What will work in the Direct Market with Diamond still in charge?
If we decide to make a commitment to the direct market, if we believe that the direct market is needed for comic books to survive, then the industry must take steps right now to rebuild its very structure.
I believe that everyone would agree that we need to increase sales but more importantly, increase sales to new readers. As much as our little clique hates outsiders, eventually everyone gets old and dies and if we don’t get more new, and YOUNG, readers in, the industry will fizzle out. We can talk pretentiously about the medium and how great creators will save the day blah blah blah, but that stuff is not going to make one iota of a difference to the business of comics.
The one big weakness of the direct market is the lack of in your face comics and a severe decline in impulse purchasing. To make a long story short, we need more stores. A LOT more stores. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, should be more important for the suits than to implement business practices that will increase the number of stores in the country today. We have got to make it easy and profitable for people to open up comic book stores. We have to make it economically worthwhile for professional people, not the Simpson’s caricatures, to open stores. This means we have to take a long hard look at Diamond.
Diamond IS the direct market and in business, monopolies are bad. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe that Diamond is evil (that’s Wizard magazine, a story for another day). For the amount of power they possess, they could be a lot worse. They could also use their power for good and they don’t. If we are going to keep the same structure, then Diamond needs to change the way they do business. This would take a substantial investment on their part, but in the future, they would be even stronger.
First, Diamond should be the Amazon.com of comic books and comic book related items. Their website should be the central portal into the world of comics. Imagine a Diamond run affiliate system where every stinkin web site could sell the damn things and have Diamond do fulfillment and drop shipment. Imagine every small publisher being able to do the same thing, not just with trade paperbacks. We would be in a lot more people’s faces. Maybe then PR and real world advertising might have an effect. Every time a paper has an interview with some creator, and there is a link to his or her site, if the story intrigues them there could be an impulse purchase. But doesn’t everyone already have a web site? Yes, but how many sell their monthlies? And this would also make every fan of every creator be able to sell their favorite’s monthly titles very easily. This would encourage them to try to get publicity to help sell more, which becomes a type of viral marketing. Now it could be financially beneficial to be a Larsen fin head etc. Could Diamond make money on this? I believe the volume, and the handling fees etc. could make it worthwhile. If not, maybe an alliance with Amazon, like Borders has. I would prefer they did this on their own.
Second, they need to re-open more local warehouses (something nearly every retailer misses from the old days). The easy way to do this is to offer the better-run stores and chains, sub distribution licenses. Again, the volume will make up for any loss in percentage points on the discount. If I wanted to open a store in Tampa, I could go to the Tampa sub distributor, open an account right there, and pick up my books weekly (saving on shipping costs). More stores would be opening, increasing the likelihood of more people noticing comics and stopping in. If they also make it much easier to open up an account with credit, even better.
Third, Diamond needs to provide all-ages publicity materials and a rating system. I know the free speech people will be up in arms with this one, crying censorship etc., but movies do this, TV now does it, and if we want to be more mainstream, we need to do this as well. Nothing as offensive as PG etc., but content related. No storeowner has the time to read every book that comes out. But a simple label that says, may contain violent themes, sexual situations etc., like anime videos do, could save them a lot of grief, and help prevent some parents from going through the roof.
Fourth, Previews needs to be revamped completely, and trimmed down. It needs to be less garish, less whoring to the big 4 publishers and it also needs to be free. Figure out how but this is a necessity. Every comic customer should be able to get one when they visit the stores. Every browser who doesn’t buy a book should be able to walk out with one to reconsider coming back. But it needs to be readable and have creator interviews with photos and articles. Sell comics to the non-reader! Regarding the big 4, they already get favorable terms from Diamond; they don’t need any more help. Bring back the alphabetical listings, regardless of publisher size. Set up some type of reward system for smaller publishers to get free full-page ads, maybe for on time publishing or winning awards in the mainstream media. Whatever. Just give all publishers a fighting chance.
Fifth, we can’t improve our business practices without accurate numbers. Diamond should come out with an inventory and ordering software that is given free to every retail account. It should be simple and link up to Diamond for very easy ordering and reordering. This would help the novice retailer see where he is going wrong. Let him or her realize that if he sells out of these books by Thursday, he under ordered. Believe it or not, there are too many who fail to grasp that simple concept. This would allow Diamond to post on their site real numbers for sales, sell through, trends, which can only assist retailers even further. Help the retailer, help the business. It’s that simple. Maybe this software can have the ability to run a slide show of upcoming product for the stores to display. Maybe each subscriber in the store could have a member login. They can input their own requests right there, to aid the retailer even further.
Or the publishers could eliminate their exclusivity deals with Diamond and let competition come back. Naah, that’s just nuts. In Part 2B, what the publishers and creators can do in a Diamond world. (Never posted)