Posted by: Brian Hibbs on May 20, 2009
The Direct Market is sometimes an awkward beast: publishers solicit books roughly 3 months before publication, which can lead to problems in releasing information in such a way that can spoil those upcoming titles. I am very sympathetic to these concerns.
Direct Market retailers, of course, buy comics non-returnable — if we order too many copies, we simply eat them. This means we need as much information as we can possibly get at the time of solicitation so we can make proper, informed judgments of the saleability of a specific work.
There’s no doubt this is a substantial conundrum — in this particular aspect the publisher’s best interests are diametrically opposed to the retailer’s. They want to preserve suspense, we want as much information as is possible (in fact, the best possible world would be to be able to read every comic before we had to finalize our orders)
Marvel, over the last few years, has taken to making certain high-profile title’s solicitations “Classified” where they provide retailers NO solicitation information at first, instead releasing it, typically, the final day that Final Orders are due. This is extremely annoying (I can’t help build interest in a work via pre-orders if the first piece of hard information I receive is 3 weeks before a title ships), but we’ve been able to work with it fairly adequately to date because, generally, we were talking about essentially “just another issue of IRON MAN”, and the trade off was “spoiling the end of SECRET INVASION”, y’know? I have cycle sheet data for IRON MAN, I know the general range it is going to sell, I can work around it. As long as they finally give me the solicit by the time of Final Order Cutoff (FOC).
Which brings us to REBORN #1.
REBORN is a 5-issue mini-series. It is by Ed Brubaker and Bryan Hitch. It is 32 pages long, in color, and retails for $3.99. That’s every piece of information that we have. We don’t know who or what is “reborn”, and, really, we aren’t precisely sure if that’s the exact title of the final comic book. It certainly could be the return of the Steve Rogers Captain America, but it could just as easily be something to do with “Heroes Reborn”, or even some version of Captain America that has nothing to do with Steve Rogers. It could also have nothing whatsoever to do with Captain America, regardless of what Rich Johnston is reporting. My point is we simply don’t know.
Unlike previous situations with “classified” solicitations, this does not appear to be done to protect the conclusion of a line-wide crossover like CIVIL WAR or SECRET INVASION. As near as I can tell, no other comic is being impacted by this book in the short term. There’s a possibility that this spins out of CAPTAIN AMERICA #600, I suppose? But that would be the absolute limit.
No, this is Marvel trying to “game” the system, as far as I am concerned — trying to create interest in something in what I consider to be an underhanded way, and completely against the moral intent of the processes of the Direct Market.
And now we come to what I consider to be the real problem: Marvel has apparently pre-arranged press coverage with a tame journalist with embargoed exclusivity with one media outlet with a promise to go wide on it. This week’s Marvel Mailer (a retailer-only mailing with Marvel news in it) they say the following:
“REBORN #1’s solicit and cover will not be revealed before its FOC date due to upcoming mainstream press regarding the series. Please see the Marvel page of Diamond’s Retailer Service Area for more information”
Going to that page, we get this detail (I’m not printing the details of the incentive deals):
“REBORN #1, by Ed Brubaker and Bryan Hitch, will be receiving nationwide press on 6/15, possibly on par with the media coverage we received during Civil War.
However, this means that the solicit and covers for Reborn #1 cannot be shown before the FOC of 6/11. Marvel will do everything possible to ensure an overprint is on hand to counter huge anticipated demand, but the incentives below and qualifying for free variants will only be available for orders placed before FOC”
So, basically, Marvel is cutting the retailers out of the information loop in order to hopefully make a splash in the wider media. There are two problems I see with this strategy. One: depending on news going wide is a dangerous and risky move. What if 6/15 is the day that the President is assassinated, or we declare war on North Korea, or we find out a planet-killer asteroid is on its way, or whatever else of a billion things that could knock any media interest in ANY comics project into the garbage?
Two: like we saw with CAPTAIN AMERICA #25, if there IS press coverage, and we don’t have the information to even attempt to order properly, then we can’t capitalize on it.
As a retailer, I object to these actions. I find these tactics ethically abhorrent and morally repugnant, and flatly against the best interests of the Direct Market and it’s constituent retailers.
If we let this pass silently, then we’re telling them to do it again and again and again — hell, why even actually solicit ANYthing? We’ll accept that, right?
So, there’s really only one thing I can do at this point to protest these tactics, and that’s to decline to carry the book. Assuming that Marvel doesn’t change their mind on this, before FOC time, I’m going to cut my rack copy orders to zero.
Obviously I will stock the book for any customer who is interested in preordering the title, but I can not, in good conscience, spend my own discretionary money on something that is against my best interests. To do otherwise would be to condone what Marvel is doing here. I have no other way to express my displeasure than voting with my dollars.
Marvel won’t care, I’m sure. The thirty to, say, one hundred and fifty copies I might have sold (Depending on what the comic really is) won’t make or break them. It probably won’t hurt Ed or Bryan either, but I have to make a public stand in the only way I can.
But what else can I do? To participate is to say that what Marvel is doing is acceptable business. And it just isn’t. Some times you have to stand on your principles, even if it costs you a little bit of money.