Hard Numbers, Hard Lessons

| September 24, 2012

When you’re sending out press releases, the goal is to put your products in the best light possible.  That’s the reason why you’ll see a ton of “[Publisher] Announces [New Book Title] Sells Out” press releases.  It’s a story that almost always gets reported, so why not release it?  Of course, very rarely does the publisher attach any real numbers to the announcement.  A “sell out at distributor level” could mean 20,000 copies.  It could also mean 2,000.

In the past, I’ve done some barking that such PR is really a non-story.  Why?  Well, because selling out at the distributor level shouldn’t be hard at all.  This is because, for a book releasing in October like SCAM #2, Diamond cuts a purchase order to the publisher in the first week in September.  The size of that PO is determined by the total number of orders Diamond receives for the book from its retail accounts, plus whatever overstock position Diamond decides to take (usually 10% or less of the pre-orders).  So, for an October book to “sell out at distributor level,” all the book needs to do is to get another 10% or less of orders in the space of time between early September and when the book hits the shelves to be “sold out.”

So, it’s not truly a non-story…but it’s not a huge accomplishment either.  Diamond orders books intending for EVERYTHING to sell-out.

I am finding out, though, that “…and [Publisher] is going to press with a second printing” IS an accomplishment, however.  Why?  Because second printings are treated like new product, subject to the same minimum sales requirements as all products.  So, to greenlight a second printing, the publisher and Diamond need to be confident such a product is going to sell in sufficient quantities (ie. 1,500 copies+).

Okay, now that that’s out-of-the-way as preamble, I want to get into hard numbers for our first Diamond release — SCAM #1.

Comix Counsel isn’t about PR, and it’s not about sugar-coating. Since the beginning, I’ve made this my forum for dishing the truth of comics publishing as I see it.  In the indie scene, it’s pretty easy to hide the numbers of books you sell.  When you’re self-publishing and self-distributing, there’s no one to verify whether or not you’ve sold 8, 80, 800 or 8,000 books.

Not entirely so, once you’re publishing to the direct market through Diamond.

Comichron’s August 2012 sales chart shows that SCAM #1, ComixTribe’s first Diamond distributed title, sold 2,040 copies.  SCAM #1 ranked 404th on the chart, sandwiched just below Archie’s Sonic Super Special Magazine and above Antarctic Press’s Gold Digger.

There’s really no spinning it.  SCAM #1 landed at the bottom of the Diamond charts in August.  Ultimately, that falls on me, the publisher.  ComixTribe has A LOT of work to do.

It’s often been mentioned that the Comichron numbers are not accurate.  And that is true.  Those numbers don’t include overseas orders or re-orders, and are thus always a little low.

The actual purchase order for SCAM #1 from Diamond was for 2,239 copies, and that’s what we sent them.  SCAM is now completely sold out at Diamond, so 2,239 is a more accurate number of copies sold to retailers from the Distributor.

So, yes, those orders are far less than Joe and I would have hoped.  Keep in mind, however, that more copies of SCAM #1 were sold prior to this Diamond release:

  • 100 copy initial run for New York Comic Con 2011, sold out.
  • 777 Micro-distribution first printing
  • 512 Micro-distribution 2nd printing
  • 50 “Con” variants
  • 50 Artist edition variants
1,489 total self-distributed copies sold

Which means, with the work we’ve done, plus the Diamond numbers, there are some 3,728 copies of SCAM #1 out there.  For a debut book, by a new creator (Mulvey) and a new publisher (ComixTribe), those are numbers we have nothing to be  embarrassed  about.

 What Have I Learned?

1.) Diamond Does Ad Value

Some of you might be looking at the above numbers and thinking, “Wait a minute?  You sold about 1,500 copies on your own, and through Diamond, you only sold 700 more than that?  Why bother with them at all?”  (Believe me, I had the same thought.)

But prior to Diamond, ComixTribe had 50 retail locations in our retailer network.  Through Diamond, 361 retail accounts purchased SCAM #1.  While many of those accounts only ordered 1 book, that’s more than 300 additional accounts we now have a sales history with.  If I had to manage 361 retail accounts directly, I’d likely pull every remaining hair from my head.  I’m sure I contacted many of those retailers to no avail earlier this year, so Diamond did in fact get us some legitimacy with shops we might not have been otherwise able to penetrate.  That IS something.

