Robot 6

The Middle Ground #2: In Which I Hate On Previews

middle2Sometimes, it feels like there are too many comics out there.

I know, I know; that’s not exactly the most popular opinion to hold, never mind share on a website devoted to comics and the worship thereof, but we all know it’s true. I’m far from the only one who sees solicitations for months ahead, or lists of that week’s new releases, and has at least one “Seriously? There’s really enough of a market for that?” moment. It’s easiest to do when looking at, say, Marvel’s upcoming releases and counting what’re essentially seven monthly Avengers books (Adjectiveless, New, Secret, Academy, alternating bi-monthlies Children’s Crusade and Prime and, of course, New Ultimates and Ultimate Avengers, for those who were wondering about my math), but all it takes is one step inside the non-premier publishers section of Diamond’s Previews to realize that there’s a lot of noise hiding the signal in the world of indie publishers, as well.

Now, I know that I’ve touched a sore spot by mentioning the much-maligned Previews. I mean, I think we can all agree that it’s a blight on humanity, never mind just the comic book biz, right? There are times – Let’s call them “Every month when I see the new catalogue” – when the very thought of Previews is enough to drive me toward a deep depression and despair about that month’s state of comics, in that it almost seems designed to hide all manner of wonderful things contained within from all but the most dedicated of readers at times. But Previews, as badly designed as it may be, is pretty much the definition of a necessary evil when it comes to comic distribution: The industry needs a catalog of everything that’s being released. Retailers and readers need to know what is going to be available, in order to get excited and plan and save up for, as much as bitch and moan and roll our eyes.

The problem isn’t Previews itself, but the amount of books therein, really. Every single month, there is a lot of amazing work solicited in the “back half” of any given issue of Previews, but you have to work to find it amongst all of… well, everything else that’s in there. I know that I’m excited about the new Kevin Huizenga book that’s coming this summer, but it took me looking through solicits for Tarot and Zenescope and literally hundreds of other books I have no interest in to find out about it. That’s not necessarily a slam on those books – Somehow, I doubt there’s a large crossover between those eagerly awaiting the next issue of Return To Wonderland and fans of Scott Morse’s work, to go the reverse route – but an obvious complaint about a really, really obvious problem: Why hasn’t anyone come up with – or, perhaps, implemented – a way to make it easier for people to discover new things that they might enjoy reading without making it such an ordeal?

I think back to things like Warren Ellis’ Artbomb, which was pretty much a review website that operated as tastemaker, but also just the basic idea of organizing comics by genre instead of publisher – More work for Diamond, perhaps, but think of the benefit for readers – or something, anything, that makes each month’s releases seem less like a deluge without rhyme, reason or quality control. Complaining that there’s too many comics coming out doesn’t make sense; there’s no set number of comics allowed per month. But can’t someone do something that makes the back of the catalog less overwhelming every month to make it feel less unnecessarily crowded?

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11 Comments

I look at it like this: Previews are for people making orders out of a comic shop, not comic fans. It’s an ordering/promotion tool, as far as I’m concerned.

Would I like to see an Artbomb inspired publication/website doing that work? Absolutely! But, it’s not up to Diamond to do. I would leave an entrepreneurial individual who wants to make some cash from the ensuing ad revenue if the site is marketed and built properly. :)

At that Diamond Summit at C2E2, there was some cursory talk from Diamond about doing an online version of Previews, and if they do, I’d hope they code in a feature like Amazon has where looking at the solicit for a Kevin H book would have a little “You may also like…” box below with a few Craig Thompson or Brian Ralph or whoever comics ready to be clicked on.

And while I understand where Sammy is coming from, the reality is that Previews is a retailer catalogue in name only. Hardcore fans check its contents out just as often as shop owners if not more, and that’s why companies often have to be completely oblique or even redacted solicits for some products. They know that they can’t promote product to retailers without fans getting word of it. I’d love to see a situation where there was more info made available for shop owners that was kept behind a firewall from fans (and even press), but even if they set something like that up, there are more than enough fanboy store owners who would be dead set on spoiling whatever info they found to as many message boards and blogs as possible. I don’t think that’s at all the mindset of the majority of retailers, but I think those elements are out there, and it completely changes how we all view something like Previews.

I certainly understand that, I am one of those hardcore fans that reads them every month. :)

The idea of suggestions to a reader of Previews on an online version would be fantastic. Not to mention it would get some positive attention to that mass smattering of small press stuff most people neglect to read over at all.

There has to be a good “solution” to the problem that Diamond could provide or help provide. One would think it’s in their best interest to do so. With more attention to this missed gems, you’d think that would mean more sales, meaning a greater ability for the small press to promote more titles and more money paid to Diamond to list those titles, right?

(I apologize if I am just stating the obvious)

Why is it Diamond’s fault that you miss out on good books? I know I’m becoming a bit of a Diamond apologist, but I’ve worked for Diamond, I’ve worked on Previews, so I have an understanding as to how the process works.

Yes, there are a LOT of books in there every month, but why should Diamond help you find what YOU might think is good? They already *try* to do that, via Featured Items, Certified Cools, Indie Edge, and countless other banners throughout the catalog. Your tastes might be different from those of other collectors, so how does Diamond cater to EVERYONE?

People always gripe that they had to trudge through the premier section just to find the stuff they like. Well, if you already know you hate the premier books, that’s half the battle. Just turn straight to the middle of the catalog. Also, it’s laid out alphabetically, by publisher. Genre is a lot more difficult, to list as a lot of books can’t really be categorized, as it might do a disservice to the work.

Kiel mentions that Previews is a marketing tool, which is true, but it’s not THE marketing tool. The thing I always told new publishers was that a Previews listing/ad should be a REMINDER of your book and not an INTRODUCTION. If you’re relying on Previews as the sole marketing effort for your book, then you’ve already failed.

