by Danica LeBlanc
Most people walk into a comic store, pull a single issue off the shelf, buy it, then leave. But stores can’t rely on everyone doing that, so that’s why most have a subscription service. I’m going to focus on those specific customers today. If this sounds like something you’d be interested in, please contact your local comic shop about their subscription service.
Now, what customers see is actually the end of the process. You may hear about a comic online, from a store employee, or they may put a new comic in your file if that comfort level has been agreed upon. But the process actually begins around 3 months prior to that.
This is a Previews book.
The page count ranges, but it’s usually over 400 pages. It contains all comics, trade paperbacks, collections, graphic novels, toys, statues, clothing, and games being released 3 months from the publication. This month, we received the October Previews in store, for all products released in December. Occasionally, you would see products released even further in the future – usually due to the production time involved in putting the product together. A store owner or employee will go through the entire book and figure out what they may like to order for their store. I can only speak to my stores’ ordering process, so please remember that your local store may order differently.
I go through the entire book, bookmarking certain pages, writing notes about books to remind myself and Brandon later of my first thoughts, and write down file numbers if I feel strongly that someone specific may like it. I like to live tweet my Previews read, however, the book takes about 3 hours to go through, so I usually split up the thread. If people respond to my Twitter feed, I can add a series to their subscriptions once I’ve uploaded the newest information into a program called ComicSuite. I also create a list of all the issue number #1’s for Brandon to post on our website.
A quick aside on ComicSuite: It’s a very handy program from our comics distributor, that works most of the time. It’s a way for comic stores to keep their subscription database up to date, with the ability to add or remove subscriptions, and keep a customer’s’ contact information on file.
Around the same time as I would begin digging through Previews, the store has also received a certain amount of these from our distributor Diamond Comics. While most stores do sell them, we give them away free to people who have subscriptions at our shop. It’s not mandatory they pick them up, but we keep a stack on hand for all who want them. They usually arrive the last week of the month, dated for the next month, and customers can pick them up as availability allows for the rest of the month. Yes, we do run out sometimes. In that case, we bump up our orders for the next month.
Once a customer has looked through a copy of Previews (either at home or in store), they can come back to us with their picks, whether it be adding a new series or a special order (this is basically anything that’s not an ongoing series – such as statues, clothing, or artist’s’ edition hardcovers) . This can happen in person, over email, or sometimes social media (with social media heavily based in the foundation of Variant Edition, I’ve had folks DM us their subscriptions changes). We make the changes in ComicSuite and everything is hunky dory. The comic shows up in their file when it is released, and they go home happy. Hopefully, they like the series, but can cancel at any point, with the knowledge that they must still purchase any comic that we can’t adjust orders on (normally books coming out within the next couple of weeks).
Now, I’m sure you’re wondering – how can I help support my local comic store? And why do I need to pre-order, when I can just come in and pick a book up off the shelf?
I’m glad you asked.
The comics that we order are largely non-returnable – which makes shelf copies risky. Not the price, necessarily, but if they don’t sell, they’re actually costing more money simply taking up space in the shop. A store’s goal would be 100% sell through. In a perfect world, the shelves would be empty within the month and we could all afford to order more product in the next month. We would also always have the perfect amount of issues ordered for who might come in and pick it up. This doesn’t happen, so having those books on the shelf can often feel like money wasted – especially in an age where back issue sales can not and should not, be counted on (another article for another time).
My goal as a retailer is to comfortably add comics to your file – ones you’re happy with. I will order more of a first issue if I think a larger group of people are going to like it. Like I mentioned before, I will only add a new series to someone’s file if I’ve spoken to them in the past and they trust my recommendations. Now, doing this still isn’t a guarantee of a sale. They may not be interested after all, or the budget cannot stretch that week for something that’s not a sure thing. In that case, I put it on the shelf and hope someone else discovers it.
Simply put: ordering comics without pre-orders is hard. As retailers, we have to guess at how many people will want certain books listed in a 400+ page catalogue every month. While we’re one of the seemingly rare shops that actively try to make recommendations and put free copies of Previews into people’s hands, we still find it hard to accurately make this happen. The initial orders we place happen months in advance, and as unfair as it is to ask our customers to know what they might want so far in advance, we still need to place those orders ourselves. This is why we don’t look for a commitment so far in advance, but a statement of interest. A simple “that sounds cool” goes a long way in determining what might appear on our shelves in a decent quantity.
Thankfully these days, our initial orders are not the last chance we have to adjust many orders. On the Monday 3 weeks prior to the release date, the store goes through a process called Final Order Cutoffs (FOC’s). This enables the store to raise or lower their orders before they arrive at the store. Sometimes, you’ll see a store posting online on Sundays or Mondays in order to see if they can generate a more immediate interest in a series. Creators will also spread the word that whatever Monday is the deadline for customers to get in touch with their store and make sure they can get a copy. Now, generally stores can order more after the fact, however, these will not arrive on the release date and the customer will have to wait. Not the end of the world, but if you’re excited about reading something, you probably want it as soon as it comes out, right?
Not sure how many stores do something like this, but Variant Edition posts an “Incoming” list on our blog every Monday, with a comprehensive list of everything that will be released that Wednesday. Everything the store will be receiving anyway. Many stores don’t order in every single item, which is why special orders are useful. This information is taken from the invoice from our distributor, which gets emailed to us every Wednesday. This is a last minute attempt to get customers to request an addition to their file, or to add the first issue so they can try out the series. (As always, you can add books to your file whenever, barring availability.) Occasionally, a book will not be shipped from the distributor, but we work with them to get the missing books in the next order.
This takes us to the end of the process, where you walk in and have comics ready and waiting for you! Pretty neat, huh?
Final note: Our header image comes from a comic Kieron Gillen made a few years ago on how to pre-order a comic and it still makes me smile.