Pick up Buffy #3 this week (which is selling amazingly well for us) and flip to about half way through. See, we’re seriously happy about these sales, and gaining all these new readers and turning them onto other books, but every issue we sell creates a problem for us (mo money, mo problems). In the book itself is an advertisement for other graphic novels: DISCOVER DISCOVER HEROES DARK HORSE JOSS WHEDON BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, and it lists three books:

omnibus.jpg
BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER OMNIBUS VOL 1.
NOT AVAILABLE UNTIL JULY 18.

serenity.jpg
SERENITY TP
OUT OF PRINT. BACK IN STOCK JUNE 13.

fray.jpg
JOSS WHEDON’S FRAY: FUTURE SLAYER TP
OUT OF PRINT. BACK IN STOCK JUNE 27.

talesslayers.jpg
and previous letters columns have mentioned:
BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER: TALES OF THE SLAYERS
OUT OF PRINT. NO BACK-IN-STOCK DATE.

All of these are books with stories by or co-written by Joss Whedon. All of them are getting a huge promotional push right now, thanks to the phenomenal sales of Buffy: Season Eight. All of them are completely unavailable for at least a month, if not longer (and if not much longer in some cases).

I’ve bitched about Dark Horse’s inability to use their trade paperback program to properly capitalise on media events in the past, lots, but after they were almost able to meet demand for 300 (periodic multi-week outages of product, but not so bad if you were expecting it and just front-loaded a few hundred copies of the book) I figured they’d turned a corner. Not so, as you may have noticed above. The thing is, Dark Horse have actually been really good about keeping the single issues in print, and new printings of Buffy: Season Eight #1 and #2 are due in this week! But every single Joss Whedon trade paperback they publish is gone-daddy-gone, and 5-8 weeks from store shelves. Not to belabour the point, but this is totally unacceptable when the heat for the series is on NOW.

A big part of the problem is overseas printing, which I’ll be upfront and say I am totally in favour of. Better quality, lower prices, making the publishing of comics occasionally profitable: I’m on board. But the real root of the problem is inventory management and cashflow. Dark Horse’s backlist has become far, far too big for them to keep in print, and in order to maximise the return on their investment they’re needing to find cheaper, slower printing solutions. If massive outages of Sin City, Hellboy, 300, and now the Joss Whedon backlist haven’t shown them that this solution is if not entirely untennable than at least massively unprofessional, I don’t know what will.

Guys, please, find another solution. Do anything else. But please stop keeping your hottest product out of our hands for months at a time, you’re fucking killing us over here.

- Christopher
P.S.: BUFFY: TALES OF THE VAMPIRES with a story by Joss Whedon in it is currently in stock at Diamond. I don’t think it’s been mentioned in the letterscolumn/advertising yet.


22 Comments on “Is it time for another post bitching about Dark Horse?”

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  1. Kevin Church says:

    The sad fact is, of course, that most Whedonites just plain don’t understand when you say “It’s not in print,” or “It’ll be a few weeks before we can get them in” because they’re used to being able to walk into a Best Buy and buy the DVDs of the series whenever they want. Why wouldn’t it be the same with the books?

  2. Karl Ruben says:

    I did a quite extensive google-trawl when you posted about this the last time this issue reared its head (regarding the 300 shortage), and I couldn’t really find all that much in the way of quotes from Dark Horse on the subject. I know it could be considered bad PR for a business to address these kinds of concerns in public fora – if one’s really, really anxious about public image, I guess one could see it as granting legitimacy to unfortunate rumours about the company – but the opposite is equally, if not even more, plausible. I guess Marvel could afford the bad rep they had (have?) with retailers over the whole returnability flap, but is DH, with their position in the industry, really that comfortable about being seen as unreliable by the people selling their books?
    Sorry ’bout the thinking-out-loud, I just find this very interesting, even if I’m just a reader – I always get a kick out of these posts of yours.

  3. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » May 9, 2007: The itsy-bitsy spider says:

    [...] “Is it time for another post bitching about Dark Horse?” Christopher Butcher, sick of watching the company promoting books it doesn’t actually have in stock when the demand is nice and high, certainly thinks so. [...]

