Friday, July 25, 2008

ORDERING COMICS :: Sure Can Be A Funny Thing

Luckily for “nights and weekends” workers such as myself, the scut-work of deciding what and how many to order of any title is left in the capable hands of Dustin and Shawn. The minefield that is intuiting the demand for any title is--at best--akin to reading tea leaves; or if you prefer, the innards of your average ungulate.

This was put on dramatic display just yesterday, when, hot on the heels of its cool looking trailer, Heroes sold six copies of the Watchmen trade paperback and two full runs of the series. Now, you might not think of eight as a huge number, but ponder this: We have sold, on average, a copy or two of Watchmen per week for the past several years. In the six years I’ve worked at Heroes, that’s around 70 copies a year, in the neighborhood of 400 since I’ve worked there. On a book that has been continuously available since 1987!

Shawn and I had a brief discussion after seeing The Dark Knight last week that we should beef up our supply of Watchmen and Batman: The Killing Joke, but Sweet Nellie Furtado! Our sales have jumped 300% in one day. One day! We didn’t see a commensurate increase in demand for Sin City, nor The Spirit, nor for 300, nor any of the other (relatively) self-contained works with filmic tie-ins. We saw a considerable bump, mind you, but not a sell-out.

This leads to thoughts about the perils of ordering. Comics that we love, or are original and exciting, or are just plain wonderful, don’t often move off the shelves. In the month and a half since it was released, we’ve sold one or two of the recent Starman Omnibus, one of which I bought (or, at least, I think I paid for). This was a well reviewed comic by respected creators, and whose penciller appeared at HeroesCon. And it hasn’t sold worth a poop. Luckily, I wasn’t in charge of ordering, or we’d be saddled with ten unsold copies of a $50 book. Likewise were the sales on Darwyn Cooke’s DC: The New Frontier. It sold OK, but even with all of us constantly pushing it, we maybe sell one every week. Cable & Deadpool trades sell at a more rapid clip!

In the coming months, we hope to get leaner and meaner with our ordering, cutting the chaff, while still providing the selection that you’ve become accustomed. Give us a hand, as we depend on your expertise, from unknown great creators, to online “chatter”, to trends in manga. Remember. This is your Heroes, too.

19 comments:

Andy Mansell said...

Very cool article Phil.
I was working on a review of the Hellblazer collection The Fear Machine. This is a book collecting issues from almost 20 years ago.
I asked Heroes how many issues of the monthly Hellblazer you sold-- answer 20-30 depending on the creative team; then I asked how many copies of the collection sold answer only 2.
This left me baffled. I will make an uneducated guess that less than 1/2 of the Hellblazer monthly readers have the entire run. This would leave anywhere from 10-12 potential Fear Machine purchases. Now I realize that economics has to play a part, but I am still thrown that so few copies of this outstanding story were sold.

My point-- you guys have a challenging task every week-- it is a science unto itself.

Thanks!

Dustin Harbin said...

We struggle with stuff like this Hellblazer number, Andy. Part of the reason is that Hellblazer is very disjointed as a continuous series, meaning that the Jamie Delano -written trades sell far fewer than the Garth Ennis, etc. Each writer has his or her run on the book, and fans follow or don't that specific arc.

On the other hand, Preacher and Sandman still sell pretty briskly, as they're continuous stories with beginnings and endings.

Great post, Phil!

Rich Barrett said...

I find it interesting the sensation that Watchmen trailer is causing among the general non-comics reading public. I know two people since that trailer hit that have either gone out and bought the book or asked to borrow it from me. And we're a year away from the movie actually coming out.

Ted Tarver said...

Interesting look behind the curtain. I honestly didn't realize Shawn did anything other than antagonize harmless customers like little ol' me.

Sounds like I was the only other person to buy the Starman Omnibus (Thanks for the recommendation Andy! It's great!).

Jason Wheatley said...

Economics certainly do play a role in some things, yes - for example, I would love to pick up one of those Starman Omnibuses (Omnibi?), as I've heard nothing but good things about that book for years. But scrounging up the cash for it is a different story, especially when combined with buying my regular batch of books each week, plus trying to ship away at the mountain of materials I've already stashed away for future purchases. Makes it hard to try new things, sometimes.

But I think you're underestimating DC: The New Frontier, Phil. Although I realize you were just using it as an example, from what I've seen in recent months, maybe even as far back as the past year, it sells pretty briskly, around that same 1-2 copies a week as Watchmen. But maybe that's cooled off over the past few weeks since I haven't been in the store as much, I don't know.

Either way, good article, sir - well put.

Phil Southern said...

You are most probably correct vis-a-vis The New Frontier, Jason.

Ordering, followed by recommending followed by selling to customers is rarely a sure thing. I can't tell you how many times I've recommended "Kane" by Paul Grist, "Queen & Country" by Rucka or the superb "The Golden Age" (now on sale as "JSA: TGA"), by Robinson and Smith to see them put back down with shaking heads and disappointed looks on their faces (This is worsened when Dusty comes in and tells me the "coffee is for closers", and slaps my half caff soy latte from hand). Likewise with the excellent early Hellblazers by the likes of Delano, or Alan Moore's Captain Britain. These are comics that we don't not want to have in stock, but can we justify the hundreds of dollars it takes to have them all available?

Phil Southern said...
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Dustin Harbin said...

You couldn't be righter about Kane--that's one of the ONLY books I ever sold someone that they actually brought back. I can't understand why it doesn't sell, but I'm dedicated to carrying it.

