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Image Comics ends second printings of ‘known over-performers’

Saga #8

Image Comics has announced it will end second printings of titles “that are known over-performers in hopes that it will help initial sales find their proper level,” cautioning retailers in this week’s newsletter to “believe in the titles that sell and believe in your ability to sell them. There might not be a second chance.”

“This isn’t meant as a punishment or some weird scheme to drive up prices of single issues on eBay,” wrote Jennifer de Guzman, Image’s PR and marketing coordinator. “The weeks of delay in waiting for the second printing cost you sales. Knowing you can count on reprintings has encouraged caution when none is called for, and that hurts you as much as it does us.”

The announcement accompanied news that Saga #7, the acclaimed space opera by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, had sold out at the distributor level, despite overprinting of the issue. “Should we have told you specifically “Order a lot of this one”?” de Guzman wrote. “Well, did we really need to?”

“This is Saga we’re talking about. Issue #7 was its return after a brief hiatus that had fans of the epic by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples as restless as cats in heat and following on the heels of the release of a trade paperback that is moving like wildfire (it’s is still on the New York Times Bestseller list). And its FOC [final order cutoff] came just two weeks after I quite single-mindedly harangued you about order numbers decreasing with each issue of even our most popular titles, using math. (Math, people!)”

Noting that orders for Saga #8 dropped 4 percent from those for Issue 7, de Guzman continued, “It’s not empty boasting to say that Saga is the best new series of 2012 — it’s borne out by review after review, recommendation after recommendation, and when we see sales go down on an issue, we know that there is a problem, and it isn’t with the book itself. ”

Saga #8 arrives next week. Read the full statement below:

I have some bad news: SAGA #7 is sold out. Sounds like good news, right? Well, it’s not. First, it means that retailers under-ordered it. And second: We will not be reprinting it. Should we have overprinted? We did. Should we have told you specifically “Order a lot of this one”? Well, did we really need to?

This is SAGA we’re talking about. Issue #7 was its return after a brief hiatus that had fans of the epic by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples as restless as cats in heat and following on the heels of the release of a trade paperback that is moving like wildfire (it’s is still on the New York Times Bestseller list). And its FOC came just two weeks after I quite single-mindedly harangued you about order numbers decreasing with each issue of even our most popular titles, using math. (Math, people!)

What’s even worse news is that orders for SAGA #8 decreased 4% from orders on #7. It will not be reprinted either. We have decided to cease second printings of single issues of titles that are known over-performers in hopes that it will help initial sales find their proper level. That’s marketing-speak for “You know this sells, so you’d better make sure you order enough!”

This isn’t meant as a punishment or some weird scheme to drive up prices of single issues on eBay. The weeks of delay in waiting for the second printing cost you sales. Knowing you can count on reprintings has encouraged caution when none is called for, and that hurts you as much as it does us.

And there’s absolutely no reason why there shouldn’t be more readers of our best-selling titles now that the $1.00 Image Firsts editions of FATALE #1, THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS #1, SAGA #1, REVIVAL#1, and THIEF OF THIEVES #1 are available and (should be) in your stores. They’re there to help you evangelize, so spread the good news! (Can I get an “Amen“?)

It’s not empty boasting to say that SAGA is the best new series of 2012 — it’s borne out by review after review, recommendation after recommendation, and when we see sales go down on an issue, we know that there is a problem, and it isn’t with the book itself.

So believe in the titles that sell and believe in your ability to sell them. There might not be a second chance.

Here are some #2s on this week’s FOC list that you may need more of (with even more math!):

CHANGE #2 — Orders presently are 38% lower than orders for the debut issue. If you haven’t read CHANGE #1 yet, please give it a look. Its writer Ales Kot had a breakout hit with WILD CHILDREN this year, and CHANGE taps into the same sensibility.

THE LEGEND OF LUTHER STRODE #2 — Orders are 21% less than orders for #1, which has sold out. This is a known seller by creators whose traction in the industry is growing — Justin Jordan, who also writes Shadowman for Valiant and Tradd Moore, who has drawn a variant Deadpool cover for Marvel and a story in the digital Legends of the Dark Knight for DC.

NON-HUMANS #2 — I know. It’s late, and lateness is a death knell for sales numbers. But! This is the return to Image by Whilce Portacio, and a 33% drop in orders seems a mite steep, considering that NON-HUMANS #1 sold out.

