When I hear about a publisher selling out of their first printings of a new issue I’m excited to hear that for the creative team and the publisher. The way I look at first printings is that a publisher says “We think we will be able to sell ‘X’ amount of copies of this issue” – right? In an economy where printing more books than you think you can sell is not a good business decision. Printing costs money, especially for a smaller publisher or self-published creator. You cannot afford to print more than you think you can sell. So, when I hear that they have sold out of their first printing I’m excited for them. The question now is… do we print more?
There’s the big question. Does a publisher take a chance and publish more copies for a “second print”? Or does a publisher take advantage of today’s digital publishing options and make their comic book available on Graphic.ly or Comixology or even their own web site or app? I bring all of this up because of a few different approaches I have seen.
Last week, Zenescope’s Alice in Wonderland #1 sold out of it’s first printing. In their press release they state that they sold out of their 19,000 copies and have no plans on a second printing. If you want to read the issue and can’t find a copy of it, you can check out Comixology or the Zenescope App. I’ll preface all of what I’m getting ready to say with the acknowledgement that Zenescope could easily announce that they’re going to a second printing within a week or two of this book selling out. But, for this example let’s take their statement at face value and go with they will not do a second printing. I think selling out of 19,000 copies of any comic book from a publisher who is not Marvel or DC is very respectable and should be applauded. Yes, this just means that 19,000 copies of the book were sold to retailers and not all of those copies have been sold to actual paying customers. I get that. At the same time, those retailers thought they would sell out of the number of copies they ordered, right?
I think the idea of day-and-date release is a great idea, but that’s not what this is about. What I want to focus on is the idea of making the decision to stay at one printing and then letting everyone who couldn’t get a copy of that printing have the opportunity to read the book digitally. If you want to bump up your first printing numbers 5-10% more than you think you will be able to sell out of just to have more of those books in back stock in case of restock orders from retailers, go for it. What I don’t think is necessary is to sell out of a first printing and immediately release a second print. Doesn’t it make sense to wait and see what the market demands? And if you do decide to go with a second printing, doesn’t it make good sense to stop at that printing? Does it make more financial sense to go with another printing, or allow readers to go get the book from a digital distributor?
I bring this question up because of the recent announcement that DC Comics is releasing a third printing of Batman #1, a fourth printing of Action Comics #1, a fifth printing of Detective Comics #1, and a SIXTH printing of Justice League #1. Justice League #1 sold more than 200, 000 copies of it’s first printing, why is it up to a sixth printing? Have all of the other printings only had 100 copies?! Why not use the same model that Zenescope is current using and do a first print run that consists of a number of books you think will sell, maybe over print by a certain margin, and then be done with it? Is this a money grab by DC, or other publishers that do this? Possibly. In a market that still has a majority of it’s customers reading printed copies I can understand the need to keep something in print, but hitting a sixth printing on a book that’s initial print had 200,000 copies in it seems a bit outrageous and reminding me a little of the insanity of the 1990s.
I conclude with the question, does it make sense to utilize digital distribution to make money off of sales of a comic book after the initial print has sold out, or should publishers continue to publish second, third, or even fourth printings of a book in hopes that those printings will sell out, too?