Alterna as a Disruptor

By | Tuesday, April 21, 2020 Leave a Comment
Alterna logo
In the ongoing onslaught of publishing news that is largely being dictated by the coronavirus pandemic, Alterna Comics has mostly slid under the radar with their updates. They're not one of the larger publishers, so their news is often subsumed by whatever is going on with Marvel, DC, Scholastic, and the other top dollar publishers and/or their primary distributor, Diamond. As it turns out, though, Alterna has been charging ahead with a plan to keep their books going despite various shutdowns throughout much of North America.

(That their own website doesn't have a news or updates section might have something to do with their announcements getting missed as well. You have to either subscribe to their newsletter or check their updates on Facebook. Why there's nothing available on their own site, I don't know; that's generally been considered a best practice for decades. But I digress...)

In late March, they announced that they will continue to have their comics printed. Their printer was declared an "essential business" and they can continue on with only a slight delay. I suspect this is part due to Alterna's greater flexibility in the paper stock -- their books are printed on newsprint; while originally done as a cost-saving measure, it would seem this also gives them an edge with regards to using a printer that works on other newsprint items. Like, presumably, newspapers.

They also seemed to bust their humps to get direct ordering capabilities up and running on their site. While they were selling direct to consumers previously, it was primarily through subscriptions. They were able to scramble quickly enough to add in an ordering system for individual issues, and had that up and running the first week of April.

Part of how they were able to do that is because they've spent the past couple years developing a direct sales infrastructure. This was primarily aimed at retailers, who could order books through them and bypass Diamond. (Publisher Peter Simeti noted that over the past 18 months, their month over month direct sales to retailers were greater than their whatever they sold through Diamond.) But having this in place allowed them to open it directly to readers as well, and it gave them an additional outlet to sell their comics digitally.

What this also means -- both having that infrastructure and having spent years cultivating retailer relationships -- they're able to halt their relationship with Diamond entirely. They've cancelled all future solicitations with Diamond, and are handling that all internally now. While they'll certainly take a financial hit of some kind from retailers who refuse to order through more than one partner (i.e. Diamond) that they're able to continue selling while Diamond is not distributing anything will put them ahead of virtually every other comics publisher.

While they certainly could not have known a pandemic was going to grind the economy to a halt, and they don't seem to have yet figured out how to handle distribution outside the US, they were savvy enough to not only recognize the limitations of going through Diamond exclusively, but had set themselves up to shift over to other venues. Their agile approach to selling comics means that they are much farther ahead of the game than virtually, if not literally, every other comics publisher out there.

This pandemic has been a massive disruptor for the comics industry. (As well as almost every other industry, but let's focus on comics here!) Virtually every business has had to modify their business models very quickly to adapt to the current climate. But in comics, Alterna is acting as a disruptor as well. They're shaking up how comics business has been done for decades. It's not really something they set out to do, I don't think, but they've been nimble enough as a company to not only ride one disruption but cause another in the process. I think other publishers are going to seriously start looking at what Alterna is doing now, and do their best to copy those ideas as quickly as they can. Their problem, though, is going to be trying to do the two years' worth of work that Alterna already put in in a matter of months.

Keep an eye on Alterna. Will they become the end-all, be-all model of comics publishers going forward? Probably not, but they're now out here driving the whole industry forward while everyone else has been waiting at the stop light.
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