2.) It’s Harder Than I Thought to Get Ordered at All

361 Diamond accounts ordered SCAM #1…out of 2,800 or so ordering books in August.  So, after getting in the catalog, and all the drum beating, solicits, reviews, yadda, yaddda, only about 12% of retail accounts took a chance on SCAM.  We all know that many retailers out there barely stock Image books appropriately, so I knew this number was going to be low…but 12%?

That takes some re-calibration and expectation management.  But it also leaves a ton of room for growth.

3) For a New Publisher, Micro-Distribution First is a Must

A creator asked me in my recent Lean Into Art workshop on Micro-distribution, whether it makes sense to just go directly to Diamond if they accept your book.  I don’t even want to know what our numbers would have been had it not been for the great relationships we established directly with retailers earlier in the year.  Those guys came out in big numbers again with the SCAM #1 Diamond release.  If our first introduction to the entire direct market was a 2-inch wide solicitation in the back of the Previews catalog, we would have been toast.

4) Publishing Books in the Direct Market is Not as Hard as You Think…It’s Harder

I’m getting a lot of submissions these days, from both friends and strangers.  (I spend more time on the one’s from my friends…it’s just the way it goes.  So, protip: make a lot of friends in this industry.)  I think a lot of people have seen what ComixTribe is doing, and have been inspired by our “can-do” spirit.  I’ve even had some suggest that ComixTribe might become a viable alternative for creators whose books can’t get accepted by Image or one of the other creator-owned shops, and could be a place where unproven talent can go to get their books into shops world-wide.

It’s a nice thought, but the truth is, ComixTribe books need to be twice as good as Image books to sell half as many.  And I think that goes for any new small publisher.

Establishing trust with retailers and a history of sales takes time.  As exciting and fresh and new as our properties and publishing plans feel to us…retailers have seen it all before.  There are no short cuts.  The work needs to be done, and the track-record needs to be established…one account at a time.

5) We Can Build From This

SCAM #1 barely made the Diamond sales chart in August.  SCAM #2 will be even lower in October.  (We are not immune to the dreaded second issue drop.)  But we are in the game.

And we’ve already made some mistakes that we can learn from and correct going forward.  Some examples:

  • Despite a bi-monthly release, SCAM #1 shipped the week AFTER orders were due for SCAM #2. As a result, retailers were ordering the second issue, before they got issue #1 in hand.  That’s death, and should be avoided at all cost for a new series.
  • We didn’t print enough SCAM #1.  I based the size of our SCAM #1 print run on Diamond’s orders, plus another 60 or so for the ComixTribe shop.  What I didn’t factor in was Diamond reorders.  As I said, Diamond sold out of its 10% overstock of SCAM.  Earlier this month, Diamond sent us a new PO, a small re-order of 100 more  SCAM #1, for shops who either missed it the first time, or sold through and wanted more.  Unfortunately, I didn’t factor in Diamond re-orders into my off-set print run.  So, we can’t fill that order…at least, not in a cost-effective manner.  We will need to take that into account with print runs on future books.
In October, we attempt another challenge…it’s the first month ComixTribe will solicit TWO books in the Diamond catalog — SCAM #3 and THE RED TEN #1.  It’s another opportunity to launch a series and do just a little bit better at this.
And isn’t that what this whole endeavor is about…getting a little bit better with each book you release?


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Category: Comix Counsel

About the Author ()

Tyler James is a comics creator, game designer, educator, and publisher residing in Newburyport, MA. He is the writer and co-creator of THE RED TEN, a superhero murder mystery, EPIC, a superteen action comedy, and TEARS of the DRAGON, a swords and sorcery fantasy. Tyler is the publisher and co-creator of ComixTribe, which is both a new imprint of quality creator owned titles, and an online community where creators help creators make better comics. Follow him on Twitter @tylerjamescomics, or send him an email at tyler.james@comixtribe.com.