LATE BOOKS: PUBLIC MENACE? by Darth Genius, 12/5/05

Late books. Every publisher has had to contend with this issue to some degree.

It's inevitable in an industry dependent on the need to send production out of the country (overseas in some cases) in order to keep costs within acceptable levels. Ship dates can be missed for a variety of reasons that are completely outside the publisher's control. For instance, the printer could bump the run for a more lucrative project, delays due to weather conditions in transit, production errors that must be corrected, delays in customs...the list goes on.

Some folks are dismissive of critics of chronic lateness as making the proverbial mountain out of a molehill. I won't go into all the reasons why they are wrong here. There's no need. Brian Hibbs has already done a fantastic job ELSEWHERE, and any attempt by me to paraphrase or extend his argument would pale by comparison to the real thing. But I will say that anyone who thinks late books don't hurt the industry in general, and the retailer and publisher in particular are (at least in the long run) flat-out wrong.

Why then, with the deck so thoroughly stacked against them ever getting a book out on time, and the potential for real financial consequences when books are inexcusably late, do some publishers flirt with disaster by soliciting books that are clearly nowhere near ready to send to the printer?

The two biggest offenders these days are DYNAMIC FORCES (including their subsidiary, DYNAMITE ENTERTAINMENT) and DARK HORSE COMICS. Let's take a look at a by-no-means-comprehensive list of offenses, shall we?

Dynamic Forces/Dynamite Entertainment:

American Flagg! HC: solicited in 2004, and still not released
Six from Sirius HC: supposed to ship in summer '05, still waiting
Hellshock HC: another volume to ship in July, and has yet to be be published.
Red Sonja vol 1 and 2 TPB: the first volume solicited for release in July '05, delayed until December '05.

And this doesn't even count the promised but as-yet-unsolicited Dreadstar vol 2, or any of the- ahem- monthly titles they are supposed to be publishing, like Red Sonja. Nor is this a new problem either. The first Dreadstar volume was interminably late as well, and I'd venture the proposition that poor sales have delayed the promised subsequent volume. The question is, how much of the book's poor sales performance is the publisher's fault for not getting it out anywhere near on time? These guys are new to the publishing game, and could concievably fill the void left by Graphitti Designs' departure from the field. But they need to get their act together.

As for Dark Horse:

Magnus vol 3 (so late it's being resolicited this month)
Dr. Solar vol 3
Samurai Executioner vol 7, 8, 9, and 10 ! (and lest we forget, 5 and 6 were incredibly late, too)
Sin City set 1+2
Aliens vs. Predator digest OGN vol 2
Lady Snowblood vol 2

Some of these books are approaching a year since original solicitation.

* * *

OK, I suppose I have to cover some of the same ground Brian Hibbs did at this point, if for no one else than those of you who haven't yet clicked through to read his much better treatment of the subject (but I promise to keep it short).

Why does Diamond put up with this?

It keeps money out of their pockets by tying up revenue in the form of retailer orders that could have been spent on merchandise that actually got produced in the month during which it was solicited to arrive, instead of allocating it for phantom projects which either never materialize, or are so late they become cancelable or returnable. Diamond doesn't get paid until they ship product to retail. Delays of expensive books means Diamond has lost money.

Retailers have a finite amount to spend in a given month, and they order books based on a presumption that they will arrive or time, or shortly thereafter. They spend money to make money. For every dollar allocated to orders of the American Flagg hardcover, something else the retailer could have ordered that month from Previews instead with the money budgeted got passed over.

That hurts:

1. The other publishers whose stuff got overlooked,
2. The retailer who is sitting on money he had budgeted to make him some money but instead has nothing to sell,
3. Diamond who had nothing to distribute to the retailer and make their money, and
4. The consumer who is just plain irritated, and may elect to spend their money elsewhere, perhaps outside of comics altogether on a DVD or videogame whose manufacturer got their product out on time.

The only person it doesn't hurt, at first glance, is the publisher. But when the condition becomes chronic, it means retailers simply decrease their proportion of their monthly budget that they allocate to that publisher, or stop ordering from them altogether.

* * *

OK, paraphrase of Hibbs over...

Instead of insisting on publisher accountability, Diamond seems to ignore the problems. If they really wanted to end the practice, they could do it tomorrow by enacting two simple requirements, and holding every publisher to them.

1. Barring all new solicitations from a publisher with any project that is over 2 months late until the product is delivered or orders are cancelled, with an explanation and/or resolicitation required.

2. Prohibiting the solicitation of any book for which the publisher is unable to produce evidence that the book is ready to send to the printer or manufacturer at the time of solicitation. Galleys, proofs, quark files, two-ups if we're talking action figures, et cetera.

If Diamond did these two things, late books, and more importantly later publishers, would be a thing of the past. Or at the very least much less frequent.

Look, we're all in this together. And late books don't help anybody. Instead we get a sickeningly obtuse re-enactment of "The Emporer's New Clothes" in the form of press-release after press-release about the next project when the last 3 haven't materialized, with no update or comment. It's like they think we are all so stupid that we forgot.

It's insulting.

I would welcome the opportunity to interview representatives from either company- Dark Horse or Dynamic Forces- who wish to set the record straight.