In one of the most heart-felt speeches of the Comic Industry Conference, Filip Sablik, of BOOM! STUDIOS, described how change, though hard, can lead to better outcomes.
Comparing personal challenges to recent retailer struggles, Sablik encouraged retailers to take back the power that they’ve given away*. He said that retailers had “the power to change how every publisher does business” simply by changing the way that they stock their stores.
As slides of ComicsPRO publisher lobbying requests flashed on the screen, Sablik asked retailers to “buy into what you believe” and showed that Once And Future by Kieron Gillen and Dan Mora, would fulfill many of the requests. Sablik stressed Returnability, no variant covers, sliding discounts, and free copies.
Sablik pledged that if this experiment worked, and ONCE AND FUTURE, cracked the TOP 25, BOOM! would do this again on a future title.
(*Sablik was referencing last year’s ComicsPRO white paper: Developing Innovative Solutions for Comic Industry Problems. In that paper, ComicsPRO found that retailers, as a group, felt that there were substantial roadblocks for retailers in sourcing items (especially new comics), and that retailers carried a lot of burden and had very little control).
Please Read Filip Sablik’s Full Speech Below
Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself” – Leo Tolstoy
The direct market is down for the second year in a row. Many retailers are concerned about the health of their businesses and the direct market.
The challenge ahead seems overwhelming. But I have good news, I believe we can make a change in this room today.
Change is difficult. I know this first hand.
Let me share with you a massive change I personally went through and the amazing things that came because of it.
In my mid-twenties I was staring down the barrel of a challenge I hadn’t anticipated and one that scared the hell out of me. My college sweetheart, who I had married right after we both graduated, had told me she was leaving me and wanted a divorce. This change shook my reality to the core. In the conversations that followed, it became clear that she had realized we were caught in a series of unhealthy patterns. Some of those patterns were hers, some were mine, and others were ours. I told her I could change, that we could change. She didn’t believe I would. And if she hadn’t left, if she hadn’t been a catalyst to disrupt those patterns, I’m not sure I would have. I’m grateful for both the time we had together and for her being brave enough to break our patterns.
Sitting alone early one morning in my empty apartment, I decided to see if I could change. I laced up a pair of sneakers, stepped out in the cold air of pre-dawn, and started jogging. I hadn’t run a mile since middle school. I was nearly 40 lbs overweight. I didn’t even own pair of jogging shorts. I’m not going to lie to you, that first run wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t good. But it felt meaningful. A year later, I ran my first marathon. It wasn’t pretty either, but it was one of the most important accomplishments in my life.
Lacing up those sneakers that morning was the first step in a much larger inward journey that year. A year that I took to ownership of my life, my unhealthy patterns, and chose to change. One in which I embraced my job and career fully, began taking care of myself and my relationships, and made many other changes that still add value to my life. And within that year I met the amazing woman who would end up becoming my wife. If I hadn’t taken that journey, I’m not sure I would have become the person that was worthy of being her husband.
We celebrated our 10 year wedding anniversary last Fall. What was the most intimidating change in my life at the time ended up being the best thing to ever happen to me.
Change is hard and often risky. Not just in our personal lives, but in business. And I’m used to hearing concerns from retailers about the health of the direct market. And about publisher business practices.
But when in rapid succession, I read similar messages of alarm from Brian Hibbs – the retailer who gave us Final Order Cutoff, Joe Field – the retailer who originated Free Comic Book Day, and Phil Boyle – one of the most successful, longest-running comic store chain owners – I sit up and pay attention. You’ve already heard from all three of them today. They have written and spoken eloquently and constructively about the challenges we face as an industry. This conversation is emblematic of why ComicsPRO was founded. It’s why we’re all gathered here every year isn’t it?
I believe we can solve the problems facing our industry. I believe it because BOOM! Studios is proof that change is possible.
In another year, I would take some time to tell you why BOOM! Studios is your best partner. I don’t need to that this year, because you say we are “the gold standard” for how publishers should partner with comic book stores.
You already know we ship our books on time and honor our commitments. That we generate hits for the direct market like Power Rangers: Shattered Grid, Fence, Firefly and Buffy, Mech Cadet Yu, and Lumberjanes. That we innovate with programs like Discover Now collections of our hottest original series that are exclusive to comic shops forever. That we have the best returnability program in the industry with the BOOM! Guarantee program. You know that BOOM! Studios puts comic shops first.
And thanks to our comic shops first policies, we’re winning together. In 2018, BOOM! Studios gained more market share year over year than any other publisher.
Last year wasn’t just a victory for BOOM!, it was a victory for our retail partners. Retailers who were part of the BOOM! Guarantee program benefited the most, growing their sales on BOOM! Studios titles at 3 times the rate of retailers not in the program.
We are growing our business together. We are winning together.
And the industry is taking notice. We’re thrilled to see other publishers including Dark Horse, Aftershock, and IDW adopt returnability programs like the one we pioneered. In particular, we want to applaud Image Comics for recently offering no minimum, affidavit returns on their first issues.
As other publishers see the positive impact these practices have on their business, we hope they will extend returnability to second, third, and even fourth issues as we’ve done in the Guarantee program for the last two years.
But we’re not satisfied being the gold standard of comic book publishers, we want to be the platinum standard. So this year, we’re making an unprecedented change within the BOOM! Guarantee.
In addition to 6 single issue comics fully returnable via affidavit every single month, a free floor stand, a free double sided poster every month, and exclusive gifts and products; we are now also going to make 2 graphic novels or collections fully returnable every single month. No minimums. No stripped covers or physical returns. Order what you need to find your ceiling and return what you don’t sell via Diamond affidavit.
That’s not all. The industry continues to be overwhelmed by too much product. BOOM! Studios recognized this back in 2016 when we cut our output by 15%. We will do our part again this year by cutting back our output by 15% compared to 2018.
