Roughly one year ago, California retailer Brian Hibbs filed a class action lawsuit against Marvel alleging that it had refused to take returns on late books and books on which content had changed between the time of solicitation and release, in violation of its trade terms (see 'Retailer Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against Marvel'). Marvel subsequently authorized returns on a large number of books (see 'The House Backs Down'), but continues to contest the suit in court. Hibbs released a statement shortly thereafter indicating his dissatisfaction with Marvel's action and his intentions to continue his lawsuit (see 'Hibbs Comments on Marvel's Returnables'). We asked Hibbs for his feelings about the current status of this slow-moving suit.
How do you feel about the progress of your suit so far?
I find the American legal system to be awfully slow and far too easy for lawyers to 'game' and extend and extend and extend proceedings for no real good reason. But not really much I can do about that, and, frankly, it was created by people much smarter than me, so I'll shut up on that topic!
I do think the facts of the case are clear and unambiguous, and that if it were to eventually go to trial any rational judge would clearly see that, and we'd handily win a large victory.
I also think that it's pretty unfortunate that this ended up in the legal system to begin with -- this absolutely could have been resolved amicably, but Marvel showed no interest in addressing any of retailer's concerns after repeated attempts at contact.
If things come out as you hope, what will be the effect on retailers?
That retailers would be adequately recompensed for the dollars they lost from the effects of Marvel's late shipping and incorrect solicitations. Quite frankly, I do not believe this should be limited solely to 'unsold merchandise' because retailers were harmed in many 'intangible' ways (customer good will, cash flow, budget, long-term health of titles, etc., etc., etc.). I do not know how much New York State law agrees with my personal opinion, however, so I leave that to my lawyer to handle!
I also would hope that publishers in general would come to understand that things like on-time shipping, correct solicitation, and listening to their retailers are, y'know, GOOD things.
Has Marvel started to implement any of the changes in policy you hoped for?
Certainly after the suit was filed, Marvel began to accept returns, started being more careful about solicitations, started resoliciting very late books, etc. So, from that point of view, this suit had done a world of good.
The jury is still out on Marvel's revised Terms of Sale [see 'New Marvel Trade Terms Rationalize Order Cycle'] -- there are key aspects (order reduction, an effective move to weekly-based ordering, backlist counting toward discount) which I think are exceptional ideas... but I'm very concerned about some of the specifics of implementation (lack of good data reporting, the year-long period for rolling discount, no accountability if the underlying systems fail).