Comics in the Age of Covid
At the end of March, the comic industry did something unprecedented in its history – for nearly a month and a half, it shut down. Lots of factors went into this decision, including distributor shut-downs, publisher delays, and a host of other issues all related to the global pandemic. By the time comics began returning to the shelves, a cascade of changes had been set off within the industry, affecting delivery times and ordering schedules for pretty much every comic book publisher out there. Now, a few months down the line, we think it’s a good time to talk about what’s changed inside the industry, and how that’s affected comic book retailers and consumers.
The Big Split
Perhaps the single biggest change to the industry over the past six months was the end of a longstanding partnership between Diamond Comics (aka the distributor that handles all things comic related) and DC Comics. After fostering the creation of two independent distributors, DC opted in early June to end their 25-year relationship with Diamond, forcing all comic book retailers nationwide to scramble to set up new accounts with one or both of those distributors, us included. And in basically the same breath, DC announced that its comics would publish on Tuesdays.
This first announcement lead to a lot of fear and uncertainty about how these new distributors would handle things like freight, and how shops like us would handle the receiving of these books. Like many comic book retailers, the point of sale program we use is built by Diamond specifically to receive comics from Diamond. Said point of sale also contains many features that allow us to accurately analyze sales data on a weekly basis and make informed decisions about what comics to order going forward.
By announcing a Tuesday publication date for their books, DC also bucked decades of comic book tradition. For a long time when you asked what day comics came out, anyone knowledgeable about the industry would say “Wednesdays,” without missing a beat. Now, the answer’s a lot more long-winded, as we’ll get to in just a bit.
When it came to shutting things down, each publisher took the pandemic lockdown in a different way. Some paid their writers and artists to keep working. Others furloughed their workers. But with pretty much the sole exception of DC, everyone agreed to adjust their production and publication schedules to accommodate the pandemic-related shutdown. For their part in things, Diamond still filled reorders during this time, albeit at an extremely slow rate of speed.
After the shutdown, the industry began to spin back up at differing speeds. As with the lockdown, each publisher took things at a different pace. Some stretched out the books they had finished and ready to go over a several month period. Others put everything out immediately, only to then have a several week period where nothing would come out.
What’s Changed for You?
All of these changes resulted in a few important things that you, the comic consumer, should be aware of.
Street dates aren't as accurate. The industry is working through this pretty quickly at this point, but don’t be surprised if a few series suffer month-plus delays due to the pandemic. We’re trying to stay on top of this but it gets real tricky real quick, especially with the smaller press publishers.
There are less shelf copies to go around. Retailers are more nervous about what books to order, and lots of us are strapped for cash due to the financial instability that’s hit the country. A lot of us rely on historical data from our point of sale to figure out how many shelf copies to order. Data which has pretty well been tossed out the window.
Reordering is taking longer. Normally we could place an order over the weekend and expect books in our store within a couple of business days. Right now we're looking at turn around times of up to a week or more in some cases. Distributors are working as fast as they can, but due to necessary social distancing and labor shortfalls in their warehouses, it's taking a little bit longer than normal to process everyone's orders.
Finally - Comics come out on Wednesdays. This final change isn't so much a change so much as it is a note with regards to how we're handling the receiving of our DC comics. Due to the amount of time and labor that goes into putting together the new wall, we have opted to delay putting out our DC books until Wednesdays with everything else.
Things You Can Do to Help
Plan, Subscribe, and Order Ahead. Every comic book store has the ability to adjust numbers on order for comics and trade paperbacks through a process known as the final order cutoff (or FOC for short). This usually takes place about 3 weeks before a book hits the shelves. Orders placed on or before that time help us to estimate demand for a book, which helps us get enough to serve everyone. Orders placed after that period are harder to fill – they come from our copies intended for the shelf, or they are placed with the distributor with the hope that they’ll be able to fill those additional requests.
Sometimes they can, but if you want to avoid chancing things, fill out the linked form here and send it over to us, or print it and bring it with you during your next visit. We’ll get you set up with a box pronto!