David Accampo: My Life in the Direct Market, Part 1

The following is the first in a three-part guest column by writer and filmmaker David Accampo.


davidSCportrait

You can’t tell from this angle, but Dave is actually floating an inch or two off the ground.

In July of 2011, while at the San Diego Comic-Con, Hermes Press offered to publish our comic book mini-series, Sparrow & Crowe: The Demoniac of Los Angeles, based on art samples from our artist Jared Souza, and an 11 page mini-comic of the first pages of the mini-series, that we had laid out and printed specifically for SDCC.

Actually getting a publishing deal at San Diego Comic-Con? Dream come true, and something that folks say doesn’t even happen in this era.

But the real reason I mention this is because as we left the meeting with our publisher, we were offered a choice: did we want to publish this as individual issues, or did we want to publish a graphic novel? Hermes Press focuses almost exclusively on graphic novels, most often reprints of older material like the Buck Rogers comic strips, etc., so for them to offer that we become their first serialized mini-series was a huge honor—and a lot of responsibility.

It also meant we would have to face the full fury of the direct market.

iFanboy has held a lot of discussion on the nature of this particular beast. I’m not going to praise or bury the direct market. I’m just going to share some of my own experiences in the context of a newcomer to the direct market.

So, we chose to publish Sparrow & Crowe as five individual issues. This was our first gamble — I reasoned that with five issues on the shelves, we’d have five opportunities to build buzz and grow awareness—all in advance of the eventual collected edition.

When we solicited the first issue, our publisher’s Diamond representative predicted that we wouldn’t get many orders at all.

I think we tripled his prediction, by the way. Still not very big numbers, but a damned sight better than that estimation. Score one for us.

But I need to take a step back there. What went into those initial pre-orders?

What the hell is a pre-order?

I’ve said this time and time again: pre-ordering is antithetical to the way almost EVERYONE buys their entertainment.* And that’s a big problem. Especially when you’re unknown to the comics market.

(*I now have to add “almost” to that because Kickstarter is essentially a new pre-ordering platform. Discuss.)

But pre-orders are a necessity in comics because it’s the only way in which the eco-system works, as it currently stands: monthly comic books are, by and large, sold at comic book specialty stores. The stores cater to a very narrow demographic: the regular comic reader (I’m an every-Wednesday-at-lunch kinda guy, personally). The retailer places advance orders from Diamond, and the publishers base their print runs on this number. This small, closed loop of money-for-goods works with very little excess, and it depends upon the habits of the readers and the passion of the retailers. As such, it tends to work best for established characters and talent.

I know plenty of folks who will buy anything related to the X-Men. So, if they’re going to buy it anyway, and they can offer their retailers a guaranteed sale, and their retailer can offer them a discount because of that guaranteed sale—then it all works.

For me, it works best with creators. For example, I love the work of Greg Rucka, and if Greg Rucka is asking me to pre-order his book, Lazarus, from Image Comics, then… that’s a fair bet. I’ll pre-order that. Sure, why not? Otherwise my comic shop may not carry it.

And why would a retailer not carry a comic book? Comic books from Diamond are non-returnable merchandise. If they buy books they can’t sell, they eventually just become that warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark—a very expensive storage unit. Comic book retailers are usually operating a pretty lean business model—slim profit margin versus the overhead of rent, staff, utilities, shipping, etc. They simply can’t afford to take a chance and order a bunch of unusual series that might end up shoved in a musty box next to the Ark of the Covenant. Thus, the comic shop owner, by nature, needs to be fairly conservative in his or her orders.

Every month, retailers chalk up their strategy and place their best bets through the Diamond catalog, a massive tome front-loaded with all the premiere publishers and devolving into a busy, multi-column layout full of tiny thumbnail covers.

SCDiamondPreviews

A diamond in the rough…in Diamond.

My publisher, a mid-level publisher with no special placement in the catalog, finds itself somewhere in the middle of the book.

So, as we solicited our first issue in the Diamond catalog, what retailers (and some customers) saw was this:

  • Three unknown creators
  • A new property
  • A small listing in the middle of a giant catalog

And we were asking you to agree to buy our comic three months before it comes out.

The odds were not in our favor.

 

– To Be Continued –

 


Comments

  1. spaceghost15 spaceghost15 says:

    I love this inside baseball stuff. Looking forward to the rest of the article.

  2. stuclach stuclach says:

    This is fascinating. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us David.

    I’m looking forward to part 2.

  3. very excited for this article series.

    I think retail shops and indie creators can benefit from another, smaller distribution system that caters to indies and kickstarters. There is some talk about those kinda distributers popping up, and i think the industry is at an interesting crossroads.

  4. koryrosh koryrosh says:

    Thanks for sharing this inside look – absolutely fascinating stuff and great insight.

  5. Urthona Urthona says:

    Yea, I’m definitely interested in this and looking forward to the next installment. Who doesn’t dream of bringing a book to the market, it will be fascinating to hear how their venture works out.