  4. Dark Horse Promotes Out-of-Stock Product » Comics Worth Reading says:

    [...] Different View of the Spider-Man Film Dark Horse Promotes Out-of-Stock Product CATEGORY: Comic News AUTHOR: Johanna POSTED: 2007-05-09 8:14 am Christopher Butcher has therundown. In short, Dark Horse is using ad space in its very successful Buffy comic to promote related books that are out of print for at least another month. the real root of the problem is inventory management and cashflow. Dark Horse’s backlist has become far, far too big for them to keep in print, and in order to maximise the return on their investment they’re needing to find cheaper, slower printing solutions. If massive outages of Sin City, Hellboy, 300, and now the Joss Whedon backlist haven’t shown them that this solution is if not entirely untennable than at least massively unprofessional, I don’t know what will. [...]

  5. bolondausztral says:

    #1 Yes, of course, just because someone happens to be a Whedon fan, this automatically means that most of them don’t understand the concept of ‘sold out’ or ‘currently unavailable’… No, most of them aren’t intelligent people, looking for intelligence in their entertainment in whatever form it comes in… Oh wait…
    I’m a Whedon fan. And I’m an Australian. Almost everytime a comic is released we’re hit with a delivery delay. But I understand this. I also don’t expect to be able to walk into a DVD store and see the Whedon catalogue there everytime I go in. No more than you’d walk into a comic store and expect to see your favourite artists/writers/whatevers entire back catalogue there.
    Dark Horse can’t get their act together? I believe you’ll find that most people understand that it’s not the retailers fault. If they don’t, that’s got nothing to do with their chosen fandom…

  6. Matthew says:

    Isn’t part of the problem that when darkhorse does reprint trades they often do it in really small numbers? which then sell out again? I’m sure that can’t be helping them keep prices down.

  7. Dorian says:

    Actually “bolondausztral”, it’s been my experience from working in comics retail that most comic fans, and Joss Whedon fans for the sake of this arguement, do blame the retailer for not having something in stock. Customers just don’t understand the process of either print publication or retail distribution. All they know is: I want the comic, the comic isn’t here, the retailer didn’t want to make the sale by fulfilling my demand.

  8. Kevin Church says:

    Golly, “bolondausztral,” I wasn’t saying that you were idiots. I was saying that it wouldn’t make sense to fans that such a thing was unavailable because, hey, it doesn’t make sense that it’s not available. You may also have a different experience than the North American fans, who can wander into just about every DVD chain across the country and pick up any given Whedon product in moments.

    No more than you’d walk into a comic store and expect to see your favourite artists/writers/whatevers entire back catalogue there.

    I’m sorry, I do expect to see a decent back catalogue for my favorite creators because most publishers are now actively working towards getting as much product as they can in people’s hands.

  9. jonk says:

    new to comics due to buffy, i’ve now visited three different comic shops in the the last couple months:

    one shop has serious comic staff, didn’t offer much of a vibe to me perhaps because of me, perhaps because i was just buying a couple buffy’s – they chatted up a couple guys in front of me, perhaps they were regulars…this shop marked up the alternative cover from 2.99 to 4.99 – f that.

    a second shop, that i have been into several times, is very hit and miss from indifferent to rude. they had a two issue limit. problem is i do buffy with a group of folks, i was picking up books for everyone, not know ing the limit (or the business of comics, is this common?). they said they needed to keep track of demand, i matter-of-factly explained that these books would be for individuals who would be each getting a new one each month, i just happened to be picking them all up this time. dude kept getting more and more pent up when i would ask him simple questions. don’t know what the deal was, but it seemed buffy specific.

    third shop, totally cool, helpful, laid-back, unassuming, open to newbies.

    point being, in my new and limited interaction as someone new to comics, retailers are not doing themselves any favors with the way they treat new customers – product availability aside! the buffy books has created interest in both other whedonverse comics as well as comics in general. it is the attitude of individual retailers that will heavily determine if i want to do business with that shop, much less return for a monthly guaranteed purchase.

    that said, here in chicago – backwater of North America – i have not experienced easy availability of whedonverse anywhere. best buy, target, barnes and noble, borders – most of them never have anything (aside from the more likely firefly, not serenity) and when they do have something they rarely have more than a season or two. also, good luck finding any of the whedonverse at any local video shop, it just doesn’t happen.

  10. Kevin Church says:

    Apparently, experiences vary. On a whim (and to make sure I wasn’t batshit insane when I said it), I visited a local record/comics store (Newbury Comics, for those curious) over lunch and saw a nice selection of BUFFY seasons as well as FIREFLY and SERENITY.

