Thursday, January 21, 2010

Cutting Back

Barnes & NobleI'm starting to notice a couple of disturbing trends in the comic book industry, and I'm not just talking about things I see in the comics shops this time. These trends are becoming more and more apparent every time I enter a chain bookstore, and after talking to a buddy in a different state this morning who said the same thing, I'm Officially Worried.

We're being pushed out of places like Borders and Barnes & Noble, relegated to the back of the store on a shrinking and rarely updated shelf. I've spoken about this before, but today I want to look at it from a different perspective.

I've come to the conclusion that, first and foremost among the problems in comics right now is the ever-growing amount of reprinted material being produced by the various publishers. What's disturbing about this particular trend, though, is the ever-shrinking amount of reprinted material that's actually available for sale.

In comics shops, bookstores, and even online in some cases, collected editions are becoming harder and harder to find--especially if you miss a book's "street" date.

From every publisher, we are being deluged with a constant onslaught of hardcovers and paperbacks and Deluxe Editions and Absolutes and omnibus(, and there is no sign of that stopping any time soon.
Lots of booksWhich in and of itself isn't necessarily a bad thing. But take into consideration the fact that many comics shops are cutting back on the amount of trades they're ordering, and then I think we have a bit of a new problem.

For the first time ever in the comics industry, reprinted material is readily available from publishers. Unlike the 1980s and 90s and the early 2000s when collected editions were mostly unheard-of except for the most extreme cases, we as fans can now count on every publisher to reprint their single issues.

And I'm talking everyone here--from Marvel and DC right on down the line to smaller houses such as Devil's Due and NBM.
Lots o' booksAnd that's great! Especially with so many comics-related films and TV shows out there, the chances of a new customer strolling into a shop have never been higher.

So when that new customer walks into your LCS and asks for Batman: The Long Halloween because he heard it helped inspire the recent films, acquiring that trade might just be the first step in getting that person on board the comics bandwagon.

Conversely, if that LCS doesn't have the trade...well.

Chances are that potential customer is going to do one of three things. First, he might just forget about it and never come back. Second, he might try local bookstores or online sellers like Amazon, see that their prices are lower than the books in the comics shop, and never come back. Or, thirdly, and rarely, he might decide to special order the trade through Diamond, right there in the store.

And then proceed to wait two weeks for a book he'll pay full cover price for.

I say two weeks with the assumption that there's no holiday in between and taking for granted that the LCS will receive all of its orders from Diamond precisely when they're told they will. Which, as any comics fan knows all to well, might not happen.

DeadpoolIn the case of a book that's as high profile as Long Halloween, I'd bet that 75% of comics shops will have a copy in stock on that day. But how about some of the recent Iron Man trades and hardcovers written by Matt Fraction? Or maybe the huge amount of Deadpool-related books currently flooding the market?

If my LCS is anything at all like yours, there's a good chance the store will only have one or two copies of recent trades available on the day the book comes out. Taking that a step further, my LCS has a fairly new policy that they will not order any new hardcover collection unless a customer asks for it specifically.

And why is that? Well, as they say in politics--it's the economy, stupid.

Hardcovers are obviously more expensive than the softcovers, and the fact that they ship months in advance of the cheaper softcover is annoying and, frankly, a turnoff for many customers. Surely, if a customer wants a hardcover the day it ships, he or she can special order the book from Diamond.

The problem with that is, the Diamond Previews catalogue costs $5 and you'll need to order the book three months in advance. And on the retailer's side of the coin, I know from talking to several store owners that, just because a customer orders a book, that doesn't mean he'll actually purchase the book once it ships.

Personally, when I was working full-time and knew that the money would always be there, I would buy Previews and order in advance. Now, though? I'd never order something (even if I really want it), just because who knows what the financial situation will be like in three months? I'd never stick my LCS with a book I ordered but can't pay for.

Still, stuff like that happens all the time.

So, let's say a shop gets three special orders for a hardcover of the latest Thor series from Marvel. If I'm that store owner, I'd be wary of ordering more than one or two copies for display because there's a chance that one or more of the customers who special ordered the books won't actually buy the books.

Again, in the case of my LCS, they don't order any for display because they've been burned (and burdened) with extra copies in the past. And at between $20 and $35 a pop, who could blame them?

Nathaniel and I have been to pretty much every comics shop in our area, and I've noticed a drastic change in ordering policy for collections at each one. One copy for the store, maybe two, tops. Even if the trade is somewhat popular.

As mentioned above, I spoke with a buddy who is currently living in another state, and he said he's been having a heck of a time finding the Marvel Essentials black-and-white reprints at his local shops. And the bookstores by him don't carry anything new, either.

So it's not like this is a totally isolated incident.

And it's getting pretty frustrating for me, because I no longer pre-order books and I can't get to my LCS on Wednesday before 3:00. So the chances of a copy of a popular book still being around by the time I arrive is slim.
BooksAnd like I said, good luck trying to find something at Borders in the following weeks, because they, too, are cutting back on the amount of comics they order. In the stores by me, it's at an alarming rate.

So, to recap (and hopefully wrap things up). We have much more reprinted material shipping every week from every single publisher, but somehow, these books are harder to find than collections of only a year or two ago were.

My question to you all is, have you noticed the same thing in your neck of the woods? Or am I going insane here all by myself? Usually, with me, it's the latter, but I think this one time it might actually be the former...

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