““Our readership is way up,” said Foglio. “At a conservative guesstimate by a factor of ten. Our sales have quadrupled, and not just from our online store. Sales through Diamond have gone way up, and I hear from store owners all the time saying that we’re one of their bigger independent sellers. We no longer have to spend the time and effort to lay out individual issues, and with the time we save, we actually produce more ‘Girl Genus’ material per year. Not producing the periodical comics saves us money – at least $20,000.00 a year.”
    - Phil Foglio in an interview at Comic Book Resources about his series Girl Genius

Girl Genius Vol 5 CoverI saw this linked a few days ago, and have been thinking about it since then. I’m not really a fan of Girl Genius, and admire Foglio’s work in general but haven’t been moved to really… purchase… any of it, so I sort of let this go. The figure that Foglio asserts have stuck with me though.

See, I work at The Beguiling in Toronto, Canada. We’ve long been touted as one of the best shops for supporting ‘independent’ publications like Foglio’s work, and a quick check shows we have Girl Genius trade paperbacks and issues on the racks, a bunch of What’s New With Phil and Dixie, and even a more-or-less complete run of the XXXenophile collections too. Oh, and Buck Godot. So I have mixed feelings about some of the larger implications of the situations in Foglio’s interview, about going to collection-only or giving away entire books for free. Books that I am at least attempting to sell. My retailer instinct, sort of like my Lizard brain, flares up and wants to shout and stomp and threaten… but luckily I can subdue that most of the time.

Phil Foglio is saving $20,000 per year, not printing comic books.

Holy shit. Even if that number is inflated a little, that’s still a lot of money’s worth of time and physical dollars not disappearing into the void, essentially. Because, and let’s face it, we’re not hooking new readers of fuck-all with issue #8 of Girl Genius. It’s all established readership by that point. The financial factor alone is a pretty solid financial incentive for Foglio to keep working and providing salable content, which is what I as a retailer really actually want, rather than what I think I want, which is issues cluttering up my racks and formats competing with one another.

Speaking of which, just in a dollar-for-dollar sort of a way, if I sell exactly as many trades as issues, and as long as the trades are more-or-less the same price as the issues would have been, we’re not losing any money. Maybe we’re only dragging the reclusive Girl Genius customer out of their bedrooms once every 7 or 8 months now instead of 4 times a year, which is unfortunate, but it’s my job as a retailer to give’em a reason to come back for something else (although it wouldn’t hurt if Foglio would send more of his fans out in search of other comic books either…).

But here’s the thing:

Foglio: “Sales through Diamond have gone way up, and I hear from store owners all the time saying that we’re one of their bigger independent sellers.

He’s… right. Not about being one of our ‘bigger independent sellers’ or anything, not at our store. But about sales being up? Yupperz! In fact, our trade initial orders are up to around 10 copies from 2, and so far we’ve reordered both of the new trades (since the series moved online) to the tune of around 10 copies each. In fact, just yesterday, a dude I’d never seen before came in, asked for the Girl Genius trades, paid his $51 for volumes 4 and 5, and then walked out. Not that I don’t value the conversations I have with my customers, but if our sales were all 3 minutes per $51, I’d most certainly be earning myself a raise. So, yeah, 20 copies of Girl Genius trades a year is not a couple hundred copies of Acme Novelty Library or anything, but it more than earns it’s spot on our shelves.

So, congrats to Phil Foglio on developing a new serialization format that is beneficial to both him as an artist and to us as the middlemen who provide his art to the public.

- Christopher
P.S.: My friend Carla Speed McNeil underwent a similar shift last year, moving her series Finder online and releasing trade paperback collections. To be completely honest, I have no idea at all how that did for us. I’ll look into it. In the meantime though, check out Carla’s Finder series at http://www.lightspeedpress.com/index.php.


5 Comments on “Cutting Out The Middleman – When I’m The Middleman”

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  1. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » Feb. 16, 2007: Shorter Journalista 6 says:

    [...] Retailer Christopher Butcher reflects upon Phil Foglio’s decision to cut out the middleman — that is to say, Christopher Butcher — and take Girl Genius to Internet serialization. If you aren’t already aware of what a smart guy Butcher is, his conclusion may surprise you. [...]

  2. Jen C says:

    Huh, that’s really quite interesting. I hadn’t thought that would work out. But – I think we’re working on the fact that if you have LOTS of people read your comic because it’s free, you’d probably at least get at least the same amount of people buying your TPB, if not more, because your base is continually growing and your recognition footprint is higher.

    People like buying things to keep. And I think a lot of people are starting to appreciate both the tangiblilty of paper, and the convenience of digital…

  3. Digital Strips: The Webcomics Podcast says:

    [...] It seems counterintuitive, but Christopher Butcher, the manager of the Toronto comics store The Beguiling, looked at the numbers and found that his sales of the Girl Genius trades had increased since the switch. And it seems to be bringing in new customers. In fact, our trade initial orders are up to around 10 copies from 2, and so far we’ve reordered both of the new trades (since the series moved online) to the tune of around 10 copies each. In fact, just yesterday, a dude I’d never seen before came in, asked for the Girl Genius trades, paid his $51 for volumes 4 and 5, and then walked out. Not that I don’t value the conversations I have with my customers, but if our sales were all 3 minutes per $51, I’d most certainly be earning myself a raise. [...]

  4. TalkAboutComics Blog » Links Toward a Business Plan says:

    [...] Cutting Out the Middlemen — When I’m the Middleman [...]

  5. miaa says:

    Huh, that’s really quite interesting. I hadn’t thought that would work out. But – I think we’re working on the fact that if you have LOTS of people read your comic because it’s free, you’d probably at least get at least the same amount of people buying your TPB, if not more, because your base is continually growing and your recognition footprint is higher.

    People like buying things to keep. And I think a lot of people are starting to appreciate both the tangiblilty of paper, and the convenience of digital…

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