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Monday, March 24, 2008 

Possible sales inflation scam detected

Here's something you may not see being discussed on major websites that provides something to think about. A comics store manager of Nik'LBag Comics in Pahrump, Nevada, located near one of the casinos, had something to say about sales on Amazing Spider-Man on CBR's forum that raised my eyebrows:
I have been in the business for over three years, which is not very long relative to other stores in metropolitan areas, but long enough to have learned a number of Diamond and Marvel's little tricks.

Diamond _told_ people that ASM #546 was sold out, but they had reserves for the a give-away promotion that happened this week. Diamond doesn't give away free comics, so it must have been Marvel behind the promotion. When I uncover the details as to why Diamond was shipping free copies of ASM#546 first printings without notice or request, I will post it and let you all know. It's a mystery to me, but I have strong suspicions. It wouldn't be the first time a company over-printed and gave out free books to push or promote something. Pick up the Secret Invasion Saga as proof of this. In the meantime, if you doubt my claim about ASM #546, check your LCS, and I will bet that they also received free first printings of it recently.

As to warehouses, I was referring to Diamond, of course, not Marvel, but in essence, Diamond's warehouses ARE Marvels, and DC's, and Images, etc. The whole of the comics industry is guilty of collusion, and has been getting away with it for years.

I can't go into any further detail, legally, on the subject of what I know or how I know it regarding that subject. All I can offer is my credentials and hope that a reasonable person would listen to what I suggest and dig further on the matter. Prove me wrong, if you think you can, or offer evidence that contradicts my theories.

Before declaring anything as a success just because some sales numbers for February were released and were moderately decent (they weren't very impressive at all), an intelligent person should read between the lines. Look at the other facts available and try to see a trend or pattern.

Fact: the entire comics industry noticed a significant decline starting in November of last year. This could just be the economy, it could have been somehow related to the impending writer's strike, it could have been the presidential caucuses and other national events. It could even have had something to do with the uncertain future of the Marvel and DC universes, key among Marvel's being speculation regarding Spider-man's future. I don't know the full answer, but I do know that Marvel manipulated figures as best they could to "front" a positive, successful image of BND Spider-man.

Some of you like it, and that's great, because you are buying and reading comics, which I strongly support. I'm not a big fan of this new thing, and I know that a tremendous number of other people agree with me. Quesada has been trying to put "spin" on this, fudge the numbers where he can, to be able to claim success, even if it results in a Phyrric victory. Executives do this sort of thing all the time, what makes people so naive to believe that it doesn't happen in the comics industry?

The numbers have been manipulated. The second printing was done for spin, and to have extra books to push to new readers later on, if sales started slipping. Quesada is playing for keeps here, and he will use whatever means necessary to make this single Spider-man permanent. He created a schism in Spider-man fans, lost thousands of readers, and hasn't been able to replace them with enough new ones to stave off the inevitable. I predict that sales will decline, steadily and substantially, until the three times monthly shipping and free give-aways can no longer disguise the hard truth that the idea was ill-founded and unnecessary.
And there's more by the same guy over here:
You know as well as I do, that I can't provide the kind of 'smoking gun' proof that you are looking for. I'm basically a peon in the comics industry, completely powerless to affect anything on a larger scale than simply 'nudging' a customer toward this book or that book when they ask me what's good. It sounds like your claim of having been a comic store owner that went through a recession is believable to a reasonable person. I have no way of verifying it nor do I require verification. I don't see why you need this from me.

If you look me up when you are in Vegas, I won't be in the Vegas yellow pages because I am out in Pahrump, about fifty miles outside of Vegas. If you drive out to Death Valley on your visit, however, you'll find me on Highway 160 across from the Saddle West Casino. You can also check Wizards of the Coast's website, since my store is a WotC Premier store and I will be running the Dungeons of Dread D&D mini Pre-release this coming weekend on March 29. I should be listed on their "find a store" page. If Diamond didn't charge a retarded fee for being listed in the "Comic Store Locator" service, you'd be able to find me in that too. I protest, however, against a fee involved for what is essentially a directory designed to help people find comics to buy. It should be free to all retailers, especially considering we each spend tens of thousands of dollars or more per year already with Diamond.

Anyway, I'm getting sidetracked because there is so much about this industry that is illogical and stupid that I can't nail it all down as succinctly as I'd like to be able to do.