  11. Brian says:

    I have a pretty decent collection, but I had not bought a comic book in over 15 years…until season 8. The place I shop at in the KC metro area(Elite Comics) pointed out a bunch of the other whedon stuff, and then explained about darkhorse and the lack of product availability. My girlfriend went in, and got the same awesome service. When I was a kid I expected to be treated with a little less respect, but now that I’m in my 30′s service like that will keep me going back to the same shop.

  12. b.l. toaster says:

    It is no doubt frustrating for lots of retailers to have this surge of whedonite buyers, who are in many cases new or returning comic book customers, and not be able to sell them everything they want.

    Seems like nobody in this chain of suppliers and retailers can afford to keep a stock of backlisted items sufficient to anticipate a surge of buying like the one brought on by Buffy Season 8. But be of good cheer, cause we are patient and persistent sorts (some might say, obsessed), still buying the dvds after many years, and we won’t forget to come back for the stuff when it finally comes in.

    And if you are nice and chatty and accepting with us-some of us are not your usual profile of comic shop patron-we’ll be back to your store for more. It’s a good thing for you-really- on the whole.

  13. Tori says:

    I haven’t bought comic books since I was a kid, but when I went into my local comic book store (Zanadu in Seattle’s University District, for the curious), they were beyond helpful. Not only did they help me find Issue #1, but they pointed out all the other Whedon works, let me know when they would be getting Fray in-stock (this summer) and chatted me up for almost 1/2 an hour. They must be Whedon fans, because they knew gossipy stuff about Serenity and Firefly as well. Anyways, it has been an awesome experience so far. And even though it’s frustrating that the issues sell out so quickly, they always have a re-order on its way, and I never have to wait more than a week.

  14. Brad says:

    I never really buy comics, so when I was in California when Issue 1 came out, I figured I would be hopeless in finding a copy down Sunset Blvd. Luckily, the second place I went to had a copy – at seven at night!
    As for if Buffy fans expect to be able to find what they want – yes, I kind of do if it has been available for a while. I however, do not blame the retailer for not having what I want – I certainly don’t blame Wal-Mart for not having, say a Wii.

  15. Micky says:

    I find it interesting that a retailer would be so contemptuous of a potential customer simply because they don’t understand why a popular, advertised item is not available to purchase. Newsflash! It’s not just Whedon items that people can expect to find at every store. I also expect to find a full selection of fruits and vegetables at my grocery store. Maybe some customers are used to being able to walk into a grocery store and buy any fruit whenever they want. Why wouldn’t it be the same with the books?

    This has been the problem with many comic retailers: contempt for the newbies. I’m a long time comic fan in a large metropolitan area, and I have encountered this “Comic Book Guy” attitude at several shops… shops I refuse to frequent the second I get a “you made me get off my stool for *that*” vibe. I’m lucky that I do live in a large market and I’ve found a great chain that welcomes customers and doesn’t insult them with terms like “Whedonites” or expect them to understand the behind-the-scenes reasons for lack of product. Here’s an idea: if paying customers are so tweaked that you don’t have a Whedon item, *explain* that Dark Horse–the publisher of wanted item–is crap at making enough for everyone. Maybe suggest something else? How about explaining your subscription service so the customer will get what they want when it’s published? Perhaps work on that thing called “customer service” so this person who wants to spend money will come back to your shop?

    Why on Earth some comic retailers have such contempt for people who want to give them money is a mystery to me. It’s *exactly* this type of attitude that runs off potential new comic book fans. And this industry cannot afford to lose potential new fans.

  16. Chris says:

    Hi Micky,

    I don’t usually let comments get posted without the respondent including their e-mail address–mostly for spoofing purposes–but I think you make an interesting point and I wanted it to go up. Mostly to respond.

    The fact that you have found a cool store that treats you right and helps you out is proof that they’re out there. I like to think I help run one myself, and yeah, a lot of new customers are shocked when I happily get up off my stool to get whatever they’re looking for. I’m sorry if your experiences have been ‘mixed’, I’ve been a lot of crap stores myself and can empathise.

    But Dorian and Kevin? They’re actually really good at comics retail, even though neither one of them makes it their primary vocation, currently. But they are speaking from a position of accumulated experience, and if, in their experience, “Whedonites” are a little more difficult as customers than Joe-Shmoe hereoes fans, I’ll defer to their experience. Much like how a paragraph ago I deferred to yours, when you said lots and lots of store that you’d visited were ‘difficult’ in lots of ways too.

