Too Many Long Boxes!

End of Summer

Comic Return Policies
& The Retailers' Bad Rap

By Blake Ragsdale

Comic book fans often have discussions (online and off) about Diamond Comics and how the comic book return policies work for retailers. I wanted to address a couple of issues and possible misconceptions about this subject, being a retailer myself.

First of all, if Diamond ships me a book that is damaged, or they send out an incorrect item, I am allowed to send it back for replacement or credit. That is pretty much it as far as Diamond's return policy is concerned.

Diamond Comic Distributors does not have the final say so on books being returned to them for credit. They take responsibility for any problems that occur that they were directly responsible for and that's all. What Diamond DOES is enforce the return policies that are put into place by the actual publishers themselves. What does that mean? Read on.

Each publisher, such as Marvel or DC or anyone for that matter, is allowed to create their own policy for books being returned. They come up with their policy and tell Diamond how to enforce it since Diamond is the middleman who directly deals with us as retailers. If Marvel wanted to single out a specific book for whatever reason and say that whatever retailers don't sell is returnable for credit, they could. DC is very good about letting retailers return books that are solicited wrong or are late. Image is pretty good about allowing the return of late books. I can't remember the last time Marvel allowed me to return anything. The fact is, the publishers, not Diamond, are the ones that do not allow retailers to return books.

Now, I'm getting into all this because I want to defend and exonerate retailers a bit. How many times has Marvel or DC solicited a new ongoing series with a character who is only semi-popular or has never been successful in maintaining a monthly book in the past? It is more and more common all the time. How many times has that book been canceled only after a few issues has been released due to poor sales?

A lot. How many times have you seen an article or an interview with the writer of this canceled book comes out, blasts the retailers for not ordering it and places the blame firmly on our shoulders? A whole lot. And you know what? There is some truth to it. But here's what you don't know:

Marvel, DC, or (insert your publisher of choice) comes out with this book with a character with a very small fan-following. It is possibly a book about a character who has had his/her/their own series in the past and it has never been successful for any length of time due to lack of selling power. The publisher comes out with yet another new ongoing series of this same title and they ask us as retailers to bear 100% of the burden of ordering many non-returnable copies of this book that has never sold well in its past incarnations. Does it make sense for me, as a retailer in a market that is not doing very well, to order 30 copies of a book that, based on past experience, will only sell maybe 5 or 6 copies? Should I willingly eat the cost of the other 24 or 25 copies that will not sell and cannot be returned for credit? What if I do that with every new number one issue that is solicited in Previews every month? Don't expect to see my store open a few months down the road.

Retailers are the ones who take the rap. It's our fault. We didn't order enough. We didn't give it a chance to catch on. Guess what? With the no-support/no-return policies created by these same publishers and enforced by Diamond, we can't afford to.

I'm not saying these books don't deserve a chance. I'm not saying these books aren't necessarily good. Many times, a title that has never been successful in the past, just needs creators who know what they are doing and have a special love for the characters in order to make a sub-par selling book into a fan-favorite. I'm not saying that as a retailer, I should bear zero responsibility for the quick demise of titles such as this. What I am saying is that retailers need some support and some help from the publishers. Publishers are in business to make money. Shouldn't they want their properties to be successful whether it is Superman or Ambush Bug?

If publishers would implement a return policy, and I think 50% of the number of the books ordered is fair, on the first three or four issues of new titles, it would do a couple of things. First, it would take much of the financial burden off the retailers and allow this book a chance to find an audience to survive for the long run. Second, and maybe more importantly, it would prove to me as a retailer that the publishers are willing to support us and to say, "Hey, we hear you and we care." I guarantee Marvel and DC have more money to take risks with than I do.

Let me tell you, when it comes to publisher support on new books, I'm floating on some driftwood in the middle of the ocean with no land in sight and the only ship that can pull me out of the water is the Titanic. Don't think too harshly of your friendly, neighborhood retailer the next time we are bashed for causing demise of yet another book that wasn't given the chance to fly. How about asking the publishers to throw me a life-jacket instead.

I think readers need to be educated as much as possible about these matters. Also, I truly believe there are many professionals in the industry that are misplacing much of the blame on retailers simply because they don't know all the facts.

Blake Ragsdale
Owner of To Be Continued…Comics & Cards
Lexington, NC

All characters are ™ DC Comics
This column is © 2000 by Blake Ragsdale
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