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Comments

33 Comments

I can’t help but think that the way they announced this is shooting themselves in the foot. I mean, it’s a pretty kneejerk decision: why stop reprints NOW, right this particular second? Why would you go to your reatilers–your customers!–and say “Aw, you’re out of comics? TOO FREAKIN’ BAD.” It would make a lot more sense to come out and say “Hey, we’ve had a sell out of every issue so far, and we’ve kept doing reprints, but we’re not doing anymore AFTER this one. You should know by issue #9 how many copies you can sell and we trust you to order accordingly.” But by not announcing the change in policy until after the sellout, all Image is doing is leaving potential sales of #7 and 8 on the table. And customers who can’t find #7 or 8? They probably won’t bother to buy #9. It just seems really short-sighted.

The message seems a tad patronizing and snarky. Just imagine if DC or Marvel had issued this statement.

So glad these kind of issues don’t effect digital comics.

I don’t think it comes off as snarky, so much as it’s exasperated.
I totally sympathize with the difficulties of comic book retailing, but, the reality is, us going back to print on later issues of a book costs Image and the creators money. We have to pay for a new cover plate, shipping from the printer, storage…in some cases I’ve lost money on the reprints altogether. Image is really the only company that has to deal with this so consistently. They have to do SOMETHING. We’ve faced these difficulties with REVIVAL. It’s totally understandable to keep reprinting the first issue because it’s selling out, as it was an unknown quantity. But when we’re still reprinting issues 4 and 5, I have to believe that it might be because we’re being under-ordered in the first place. There just has to be a happy middle balance for a publisher and the retailers, and Image is making the first steps towards that balance.

TIM SEELEY

What Tim said. This is hardly a knee-jerk decision.

Incredibly condescending messaging, and no way to treat retailers, who serve as both Image’s customer base and frontline sales force. This is embarrassing.

My shop has trouble with getting Image books that aren’t Saga or Walking Dead. Or rather, they first don’t order them and then when I ask they have trouble getting them. I suppose part of the problem is that I rarely buy a totally new comic without seeing reviews first. And part of it is there is limited shelf space at the shop. And, quite frankly, my shop doesn’t seem to keep up with everything it ought to.

But three weeks ago, I asked for Comeback. The co-owner I deal with hadn’t even heard of it. But she placed an order. They hadn’t received it as of last Wednesday. And she told me that she has trouble dealing with re-orders with Image sometimes.

So I read something like this and wonder what this means. I suppose you can take a chance on this with a book like Saga. But what about the books from Image (or any other non-Big Two publisher) that don’t boast BKV or Kirkman or Hellboy or Joe Hill? Is this the start of a sea change towards one printing, digital sales and quick collected editions? If this works, will even Marvel and DC end the endless reprint? How will this affect retailers who might really want to move away from the Big Two? Or the collectors market?

There is some logic here. There is also a nagging feeling that it might become that much harder to try something new if you are really concerned you won’t be able to read more of it. (And as a reader who is still waiting for the last issue of Infinite Vacation and the second issue of Nonplayer, I am already disinclined to commit to anything from Image in pamphlet form.)

Remember when Marvel did this? Probably not because it didn’t last long and they were soon back to reprints. Good luck, Image. You’re going to need it.

As a retailer I am completely fine with the specifics of this announcement. I order a lot of Image properties because I love the products and I know I can sell a majority of it. Sometimes I nail my orders sometimes I’m off. It’s going to happen. But, to not see this message as condescending…we have to be seeing two different letters. It’s incredibly hard to read this statement in any other way.
Just to throw something else out there as far as Saga goes, I still have plenty of issue #6 on the racks and am completely out of #7 yet I ordered the same amount on both. Should I have expected a bigger kick since the trade had been out and the book had been on hiatus? Hell yeah, but I didn’t and that’s okay. I’m not going to loose any sales on the issues to come so I’m not fretting about not being able to receive a second print.
So, cool with what Image is saying, not so cool with how they’re saying it.

Sorry, just to pipe in quick one more time. This bit:
CHANGE #2 — Orders presently are 38% lower than orders for the debut issue. If you haven’t read CHANGE #1 yet, please give it a look. Its writer Ales Kot had a breakout hit with WILD CHILDREN this year, and CHANGE taps into the same sensibility.
I can’t wait to read this, but I was shorted all my copies — which is a problem I run into quite frequently with Image #1′s, sometimes never receiving first prints of them. And that hurts, bad, much worse than the news at hand.

