwise might. This is particularly important because the one thing that will absolutely kill any sale is lack of stock on hand. I can't very well sell anyone on a title if I don't have any copies available to sell. Which leads to unfortunate events like the last two weeks, when we first sold out of Friendly Neighborhood Spider-man #17 on Thursday afternoon (after doubling our standard orders on the title) and then sold out of Sensational Spider-man #35 (after doubling our Friendly Neighborhood orders) on the following Thursday.

The Minx line may be a completely different type of product, but with very little clue as to how much demand there will be for these titles, it becomes a complete guessing game to order these books. We could easily sell out the first day if we order too few, or be stuck with a hundred dollars worth of unsold books if not for returnability. Now I won't worry nearly as much about the number I'm sticking into the order form because I can err on the side of optimism.

On side effect of all of this is also one of the reasons that I suspect trades and graphic novels will continue to see much more sustainable growth than single issue comics: when dealing in backlist, returnability isn't worth nearly as much as discount. Most backlist gets stocked one or two copies deep unless sales data indicates that they're likely to sell more in the space of a week. Any copies that do sell can generally be replaced within a few days or a week, so ideally there's always at least one copy on the shelf but not so many that it's dead money just sitting there.

When dealing with new releases, however, the calculus changes. I don't know any smart business owner that wouldn't be happy to sell 100 pieces they've purchased at a 40% discount versus 50 pieces at a 55% discount. Thankfully, DC has enough confidence in the long term sales potential of these books that we won't have to choose.


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