Image Comics Publisher Asks for Retailer Relief Amid Coronavirus Pandemic
As the comics industry reacts to the social isolation response to the coronavirus, Image Comics publisher and CEO Eric Stephenson has released an open letter about what his company — the third-largest publisher in the U.S. market — is doing to lessen pressure on retailers struggling with reduced traffic to stores and enforced closures. He is also asking other publishers to follow suit.
In normal times, comic book stores must estimate how many issues of each comic they will sell, and pay upfront for inventory from publishers. However, as the coronavirus has dramatically shifted how many customers are coming into shops, Stephenson said Image will allow comic book stores to return orders for the next 60 days.
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Stephenson’s open letter follows AfterShock Comics’ announcement earlier Wednesday that it was looking to delay new release shipments “by a minimum of four weeks,” with that period being open to re-evaluation and extension depending on the state of the market in mid-April. Additionally, The Hollywood Reporter has learned that Vault Comics has made its titles returnable and put new releases on hiatus for the month of April; that publisher will also re-evaluate its plan as events unfold.
The full text of Stephenson’s letter appears below. Look for more on how the comics industry is reacting to COVID-19 on THR in the coming days.
When you’re younger, you don’t think about being old enough to tell “I remember when…” stories, but for most of us that day inevitably arrives.
Today, I’m remembering when there were no comic book stores.
Finding comics back then could be a real challenge.
Finding them today, though, without the efforts of the Direct Market to evangelize on behalf of our industry to readers everywhere would be next to impossible.
Finding them tomorrow could be impossible, full-stop, if our entire industry doesn’t come together now on behalf of comic book stores everywhere.
We are all living through a moment of momentous change as we struggle to deal with the effects of COVID-19. We can’t simply pretend it’s business as usual. Few of us have escaped the damage the rapid spread of this virus has had on our businesses, our relationships, our everyday lives. We’re all frightened by the long-term implications of such a major health crisis, but more than that, we’re all grappling with the fear that always comes when the immediate future is not only bleak, but uncertain.
What frustrates me the most right now is that I know how horrifying that uncertainty must be for our retail partners. When customers were electing to stay out of shops as a public safety measure, that was bad enough, but now that all non-essential businesses are being ordered to close, the fallout from such closures will certainly cause an economic ripple effect with unknown outcome.
We’ve already outlined some of what we’re doing at Image:
• We’re now making all new product on FOC for the next 60 days returnable (thru 5/18 FOC), and we are prepared to extend that as necessity dictates.
• We’re cancelling non-essential releases like second printings and reprints.
• We’re offering suggestions to Diamond for ways to mitigate the impact of this crisis on retailers threatened by mandatory store closures.
• And as of yesterday, we are looking at ways to reschedule and stagger the release of our comics, trade paperbacks, and graphic novels so that we’re not pumping product into the marketplace at a time when retailers and consumers alike are dealing with financial struggle for an indeterminate amount of time.
We do this because we love comics, we love this industry, and we recognize our place in the ecosystem we all rely on to survive.
What we do, however, is not enough.
Image may be the third largest comics publisher in the United States, but percentage-wise, that’s a long way from number two. Despite reacting to the crisis facing our retail partners quickly and with the best of intentions, we are one publisher, and while many stores do rely on our books for their businesses, we are but a piece of the overall sales pie.
For true relief, and if the Direct Market is going to make it through this ordeal, we all need to join together to minimize the effects of shop closures on the stores we need for this marketplace to survive. Some publishers have already discussed the possibility of making their product returnable, but that’s still not enough: We need everyone.
With all due respect to our publishing peers, we urge you to enact similar measures that will help our retail partners get through these harrowing times. Everybody at every level of our industry needs to do everything we can to support one another. Let's put our heads together and find ways to protect the people who make what we do possible.
I understand that not every publisher is in the position Image is in when it comes to making these decisions. Image is not owned by a large corporation or beholden to stockholders. Regardless, this is a time where we all have to do our part. I know that for some of you, that means jumping through a lot of hoops — but if there was ever a time to do it, that time is now.
Image Comics, Inc.
by Daniel Fienberg