One MASSIVE problem is that you are often ordering 2nd or 3rd issues before the 1st ones come out. Many books seem to have ZERO advertising from publishers outside of their own comics. Saga #1 sold out quickly because it had almost no buzz before hand. 3 comic shops in our town and maybe 4 or 5 people had pre-ordered it. Suddenly, the day before it drops, people are asking for copies. This industry is INSANE with the way it sells and distributes product.

DC and Marvel probably have a lot more means to keep reprinting issue after issue whereas companies like Image might not.

sounds like a way to booost TPB andf digital sales to me, nothing more, and imho very lame, but that seems to be the way comic companies are being run these days… eff you to everyone besides those making the comics and collecting the ducats($$$)

I have a thought. Why is it that the retailers have to “believe” in the product? Why don’t publishers demonstrate some “belief” and order higher print runs that will account for anticipated sales. This will save them money because it will bring down the unit printing cost of each book and they can earn a profit at a lower sell-in percentage, and they can lower those cover prices to encourage more sampling and in turn more sales.

This isn’t about retailers and consumers supporting the industry anymore. We did that way back when before the 1990s. You know, before the publishers sold out retailer and consumer alike to cater to speculators. It’s time for the publishers to start supporting and believing in their industry. It’s their turn to demonstrate some faith. Marvel and DC need to take their Batman and Avengers money and invest in the infrastructure and long-term growth of this industry. We did our parts. it’s time for them to do theirs.

It needs to become standard industry practice from all publishers that the first 3 issues of any new series are returnable for the retailer. Retailers need incentive to over order new product to find its selling point. They need the cushion to keep those orders initially high, so that they can watch if the series loses readers rather than guessing if the series will lose readers. By issue 4 a retailer should know how much they’re selling of a title and at that point no returns/no reprints is a completely reasonable. I agree with image that for Saga this should be figured out by now. But of course orders have dropped significantly on those issue 2s. Ordering up is all risk with historically rare reward.

It’s time for publishers to start sharing the risk on new product.

defiance defiant.

December 12, 2012 at 9:49 am

I say go to 250 thousand copies mandated first print on every title the company has. if they don’t sell within 2 years, they will all “always” sell to collectors eventually, within 20 years, as collectors tend to collect not just for future value they will someday get, but they also collect for their grandchildren to possibly cash in on.

–no other medium is as “spoiled” as comics…to think every title “must” auto sell, or else the editor fires an awesome writer like Gail Simone, simply because we are in a bad economy and said editor has expectations wayyy higher than what “can” possibly sell in today’s uncertain market.

–when in doubt, flood the market, with not only a certain number of titles, but a certain mass printing…see what happens. it also shows faith in the product u sell, which can translate into merchants having faith in your products, which makes you more money.

-part of the uncertainty in mass printings is lack of faith by the publisher. –if DC is limiting its first print, i as a retailer, (if i was one) wouldn’t touch too many copies, because that shows me the publisher thinks its a risk. if the publisher thinks, or shows its a risk,..why shouldn’t i? –If a publisher shows faith by printing at least 250 thousand copies, like they used to, then i am going to see they have faith in their products again.

and the win, win part of it is, comics are collectors items. if the fans wont buy in, eventually the collectors will, if the comic is given enough time in the market. the “i gotta sell it now or else” b.s. needs to be curbed. …there are ways to market it to both collectors and fans. there are ways to get it sold at wholesale prices. under-confidence on the part of publishers is part of what is killing this industry.

@Defiance

A few problems…
1) At Image, creators pay the cost of publishing and printing. That is… Image sends the creators a bill for services rendered. Then the creators make money when the issue sells. So to print 250K copies… if a creator has that much money, they could afford to print and distribute themselves.

2) Collectibles are valued on three criteria: supply, demand, condition. If there are 250,000 copies out there, the issues aren’t worth anything. You’ll find copies in dollar bins. That’s “supply”.

“Demand”… with digital copies and trades available, why buy a single issue? People bought back issues because that was the only way to read the previous chapters. Even if it’s not available (like Miracleman), there are black market copies available.