Trust me: the size of the catalog is a topic that is regularly discussed internally. That said, it’s not like they can just arbitrarily cut out a ton of stuff until they have purchase orders to back up those decisions. When you really look at it, there’s quite a low barrier to entry when it comes to listing in Previews. On top of that, if a book is approved, the listing is FREE. One thing that would greatly help reduce the number of items listed would be if Diamond imposed a fee on the ability to solicit products. There’d be a Hell of an outcry online, but the catalog would probably be reduced by about 25% at minimum.

I would love to see an online version implemented. Beyond being able to browse the catalog digitally with ease, being able to perform searches and things of that nature on the catalog would be a huge advantage. Also by focusing the homepage content on things like Certified Cool and editors picks etc, it would help to get people to not skip over those sections. Also I would think that the special deals that are offered by publishers would be much easier to navigate than the companion booklet/flyer that lists that sort of thing.

I personally wouldn’t mind seeing them do away with the print catalog all together and going online with it. On some level it has to reduce overhead for Diamond. I’m not sure how much profit is made on the ads vs defraying the costs of putting it together though. That said online ads could be great, plus as a vendor you could easily determine the effectiveness of your ad campaign.

Diamond distributes Previews as a PDF to various accounts.

This is easily searchable.

Add a website which can generate individual order forms, as well as notify the user if a title has been cancelled or delayed. Allow the user to save search criteria, so each visit can be simplified.

Charge publishers a fee to have their new titles listed on the daily blog.

Give each banner a specific blog. How many people would subscribe to “Certified Cool”?

Give the non-paper sections distinct blogs as well.

Diamond could even blog about titles not carried, thereby giving some exposure to lesser comics, and mitigating the anger from the alternative comics scene.

Publishers could also pay to have actual previews on Previews!

Allow users to rate each title, just like BN.com.

As a librarian and collector, I prefer the paper edition. It’s easier to use than a PDF file. (Especially when the PDF has to be reduced to fit my landscape monitor.) I also skim every page of Previews, as my tastes are eclectic, I want my knowledge base to be as wide as possible, and you never know what you might find buried deep within. (Has anyone bought the Star Trek cologne?)

The Direct Market is trash (with brilliance occasionally sneaking in, almost by accident) being sold to people who love trash and then stand around wondering why there aren’t more casual readers in comics specialty shops. This is why the internet and standard book stores are the medium’s only hope… as long as creators are catering to the Direct Market, they’re just catering to people who like boobsocks (we must be forever grateful to Dirk Deppey for coining that) and fan-fic.

I think PREVIEWS is a shockingly accurate portrayal of what the DM has to offer. Go into a comic book store and, more likely than not, it’s mostly Marvel and DC with some extra garbage like TAROT stuck in there for kicks and maybe something actually worth reading if we get around to it after all the BLACKEST NIGHT tie-ins and Dark Phoenix statuettes are given top priority.

Mr. West–>

>Yes, there are a LOT of books in there every month, but why should Diamond help you find what YOU might think is good?

With all due respect, I don’t think this is being fair to Mr. McMillan, and it’s a cop-out. The suggestion to list books by genre may very well help sell more books, thus it is in Diamond’s own interest to at least investigate the idea. Previews is a de facto consumer catalog, otherwise it’d only need a sub-5,000 copy print run. So it should consider the input of both readers and retailers.

That said, I recognize the difficulties in implementing such a change, having suggested it years ago on a retailer forum and being soundly educated of its shortcomings. A less costly and disruptive solution might be special catalogues, coming out quarterly or less, which focus on 1 or 2 related genres (i.e. Fantasy & Sci-Fi, Kids and Humor, etc.) Such catalogues would be more long-term, serve trade paperbacks better (Diamond seems to be urging small publishers toward that direction anyway), and be far more “civilian friendly.”

Simon – See, I guess it just depends on which side of the fence you stand on, as I felt that the author’s argument was the cop-out. It would be one thing if Diamond was forgetting to list books (which *can* happen), but that wasn’t what was being said. Instead, the argument was that Diamond wasn’t focusing on promoting the books the author might’ve wanted to read.

It’s laid out the same way every month. If you’ve flipped through 2 issues, you know where everything is. Does it require a bit of attention to detail? Yes, as a standard blurb is half an inch or so. It just seems like old hat to complain about how big the catalog is, or how poorly it’s laid out – until you FIRST have the discussion about changing how items are approved in the first place. It’s beyond the size where any organization system is going to make anything better. If they had multiple, seasonal catalogs, people would complain there’s too many, or would contest the genre categorizations given to certain books.

I don’t have a problem with the reasoning, but I do have a problem with the response. Telling a consumer that he or she should just do more work seems terribly inadequate. The shortcoming is there. It may not be easily solved, but it’s still there. That can’t be characterized as a cop-out, because that’s what we expect consumers to do.

>If they had multiple, seasonal catalogs, people would complain there’s too many

Oh, for sure. Can’t please everyone, right? But I still think this should be given some consideration, because seasonal catalogues are quite normal in the book market. Maybe this is something DBD already does, I wouldn’t know, but if they do, it could benefit the DM as well.

>would contest the genre categorizations given to certain books.

Do you mean consumers, or publishers? On the publisher end, that’s easy… give the publishers the choice, and only one choice.

I would bet genre catalogues would be effective at much smaller print runs, have longer shelf lives, in turn command higher ad rates and participation from publishers, and make the whole “no re-list” controversy moot.

That fact that they even PRINT previews these days is a little ridiculous when you think about it.

It only comes out once a month, it should all be on the web. Each publisher could be responsible for their own content making them all ‘premier’ publishers in a way. I don’t think the small publishers are going to lose any orders or anything.

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