Monday, October 15, 2007

Speaking Of Diamond...

I forgot to mention this last week...

Periodically, I'll ask my Local Comic Shop to order various trade paperbacks for me. Sometimes new, sometimes a little older. Sometimes they're pre-orders for stuff that's not out yet. I generally try to batch my requests together to make it a little easier for them, and I write down as much information about the books as I can since many of them are relatively obscure works from smaller publishers.

A few months back, I made such a request. Included on the list were Batman Chronicles vol. 3 and 4, Dr. 13, Walk In, Agnes Quill, Necronauts and Nothing Better. At the time, about half of the books hadn't been released yet. The week after I made the request, I stopped back in the shop to pick up my new stuff and the owner specifically mentioned that he put the order in but that Diamond wasn't sure if they could get one or two of the oldest books. Given the age and publishers behind some of them, that didn't entirely surprise me and when I stumbled across a copy of Agnes Quill in Half Price Books, I snatched it up.

But when I went into my LCS last week, there was my usual assortment of new pamphlet titles, plus a note that six of my TPBs had come in. There were enough of them, that they wouldn't fit in with the normal file area, so they had to store them under the counter for me. Included in the batch of books were Batman Chronicles (both volumes), Dr. 13, Walk In, Agnes Quill and Nothing Better. For the record, these books were originally released on May 9, October 4, September 19, July 18, October 18 of last year, and August 29 respectively. And even though many of them were ordered well in advance of those release dates, Diamond did not ship them until last week. Now I can understand that it might take a while to get new copies of books that had been already released -- in this case Batman Chronicles Vol. 3 and Agnes Quill. And I can almost see that my order for Walk In was a little too close to it's publication that that might've caused problems. But why in the world would you hold a guaranteed sale for up to two and a half months after it's publication before delivering it to a location that you're making deliveries to on a weekly basis? It's not like the shop is insanely remote or something -- they get new deliveries from Diamond every week!

Am I upset with my LCS? Absolutely not. He placed the order with his distributor promptly, and confirmed that to me with additional information shortly after making the order. At that point, he's done his job and is dependent on others. But I simply can't fathom why it would take Diamond that long to ship books out to a customer that they clearly had on hand. I'd seen online reviews of all these books, so I know somebody was getting copies.

The only explanation I can realistically think of is that Diamond has some hugely inefficient practices in place when it comes to non-pamphlet sales. And the only way a business can get away with that is if they have an effective monopoly on the market. If they didn't, their clients would head off to another distributor that was able to either provide better service or had a more efficient process which would lead towards lower prices. Running a business like Diamond seems to be doing is simply untenable unless there's no competition to worry about.

If it weren't for the fact that I want to see my LCS (and, indeed, all LCSes that are even half-way decent) succeed, I'd switch over to getting my books exclusively from larger chain bookstores that have a seemingly better distribution set-up with comic book publishers.

7 comments:

Althalus said...

Not exactly sure what happened in your case, but did you actually "preorder" any of those books (meaning: before the order cut-off date noted in the Diamond Previews for the month in which the books were solicited)? If you order after that date, even if it is long before the item ships, your order is handled like a "reorder", IIRC. So Diamond may wait until enough reorders are in before they order a new batch of books from the publisher and ship them out. Still doesn't explain why such a disparate bunch of titles would come in all in the same week, though.

I always take care to order all my stuff as preorders (which is made more palatable by the fact that, as a foreign customer, I don't have any other choice to reliably get the books I want), and I never had any problems with items shipping extremely late. On the other hand, when there's one of my orders missing, chances are about 95% that it won't ship later, but simply not at all.

Scott said...

Speaking as a small publisher, there are two factors many people don't know about which will affect re-orders:

1) IRS rules penalize holding items in inventory, which means that distributors are not likely to have dozens of extra copies of a non-bestselling book on hand. In fact, they're not likely to have any copies of a non-bestselling book on hand, and will have to order from the publisher.

2) Publishers are required to ship to Diamond via either UPS or FedEx; the costs of shipping just one or two books through these chaps usually wipes out any profit to be made on these books and sometimes puts the sale into a loss. For example, it costs about $10 to ship one copy of our highest-priced ($20) book to Diamond, $12 to ship 2 copies, $14 to ship 3 copies, etc. So publishers will likely wait until at least 4 or 5 books are ordered before fulfilling the order.

This problem can be mitigated somewhat if printing is done at Quebecor or Brenner, from which Diamond has regular pick-ups, and will store books at their facilities for a monthly fee. But many small publishers have their graphic novels printed overseas to save money, and then have to pay prices as I've listed above to ship back-ordered books.