“Condition”… 250,000 copies. How many are slabbed by CGC? What’s your near-mint, bagged-and-boarded copy going to be worth if a CGC copy can be bought for $10? Chances are, the collector will either buy a $1 copy to read, or will buy the pristine copy. But not yours for $5. Or even cover price.

3) Retailers buy on a non-returnable basis. It doesn’t matter what the publishers say or do. A good retailer will look at customer demand, past sales, and possible promotions and order accordingly. Sometimes, sale incentives will encourage a retailer to increase an order.

4) Publishers used to print 250,000 copies back when spinner racks existed. Of course, if a third of those copies sold, then it was considered a success. So if a publisher prints 250,000 copies, but stores only order 70,000 copies (which would be considered a success in today’s market), then those unsold copies could wipe out any profit. That’s why the Direct Market exists… it reduces the risk on publishers, and provides for more diversity of titles and products. (Look at 1985.)

5) Under-confidence… spread it around. Readers not confident in a title written by Brian K. Vaughan. (coughYTHELASTMANcoughRUNAWAYScoughEXMACHINAcough) Retailers not confident in a new series by Image. (coughWALKINGDEADcoughCHEWcough)

Torsten: “1) At Image, creators pay the cost of publishing and printing. That is… Image sends the creators a bill for services rendered. Then the creators make money when the issue sells. So to print 250K copies… if a creator has that much money, they could afford to print and distribute themselves.”

This is not true. Image pays the upfront costs of publishing and printing. When the money comes in from Diamond for copies sold, Image then pays for the printing and take a flat fee for publishing costs (to pay for the Image office staff, the listing in Previews, etc.) and any profit left goes to the creative team. The book may tank and there may not be any money left to give to said creative team, but the creative team NEVER cuts Image a check for anything, ever. http://www.imagecomics.com/faq/#q32

Now, the creative team *could* try to pressure Image into doing a larger print run since ultimately any unsold copies come out of the creator’s portion of the pie, but I’m sure there’s a limit and it would probably only be done in special circumstances.

“The book may tank and there may not be any money left to give to said creative team, but the creative team NEVER cuts Image a check for anything, ever”

Actually Jason, from what I’m told that’s not true. From what I hear, if a book doesn’t sell enough to cover the cost of printing and the Image franchise fee, the creators owe Image the difference.

As a retailer I am very sympathetic to challenges and costs of the reprints. However, I do feel like there are better approaches that still help retailers, creators and publishers.

We order a lot of image titles and are selling them very strongly. As a retailer we have to guess on a lot these titles as to what the order levels should be. Saga is a great example, we sat on a pile of issue #1 for a long time, almost until issue 3 came out, then we got the blitz. We appreciated the reprints to catch up our customers on the story. This is not an uncommon scenario. Now on the later issues, we have stabilized and are doing fine on our initial orders, but that only happened after the first 6 issues. Now that the trade is out, we have something for people to jump on and this will likely reduce our shelf copies of the monthly. This happened with walking dead, invincible and other key titles around. We sell waaaaay more copies of the TPB of these titles than we do the floppies.

With this said, if we missed a hit having the reprints is key to our success, the publishers success and the creators success. Since the reprints are expensive to produce, it is reasonable to change the discount that is offered on these books. Small press companies do this on re-orders. I would suggest you reduce the discount by 2-5% on the reprints of floppies, this is fair, it will encourage higher initial orders on good titles.

This is an artifact of the way the industry is structured with retailers on the tail end of the risk in ordering. We have to hedge our bets to manage our cash flow. We do this well on TPBs where we order what we need for a week or two then we reorder, if I had to buy a years worth of Walking Dead upfront, I would go out of business, i don’t have the cash to risk on that, and that is a pretty sure bet I can sell them. Image titles sell differently than DC and Marvel. DC/Marvel sell the week they come out and don’t move much after that and such we don’t tend to reorder or order reprints as much. Image titles get momentum and sell from back stock better as the word gets out. Having re-orders and reprints helps the retailer manage the way these sell.

We love what image is doing right now, there are some of our favorite books coming from Image right now. Keep it up, whatever happened in the past 18 months keep it up! Lets hope we can find away to make it work for the whole ecosystem.

Ziggy: “Actually Jason, from what I’m told that’s not true. From what I hear, if a book doesn’t sell enough to cover the cost of printing and the Image franchise fee, the creators owe Image the difference.”