It pains me, too, to see a solid 16 inches of Hellblazer trades. I'm halfway to the point where I'm just going to stop ordering the early gothier ones, because they just plain don't sell. It might be the kind of thing that we get for people as a special order, if they want it--every non-selling Hellblazer eats up the profits of a Watchmen that DID sell.

Phil Southern said...

Thursday night, I had another three folks ask for the trade. I was able to set them up with some other stuff, such as Arkham Asylum and the DC Universe stories of Alan Moore, but durnitt, that was three new customers who I couldn't sell to!

As an update and an aside, I see that DC was caught rather flat-footed, and had to put an order in for another 200,000 copies of Watchmen, via www.icv2.com.

Andy Mansell said...

Just a thought...

I think the early Hellblazers by Delano, the fabulous run of Captain Britain by Moore then Delano and practically anything by Paul Crist are....

just TOO BRITISH

It's not told in the King's English, it is hip (for whatever time it was written)street English that is rather difficult to read. Even Warren Ellis run on Hellblazer was challenging to read-- pretty darn scary too...
Remember the movie Quadrophenia-- pretty good film if memory serves, but critics and viewers alike had a heck of a time following what they were saying.. there was even a suggestion of subtitles...

But in addition to the street vernacular, there is an attitude that seems to turn people off. Try getting someone to watch one of the great Merchant-Ivory films of the 80s. Same reason Mary Poppins is no longer mentioned in the same breath as other kids classics anymore. England, for most Americans nowadays is another planet. (Harry Potter except for the summers do not take place in any real world we know...)

When Hellblazer brought JC to America,sales rose, I would argue toe-to-toe that Miracleman was every bit as good as Watchmen, but the biggest difference between the two is the SETTING.

Just a thought; I could be wrong

Why anyone would not want to read the Golden Age is beyond me; art and story both a delight.

Phil-- for recommending GA but not selling it-- you get-- "Steak Knives!"

Thanks for listening.

Dustin Harbin said...

I agree that Delano Hellblazers and Captain Britain are way too British, but disagree on Kane--Kane is solid cartooning at its finest.

Phil, we just got five more Watchmens in stock today, although they're going fast, and I have 15 more coming on Tuesday.

Andy Mansell said...

Well your two posts finally answer the question: Who Watches the Watchmen?

Sorry, I will go back to work now

Phil Southern said...

Maybe it is the British-ness of those comics is what has appealed to me; they're like fully realized fictional worlds like Narnia, Middle-Earth or Canada.
I must concede your point, Andy. If I may make a stretched similitude, Alan Moore is the Beatles, Grant Morrison and Garth Ennis are the Stones, and Jamie Delano is the Kinks. Awesome, but singing/writing from a more specific cultural perspective.

Good news about the trades! You guys are supply-side juggernauts!

Jason Wheatley said...

I saw that tidbit about DC ordering the 200K run of Watchmen trades, too. It's among the top sellers at Amazon right now, and it looks like almost all the major stores, comic and big-box alike, are watching their stocks of it fly off the shelves.

But looking at this "problem" another way: How awesome is it that the general public is now flocking to stores to satisfy their interest in one of comics' masterpieces, one that stars characters most of them have likely never heard of before? "The Dark Knight" doing gangbusters is a bit of a no-brainer - everyone's heard of Batman. But Susie Q. Public has never bought her little boy Dr. Manhattan Underoos, that's for sure. But now she's coming to Heroes, or Amazon or Books-a-Million, looking for the Watchmen trade.

Who watches the Watchmen? Looks like everyone!

Speaking of watching Watchmen, has anyone besides me seen the Watchmen digital comic that's available free on iTunes? It's the entire first issue, with Dave Gibbon's artwork animated like the old Marvel cartoons from the '60s, and there's a score and voice acting (although it's just one guy doing all the voices, so Silk Spectre sounds unintentionally funny). Worth a look, even if only for novelty's sake.

Seth Peagler said...

Good blog, Phil. We've all been talking a lot lately about how insane the demand for 'Watchmen' has been recently. I can't remember another time in recent history when a not-so-mainstream comic film has created such a buzz. Going along with what Jason said, even the Charlotte Observer had a blurb in today's entertainment section about the 'Watchmen' trailer running before Batman. When's the last time something like that's happened?

Seth Peagler said...
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Matt Plummer said...

hey just leaving a comment about the trends in manga that you mentioned in the article. you're spread is fine as it is and all i can say is to have multiple copies of the new realeases and just make the earlier special orders. also try to buy more omnibuses if xxxholic and tsubasa earlier volumes sell because those are 12 a piece. i thought parasyte and Cat-eyed boy were great too. Although i know it involves some searching on wikipedia at most never stock up on manga that is released after/based on the anime counterpart. the anime sould always be based off the manga as it is written. it is something i have found to be absolutely infallable in my manga collecting and i hope it saves you some money too.

Dustin Harbin said...

Matt, I just made a big manga reorder, and restocked Cat Eyed Boy and a bunch of other stuff--it should be in Wednesday or Thursday. I LOVE LOVE LOVE to get suggestions on manga, so keep them coming--I'll make sure and restock Parasyte and those omnibuses tomorrow. Also, feel free to point out titles you think will NEVER sell, as each book we carry that doesn't sell is a book we CAN'T carry that might have sold instead.

MarkSullivan said...

Those Delano Hellblazer sales are puzzling. Long-time fans have been claiming they wanted to see the whole series collected; maybe too many of them already own the individual issues and can't afford to buy the trades, too (that's me). Or maybe DC missed the window on this run by about ten years! I think The Fear Machine was a great arc, BTW, and would recommend it. Go on, it's not too British!