This week in Portland, Oregon, a major and underrated event for the comic industry has been unfolding: ComicsPRO. ComicsPRO itself is a trade organization for the varying direct market retailers in the comic industry, aka the people who run the comic shops that we all know and love, and this event is their yearly get together where publishers, retailers, creators and more meet to help keep moving the industry forward.
Last year, Image’s publisher Eric Stephenson gave a speech that resounded across the industry, lamenting the tried and true and emphasizing taking chances that make things better not just for the short term for one company, but for the long term for everyone. And this year, Image’s Director of Retail Sales Corey Murphy (herself a former retailer) gave a speech that was equally impactful in its own way, especially with some of the new things Image is offering retailers to help encourage the growth of both the publisher and their retail partners. Those changes include:
– Starting March 1st, Image will begin giving the lowest tier (smaller shop) retailers discounts of 45% on orders of Image products, compared to the previous 35%, giving those shops a better margin on Image products
– New retailer accounts with Diamond will receive a 50% discount on Image products for the first year of ordering, rather than the first three months like they used to
– Developing new functionality to Image’s vendor tools section of their site, to include a new discussion forum for retailers that will help retailers both communicate with each other, and Image’s staff as well
Those are just three of the things that came from this speech, but the whole thing is worth a read, which you can do below. Image has been doing some very, very good things for retailers in recent memory, and it’s clear that they’re doing all they can to make Image’s titles appeal to what amounts to their core customers. Take a read of the full speech, and thanks to Image for sharing the transcript.
When writing this speech I tried to play back all the publisher speeches I have heard over the years as a retailer at various breakfast talkbacks, roadshows, and round tables. I asked myself, what was it that I took back with me, to my store, and my customers? The answer was not sales figures and pie charts—which have their value when demonstrating standing in the industry or to provide consumers with context. Nor was it the announcements—new creative teams, series launches, upcoming products—those I knew would all be highlighted many times over on comics news sites, Previews solicitations, FOC newsletters, and so on.
At the last ComicsPro Annual Membership Meeting, I was among you in the audience as a retailer. As I sat listening to each publisher give their speech, I was prepping FOC from my laptop the same way I did every Friday morning—pulling sub numbers, running sales reports, checking for special orders, etc. I nodded along here and shook my head there, but by-and-large heard nothing that demanded my attention as a retailer. But then, a speech came along that did just that. I can remember closing my laptop and looking up to see all of the retailers in the room completely engaged, some enraged, but engaged nonetheless.
Personal opinions aside, I think it is safe to say that all of us left without a doubt in our minds as to the absolute belief Image Comics has in the content it publishes. It is that commitment to the advancement of the medium and the industry through creator-owned innovative content that I have always admired about Image. When flipping through Previews every month, Image’s solicits were always the section that I found most interesting, both personally and as a retailer. While the majority of my orders were numbers I could place without a second thought, Image demanded more of me. Each book required my attention and consideration, it required that I think. I joined the Image because I knew it to be a publisher unafraid of taking risks in order to change the landscape for retailers and influence the industry as a whole.Continued below
Image has always placed a high priority on the direct market. All of our accomplishments thus far are entirely related to the dedication we have towards the direct market and the support our retail partners have shown us as a result of that dedication. It’s our shared partnership that has attracted the industry’s top creators to Image and created award-winning, critically-acclaimed, and strong-selling titles like Saga, The Wicked + The Divine, Bitch Planet, East of West, Sex Criminals, Wytches and the many other titles that represent the future of comics. The position we have carved out as a leading supplier of trade paperbacks and graphic novels is wholly connected to how we manage our inventory, which is based on invaluable insight and feedback from the our retail partners. It is our deepest hope that the retail community feels every step of our growth as their own. We recognize that we have not done any of this alone. Which is why we do not feel comfortable resting in our present success. Instead we choose to use our momentum to create and cultivate new opportunities for retailers to thrive and prosper alongside us as we grow our readers, fans, and most importantly, your customers.
Recently we launched a new initiative called the Image Comics Floor Display Program. This program provides a free-standing cardboard floor display to participating retailers, who by signing up, also receive periodic shipments of Image Comics on consignment to create a risk-free way for retailers to expose their customers to some of the new and exciting titles Image Comics has to offer. Since the program’s inception, hundreds of retailers have signed up, including many of you here today, and more continue to sign up each week.
However, while this program offers us a unique ability to interact and influence retailers on a weekly basis, we are currently exploring new ways to make it easier for retailers to heavily invest in Image Comics.
When speaking to many retailers at events such as these, we’ve often asked what resources and tools were needed to help sell Image Comics in your stores? After collecting your feedback, we have been working with our distribution partners at Diamond and at end of this month Image will be updating our Vendor Tools section on the Diamond Retailer Services Portal to serve as your direct connection to Image Comics.
Built with the idea to provide the tools and resources you have asked for, in the place where you spend the majority of your time.
Features of the new section include:
Up-to-the-minute and direct links to news, press releases, and our weekly retailer newsletter, to help keep you informed of the latest product announcements.
Detailed information about our various sales programs including exclusive variants, discount incentives and returnability, thereby making it easier to find the information you need to make informed ordering decisions.
Resources and direct contact information for booking in-store events, including creator signings and appearances, along with a wealth of logos, artwork, review copies, and other marketing assets to assist you with your marketing efforts to promote events and ongoing sales.
Most importantly, Image plans to host a Discussion Forum on Vendor Tools that will be open to any and all retailers with a Diamond account. Having been a member of ComicsPro, I have personally witnessed the value in having forums where retailers can go to share their ideas and voice their concerns. The only issue is the majority of these conversations are historically happening where publishers cannot see them and cannot participate in them.
When I was a retailer there was a small part of me that sometimes wondered if there was any point in taking the time and the energy to pass along feedback to publishers. While I can’t speak for other publishers, I can tell you everyone here at Image is listening. And better yet, at Image, decisions are made and actions are carried out that are a direct result of the feedback and insight we gain through our retailer partners.Continued below
In fact, it was through these continued dialogues with a retailer in this very room that inspired the following decision:
Image will be permanently doing away with the kind of margins that prevent retailers from experiencing the same kind of growth we have enjoyed as a result of direct market support. Beginning March 1st, Image Comics’ bottom discount tier will no longer be 35%. Retailers will now receive a minimum of a 45% discount on all orders for Image product.
Previously Image has offered freshly-created retailer accounts with Diamond a built in 50% discount for the first three months they are open, beginning with the first initial order they place. Image will now extend that 50% discount window to new retailer accounts from the first three months to the first year.
Image has always and will continue to pour our energy into creating new methods and means for retailers to support our content. We are incredibly positive about the future of the marketplace and that is a direct result of how positively we feel about the direct market.
When adding the finishing touches on this speech, I asked myself again what was it that I took home with me from publisher interactions that actually altered my business practices and personal perceptions? The answer, I think, is conviction. Did I believe and trust them?
If you take anything away from what I have said today, let it be that we at Image believe without a shadow of a doubt that retailers serve as the vein to the heart of the direct market. It is based on this conviction that we are prepared to make any and all efforts to maintain and foster the functionality and the health of our relationship with retailers. We look forward to using this weekend to do just that. Thank you.