Brian Hibbs said...

There's something else going on here, I suspect.

The reason for this suspicion is the DC books. Diamond has "100%" of DC's inventory on-hand. Since Diamond became DC's exclusive distributor I've NEVER had a DC TP ship in anything less than my next scheduled TP shipment, unless *DC* didn't have inventory of a title.

(At Comix Experience, because I'm a cheap bastard and use the slowest possible shipping, this is never longer than two weeks.)

Given that it took longer than that, by your account, that suggests that there's something else going on, related to your individual store.

For the non "brokered" titles, see Scott's answer -- Diamond can't send inventory that they don't have. And backorders *can* take a while to process if the publisher/Diamond is waiting for orders to aggregate.

Further, Diamond doesn't (to the best of my knowledge, though there could be some oddball circumstance I'm unaware of) ship books "by order" -- they ship material, even backorders, as each piece arrives; typically by reshipping that material to the retailer's "local" warehouse for inclusion in their regular weekly shipment.

So, yeah, something about the scenario you posit doesn't quite add up.

-B

Sean Kleefeld said...

I might add that, while I don't recall specifically what day I made my initial request, I do know that it was BEFORE the final order cutoffs for Nothing Better -- and, by extension, Dr. 13 and Batman Chronicles vol. 4. A mix-up the week earlier had given my LCS a dozen or so extra Previews and he had given me one of the extras free of charge. Since I don't normally get Previews, the listing for Nothing Better stands out for me.

And, that reminds me that I had also ordered The Arrival, which also appeared in that Previews but has yet to arrive.

Brian Hibbs said...

According to my records, NOTHING BETTER arrived on 8/28 from Diamond -- but that doesn't necessarily mean that EVERY warehouse received it that week. We're serviced out of LA.

I didn't buy THE ARRIVAL from Diamond (B&T had better pricing), but Diamond's national ship list indicates it shipped from them in the week of 9/12.

DR. THIRTEEN shipped the week of 9/18, while BATMAN CHRONICLES v4 shipped 10/2

Given the wide discrepancy in shipdates, that leans against a Diamond-driven problem like "lost box", and would seem to indicate, to me at least, that your LCS did something wrong.

-B

Richard Melendez said...

I've had similar experiences as Sean at a couple of LCS here. I do live in Hawaii, which may count for something in this, but still... waiting a couple of months for a new TPB when I can go to Amazon.com or walk into Borders and get it immediately is annoying for my part, and I'd dare say a bit lax on the part of the retailer. Wouldn't he want to try to get the product in his customer's hands as quickly as possible, especially when other outlets can get them in quicker than Diamond? In the past, I've perused the latest issue of Previews and ordered a yet to be released TPB as soon as the solicitation sees print. Case in point: Abadazad (in the re-issued children's book format) and Strangers in Paradise Pocket Book #4 (or maybe it was #5), along with other items that had already come out. I waited about 6 months for these items to come in. No joke. Each time I asked the store clerk about them, he checked his computer, noted that it had been ordered and they're just waiting for Diamond to ship it. He couldn't provide me with any other info. The books were in fact released, and I saw them personally in a variety of other stores, both online and brick n' mortar. I realize that this wasn't the fault of my LCS necessarily, but my impatience got the better of me and I cancelled my orders with my LCS and just ordered these books at Amazon.

Having several years of sales and customer service experience behind me, and with plans on opening a comic and book store in the near future, such a wait is inexcusable in my opinion, and we've already made plans on how to prevent having our customers wait excessively long periods of time. And yes, despite the brokering and such cost saving practices, waiting several months (in my extreme case), or even a few weeks, for something that's readily available via other outlets, is an excessive wait. The only blame I would put upon the retailer is on relying on only Diamond to get their product instead of also using other sources. But yeah... I would think that Diamone needs to re-evalute this and perhaps strive to be more timely.
-r-

Brian Hibbs said...

I don't want to be a Diamond apologist or anything, 'cuz I've certainly had my problems with them over the years, but seriously, the SiP Pocket editions are "stocked" items from Diamond, which means that nine times out of ten Diamond does actually have adequate supply on hand to sell them to us.

ABADAZAD is the same way - I just checked both books, and Diamond has them instock, and ready to sell.

Yes, Diamond does and can goof at times, but its pretty unlikely that they're going to take 6 months to ship books that they've made a firm and announced stocking commitment on.

Again, computer or no, it sounds to me that your LCS didn't actually place the order for those books, because they ARE freely available from Diamond. (well, or at least in October of 2007 -- I don't cache old data)

-B