If the orders wouldn’t cover the cost of printing, the book wouldn’t get printed, and there have been more than a few books in the past that Image has solicited and then never released due to low initial orders. As to the Image franchise fee, quoth Erik Larsen, from 2005 when he was publisher: “Image DOES take a fee–but it’s off the back end–it’s not as though creators ever cut us a check. Our fee is collected and the rest goes to the creators. We couldn’t stay in business if no money at all was coming in, y’know…”

i don’t want to turn this into a thing. But again your example, with phrases like “Our fee is collected and the rest goes to the creators” implies that the book earns enough for there to be a “rest” to go to the creator.

If you want to tell me that Image will cancel production on any book that doesn’t get initial orders enough to cover both the printing AND the franchise fee, I’ll say fair enough. That sounds reasonable to me and is a likely policy. I’ve just never specifically heard that to be the policy, nor otherwise have you shown anything that says Image would be willing to eat the fee in part or in whole if the book didn’t earn enough to cover it entirely.

I understand it. They’re trying to add value to their product. One single print run of a fintite number of issues means that if you want the series in original issues, that you should get them in your pull box. This solidifies the orders for the first print run and avoids retailers sitting on lots of overstock. Other readers can always buy the tpb or digital format if they want to read the story. I don’t think the message was snarky at all, more of informing the fan base of the changes taking place.

Don’t worry, I’m not trying to turn it into a thing either, just trying to correct misconceptions. I’m a big fan of Image and was an Image/Savage Dragon forum regular for years and years (and years and years and years…), so I’ve read a lot of posts on the subject from the people who would know. If you go here…

http://www.brantfowler.com/ImageComics/larsensubmissionanswers.html

…you can find anything and everything you ever wanted to know about how the Image publishing deal, straight from Erik Larsen’s mouth. (These are originally from the Image messageboard, and this link is merely collating together all of Larsen’s responses into one place.) You’ll find things like:

jonnyponderosa: “They dont hire you, you hire them. I might be wrong but it would be no different if you got in a cab, took a bus or ordered a pizza. You pay a fee for a service and that service is them being your publisher. Please let me know if I’m wrong.”

Larsen: “You’re wrong. You don’t pay a fee–a fee is taken from the monies collected from the distributer. It’s a bit different–but creators don’t end up cutting us a check–we pay them.”

MisterGreenThumb wrote: “1) If sales do not cover the printing and Image’s flat fee, is the creator responsible to pay the difference?”

Larsen: “1. In most cases, the book is simply not printed. If the creator is determined but there’s no way it could possibly break even–they’d have to. We can’t afford to piss away money like that.”

tank: “Does Image continue to publish so long as there is a profit? Does the bubble for profit equal the bubble for printing? I would imagine that a book just barely making a profit over the printing and flat fees wouldn’t be kept on the roster if the circulation wasn’t going up. Is that true? Or do you keep it running as long as it breaks even? Is there a point at which a book will be cancelled if it isn’t making a big enough profit?”

Larsen: “Image does everything it can to keep its books going–period. We’ve gone out of our way to make things work. In some cases we’ve really taken it in the shorts. But that’s worked out okay. Some books (like Invincible, for example) started off a bit soft–lost numbers–and then turned around and really took off. It does happen.”

jai_nitai: “Does one have to pay any fees or put any money down when publishing with Image? If so, how much? And what is the minimum run for a comic book? Who pays for the printing? And does everything have to be completely set up, like even the pre-press/production work, etc.? Or does someone there do that?”

Larsen: “The money generated from the books themselves pay off everything. From that money the printing bill is paid. From that money our fee is taken out. The minimum depends on costs and a number of things affect that. Paper costs, page count, cover price and a number of other factors come into play.”

Much much more at the link, obviously, but hopefully that helps clarify things.

Wait…this person works in PR? For a living? As a professional?

Well, alright then.

Eric Hawk: Please email me at aleskotsays at gmail with specifics. I’d like to look into this and ensure something similar never happens again.

