After industry giant Diamond Comic Distributors began soliciting opinions on major changes to its system of selling and shipping comics and related merchandise to specialty shops across the country, a discussion that had been going on for years in comics retail circles was taken to the public sphere.
At the Diamond Retailer Summit at April’s C2E2, the distributor began reaching out to its retailer partners with questions on whether a system that would allow for day-early shipping and coordinated street dates would work for them, whether comics-on-sale-day should shift to Tuesday, and how such changes could be implemented and policed practically. This outreach extended when Diamond sent out a survey to comic shop owners for more specific input on their proposed changes.
Earlier this week, retailers and readers alike learned of the distributor’s final decision when Diamond announced that Wednesday would remain the on-sale day for new comics, but that product itself would start to ship on Tuesdays to stores who opt in for the new system, which begins the week of January 11, 2011.
For more on the move, including questions over the proposed “secret shopper” system to police stores, how the changes will affect the U.K. comics scene, and concerns over comics piracy, CBR News spoke with Diamond Vice President of Sales and Marketing Roger Fletcher.
CBR: Roger, Diamond has been talking publicly about making a change to its shipping and sale policies since back during the Diamond Summit. Now that we know shops will have the option of Tuesday shipping for Wednesday on-sale, how did the final decision get made? Was the questionnaire sent to retailers primarily responsible for this specific configuration?
ROGER FLETCHER: Yeah, I would say that the feedback from the retailers was key in deciding which day to have new product go on sale. We started with the notion that retailers – and really, the entire industry – would benefit if they were able to receive product the day before it went on sale. That led us to thinking that if we were going to have to get publishers and printers to change their schedules around, should we consider moving the day the books go on sale from Wednesday to Tuesday to get comics in sync with other entertainment? Other media come out on Tuesday, and there would be some other benefits with that – getting more lead time to retailers before the weekend, etc. But the retailers -Â I would say a significant majority -Â felt that staying on Wednesday, on a unique day, and getting the product on Tuesday would be a preferable scenario. The publishers decided to go with that consensus.
Did people want to keep Wednesdays simply because “Wednesday is comics day”?
I think that was big factor in retailers preferring they keep Wednesday as the on sale day. Certainly part of it is that people are hesitant to change something if it’s what they’re used to and if it’s working in a lot of ways. But I think what you said is probably the primary sentiment for why they opted to have it stay Wednesday.
At the start of this process, there was discussion of a $5.00 fee for stores in order to have secret shoppers police shops a bit and make sure books aren’t going on sale early. Where is that component of the process right now? We didn’t see it in the initial press release.
We are planning to stick with what was outlined in the original presentation – to employ a third party to visit shops and investigate any reports of people breaking street date. But we haven’t determined the final cost yet, so that’s why we didn’t include those details in the announcement that went out. We hope to have that information out to retailers in the near future.
This initiative is opt-in. Do you have any sense of how many stores are opting in to Tuesday shipping? Is it your hope all retailers go this route, or does it matter if there’s a divide there?
I think it’s important for retailers to have the choice. A lot of people may be comfortable with the way things work now for them. If they’re receiving their books on Wednesday and getting their books on the shelves and are comfortable with that routine and don’t want to do it a day earlier to avoid -Â and we think this is relatively minimal -Â but if they want to avoid that expense, they should have that option. For us, it’s really not a problem to offer that option, so that’s what we’re doing.
One question that came up in the discussion around our initial story on this was the question of “U.S. Vs. U.K.” and how this changes things for accounts Diamond has overseas. Right now, comics in the U.K. typically go on sale on Thursday because of the time it takes to ship them over there. With this new system, will all the shops be synched up so that market will sell the same day as the U.S.?
The plan is that books will be on sale in the U.K. on Wednesday the same as they are in the U.S.
Another question this brings up is midnight releases. Will there be a greater opportunity to do more special Midnight sales along the lines of “Scott Pilgrim” and “Dark Tower” releases? How will that all work out from coast to coast?
We have discussed it a bit, but we have not made a final decision on how we’d like to proceed with that. I think certainly for big event books where it makes sense, retailers should have the opportunity to do midnight release parties if they want to. There’s a school of thought that would say, “Let retailers decide for themselves when they want to put the books out,” and there’s another school of thought that would say, “We should encourage retailers to maintain whatever the normal on-sale times are in their metropolitan area.” We currently have a Tuesday release program for people with multiple stores who turn in a single order form, and those folks have agreed to not put the books out on sale before the prevalent release times in their market so they’re not gaining advantage over the people who get books on Wednesday, and there is some sentiment to stay with that kind of a rule. So we haven’t come to a final decision on that one. We’re still talking about it and getting feedback from retailers on it.
One thing you don’t have control over but may be something you talk about internally is the piracy issue. A lot of titles get scanned and put on the internet very early in the on-sale process, with so called “0 day releases” of major titles scanned and offered up on pirate/torrent sites by Wednesday evening. Has any consideration been given to the possibility of “-1 day releases,” where full issues could end up online the Tuesday before Wednesday. Has that scenario been discussed?
Well, I’d certainly hope that retailers who would get the books a day earlier would not be the primary suspect for putting them up online to be pirated. It’s certainly not in the retailer’s best interest to do that, so I don’t think them having the books a day early would really exacerbate the situation.
Sure. Although one thing we’ve heard retailers speak of are “Buying Clubs,” where a group of collectors have teamed up to buy their comics direct from Diamond through one person who has an account with Diamond. This is someone who’s not an existing store front. Can these Buying Clubs also opt-in for Tuesday delivery?
Well, our policy is to only sell to people who are purchasing from us for resale. So we don’t sell to Buying Clubs. I’m not going to tell you that there’s absolutely none of that because I’m sure some people can figure out how to work the system, but our intention is only to sell to people who are buying the product for legitimate resale and not Buying Clubs. So hopefully that doesn’t become an issue.
To wrap on the macro, this whole program will start pretty soon. From the summit to the survey to now the final plan, what has Diamond learned about this system that they think will provide and immediate or long term benefit to the industry?
We are really excited about how retailers and the industry as a whole will benefit from this. We’ve been asked for years to please find a way to get retailers their books a day early so they don’t have to undergo all the stress that goes into receiving your products, checking them in, pulling your holds, putting product on the shelves, reading them and then talking to your customers coming in. Trying to do all these things at once on Wednesday morning has been a challenge to retailers for a long time. We think giving them the opportunity to do all these things at a more comfortable pace is really going to result in more sales for them, for us, for publishers, for everyone. So we’re very excited about the benefits from this.
Diamond’s Tuesday shipping, Wedneday street date policy will take effect the week of January 11, 2011.