Posted by: Brian Hibbs on August 27, 2008
Like I said, with kindergarten drop off, I’m in to work HOURS before the store opens, so rather than working on the new order form (6 days left!), let’s try this one more time…
(But, under the cut, ‘cuz I know only a small percentage of people care about any of this)
What’s funny is that if I knew how to link images (I always have to call Jeff to link them for me, that’s how sad I am!), I probably would have picked the same piece as Dirk just did. Heh, that really sums our “conversations” quite well!
(Side note: according to the permalink, that’s post #666 on the new journalista. Nicely satanic!)
Either way, I really like Dirk. He’s provides an excellent service (seldom do I not follow at least 2 links that I’d’ve never found on my own), and while I increasingly disagree with the extremes of his perspective, it’s a valuable perspective nonetheless. I say this up front because I was probably unnecessarily ad hominem yesterday, and I don’t want anyone to think this is personal or something.
It’s just that I believe that Dirk is arguing from his agenda (as he always does) (and, hell, as I always do), and mistaking some pretty basic things about how markets work in his pursuit of that agenda.
Here’s the essence of my point, in one handy paragraph: For ANY goods, service, or product that is meant as a commercial enterprise, the producer of those goods, services or products has to identify their market, then bring those goods, services or products TO that market. If the “low-hanging fruit” of that market (the “motivated buyer”) is not large enough to make your production of those goods, services or products profitable, then the PRODUCER needs to work to expand their share of that market.
What you don’t get to do is BLAME THE MARKET for the failure to be profitable.
It’s not the MARKET’s fault your work doesn’t sell; it is the producers.
This is true whether you’re talking about the DM, or the bookstore market, or the internet market (represented, in this case, primarily by Amazon). Virgin comics were, in fact, available in all of those market spaces. As far as I am able to tell from extremely limited tools available to me, Virgin comics didn’t succeed in ANY of those channels.
Because of this, I really do think it’s goofy to blame any individual segment of the market for the success of a line. Dirk’s argument seems to stem from this statement: “The Direct Market of comics shops served as the primary outlet for Virgin’s products in North America, and this virtually guaranteed the company poor sales figures from day one.”
But this seems to me to be a faulty premise on the face of it — I strongly suspect if you could get any Virgin execs on the phone none of them would at any point agree with the thought that the DM was the “primary outlet” for their books. In fact, it was clear from talking to Sharad back before launch that they had plans for distribution well beyond the DM, and the sense that I took from Virgin was that they didn’t *actually* care about the DM in any appreciable way, other than us being the lowest hanging fruit.
Certainly the DM is the EASIEST channel to market to — Diamond’s got many mechanisms to talk directly and sales specifically to their client retailers, and since each and every DM store DOES use Diamond you don’t have to worry about not reaching members of that channel. But at no point did it appear to me that that was the ONLY place they were trying to sell.
Dirk says “I would dispute this to the extent that I’ve never actually seen a Virgin TPB in a chain bookstore — and I keep a regular watch on the shelves of my local Borders and Barnes & Noble branches — so while I’m not privy to the company’s marketing tactics, it seems to me that either they never really had a proper mass-market strategy in place, or said strategy was so badly bungled that it effectively left the company at the mercy of the Direct Market by omission.”
I think here that Dirk misunderstands how markets buy. Goods are offered to a retailer, retailer decides whether or not they believe they can sell them. Retailers are under no obligation to buy those products if they don’t believe they can sell them. If Dirk doesn’t see Virgin books at Borders and B&N, what I would assume is that the buyers for those companies looked at those products and decided they weren’t worth giving floor space to because they couldn’t see an audience for them.
Here’s the thing, I think it would be just as valid to say “The bookstores served as the primary outlet for Virgin’s products in North America, and this virtually guaranteed the company poor sales figures from day one.” I’m *positive* that Virgin saw their destiny in the mass market, but if the Mass doesn’t want your product, it doesn’t really matter what the fuck your “strategy” is in the first place, now does it?
My point was that there WAS some potential audience out there for this material, even if it’s half-a-percent. BUT YOU HAVE TO TELL THAT AUDIENCE THAT IT IS THERE FOR THEM, REGARDLESS OF SALES CHANNEL.
Virgin never did that. I pointed them, pre-launch, to what could have been a model success story, the Indian-population-dense, and student-dense, and California-Eastern-Mysticism-dense Berkeley which happens to have one of the best comic shops in the world. And they never bothered to follow through on it.
OF COURSE they failed, but it’s not because of the DM, and it’s not because of bookstores, and it’s not because of Amazon… it’s because they were a bad publisher in that they never identified a market for their works, or did what it took to service those markets. And that is NOT any individual market’s fault, that’s the PUBLISHER’s fault!
Other random notes on Dirk’s 2nd piece:
Disney periodicals don’t sell in the DM because they’re $7, and don’t have a rational publishing schedule (they skips months at a time, then come out one week after another; they ship everything in a single week, etc.)
In the Tilting Dirk linked to he misread this sentence: “FOC has pretty dramatically changed the way that comics retailers do business; in fact I’d suggest that it is one of the reasons that Marvel and DC are currently at or near 80% of the market in orders, because there’s “less risk” in ordering their material in a FOC environment.” That is entire DM, not Comix Experience. It is approximately 65% at Comix Experience, and Vertigo, and author focused sales (ie: Moore, Ellis, Moore, Ennis, etc,) is the bulk of that.