Research, Research, Research: The Newsstand/Mass Market

A column article by: Ace Masters

The Newsstand Market is, simply, a stand or store that sells magazines, newspapers, comics books and, sometimes, popular fiction. A newsstand is not necessarily a bookstore, though “newsstand-type” racks that sell newspapers and magazines are found in bookstores as well as convenience stores, supermarkets and large retail outlets (Target, Wal-Mart, etc.).

Typically, these are stocked by Newsstand distributors.

For this column I am going to widen the definition of Newsstand to include Mass Market bookstores and other locations such as Barnes and Noble, Borders, and major retail outlets like Target and Wal-Mart.

In the interest of full disclosure, I do not have the experience dealing with the Newsstand/Mass Market that I do with the Direct Market and Diamond Comics Distributors. In fact I chose not to go the Newsstand/Mass Market route.

What follows is what I uncovered in my market research and conversations with bookstores and distributors. These are the pros and cons of the Newsstand/Mass Market and what led me to the decision not to go the Newsstand/Mass Market route.

PROS:

The Newsstand/Mass Market route does have some advantages over the Direct Market:

     1. Distribution:

          A. Multiple Distributors.
Unlike the Direct Market, there are many distributors that do Newsstand and Mass Market Distribution (Ingram, JP). Not all carry comic books or graphic novels.

          B. Diamond Books.
Diamond Books is Diamond Comics Distributors book division, which is designed for the traditional bookstore. They can get graphic novels into stores and on newsstands. The drawback is that Diamond Books considers materials separately from Diamond Comics Distributors. If Diamond Comics carries your title, that is no guarantee that Diamond Books will.

     C. Straight to Store Distribution.
Barnes and Noble, Borders and a handful of other chains have the option of selling your titles (usually Graphic Novels or Trades only) directly to the store. This is also called self-distribution.

This does not mean that you can just send your title in and they will carry it. In fact, the odds are against them carrying your title in stores as they usually want to see a proven track record. More than likely, they may offer to carry your title on their Web site. (It is worth a shot.)

The best bet is to go to the company’s corporate Web site and research their guidelines for submitting materials.

     D. Graphic Novels/Manga/Trade Paperbacks:
The Newsstand/Mass Market is very open to Graphic Novels, Manga and Trade Paperbacks, much more so than monthly titles (other then DC, Marvel and major independents). Over the last decade Graphic Novels have became a regular staple on newsstands and in bookstores. Go into any Barnes and Noble or Borders and you will find a section dedicated to Graphic Novels, Manga and Trades, and not all are from major publishers.

     E. Larger Market.
The Newsstand Market is a much larger market than the Direct Comic market. You need to take into consideration that comic sales in the 1930s through the 1970s were higher than in today’s Direct Market.

The Mass Market is also much larger, considering that Barnes and Noble and Borders combined have more stores than there are specialty comic stores in the US. In fact, there are publishers such as First Second Books that sell graphic novels almost exclusively through bookstores with very good success.

If you can break into this market, it can lead to great success.

CONS:

Unfortunately, there are more disadvantages to the Newsstand/Mass Market than there are advantages:

     1. Distribution.
With so many distributors to choose from and potentially contact, it can take a long time to research which one could be right for you. Not all Newsstands/Mass Market distributors carry comic book-related publications. Only a handful do, and many of them have much stricter guidelines than Diamond Comics.

Another issue is serial publications (monthly titles or mini-series). Distributors I talked to that were interested in monthly titles wanted a guaranteed print run, with unsold issues being returnable.

     2. Larger Market.
The disadvantage of a large market is that there is more room for your title to become “one of the crowd.” Graphic Novels do have their own section in major bookstores, but so does every other type or genre of books. Instead of being alongside comic books, as they would be in specialty comic book stores, they are now in the middle of hundreds of thousands of other books and are not a focus item for the stores that carry them.

     3. Returnable.
Sadly, in traditional publishing unsold books are returnable for credit to the publisher toward the newsstand or bookstores (including larger retailers) next purchase. What this means for you is that any unsold graphic novels a newsstand or store wants to return, they potentially can, for credit or cash back. This means they get credit toward their next purchase from you, or you pay them a refund for unsold items.

But in the Direct Market, unsold items are non-returnable.

     4. Track Record:
Newsstand and bookstores want to see a proven track record. Without one, they are less likely to give you a chance. This is where a good, strong business plan can make the difference.

     5. Turn Around Times:
The amount of time it takes to get a response from a distributor, or a bookseller if selling directly to them, can be staggering. In some cases it can take months to hear back. This isn’t good if you have a strict timetable.

Payment can also have long turnaround times. In many cases payments are made quarterly, this means that you have to wait four months before getting your first payment for items sold, and every four months after. This isn’t good for a new company, either.

But in the Direct Market, with Diamond Comics, you get paid far more frequently (anywhere from ten days to thirty days after publication), which is far easier for a new company to deal with.

The Newsstand Market is a completely different beast than the Direct Market, with the major disadvantage being that all items are returnable for credit by newsstands and bookstores and major retailers. This can be a major pitfall if your title doesn’t sell well in this market.

I chose not to go the Newsstand route for three reasons: their policy on returnable items, the length of time to get responses and payments was too long, and distributors that didn’t believe there would be enough sales of the titles to warrant carrying the books.

But in the end, you need to do your own research and make your own decisions. If you are only looking at creating graphic novels, this may be an ideal route, along with the Direct Market.

Of course, if you plan mini-series and ongoing series, the Newsstand/Mass Market is not very friendly to them, outside of Marvel, DC and major independent publishers.

I will leave you with this Burning Question: What is the Direct Market? I will answer that very important question beginning with an overview of what the Direct Market is in my next column.

Later,

Ace Masters

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