    The thing is, it’d be just as easy for me to take offense at your generalisations about retailers, as it was for you to take offense at the generalisations about “Whedonites”, though neither of us were the ones being talked about in this thread.

    I think, Micky, it’s better to just try and stay positive all around.

    Also, you ended on a sentence fragment.

    - Christopher

  17. Comics Should Be Good! » Comic Book Pet Peeve says:

    [...] Chris Butcher just recently did a bit on one of the more annoying items for comic retailers – Dark Horse’s stocking system of books related to “hot” media properties. I know quite a few comic retailers who were so worried that they wouldn’t have copies of 300 in stock for the movie that they began stockpiling copies in late 2006, which is just pretty silly, isn’t it? That a store had to lay out cash months in advance of actually selling the product, simply because they did not believe the books would be available to order when they actually NEEDED them. Stores felt this way because that was the case for Sin City and Serenity – neither books were available to retailers when they needed them. [...]

  18. Roel says:

    I dunno, man. This seems like making a mountain out of a molehill/a tempest in a teapot. There’s always going to be products consumers want that are not readily available. I mean, it’s the entire guiding concept between supply and demand, right? Sometimes, supply cannot meet demand?

    There are always a million different reasons why some comics are not available. Why can’t I read a Flex Mentallo TPB? Because the Charles Atlas estate sued. Why can’t I read the last issues of Miracleman? Because Todd Macfarlane and Neil Gaiman don’t like each other. Why can’t I read the next issue of All-Star Batman and Robin? Because they publish one issue a year. Why can’t I read Joss Whedon’t past work? Because Dark Horse doesn’t have the most progressive trade distribution in place. Gotcha. Life goes on. Don’t yell at your retailer. Cool? Cool.

    If people are so hungry for Whedon’s work, Astonishing X-Men and Runaways are right there. I mean, geeze.

    People who can’t wait three weeks for their orders to be processed have a very heightened sense of entitlement that really disagrees with me. To any angry Whedon fans — that Fray TPB that you’re interested in? Um, that thing has been out for years. You’re really out of line for giving the retailer grief that they don’t have it in stock. I mean, where were you 11 months ago? You’ve had ample opportunity to ask about it, so don’t get all huffy when Christopher Butcher cannot make it magically appear in your hands immediately, you spoiled prat. Seriously.

    In conclusion — there are worse fates in life than having to wait for your Whedon collected trade to be special ordered. I believe in patience. I believe in tolerance. I believe in realistic expectations. Sometimes, you can’t get the exact item you want at the very moment you want it. In this instant gratification world, that message often gets lost in the white noise.

  19. comicsnob.com » Manga Watch List: Week of May 13th 2007 says:

    [...] This doesn’t make my list any better, but the different perspective can be handy — even if we are having the same problems with Dark Horse (I’d pick on DH again, but Chris Butcher on Comics212.net is doing such a good job of it, I have nothing to add.) The other advantage is that I can pick up on the occasional non-fiction title or oddball left-field search result that might be of interest to the otaku nation. (…the search term was “Japan”… no really.) (I can see you don’t believe me.) [...]

  20. JB clarenson says:

    I must concur there is a PB. But while of course you can say the buyer must be patient or else there is defenetly something not working properly… i mean they could make much more money.
    Are they on such a tight leash they must wait ?
    I mean avp movie is out, you put out new avp ou a or P stuff ?
    star wars hits big you do satr wars to capitalize ?
    grendel turns 25 you finally collect and keep the trades in print right ?
    except they don’t or do half of it… yes you could buy but you search you comic shop for the frey trade… after reading teh comics… you don’t find it… you let the issue go… and stop thinking about it…
    LOok at uysagi yojimbo… they do a 100TH issue yet most of the trades are barely in print….

  21. Bruce says:

    Is Dark Horse ever going to publish Vol # 4 of Doctor
    Solar Man of the Atom? The first 3 volumes were great, it
    would be nice if they’d publish Vol 4 and complete the
    series.

  22. The Comics Podcast Network » Blog Archive » CCL #121 Matt Wagner Part II Batman and the Mad Monk says:

    [...] Links of note: Chris Butcher: Is it time for another post bitching about Dark Horse? The Comics Chronicles Rabbi Simcha Weinstein: The Comic Book Rabbi [...]

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