The Rise of Pre-Order
These are terms that gamers have been hearing for years. Buy a game before it releases through a particular vendor and get extras that are exclusive to early buyers. Purchase now and get a (enter retailer incentive item). The promotion of buying before the final product is built has become a common practice in gaming… for better or worse and now the trend is starting to take root in comics.
On Tuesday, December 13, Valiant sent out a press release announcing the return of X-O Manowar, one of the publisher’s popular titles. It wasn’t the announcement of the return of X-O that caught my attention. Press releases announcing new titles are routine, but it was the offer of an X-O Manowar Pre-Order Bundle that caught my attention. A Pre-Order Bundle for comics? Really?
Here is the promotional piece that came with the press release.
I want it understood that I am NOT picking on Valiant for this marketing move. Somebody was eventually going to dip their toe in the proverbial water on this. It just so happens to be Valiant.
It raises the question-
Are pre-orders a good thing for the future of the comic industry or is it a downfall? I want to take a look at both side of the argument to better understand what potential pros and cons that this emerging business practice might mean for comics.
-Pre-sale offers will give publishers a dependable and engaged audience for a pre-determined number of issues. If fans have put their money down for four issues then comic companies can print runs with confidence that there will not be the common drop in readership from issue 1 to 2 and so on. It locks the audience in and allows the company to have a set foundation of readers to launch new titles.
– Publishers can take more risks. Much like the crowd funding sites like Kickstarter and Indie-Go-Go, comic publishers can easily offer up Pre-Orders for mini-series, or potential one-shots without risking the same financial losses as they would have previously. Offerings from publishers will have a built in customer base from the moment a new series or title launches, and if the numbers are NOT there for a series to launch it would be easier to refund a pre-order than cancel a run midway through its proposed duration.
– Pre-Orders allow the fans to become more immersed and engaged in series that they enjoy by offering up exclusive content that might not be available elsewhere. If the gaming market is to be viewed as an example as what we can expect from pre-orders, then you can look forward to comic companies trying to one-up the competition by offering more bang for your buck. Pre-orders have included everything from stickers to T-shirts, to posters, to statues and figurines… there is no limit to what a publisher could use to try and entice fans in to spend their money on a new series. Just think of all that sweet loot.
-The trouble that the gaming industry has run into with pre-orders is the age old enemy of the comic book business; delays. There have been multiple instances of gaming companies have to push back release dates for various production or marketing related reasons. Comics; from mainstream to the independents have all suffered from the late shipping bug since the inception of the medium. The comic book business is not known for being timely.
One can’t help but wonder just how often fans that buy in to the pre-order buzz will wind up burned as publishers push back or even cancel series before their completion. Creators have been known to walk from projects, sign contracts with competitors, and a host of other unforeseen obstacles can derail a series… pre-order or not.
-Speaking of creators; how many times have fans been sold on a series with a superstar artist and writer tagged to the project only to have both walk away after the initial issues have been published? With pre-orders it’s impossible to back out and get a refund just because the creative team isn’t the one you like. Every publisher is guilty of pulling the old bait-and-switch on customers who will buy a book for the cover art, only to find that the interiors are drawn by an entirely different artist. Consistency and dependability are not the hallmarks of the comic industry.
-If the trend takes hold and pre-orders becomes a common thing; how long will it be before fans are excluded from serious story or plot points because they didn’t spend the extra money to buy an exclusive bundle? Pre-order has to have a method of marketability- they have to have something special about them to make the fans want to dig into their wallets… how long before companies start sacrificing readership at the altar of the all mighty dollar?
For better or worse we may be looking at the newest trend of comics. The gaming industry can serve as a solid example of how to treat the fans right, and how to royally screw up. While Valiant may have made the first move, it will be the comic industry at large that has to police the business practices of all publishers to protect the integrity of the creators and fans.