Let’s Stop Blaming Retailers, and Start Blaming Publishers

This started out as a quick comment over at The Beat, in reference to someone blaming retailers for dim road ahead for the recently canceled The Boys series, post-DC, because retailers will order less copies from the eventual new publisher thanks to the likelihood of lower discounts than they receive from DC.

It’s a knee-jerk response, and one I’ve made often in general reference to retailers who focus only on the Big Two, but in thinking about it, I’ve changed my mind a bit.

Marvel/DC-only retailers are like the corner bodega: they stock a basic supply of staple goods from major suppliers that are reflective of their clientele. Milk, bread, dish soap, canned goods…all from the usual suspects, or in my neighborhood, Goya. These guys aren’t Pathmark — whose inventory can vary wildly by neighborhood — and they’re certainly not Whole Foods, but they’re not trying to be, so complaining about their limited selection makes no sense at all.

Instead, the question should be why aren’t there more comics versions of Pathmark and Whole Foods — other than the obvious food=necessity, comics=luxury — and what would it take to encourage such franchises to spring forth?

Answering my own question, and thus becoming a post of its own:

There are comics versions of Pathmark and Whole Foods. They’re called bookstores, ferchrissakes! From Barnes & Noble to Borders to Shakespeare & Company, they all sell a wide selection of books (some wider than others), including graphic novels and, in some cases, even actual comic books.

The problem then lies not with direct market retailers and their often limited selections, but with comics publishers, the food equivalent of breakfast cereal, perhaps, dominated by the likes of Kellogg’s, Post and General Mills. The Kashis and Bear Nakeds and Peace Cereals — the indies of the cereal world — aren’t focused on stealing shelf space from Rice Krispies at my local bodega. They’re targeting a specific niche directly, marketing to it directly and building a demand for their product that makes the big retailers take notice.

In comics, the problem lies with flawed, undercapitalized business models that are overly dependent on the direct market’s non-returnability — initial orders too low? stop the presses! — while being hamstrung by its narrower-than-narrow core demographic and bass-ackwards way of doing things that doesn’t translate over to the real world.

So I’m calling for a moratorium on laying blame at your local retailer’s doorstep when you can’t find a copy of [insert indie darling here]. It’s not their fault, it’s the publisher’s fault.

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