BOOM! Studios is your best partner. We will continue to evolve our business practices so we can continue leading the industry. And we’re going to continue winning together.
But the hard, uncomfortable truth is that that the general shape of the market has not changed in a long, long time. The top 5 publishers have been the same for the last 8 years. They have been 84% of the market and each maintained roughly the same market share over those 8 years.
In fact, the largest publisher in the direct market had the third largest gain in market share last year.
You only have to look at the top-ordered titles over the last six months and you’ll see variant covers, no returnability, a lack of curation and innovation, and little in the way of outreach.
The uncomfortable truth is that this is not a picture of market that wants to change.
Over the years, one of the most persistent themes I’ve heard from our retail partners is that they feel like they aren’t in control. That they wish publishers would change how they treat them. That they wish publishers had less power over the future of the direct market.
But that’s a lie. You have the power. You’ve just given it away.
Publishers don’t have the power to change how you do business. You have the power to change how every publisher does business.
Every single publisher in this room responds to the market. When strategies work we double down. When they don’t we abandon them. We listen to the market. And the market communicates not with words, but with dollars. You have control over those dollars.
Every single retailer in this room is an entrepreneur. A free-spirited, independently minded rebel. You started your own business because you believed in yourself. You charted your own path, leaving behind 9-to-5 jobs in safer industries. You would not let me or any other publisher in this room walk into your store and tell you how you should run it. What it should look like. What you should recommend to your customers.
Each of your stores is a reflection of who you are, what you love, and what you believe.
You say something has to give. You say something has to change.
Are you ready to buy into what you believe?
While I can’t sell you Batman or Spider-man at this conference, I can hand you that pair of sneakers so you can take control of your destiny and make the first steps of change.
So I ask you:
“More curation of product.” – ComicsPRO
Would you buy into a new original series was carefully curated with the best talent in the industry from your best partner?
“A reduction of the use of variant covers.” – ComicsPRO
Would you buy into into a series with no variant covers?
“More returnability on new product.” – ComicsPRO
Would you buy into a series if every issue was returnable with no minimums and no stripped cover returns?
“Discount programs to entice new customers.” – ComicsPRO
Would you buy into a series with sliding discounts on the first issue that rewarded all retailers for buying into what they believe?
“Loyalty programs to entice returning customers.” – ComicsPRO
Would you buy into a series that rewarded you with free copies of later issues to reduce risk and reward you for your continued support?
“More returnability on new product.” – ComicsPRO
What if the collection would be returnable?
Are you ready to buy into what you believe?
What if your best partner gave you all of those things in one series? BOOM! Studios is your best partner and we’re going to do just that.
In August, one of the industry’s biggest, most consistent hit makers – Kieron Gillen – is bringing his first original series to BOOM! Studios. We’ve teamed him with one of our most popular artists – Dan Mora, hot off Buffy The Vampire Slayer – for a new original limited series called ONCE&FUTURE. KieronandDanplantodoforIndianaJoneswhatMillarandGibbonsdidfor James Bond with Kingsmen. This is without a doubt one of our biggest initiatives in our company’s history.
- Every issue of ONCE & FUTURE will be fully returnable through the BOOM! Guarantee program.
- Every issue of ONCE & FUTURE will ship with a single awesome cover by Dan Mora.
- The first issue of ONCE & FUTURE will feature sliding additional discounts – the more all retailers order as a group, the deeper the additional discount will be on the first issue which will increase your profit on every single copy you sell.
- BOOM! Studios will support every subsequent issue with free copies to reduce your risk and increase your profit on the entire series.
- When the collection of ONCE & FUTURE c omes out, it will be fully returnable. [“Generate excitement through frequent and effective social media postings.” – ComicsPRO] And make no mistake we’re going to throw the full force of our marketing and sales team behind this series. Last year, we grew our social media footprint by 47% and increased our engagement with fans by 231%. We know how to make noise and connect with fans on original series. You’ve seen it with bestsellers like Klaus, Grass Kings, Fence, Mech Cadet Yu, Coda, and others. BOOM! Studios is giving you our biggest original launch of the year coupled with the new platinum standard for retailer support. We’re giving it to you the way that you’ve asked for it. Let me be clear – this isn’t just about creating a hit series for BOOM! Studios. We know how to do that. You’ve seen us do it with the tried and true methods that you’ve told us created the challenges we face today. This is about sending a message, a clear signal to the industry. If you speak with one voice and make ONCE & FUTURE a top 25 launch in August, you will tell every publisher in the industry that doing things the right way will be rewarded by the market. You will give every publisher rep in this room the tool to walk into their boss’s office and show them that positive change yields positive results. The market will show publishers that change doesn’t need to be small and incremental, it can be bold and dramatic.
Now August is a long way off and there will be a ton more information coming your way before you finalize your orders in July. But I believe we can start the retailer revolution today. Right here, in this room.
So we’ve had our friends at Diamond create an advance order code for ONCE & FUTURE #1. It’s live now. You can place your initial order for ONCE & FUTURE today. We’ll have iPads at our roundtables so you can order there in case you don’t have your computer with you.
As of this moment, you have the power to decide how we and other publishers do business by placing an order that signals you won’t accept the status quo anymore.
Are you ready to buy into what you believe today?
BOOM! Studios is your best partner because we don’t deal in promises. We deal in guarantees. So I’ll make you this guarantee. If you make ONCE & FUTURE a top 25 title, we’ll do this again. We will repeat this program with other series this year so you can continue to send big, bold signals to every publisher that this is how you demand to be treated. We’ll continue to listen to you and improve our standards. We’ll do it again and again until other publishers chose to put comic shops first.
It’s time to start the retailer revolution. Buy into what you believe.