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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Casting an Inquisitive Eye
@ the Retailer Trade Org

Let's take a minute today to talk about ComicsPro, the comics retailer trade organization that you may have heard about elsewhere a few times. According to their website the organization consists of around 50 different retailers, large and small, from fifty different states around the country. It's still a fairly new organization, but they've definitely gotten their message out.

The Isotope is not a ComicsPro member. Not even a non-voting I'm-just-showing-my-support member.

But I'm going to write about the organization anyway, and if you're a non-member retailer like me, I urge you to take a minute of your time to hear what I've got to say about ComicsPro.

You've probably heard about this week's distribution issues with Civil War #6. Over the past few weeks record snowfalls over the Rocky Mountains and in Texas (!) have left truckloads of comics sitting in rest stops and weigh stations while comic store shelves collect dust where popular titles like Justice and Civil War should be.

West Coast readers of Civil War aren't going to be happy to hear it, but this one is getting it the worst. With only 10-15% of the placed orders making it to each comic retailer this week, getting your hands on a copy of this book before January 10th is going to be nearly impossible. For most comic shops, Isotope included, 15% doesn't even scratch the surface of those made by our various pre-order customers. And unless those retailers out there are planning on screwing over our customers by marking those issues up for $20 for a week... 15% of our ordered copies is pretty much useless. And believe you me, our distributor already knows that.

I've been having a blast reading Civil War, and it's a good seller too, but the Isotope's diverse customer base ensures that even if a competitor was to air-lift in crates of the book to sell this week to every single comic customer in San Francisco it wouldn't register as much more than a blip and a headache on our end-of-the-month totals. Even so, my customers and I want the books when we're supposed to get them. My staff and I are famous for taking great pains to make every single person who walks through the Isotope door happy, so you bet that even if that unlikely situation doesn't happen, I'm still not going to be happy telling folks I can't get them a book that my distributor is telling them is out.

Apparently phone calls to all West Coast accounts have been going out all day asking us to not sell Civil War until next week, but if that's what Diamond wanted, why did they ship any copies? And where's my phone call, wasn't I supposed to get one too? And am I going to get those confirmed two-day-air rush orders from the East Coast that I placed to take care of our pre-order customers shipped to me by Friday or are the rumors true and Diamond is going to decide to freeze all West Coast rush orders on Civil War for a week? Apparently no one knows. So we're down running our respective businesses based on rumors now? Certainly not ideal.

Don't get me wrong, I think it's amazing how few problems I have week in and week out with Diamond's distribution. And the folks have always been very nice and professional every time I've called them. And I think my rep with the company is simply wonderful. Those guys deserve a round of applause as far as I'm concerned... but they're screwing up bad on this one.

Personally, I don't think Diamond should distribute any book that has over 50% allocations to my coast if they have the option of waiting a week and filling our complete order the very next week. And for a book as popular as Civil War I feel they should have made our East Coast friends wait as well, if possible. Or perhaps they could direct ship the missing books so we'd at least be able to get them into our customer's hands as soon as humanly possible. Or at the very least I'd like for my distributor to put "Ships to West Coast accounts on January 10th" next to these titles on their shipping list... how hard could that possibly be?

But the Isotope is just one store, why should Diamond listen to what I think? With everything that divides us retailers, anyone who sells funnybooks for a living can see the need for a trade organization to make sure things like this are handled more effectively than this has been and to help get us the information we need. For us, for our customers, for the industry. This is where ComicPro comes in.

"But wait a minute, James, you're not even a ComicsPro member!"

It's true. Like many, many other retailers out there, I haven't joined this organization. I've certainly always liked the idea of ComicsPro. As a comic retailer who has to deal with the multitude of behind the scenes industry headaches every week the concept of an organized group of stores making the world in which I work a better place to be is great. But to be honest, as good as that idea sounds, the organization's message thus far has been focused primarily on getting retailers insurance, cheap credit card processing, and talk of getting exclusive chase covers made for ComicPro members. If you don't need those things or are a retailer outside of the United States who can't take advantage of those benefits... you can probably find more effective ways to spend 300 dollars each year. I certainly think I've been able to up to now.

But isn't it scenarios like this week's Civil War fiasco exactly why a retailer trade organization was created in the first place?

I think so.

And I think the ComicsPro founders think so as well. Maybe they've all been too concerned with the individual nightmares that Civil War #6 has created for them this week for the organization to speak up, or perhaps they're too polite as an organization to do a recruitment drive during these recent distribution headaches... but they should be.

It doesn't take a whole lot of imagination to see how useful ComicsPro could be next time our distributor is thinking about shrugging it's shoulders and giving us "sorry that's all we know" or a vanilla "regrets the error" message when there is a distribution crisis with the biggest book of the entire month. Could ComicsPro make all those crazy pie-in-the-sky dreams that we comic retailers have come true? Probably not. But it could definitely help Diamond make better decisions about distributing allocated books. And something as simple as seeing "Ships to West Coast accounts on January 10th" next to those books this week... that one simple thing... will make our lives and our customer's lives better. That alone is worth 300 bucks to me.

So I'm joining.

I'm signing up for full voting privilege membership and I'm going to make sure that I get my vote counted. I'm going to encourage the organization to rethink their message to non-members who don't need their insurance or credit card processing or exclusive collectable chase covers. I'm going to tell anyone who asks me why I joined why I think ComicsPro really matters. And I'm going to see what we can do about getting that damn shipping list changed.

I'm joining. How about you?