My best,

Ales

What’s interesting about this is that most retailers I’ve spoken to, and publishers, generally agree that by issue #3 you can tell what the audience will be because the “sales” (orders) for #6 will roughly mirror the sales for #3, and then steadily decline from there. What’s interesting about this situation (since it concerns “Saga” particularly) is that there was a hiatus, there was a break in momentum, and I don’t think that Image is taking that factor into account. Can retailers assume that the same audience will still be there for #7 because of the break, essentially #7 has to now be treated as “issue #1″ in the next round of issues. That’s why the orders are lower on #8 because retailers are treating it as if it were issue #2 in a new series instead of #8 in an ongoing series. I know that you cannot expect retailers to support an “ongoing” that takes breaks to release TPBs (or whatever the rationale) if an ongoing is going to routinely or unexpectedly go away every couple of months. If you’re going to do that, then just follow the Sin City model of periodic miniseries.

What I found interesting, no, let me be honest…what I found hilarious is the whiny, condescending, and entitled tone of the statement. I mean if I hear one more person on the publishing side use the words “believe” or “support”…they are, if I’m not mistaken, in the business of selling a commercial product. This means that the publishers are the ones who must engage in persuasive advertising not only of retailers but their end consumer – readers. Her “Field of Dreams” marketing strategy of “If you order it, they will come…” has me guffawing right now. Ultimately, this statement just betrays that the nonreturnability of the Direct Market has outlived its usefulness because you cannot expect people to operate in a predictive manner with the way less than perfect information we enjoy in this industry.

To me, it came off as Image blaming retailers for the simple fact that Saga’s “sales” are not what they imagined. It presumes that retailers were being sheepish in their orders of Saga when maybe they didn’t sell-through what Image sold-in for the first six issues. The fact that it’s on the NY Times Bestsellers List means nothing because it’s a totally different market and it’s returnable unlike the Direct Market. IMHO, Image just blinked and people need to stop being blinded by TWD’s success (which is great, don’t get me wrong) and look at why they can’t break 5% in the Direct Market.

Just as retailers should have this figured out by now, so should Image. By issue 3, they should know what their orders will look like for issue 6 forward. And they should do print runs accordingly plus some. If reprints are this much of a problem, then there’s enough blame to go around, but don’t act like retailers have to just “believe” in order to make sales go up. Image is working with the same information (or lack thereof) as retailers. And if Image wants to make its point effectively, throw out some ACTUAL order numbers instead of percentages.

Protip: use metrics from past sales based on things like author/genre/etc and you can simply overprint the first time and keep a certain amount of stock in storage to be later released. No more losses from setting up the printers again!

If your company’s sales department has not thought to do this then I recommend replacing the people with MBAs (the fast food of college degrees) with real businessmen who have real experience and proven success.

@”Image is working with the same information (or lack thereof) as retailers.”

Is that actually true? Each individual retailer knows how many copies that they ordered of a particular title were sold and how many are sitting on the shelf. Maybe I’m wrong but I would presume that Image only really knows how many copies the store ordered. And so if the store over-ordered initially or is under-ordering now or is reacting legitimately to customers specifically saying they are dropping a title how much is Image able to know any of that? If a store is under-ordering based on no good reason other than the notion that they have a safety net then that would actually make Image less informed of what is happening with their books. All they see is the sales drop and so just fulfill the order as is with some overprint.

In other words if orders go down by issue Image can only assume that sales at the retail level are down. But if that issue sells out even with an overprint and then retailers ask for another printing Image can only conclude that something fishy is going on with the retail end.

@”In other words if orders go down by issue Image can only assume that sales at the retail level are down. But if that issue sells out even with an overprint and then retailers ask for another printing Image can only conclude that something fishy is going on with the retail end.”

According to Stephenson, “When we went back to press on Saga #1, we printed double what we normally do on a second printing. We figured by going well over the amount of our standard second printing, we would circumvent an immediate sellout of the second printing.”

Now right there, he already reveals that they have some idea of what a standard second printing looks like and we know they doubled that number, whateve it may be. If Vaughn and Staples are the acclaimed, reliable draws that Ms. Guzman portrays them as, then they should gone well over “well over,” but they didn’t. BTW, this is a sell out at the distributor level, not retail.

Orders of issue 6 were about 40,000 copies. Now, according to Brian Hibbs (he writes the Tilting at Windmills column here at CBR), sales from the first issue to the second issue drop about 20%; from the second issue to the third issue, sales drop another 20%; and then there is a 5% drop for each issue from issues 3 – 6. Working backwards, if the orders for issue 6 were 40,000, then the orders for the first issue were 66,000 roughly. And yes, this is assuming that every retailer in the direct market is this saavy when it comes to sales forecasting. Even if they are not, the PUBLISHER should be.

