Process: The Retailer Is The Customer

(originally written Apr 2012)

Looking back over 14 years, there have been a few things related to creator-owned comics and the building of a career off of them that stand out.  They stand out to the point that I’ve taken to calling them “rule #1, rule 2″, and so on.  One day I’ll get them all out there in a formal essay, but right now I want to talk about one of the most important ones, and how it relates to The Massive series launch:

The retailer is the customer.

I forget who first told me that, but it’s a solid bit of common sense.  The way the direct market is set up, comic shop retailers have to purchase comics on a non-returnable basis, meaning they can’t return unsold copies.  The fact they go on to re-sell them to their customers is, in a way, almost irrelevant.  The books have been ordered and paid for.

So when you talk about creator-owned comics, indie comics, self-published comics, the retailer is being asked to make a very real and permanent financial investment in that book, one that he or she cannot make back should the book not perform to expectations.   The retailer is the customer.  You, meaning the creator and/or the publisher, are pitching and selling to the retailer.  Or you should be.  It’s often shocking to me how few people forget that.  Sometimes I forget it.

You can hype up your readers all you want, but if their shop didn’t order the book, they are out of luck.  YOU are out of luck, too.

So this is me telling you to tell your retailer that, if you want to buy a copy of The Massive, to order you a copy.  This isn’t SAGA and I’m not BKV or Millar or Bendis who stand a greater chance of being automatically stocked on shelves.  Retailers are going to gauge demand and order accordingly.  So tell them if you’re interested.

I ran some numbers the other day.  Looking at some recent numbers on my Vertigo books, Northlanders sells about 8000 an issue in actual numbers.   Retailer friends of mine confirm that the general consensus is that there are about 1800 comic shops out there.  That means, roughly, 4.5 copies per store.  But what about a place like Midtown Comics, who seem to order 40 copies in just the one branch (of three) I sometimes visit?   That right there means quite a few shops not ordering it at all.  What about Jim Hanley’s, the Isotope, Golden Apple, TFAW, Mile High, Casablanca Comics, and all the others?  For every shop out there ordering more than 4.5 copies of Northlanders means several others just not bothering at all.  I live in Brooklyn, and can think of at least two comic shops within a couple miles of me that don’t carry Northlanders.  Or DMZ.  Or most small press books.  I’ve been called out a few times in the past for saying that most retailers don’t carry my books, but I honestly believe this to be the case.  And what does that say about the books of other creators who don’t yet have 14 years of awareness built up?

Now, I know that Northlanders is on issue #49 and The Massive will be launching with a #1, so I expect to get more than 8000 orders.  But I think this is a problem that exists regardless of the scale.  And I like to give everyone the benefit of the doubt and think that any comic shop out there, if asked by a customer, would order The Massive or anything else they wanted.  For all the horror stories about “bad” retailers who just don’t order what they don’t like or that isn’t DC or Marvel superheroes, period, I think 99% of the rest would help you out.

The Massive #1 can be ordered with this code: APR12 0008.  Add it to your pull list, and if you feel passionately about it, suggest to your retailer to stock a few extra just in case.  Nothing breaks my heart like the inevitable tweets and emails I get on Wednesdays from customers not finding my books at their shops.

I’m doing my part, behind the scenes.  The retailer is the customer.  I might not have a career in comics if someone didn’t burn that phrase into my brain.  And this ties into the other rule I’ll deal with at a later date:  No one loves your book as much as you do.