Direct Market comic retailers across North America grow up a little bit next week, as they join their friends in the video game and book retailing industries in receiving product prior to street date sales.
“What?!”, you ask? In most other businesses the product that is to be sold on a specific date arrives PRIOR to that date. But not comics, comics arrive on the same day they are to go on sale… that is until Tuesday, January 11, 2011. On Tuesday, and going forward, comic shops will begin receiving their deliveries for comics to be sold on Wednesday.
This allows retailers to properly prepare the orders, count the stock, upload the inventory into their computer systems, rack the product; heck, it might even allow them to read some books and know what it is they are selling that week. Plus, comics will be available for sale when the store opens, be it 9am, 10am or noon. None of these were really possible under the old delivery system.
So, there are lots of the positives, but are there negatives?
The possibility of breaking Street Date.
‘What is that?’, you ask? Let’s use the example of a huge video game release. That game is available for sale on a date, say Wednesday, January 12th. The producer, the distributor and the retailer all agree that is the day the store can sell the product, 9am on January 12th. Not before. Sometimes special releases happen at midnight, which is indeed the same day, but that’s not what we are talking about here; we are talking about the week in and week out product releases. You know what happens in the video game industry? Everyone follows the rules (for the most part, I’m sure there is 0.000001% of retailers that cheat and break the rules).
In comics, let’s just say that, historically following street date hasn’t been followed by such a small percentage. Why else would it take so long to create such a basic system, a system followed by every other industry? The partners: publishers, distributors and the entire retailing population, they really didn’t trust each other to follow the rules.
As I said, next week comics grow up.
Everyone in the chain has decided that they are willing to give comic book retailers a chance to prove that they are grown up, adult, business people who will follow the rules. Let’s hope this trust is deserved.
Personally, I think that retailers will follow the rules. For the most part.
The comic industry have given us some tests recently: Scott Pilgrim 6 was shipped early so it could be put on sale at the crack of midnight. Same with the most recent Walking Dead trade. For the most part, retailers followed the rules.
But there were violations. Make no mistake. We have heard that there were multiple violations of street date in 2010. How many books were shipped early in 2010? Two? Three? And amongst our 230ish retailers there were street date violations.
So how long until someone breaks the rules? I give it a month.
There are certain cities which have highly competitive comic markets: Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton; the larger cities, and these would be the first places I would suspect to break street date to gain some sort of advantage over the other retailers in their market.
But don’t paint the small town shops as being innocent. Imagine a situation where it’s nearly closing time, books are being unpacked and racked and a small town owner has one of his ‘good’ customers (I say good as in the amount of money they spend) ask to buy the books right there. “Come on, I’m here now, it’s closing time.”
Retailers need to be prepared for these situations. I recall about 10 years ago, when Hannibal by Thomas Harris was shipped to book stores early, I talked a Chapters employee into breaking street date on that book so I could buy it. And most comic retailers believe that they have a closer relationship to their customers than a big box book store.
So this will be one more issue for retailers in 2011.
How will the street date problem be monitored and managed?
- Diamond has put together a Street Team, who will police retailers by posing as customers to monitor the situation
- Diamond has provided retailers a Street Date Violation E-Form (which can only be accessed by retailers) available on Diamond’s Retailer Services Website, so they can report suspected violations of other shops
- Customers can file complaints via a dedicated email – firstname.lastname@example.org
There are punishments in place for stores that break street date:
- 1st confirmed offense – the retailer will face a one-month suspension of Day-Early Delivery privileges.
- 2nd confirmed offense – the retailer will face a three-month suspension of Day-Early Delivery privileges.
- 3rd confirmed offense – the retailer will face an indefinite suspension.
It should be noted that the indefinite suspension can be appealled. The other interesting this to note: use of the word confirmed. Also, retailers who make false accusations against a competitor face the same punishments.
I personally don’t believe that these punishments are harsh enough, and with difficulty of confirming an offense, I suspect there won’t be too many convictions.
In Ancient Greece, if an Olympic athlete was caught cheating the offender was required to pay out of pocket for the construction of a statue, a statue of themselves, which had a plaque that listed their offenses. This statue was placed outside the gates, so every citizen attending the Olympics would know what the cheater did and what they looked like.
In the same vein, I really hope that there is a public outing of retailers who break street date. I would be happy to out confirmed offenders on this website. Diamond needs to do the same. The retailing community needs to know who does not play fair.
So, here’s hoping I’m wrong. Here’s hoping that there won’t be any offenses within a month of this new delivery program. Here’s hoping that comic retailers are the adult business people I believe them to be.