Fact is: Diamond sent me 8 free copies of ASM #546 first printings last week, with no charge and no explanation. Where did they come from? We all thought they were sold out. This is proof, to me, that they were not sold out, as was previously believed. I could scan the Diamond invoice form and provide photos of the comics, if you'd like. Would that be enough proof? Do you require photos of my store as well?

I don't know why they sent free copies of ASM #546. I don't know where they came from, if they were supposedly sold out. I have a very strong reason to believe, based on what I saw last week, that they were not sold out at all, but were reserved instead for a low-key promotion based on ASM re-orders, since I actually ordered 2 copies of ASM #546 second printings and paid for them, as well as 6 other various back issues of ASM as customer requests. So I re-ordered 8 ASM books, including 2 copies of ASM#546 second printings (since the first were supposedly sold out and not available for re-order) and then mysteriously received 8 copies of ASM #546 first-prints for free. These weren't put in the boxes by mistake, either, they were listed on the invoice as $0.00 each. Now, why would I order 2 ASM #546 second printings if I knew I was getting a bunch of first printings for free? I wouldn't. So this must be some sort of secret promotion, presumably based on re-orders of ASM, possibly in order to boost sales of ASM back-issues. A cunning tactic designed to promote ASM in the long-term, making many copies available to potential new readers while simultaneously "rewarding" retailers who re-ordered ASM books from the past couple months.

The end result, of course, is that it looks like more copies of ASM #546 sold than actually did, which means that sales figures for that book are artificially high. Also, if comic stores are getting free books, it's a great way to drive up sales on subsequent issues if for every one you re-order you also get a free book. I can only assume, based on your query at your LCS, that that store placed no re-orders on ASM books recently if they received no free books. I can also infer from this, that they likely didn't sell out of subsequent issues, and thus had no reason to place a re-order. If they are not selling out, well that means the book isn't selling well, and they will likely lower their orders the following month.

I'm not making huge jumps in reasoning, here. This is the comics world. Companies do this all the time. There are risks and costs in any promotion, and a huge chunk of this business is the proliferation of product. Get as many of your books out in the marketplace as possible, to take up space that could be used by your competitors if you're not there. This is not unlike America Online sending out mass mailings of CDs to everyone in the country to promote their service. Secret Invasion Saga was a recent free comic given out at stores to promote the upcoming "event." Diamond was selling entire bundles of this comic to shops for a mere five bucks. Do you think that Marvel made money on that? No, they did it to generate excitement for the Secret Invasion, which they will make money on. Hell, the comic industry has an entire made-up holiday dedicated to giving away free comics at huge losses in the hope of attracting new readers.

I know from experience, based on the evidence I have seen, that Marvel is probably doing similar things with ASM. The trick is, if people find out the truth, that BND isn't the huge success that Marvel is making it out to be, Quesada's credibility will be in the toilet.

[...]

Looking at February's sales figures, I see decent numbers now but also a clear decline in sales. If the decline continues for several months, we will have a mess here that is difficult to resolve. Based on the evidence at stores, the evidently sparse number of re-orders for ASM, the sustained backlash in online forums, and of course the current economic recession, I think we will see sales dropping in the coming months. Only time will tell. I see evidence that suggests that the BND damage control and "spin" involved a manipulation of sales figures. If it is true, it may not be illegal, but it would certainly be unethical. I don't need to prove my case, though. This is not a trial and I'm not here to prove it. I'm only here to "voice" it, and perhaps get others to think and question things a little more.
Interesting. And if it does make sense, it means that Quesada may be mishandling management and how funds are spent, all for the sake of his own personal agenda. All those extra copies cost money, after all, and by printing more freebies for the merchants when they're not even making money off of them, that's not only deception and dishonesty, that's also hurting the company he works for even more. As the guy says though, only time will tell just what comes of all this.

This has also led me to wonder if other comics companies have ever pulled the same tricks: could DC have ever tried something like that with their own "event" comics? Maybe. If any companies are, it's not just clumsy and dishonest, it's also overspending money at a time when the industry is in recession.

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About me

  • I'm Avi Green
  • From Jerusalem, Israel
  • I was born in Pennsylvania in 1974, and moved to Israel in 1983. I also enjoyed reading a lot of comics when I was young, the first being Fantastic Four. I maintain a strong belief in the public's right to knowledge and accuracy in facts. I like to think of myself as a conservative-style version of Clark Kent. I don't expect to be perfect at the job, but I do my best.
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