My Trouble With Retailer Incentives

bookofdeath#1Valiant’s Book Of Death event series has become without a doubt my favourite event series that I’ve read this year. It’s an eight issue series told across a four part mini series and four one shot comics that can be read separately. as part of the main event, or not at all.

The choice is, almost, entirely yours.

There is also another four part miniseries that ties into the main Book Of Death story line, at least in name, and that’s Book Of Death: Legends Of The Geomancer (although you’ve probably figured that out by the title of the review).  Currently on the third issue, this miniseries has so far had absolutely no bearing on the main story arc and instead is serving as an origin of the very first geomancer. Legends Of The Geomancer has been one of the best of the related tales to come out of the main Book Of Death miniseries, and if you look at it as a pure and simple comic, it’s fantastic. The artwork is wonderful, especially the colouring, and it has some fantastic pacing and dialogue within the pages, and that has been consistently delivered across all three issue that have hit the racks so far.

But therein lies the problem.

In order for this comic to hit the racks at your local comic shop, your retailer would have needed to satisfy a specific lotgordering requirements on the main Book of Death miniseries (I have been unable to confirm what, exactly, those specifications are). What that has meant  is that the print only Legends Of The Geomancer is, potentially, really hard to find, which is a shame. What’s even more unfortunate, though, is that currently Valiant have no plans to collect the series into a trade paperback.

This is a great series, and I love both the main Book Of Death, and Legends Of The Geomancer, but the only reason I have been able to read the latter is because of the review copies sent from Valiant. Otherwise, I’d have no chance to read this story, like many other fans who are unable to get their hands on a copy.

I’ve read that Valiant want Legends of The Geomancer to be hard to find, and the reason behind that is actually compelling; within the Valiant Universe, only a few people know about the Geomancer, and if a tale is to surface about the history of these people, then by releasing it as a true limited series then only a handful of actual readers will have read the tale, thus creating the same amount of grey area for actual readers who want to read Legends Of The Geomancer as to what exactly happens in the series. Just like in the actual Valiant Universe where a story from eons ago will have largely faded into myth and legend.

As a marketing tool, it’s fantastic, it’s romantic, and it’s infuriating.

Retailer incentives are nothing new in the comic book industry, the multitude of variant covers can attest to that – although, yes,  there are several variants covers released by both Marvel and DC as part of a theme month that are largely interspersed with the regular cover without any need for retailers to qualify for a certain variant by ordering more of a comic than they have done, but that isn’t always the case.

Incentivizing (I’m pretty sure that’s not a word) a retailer to order more copies of a certain comic in order to qualify for a certain cover, or in the case of Valiant’s Book Of Death: Legends Of The Geomancer an entire series, has the result of potentially leaving retailers stuck with numerous unsold copies of a comic that if not for the variant covers or a true limited series they would otherwise never have ordered. This can, and has, driven the price of the variant covers through the roof in stores just so the retailer can justify ordering and paying for the unsold comics up front.  And if they happen to eventually sell the extra comics along with the variant covers at their increased price, well then that’s a nice little bonus for the retailer.

So where does the trouble with retailer incentives come up? When the end user (that’s us, the people who buy the comics) ends up paying an arm and a leg for a specific variant cover that we want when the cost of the variant is increased beyond the cover price charged for the regular cover (indeed, the cover price that’s often on those variants).

“So don’t buy it,” I can imagine you’re saying, “just grab the regular cover and stop whining about it,” and that’s a very valid Wednesday sees Peter Parker return as the Amazing Spider-Man in a new issue number one. By special arrangement with Marvel Comics, Strange Adventures in Halifax, Dartmouth and Fredericton has a special variant cover showing Spider-Man battling Electro atop the Halifax Town Clock, illustrated by Maritimes comic book artist Nick Bradshaw.point especially when it comes to the variant covers. Sure it’d be nice to have every variant of a series I collect that catches my eye, but aside from the potential scarcity of the variants, that is usually not financially feasible – and since I tend to not pay more than cover price for a new comic, I usually skip the variants that cost more than the standard cover. If there’s more than one variant cover I want? I grab one of them so I can read the comic and leave the other (the only exception to this was the relaunched Amazing Spider-Man #1 with a cover depicting a local landmark that I couldn’t get the day it was released). So if a variant is more than I’m willing to pay, I can and do walk away.

But a series?

Well that’s something else entirely.

Thankfully, because I contribute to Graphic Policy I was able to read the review copies of Legends Of The Geomancer without having to resort to hunting the issues down on the secondary market as my retailer didn’t receive any copies, but not everybody is as lucky as me when it comes to having the opportunity to read this series, and that’s something I’m very aware of when writing the reviews for Graphic Policy (which are later posted here), indeed that awareness is where this post began. If this form of releasing a miniseries as a retailer incentive exclusive continues, and gains traction across the other publishers, then at some point it is very likely that we will all eventually have to pay an arm and a leg for a series that we want to read and collect.

When retailer incentives impact the readers enjoyment of either the entire story, or a full miniseries, then that’s where the problems with retailer exclusives will crop up, and yet it’s also one of the things that comic book fans, specifically the collectors, will enjoy the most. A retailer incentive limited series is a fantastically romantic idea; I mean, which comic wouldn’t want to say they’re one of the few who own the limited, and hard to find, Legends Of The Geomancer?

At the end of the day, the part of me that enjoys reading comics for the stories abhors the idea of a retailer incentive miniseries, but the collector side? Man I’d love to get my hands on the four physical issues of Legends Of The Geomancer just so I can have them in my collection.

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