A Haven for Independent Publishers?

A Haven for Independent Publishers?

Last week Newsarama spoke with Diamond’s Bill Schanes about the new minimum benchmarks. Under these new guidelines each item listed in the Previews catalog need to generate $6,200 in retail sales to be listed in the catalog. Many small press publishers have been placed in a bind. Do they need to raise their prices to reach the higher minimums? Can the list “offered again” items at all?

The answers to some of these questions may include small press publishers have to close their doors. I was chatting with Broadsword’s Holly Golightly and she mentioned they use Haven Distributors and are quite happy with the service. I called Lance Stahlberg the Director of Haven Distributors to find out what Haven can offer the small press publisher as well as the retailer.

Newsarama: Lance, I assume you have heard about the new Diamond Comics benchmarks?

Lance Stahlberg: Oh yes. I actually knew they were raising their minimums before the news broke, I just didn’t know the exact number. On the day when publishers started getting calls and the number was thrown out, my jaw dropped. A shift that dramatic could potentially cut Previews in half.

NRAMA: If a publisher finds they can’t meet the new benchmarks, can you help?

LS: That’s exactly why we’re here. Part of our mission is to help bring independent comics to the market. We give deserving titles a chance when Diamond won’t. We still have a submission and approval process, and you may get taken on consignment, but we boast a wide range of titles that cater to many tastes. Every new book we offer is treated the same.

We’ve been in business for a year now since we acquired and re-branded Cold Cut. In that year we’ve more than tripled our warehouse space, our inventory, and our active orders. Haven is definitely a viable alternative distribution channel, especially for newer stores just getting into the market who haven’t been conditioned to think of Previews as their only source for product.

NRAMA: Is there a benchmark at Haven Distribution?

LS: For suppliers? None. Granted your reorders for future books will reflect your sales performance. But if your book sells even one copy a month, we’ll keep carrying it. We’ll never just cut off a title or stop listing it in our online ordering system.

NRAMA: Do you offer advanced order distribution?

LS: Yes, we are starting to make the changes needed to do advance orders. It’s a big shift in the business model and one that I was not expecting to make. But with Diamond leaving so many marketable titles out in the cold, we’re doing what it takes to keep those books out there.

We’re starting to phase in books now with a small handful of publishers to make sure we have everything in place to process these orders with the efficiency that our customers will demand. We’ll be sending out updates by promotional mailing, by press release and in our newsletter as new books are offered, as will the publishers who join the advance order program.

NRAMA: If a publisher wants to list their backlist items with you and the new items with Diamond, do you accommodate them?

LS: I do not try to push exclusive agreements on anyone. The core of our business remains reorders, so if it makes sense for a publisher to offer their advance solicitations in Previews to maintain their sales minimums and then just list their back stock with us, I have no problem with that at all. That’s the way our business works now with most of our suppliers, anyway.

NRAMA: What advantages do you offer publishers for exclusive distribution with Haven, or do you even offer exclusive distribution?

LS: We don’t offer exclusive distribution. It would be counter-intuitive. I think it’s fair to say that exclusivity is harmful to the industry as a whole. That way of doing business is a huge factor in events that brought us to this point in the first place.

NRAMA: What does a publisher have to do, to open an account?

LS: Call or email us. We have a contact form and our number (1-877-428-3650) posted on www.HavenDistro.com. Look over our terms on the Publisher Info page. Just give us your company information and product samples and we’ll discuss the details. That’s it.

NRAMA: What is the fee for being listed in the catalog?

LS: It’s free to get a listing with your product description and cover art. Being in stock or on advance order automatically gets you into our online ordering system through our website. We do have advertising opportunities, too.

NRAMA: Is there a separate fee per listing?

LS: Nope. It’s free for every product.

NRAMA: If a publisher is listed in your catalog, what percentage of the retail community can they expect to reach?

LS: Our catalog hits 2,300 retailers across North America. We currently have a handful of customers in Europe and Australia, and that number has been growing at a surprising pace lately.

NRAMA: Who are the publishers already being distributed by Haven?

