Price of the Past
published in Joes The Big Picture column for Comics
& Games Retailers
magazine, no.140, September, 2003.
Sales have been good for many retailers over the last couple of years. We've had a good run up with marquee projects published almost every week, or so it seems. In my time in this business, one thing I've found to be true is that when things are going strong, retailers will rarely rock the boat. We're fat and happy as long our registers are cranking.
There are issues confronting retailers that should be shaking us out of our complacency. Here's a shining example: the forced addition of a Marvel supplement to Diamond Previews, along with a price increase to the catalogue. Shouldn't that advertiser-supported publication be a low-cost sales tool? Doesn't its effectiveness get reduced with each price increase? What's implied about Previews when Marvel management felt the need for its own sales tool?
There's enough wrong with the Marvel/Previews situation to be a bit peeved with both Diamond and Marvel. Diamond for acquiescing to Marvel's desire to break away from the main Previews and Marvel for essentially forcing a needless price increase on what is the key sales tool for many retailers. Diamond Previews should be the umbrella under which all of our suppliers can pitch their stuff so we can sell better to our customers. With the Marvel move, it's obvious the umbrella has sprung a major leak.
Marvel's progressive switch to weekly order adjustments has changed the way retailers micro-manage individual title sales, a move I initially had real concerns about, but which has proved to be much more a blessing than a curse. In the same light, the Marvel bailing from Previews may at first glance look like a left-over piracy tactic from the Perelman years, such as Marvel sailing away from the rest of the direct market when it took over Heroes World. This time, though, I think there are good reasons for Marvel's bolt from Previews and take the initiative with its own catalogue.
Previews has been a target for my criticism several times over the course of the years I've written this column. It's is an expensive albatross, even while it's still the most complete catalogue retailers have to use as a sales tool. The order of Diamond Previews makes sense only to those who remember the history and aftermath of the distributor wars. That just doesn't make sense to the average consumer, the ostensible target for the mag. I'll admit I sometimes get lost trying to remember where to find items in Previews, too, and I'm sure I'm not the only retailer with that problem.
Each month when the new Previews arrives, we get another reminder we're still paying a price for things that happened years ago. Marvel was also paying a price of sorts by being the last company to come back to Diamond, winding up with a deal limiting its annual Previews' covers, while also being behind several major competitors in the catalogue. The move to a separate publication breaks Marvel free from Diamond-imposed restraints, allowing Marvel more and exclusive space to show art from upcoming titles, dish propaganda, and really sell more actively to its hard-core fans. Not bad goals at all, but it certainly goes away from the "everything under one umbrella" catalogue concept.
The problem here isn't that there's a new equivalent of Marvel Age on the racks. It's that retailers had no say in the manner in which the change came about. There's been a 12% price increase to Previews while the catalogue's usefulness has gone down. Also, extra copies of Marvel Previews are sold to retailers at a net price, effectively cutting most retailers' discount to 40%. So we're not only squeezed by a major supplier but also by Diamond which should be the retailers' primary advocate to our suppliers. Each price increase on Previews over the last couple of years has brought fewer customer orders as a result.
Previews has a focused target market that should be attractive to outside advertisers and that might be what's needed to incentivize the consumer purchase of the catalogue. I could see advertisers like snack food and soda companies wanting to tap into that focused market with coupons and free samples. To that end, even Diamond could offer coupons for Diamond Direct items. I want a catalogue that more potential customers want to buy, use and buy from. I think Diamond should make strong efforts to find ways to mitigate the high price of Previews and to make it a more attractive purchase to more of our customers.
In the end, Marvel's escape from Previews should portend significant changes for the catalogue. While I loathe the loss of margin for retailers on Marvel Previews---easily remedied by having extra copies tied to our standard Marvel discount--- I sympathize with the publisher's plight in creating a more effective sales tool. It's long past time for Previews to make sense to anyone who picks it up. It needs to be a central point of information and sales-gathering for all we can order through Diamond. Or it can make a radical change like the Sears catalogue did years ago when it split into a series of catalogues for each department under the Sears banner. I can walk into any Sears' tool department and pick up a free Craftsman catalogue. If Diamond wants to truly serve its comics' specialty retailers, changing Previews for the better would be an excellent way to start.
(Joe Field runs Flying Colors Comics & Other Cool Stuff, 2980 Treat Blvd, Concord CA 94518. E-mail is Joe@FlyingColorsComics.com)
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