John Belskis is the owner of Excellent Adventures in Ballston Spa, New York and the organizer of the twice-annual Albany Comic Con (an advertiser on Trouble With Comics). The following is his response to DC’s recently announced plans to relaunch their universe of superhero comic books and provide same-day digital download capability for their titles.
If the words, “desperate times need desperate measures,” were ever really spoken, I can’t think of a worse time to put them to use. The comic book business has seen its share of both, through its 85 years or so of existence. Even the direct market has had a fair share of both in these last 25 years, like Marvel’s hiccup, and bankruptcy, and Diamond becoming the sole distribution life of DM stores. As a longtime retailer, it’s obvious that the times are a-changin’ again. And probably need to.
DC’s market share has been dreadful, so I understand the need for change. With this economy, this much change this quickly can be, and probably will be, a disaster. Never mind that with 52 new #1s, there will soon be 52 old #6s, or that this is as much a “jumping off” point as it may be a “jumping on” point. The major focus here is about money, and getting more of it.
Now let’s talk about recent history. DC bought into the theory that it was okay to basically disregard small stores by arranging their discount structure to not allow smaller retailers to compete with a fair discount ( loss of market share). That was all handled matter of factly, with either “buy the amount we say, or forget you.” Any small store that was left, ordering with a 35% discount, was put off even more when they made all of their comics $2.99. Again making it more difficult, if you were on the cusp, to maintain that 50% discount (losing more market share).
Now, we move to, “Let’s reboot every title, oh yeah, and by the way, readers can buy them directly from us, at the cover price, online.” So now the larger stores that have maintained their discount can get squeezed out, too. Now, you can call this sour grapes, if you want, and maybe it is. But, I have to say, having been called “‘DC’s retail partner” for over 25 years, I think the partnership has been dissolved. I have been out of DC’s plans for two years now, without a phone call, or a rep saying “Hey, you have been an account for over 20 years, how can we help?” Terms have always been dictated, and Diamond has capitulated.
As retailers we were always obliged to carry the product so our customers can see it, and choose. Those days are done. The day and date release will only enhance the customers that already read the comics for free online now. For everyone who wants to own a printed copy, the problem will be finding a shop that will carry 52 #6s. I don’t think many will, forcing more readers to pay the online price, to read the books they cannot find. I doubt that DC will allow readers to read the book beforehand, as shops have done forever. This trend will eventually get people reading and using the online system, even if they don’t want to, and the segment will grow.
Finally, it will be easier, less travel, and less hassle to just get your books online. Here is the wrinkle that I want everyone to think about. When the shops are gone, and it’s just the big boys left with the major market stores, and DC’s online comics: Do you think they will be worried about keeping the price affordable for you? After all, you’re whose pocket they wanted to get in, in the first place. How much will you be willing to fork over for your Batman fix? In essence, you will be DC’s new “Consumer partner.” Have fun with that. I’ll enjoy my front row seat, at the destruction of the direct market. Thank you very much.