Pipeline, Issue #333


The discussion of trade paperbacks took an interesting twist this past week. Things are still uncertain, but Marvel's Tsunami line may or may not ever come out in single or multiple formats in book stores and/or direct market outlets. With things still up in the air, I'm not going to rage against the machine just yet. When the dust clears and announcements are made, I'll come back to it. Worst case scenario: I just saved a whole bunch of money on about a half-dozen trades I was thinking of buying that I won't have to anymore.

Meanwhile, I see where Larry Young and Brian Wood are now catching grief for printing DEMO in monthly "pamphlet" format only. (Thanks to ADD for the pointer.) It does seem like an odd move to make by a publisher that has made its name by publishing strictly trades and original graphic novels.

However, there's also the matter of printing a story in the format that's best for it. Just as a story shouldn't be padded out to fit better in a trade, a short story shouldn't have to be written to accommodate a trade paperback down the road, or any other format. Each story takes its own form. For Brian Wood, the monthly comic is DEMO's. Isn't that what many of the arguments for original graphic novels are? It allows writers to think of the complete story, rather than how to break it up into bite-sized pieces. It allows readers to read a complete story in one sitting. And for retailers, publishers, and distributors, it makes it easier to maintain inventory over a longer period of time. AiT/PlanetLar has hit all three of those buttons with DEMO. The series is a maxi-series, really, composed of 12 individual stories. Readers will be able to read a complete story every month for twelve months. Young has promised that all the issues will remain in print throughout the series' run.

If one were of a more vindictive stripe, one could imagine the ways to fulfill the desires of the nay-sayers, while still making a point: Publish an oversized hardcover two-volume slipcase edition of the series when it's complete. Do not include the cover art in it. Do not reprint any of the "special bonus material" that Wood has promised to put in the individual issues. Make the monthly format the preferred one for this series, with the trade merely the afterthought to please a smaller portion of fans.

Just thinking out loud.


My Bill Jemas piece two weeks ago brought back up a lot of old arguments. Just for kicks, let's bat around some of those ideas again.

First thing I have to do, though, is correct something I wrote in the column:

"The sad thing is, if you reinstituted full overprinting/reordering practices, Marvel sales would drop through the floor, as would complaints from readers who weren't able to get their books because their retailers sold out."

That makes no sense. Complaints from readers would go up, not down, if books weren't readily available to them. Blame my awful proofreading on that one.

I also had an e-mail from a retailer asking me to expound on the point. It is my belief that a great many retailers use DC's re-ordering system to their own advantage in a way that does not benefit anyone, except the retailer in the extreme near-term. If the retailer knows that they can reorder a book a week after it arrives on shelves, they won't be moved to take a risk on ordering a couple extra copies. A retailer will order enough to sell out and take on no more. Some go so far as to not order any copies for the shelves, just the reservists. This, that retailer believes, maximizes profit. For that week, it might. But for the next month and the future after that, it doesn't. Human nature dictates that most people won't look for a book the next week that they didn't see the week it was scheduled to come out. They'll move onto the next thing. Or, perhaps, they'll just go to another shop and pick it up there. Or order it through the web or buy it at a convention. Often, those re-ordered copies will just sit on the shelf for a very long time. The potential sales volume for the series isn't maximized since so many people won't bother with issue #2 if #1 is already sold out. That doesn't benefit anyone.

Marvel's print-to-order policy challenged retailers to order in larger numbers initially, knowing that they wouldn't have the chance to re-order their stock further down the line. Is it completely fair to shift the burden completely on to the retailer? Perhaps not. But can a lesson be learned this way? Sure. Was it? Well, DC keeps selling out of books left and right, indicating that retailers, a couple of years later, still don't know how to order their stock, or that they purposefully underorder, figuring that they can always go back to the well later. It's no wonder Marvel hasn't completely reversed its policy. Marvel has gone so far as to stretch out the pre-ordering time until the point at which the books are printed, a couple of weeks before books hit store shelves. That should help gauge customer interest in the book, I'd think. But if they were to change their policy back to overprinting (and watching plenty of books die of old age in warehouses), their orders would drop through the floor and those potential sales I talked about before would be lost. I also have to wonder just how many Marvel books are clogging up shelves at comics shops around the nation to this day. Have retailers not learned anything in the past two years of this policy, or have they, indeed, learned to adjust their orders based on demands better. Obviously, it's a bit of a crap shoot with mini-series and new books, but has the lack of an overprint really affected NEW X-MEN's sales that much? I'd be curious to hear about that.

The PREVIEWS catalog issue is a complete red herring, but keeps getting raised by those particularly inclined towards loathing Marvel. The solicitations copy never said anything in the first place on its best days, and did nothing but ruin stories and surprises on its worst. What's really funny is that when a big plot point is teased for a particular issue, thus warning readers and retailers alike that there will be heightened interest in the issue, the first response is a complaint about lack of re-orders. Obviously, advanced information on a book is meaningless.

Ask creators what really frustrates them about retailers, and many of them will have horror stories of retailers who sold out of a particular title one month, and then never increased their orders on the book again. After all, everyone who wants to read it is already buying it, right?

This is, of course, a terribly cynical point of view. Sadly, after following the events in this industry for the past 14 years, it's not a viewpoint that's uneducated.

The good news is, those of you reading this who are ready to fire an e-mail off to me to defend yourselves are not the problem. The problem is that there are too many retailers who don't order past the first half of the PREVIEWS catalog, who take every shortcut they can, and shortchange everyone in the industry, from readers to creators to publishing companies. Those of you who do look past WIZARD in the PREVIEWS catalog and who do order enough to satisfy demand and who do increase orders after a sellout are doing a fine job. There's just not enough of you.

One last thought: Another one of the complaints I've heard about the Quesada/Jemas Marvel is the cover layouts. There are plenty of people out there who don't like the single-character pin-up approach to the comic book cover. Some even go so far as to call it a cheap attempt by Marvel to utilize cover images for posters, t-shirts, and more. I hadn't thought of that last part, but I have to admit that I think it's brilliant from a business point of view. Of course, then I look at the Brian Hitch Marvel Universe Poster due out in November, and have to question that wisdom, too. That's not a cover image Marvel had already paid for. That's a separate commission, all together. Personally, I don't mind the cover design. It definitely separates the Marvel books from the DC books. It provides a coherent across-the-board cover design without introducing anything as annoying as, oh, say go-go checks across the top border. Too many covers look too cluttered these days, anyway. I think this is a valid attempt to get away from that.

I really hope I can move on to some reviews next week now.


My sister asked me this week why I hadn't included any pictures of my niece in this column so far. Truth be told, I never had a good comics tie-in for it. However, this week she found something that she had to grab hold of, and which has since become part of her menagerie of toys.

So, without further ado, here's baby Katie at 7 months of age with her favorite yellow stuffed animal, Blammo from Michael Brennan's ELECTRIC GIRL:

Bedtime readings of AMELIA RULES will occur within a year, I predict.

Various and Sundry has been updated all week with baseball talk, DVD comparison shopping, the new Friday Link Round-Up, the week's movie trailers, the new $20 bills, and more.

You can e-mail me your comments on this column, or post them for all the world to see and respond to over on the Pipeline Message Board.

Nearly 500 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns or so are still available at the Original Pipeline page.

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