At this morning’s Retailer’ Breakfast at New York Comic Con, DC Comics announced that they will be continuing the special return policy that they have held for the New 52 until April.
I am going to explain what this means. Bear with me. We’re going to talk for a moment about stuff like comic book distribution and sales numbers and other insider stuff, but it’s all things that factor in to deciding how many grains of salt you should add to DC Comics’ recent announcements of the success of the New 52 and their claims of victory over Marvel.
Here’s my rundown on how comic book distribution to comic book stores is fundamentally different from book distribution to book stores:
The way DC (and Marvel, and a lot of other) comics are sold in America works like this: Diamond Comic Distributors prints a run, and your local store tries to their best to order exactly as many comics as they will sell, no more and no less. See, if they order too few, customers will be unsatisfied and may go elsewhere. If they order too many, they take a loss. Unlike the book publishing business, where stores can return unsold books for credit with a publisher [a policy left over from the Great Depression, when book stores became very wary of overstocking. See! You're learning history!], Diamond does not take unsold comics issues back. This is where the business of searching for and buying back issues comes in: the grand majority of those back issues are not sold for their “sticker price.” It’s the uncommon few that actually get marked up after their release date, and those are usually variant covers, #1 issues, the occasional misprint and other rare titles.
However, DC offered retailers the option of returning unsold comics for a small fee on many issues of the New 52. This undoubtedly gave many stores the financial ability to order more copies than they normally would, because they wouldn’t have to find space for the possible extra inventory.
Nutshell: DC’s renewal of this policy means that their numbers will still have a modicum of “artificial inflation” to them until after April. Whether or not you think this policy is having a real effect on their sales is up to you, but expect to hear it pointed out from time to time.
(cia Bleeding Cool.)