The retailer response to our coverage of Marvel's Wal-Mart program has been strong, and is still coming in (for Part 2 of the responses, and links to Part 1 and to the article that started it all, see 'More Reaction....'). Today's responses tend to take a harsher view of Marvel's dealings with the mass market retail giant.
Beverly Kranz of Collector's Ink in Chico, California sent us the following:
One big problem with the way Marvel did the Wal-Mart reprints is that the covers of the new reprints are not different enough from the original printings. Now, we as retailers know why the current back issue prices for the first printings are what they are. But the Mom and Dad of that new reader that we hopefully developed from this exposure to Wal-Mart reprints, who come into the shop and see what is to them the same book that they just purchased at cover price (or less), on display at that shop at a much higher price will assume that the shop owner is out to rip-off the kids and that this shop is not a trustworthy place to go. Now we have not only lost the advantage that we gained, but also risk having bad word-of-mouth spread by those now lost potential customers because of something that isn't true, but seems true to them. And, no, you can't just explain the situation to them, because 99% of the people won't ask you why, they will just assume the worst.
Then, of course, there is the matter of the people bringing the Wal-Mart copies in to sell to a retailer who does not then check the indicia to see if it is a second printing or not, and ends up paying for and putting out for sale a reprint at a first print price. Now, you may say why would a retailer be so foolish as not to check? Well, because the retailer knows for a certainty that no reprints exist, because Marvel told them so, and Marvel never told them differently when Marvel changed the policy.
I agree that we all need the extra exposure of new people to the wonderful experience of comic reading that having reprints of these books in Wal-Mart can provide. I also agree that Marvel should have been up front with us and told us what they were doing instead of going behind our backs.
Tim Simms of Worlds Collide in Oshawa Ontario provided our most succinct comment yet:
This is a slap in the face to all comics retailers. If we were not in business, the comics industry, if it existed at all, would be very tiny.
This comes from Rick Edwards, owner of Socko! in Stow, Ohio. His comments range from Marvel's Walmart program to broader issues of the comics industry and retailing.
It does not surprise me when a business such as Marvel reaches out to a mass market chain like Wal-Mart. They want more exposure, they want to try and sell more comics... let's face it, they are not going to do it solely through the 'niche market stores.' Next will be Borders on a full scale (they missed out on the Heroes book), next K-Mart, etc. Then kids and new readers will be able to get comics from the SAME sources I did as a child and [as a] budding reader/collector - anywhere I wanted to.
To me as a retailer that seems like it will do pretty well for the 'small shops.' However, we are capitalists and the unfair distribution practices will start as the publishers reach out further to the larger chains. We will quickly become the smaller percentage of stores that are selling their product, so we will fall into different pricing and distribution categories.
We (the small shops) cannot name our terms with manufacturers and distributors like Wal-Mart and Toys R Us can. They will get the exclusives, they will get the great payment terms, etc. Soon Diamond Comics Distributors will be shipping their books to them on a different schedule altogether if the publishers do not ship direct to the big boys by then.
It is inevitable and it is progress. 'We' do not like it because 'we' do not have the cashflow and bank accounts that the larger chains do and 'we' will probably fall by the wayside. At least the strongest of 'us' will survive. You might even see a mass market chain of stores pop up that mirrors all of the best practices of the small shops, but run as a regular business and not a collector's shop. I am mixed about this because I am a small business owner in this industry. I will probably fall by the wayside if I do not have a stronger bank account as these relationships develop....
My whole problem with this industry is that the publishers take NO ACCOUNTABILITY for their weak product, their missed deadlines that drive away customers and their lack of incentives and marketing to new readership. It is the product, NOT the stores that have failed the industry - the 'house of ideas' fast became the 'house of gimmicks' to push people into HAVING to buy more than they wanted, with a lacking delivery on the return of having to. Most other companies followed suit and drove away other readers.
Image cannot find their balls to make these so called superstars of the industry publish their books in a timely fashion - did everyone JUST NOW receive their copies of Aphrodite IX? Straczynski, where is our Midnight Nation? All of these things pile up on readers and potential lifelong customers and they will decide that the product does not deliver what it used to.
While I am mixed on the natural progression of the way the comics publishers will eventually be doing business, I can sum this up with one little story. I grew up in Stow, Ohio and there is a small grocer/meat market that has been there ever since I can remember. I was pleased to see them still around (having grown even larger over the years and only with ONE shop) in the shadow of the giants that have moved into town. I went in and told the owner that it was reassuring to see his store still around making specialty cuts of meats, selling the groceries and not selling their services as inexpensively as the larger chains. His reply shook me to the core as I paralleled his business with my own; it was, 'When you have GREAT service and an even GREATER product.... people will seek you out and support it.' It holds true for his business and it holds true for mine; although, my product is found wanting more often than his.