LS: Our big dogs are Slave Labor, Drawn and Quarterly, Top Shelf, Zenescope, Bongo, Heavy Metal, Broadsword, Airship, Dabel Brothers, Antarctic Press, Eagle One Media, SQP, Checker Books, Bluewater, Studio 407, Aardvark, GT Labs, Gagne International, Arcana, AdHouse, Viper Comics, TwoMorrows, HB Comics, Jester Press, About Comics, Alterna, Saturna Ink… there’s about 200 more in active stock and back issues.

NRAMA: What does the retailer have to do to open an account?

LS: Call 877-428-3650 or email us with the contact form on our website. All the info is on www.HavenDistro.com including standard terms on the Retailer Info page. I once signed up a new customer in 10 minutes and took his order in the next 5 minutes afterwards.

We start everyone on pre-pay, and we phase customers into credit terms based on their orders. That establishes a payment history with us, so there’s no credit check paperwork. It is as painless as it can possibly be.

NRAMA: If a retailer orders from Haven, can they expect to get the same of discount they received from your competition?

LS: All of our base discounts for active books are the same as Previews. Much of our back stock is deep discounted from 60-75%.

When you factor in Diamond’s reorder penalty, we beat Diamond by 3 points. Then a customer can shave a couple more points off that with their order volume discount. If they accumulate over $3,000 in retail sales in a month, we rebate them for half off shipping.

There’s no complicated discount matrix and there’s no bait and switch with publishers under a certain letter code. The discount in the product listing is what you get. No flowcharts needed.

NRAMA: What is the minimum order for a retailer?

LS: For an order overall, $50 retail. For advance orders, just 3 copies of that title, so long as the invoice total hits the $50 retail minimum.

NRAMA: Retailers are used to getting their comics on Wednesday. If they order from Haven will they still get their comics as quickly as they would with Diamond?

LS: We don’t schedule shipping on a particular day. When we get an order we can sometimes get it out the door that same day, usually within 3 days. So customers get their orders inside of a week, barring publisher delays.

For advance orders, our goal is to have the system streamlined effectively enough to get deliveries there by the Monday or Tuesday before Diamond’s delivery. We know how much retailer business revolves around Wednesday, and we’re not going to mess with that.

NRAMA: Are you saying you will get the comics to the retail stores faster then Diamond, on the Monday or Tuesday before Diamond ships?

LS: Yes.

NRAMA: Small press comics by definition will have smaller orders, how much of a retailer’s profits will be eaten up by the additional shipping?

LS: That’s a question for the retailer to determine. We work with Fed Ex (and freight forwarders for international shipments) to get the best possible shipping rates without sacrificing reliability. With as many titles as we offer, it is not difficult for an indie-friendly store to make a large enough order to be cost effective for them.

Stores from Chicago and the surrounding suburbs get the added bonus of delivery service.

NRAMA: Can retail orders be arranged for bi-weekly or monthly shipping, to reduce costs?

LS: We can easily flag a retailer so that their orders can be ganged together into a single invoice. We already do this for some of our regular customers, actually.

NRAMA: Can backlist items be combined with the advance orders to reduce shipping costs?

LS: We can track anything on back order already. In addition, when a book arrives for advance orders, we will automatically contact the customer to see if there is anything else they want to add to that invoice from our current stock before it goes out.

NRAMA: What about the fans? If a publisher is dropped by Diamond and their local comic shop doesn’t have an account with Haven, can a fan order from Haven at retail price?

LS: We don’t have a retail outlet set up at this time, and I’m not sure if we will. The concept is the subject of some debate. While we don’t want our customers to think we are using any unfair advantage to compete with them, we do get calls from customers out there who don’t have access to a comic shop and can’t find a particular book online.

We are working on our own version of a comic shop locator for our retailers, though. And we strongly encourage fans to tell stores about us.

NRAMA: One last time -how do publishers and retailers contact you?

LS: There is a ton of contact information on www.HavenDistro.com. For the less web-browser inclined, our number is 1-877-HAVEN-50 (1-877-428-3650).

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