Stephenson: “We were wrong.”

When orders came in for the second printing of Saga #1, not only did our print run – and again, this was a print run that was twice what we normally would have done – fail to meet demand, it didn’t even meet that demand by half.”

Now, when the orders came in for the second printing of #1, it didn’t even meet Image’s anticipated demand by half. Now, we don’t know what Image’s typical number is for a second printing, what we do know is that the demand for the issue was more than twice what they do for a second printing, so we’re talking 200%+ of a standard Image second printing for issues of Saga. As a publisher, we can make an educated guess about what the print run should be for Saga #7.

If Saga is a “known over-performer,” then Ms. Guzman, Mr. Stephenson, and all the other lovely people at Image could come up with the following number for a Saga #7 print run: 66,000 + 200%+ of a standard second printing. Let’s say, for some reason, that you don’t believe that Saga is a 66,000+ seller because there is some natural attrition due to consumer sampling or whatever. If you work off of the 40,000 number for issue 6, the print run would be 40,000 plus 200%+ of a standard Image second printing. Now I don’t know what this final number would be (because I don’t know what the number is for a Image standard second printing) but here was the number of orders for for Saga #7: 46,971 copies.

So if Image “believes” that Saga is a “known over-performer,” then they should send a print run of 40,000 plus 200%+ of a standard Image second printing to Diamond and they should be able to avoid distributor-level sellouts and expensive printing costs. In other words, the Top 5 comic book publishers should adopt the newsstand distribution model, returnability and all, when it comes to printing. The direct market retailers deserve the same level of “belief” that the newsstand market got especially because they are more trustworthy and reliable retail partners than the newsstand guys ever were. The direct market has proven itself and should be treated accordingly; they should be granted “Favored Nation Status.”

At they very least, with all the information Image had about Saga #1-6, and its stellar showing as a “New York Times Bestseller,” they should have printed 60,000 copies (at least) especially because the retailers have proven themselves incapable of seeing the true demand of their product due to their crippling fear, low self-esteem, stupidity, or all three. How much do you want to bet that Image printed 46,971 copies or so of their “known over-performer”?

Stephenson: “A couple retailers have made what I consider to be a fair comment: We should have known a new series by Brian K. Vaughan would do well and could have printed way more than we did.

But using that exact same logic, here’s the thing:

They also could have ordered more.”

This is a false equivalency on Stephenson’s part because regardless of what he says, he goes by the Final Cut Off numbers and Image gets paid every single dime it’s owed. A retailer has to hope that his order sells through at retail, all Image (like every other publisher in the direct market) has to do is sell into the market and count their $$$. The risk is not the same and neither is the reward. If Image doesn’t want to miss sales opportunities, share some of the risk and up your print runs.

Stephenson: “Especially since we offered an incentive for Saga #1 that made it returnable for retailers willing to order more copies. In fact, that incentive was available to retailers for Saga #1-3, along with the first three issues of books like Fatale, The Manhattan Projects, Secret and Thief of Thieves.”

I’m glad he made it returnable but what were the terms? What was the ordering threshold for product to be returnable? Was all of the order returnable or was there limited returnability? Depending on the answers to these questions, the risk and reward may not still be equally shared between publisher and retailer. And even if it shouldn’t be shared risk or reward, please stop using the words “believe” or “support” when we are talking about business, OK, Ms. Guzman. A leap of faith is exactly that, a leap of FAITH. If you are not willing to take that same leap of faith without conditions, don’t expect others to do the same.

There is nothing fishy on the retail end. You can assume retailers are scared, lack confidence, or are simply stupid, but whatever assumption you make, a publisher can anticipate consumer demand and print accordingly after a certain point even if the retailer keeps getting it wrong. Image, Vaughn, Staples, and company are just unhappy that Saga has an audience of 40,000 readers. That’s it. This is not about low retailer self-esteem, their collective retail cowardice, or their inability to promote a book. 40,000 people want to read Saga in print, that’s it. And 4,000 people want to read it digitally. And a certain amount of people want to read it in TPB form. The point is educated guesses can be made by all involved, publisher and retailer alike, and anybody who says otherwise needs to find another business to work in.

Ah, I get your point. Thanks for the thorough (and patient) response.

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