  6. IthoSapien IthoSapien says:

    Great read, can’t wait to hear more. I talked to some Indie creators at length last March and they all talked about how hard it was if you’re unknown and not writing Avengers or Batman. I’m hoping to self publish a book by next year and would love some more insight in how other guys new to the game adapted and what they learned. To be honest tho, I feel like my LCS owner puts up merchandise that he wants to put up sometimes (Porn comics, Web comic GNs) and even some books I’ve never heard of from companies I dont recognize at all. I have no idea how well it sells, my guess is some has to for him to justify doing it every month.

  7. JamesSime JamesSime says:

    As one of those retailers who stocked & happily sold your book, I’m looking forward to reading about how you tailored your approach to the stores you contacted. I thought you did a really great job and definitely ordered more copies for my shelves than I might have have otherwise. In fact, based on your our correspondence and the quality of your book I even included it in my monthly suggestions email to my pull-list customers. Since those initial orders are so crucial for an indy book like yours, I can attest that you definitely have a lot of good knowledge you can share with others here.

    I hope folks learn a thing or two from reading these, and most importantly a universal truth to doing business in the comics industry – a little niceness goes a long way.

    - James
    http://isotopecomics.com

    • daccampo daccampo says:

      Thanks, James! In part two (tomorrow) I talk a little bit about how we approached retailers. I admittedly have to summarize quite a bit (I could do a month’s worth of columns just on talking to retailers), but I think you’ll see how important retailers are to this whole endeavor.

      And also: Isotope rocks. Great store. :)

  8. DerBonk DerBonk says:

    Just chiming in as an international reader from a small to mid-size German city. We have two comic shops (one focused on Manga, a lot of Yu-Gi-Oh and some super hero/pop culture stuff and one focused on franco-belgian comics, as well as graphic novels (and some super hero stuff as well, of course). Basically all of their stuff is in German only and many US series, especially those not from DC or Marvel never get translated (and thus never get sold in these stores).

    Long story short, I have to pre-order all my comics. I buy my copy of Previews every month (for 4.15€ thank you very much) and then try to guess if a new title will be any good by staring at the thumbnail and description David mentions in the article. I fill out my order sheet and then wait for my books to arrive three months later. There’s also no way for me to get notified if a book is delayed for some reason or canceled or anything. If I then don’t like the first issue I get, I still have buy the next two (because I needed to pre-order those in advance too, of course), even if I cancel that subscription immediately. That means that I will never give a series a try (one of the reasons I read no Marvel books, I think, I missed both Daredevil and Hawkeye), but I have also become more willing to browse the indie section and bet on an indie book. I’d rather read something really out there that I maybe don’t really like (Change by Image was such a case), than some mediocre Marvel/DC title that is just plain boring (DC Universe presents).

  9. Very interesting article-I’m looking forward to reading the next chapters. Discussing the direct market is always fascinating. It’s such an archaic beast, but what would be a better system? I honestly don’t know.

    I always buy Previews and I’m surprised how few pulls you see for it here on iFanboy. I rarely miss out on a series I’d want because I pre-order everything months earlier because of it. One good example is Saga #1. I knew it would be a hit and would sell out, so I pre-ordered it based on the Previews solicitation. I went to my LCS on release day and couldn’t believe how many people were trying to buy a copy after it quickly sold out. Now what does it sell for-$100?

    One problem with Diamond and the Previews catalog is it has to be overwhelming to someone trying to get into comics. Including the seperate Marvel section it’s over 600 pages long and crammed with stuff-all competing for your attention. I’ve been buying monthly comics since 1987, but if I was just starting out and someone gave me a Previews and said “Here, just pick out the comics you’re going to want to read 3 months from now and budget accordingly.” First I’d think you’re crazy, and then I wouldn’t know where the hell to begin.

    Unfortunately as David pointed out Previews is front loaded, with the little guys often getting a postage stamp worth of space afterwards. I do find myself spending the most time going over the Marvel section, then Dark horse, DC and Image. The rest I skim over. As well my LCS is quite small and orders very conservatively. A series like David has written would either get one copy ordered for the rack or not get ordered at all.

  10. I’m looking forward to the next two parts and interested in learning more about both stories. The first being the whole process of putting out your own comic out through the direct market and second, the book itself.

    Some questions for David Accampo or anyone who may have the answers: Is the story out now as individual issues or what # is it on? Is it sold in trade form? Is it out through comixology?

    • daccampo daccampo says:

      Thanks! So, the short answer to your question is that issues #1-2 and a digital-only Halloween Special are currently out, and available at finer comics shops and also on ComiXology. However… I’ll talk more about the future of the series in the next two installments. So, stay tuned!

  11. Jim Mroczkowski Jim Mroczkowski (@jimski) says:

    I was just thinking about Sparrow and Crowe, and your adventures with it, not three days ago. I feel like I willed this article into existence. How to use these powers for good…?

    This peek behind the curtain from you, I love. I’ll be on the edge of my seat.

  12. kennyg kennyg says:

    Thanks for sharing this insider info with us, David. Looking forward to more.

    Regarding Previews – I don’t read it. Sure, I miss the occasional thing, but I have a problem with paying for a catalog. Not to mention a catalog skewed in favor of bigger publishers, from a distributor I already have fundamental problems with. Why would I want to pad their pocketbook any more than it already is? Most of the info can be found online for free.