Cold Cut Comics Distribution

"Distribution in the 21st Century"


Comics Retailer magazine, in their December 1997 issue, asked the following question of distributors in both the comics and gaming industries. This was our response.

Distribution in the 21st Century

"The 1990s has been a decade of business consolidation. In many industries, not just our own, suppliers have examined their options for dealing directly with retailers selling their products. In this atmosphere, what do you feel are the advantages distributors offer to suppliers and retailers? What steps are you taking to guarantee that distributors will remain a robust and essential part of the supply chain into the 21st century?"

Distribution As A Pipeline

Some of the advantages distributors offer both suppliers and retailers are obvious. A single point of sale for suppliers simplifies billing, shipping, soliciting, and in fact every aspect of the supplier's marketing. A single point of supply for retailers offers the same extreme simplification for their purchasing activities.

No retailer really wants to deal directly with the literally hundreds of suppliers in the industry. Even applying the famous 80/20 rule and deciding to offer only products from those 20% of suppliers whose books comprise 80% of a store's sales still leaves nearly a hundred suppliers while cutting sales by 20%. No retailer really wants to handle a few hundred separately-arriving orders each month, paying hundreds of separate bills and filling out hundreds of separate order forms. The costs and time involved in handling such matters are prohibitive at best, and probably impossible to bear for all but the top 100 retailers.

No supplier really wants to deal directly with the literally thousands of retailers in the industry. Even applying the famous 80/20 rule and deciding to sell only to those 20% of the stores who sell 80% of the books still leaves roughly a thousand accounts while cutting sales by 20%. When this results in the inevitable shipping, billing, and solicitation hassles, the efficiency of each and every supplier, as well as the efficiency of the industry as a whole, is driven to disastrously low levels. Each must deal separately with lost invoices, damaged or lost shipments, late orders, late catalogs, compiling orders, and so forth. The costs and time involved in handling such matters are prohibitive at best, and probably impossible to bear for all but the top 10 publishers.

Distributors act as the pipeline between suppliers and retailers, simplifying and speeding matters for both sides. But distributors offer much more than mere convenience to both ends of the comic-book marketing equation. Direct market distributors make independent comics possible, which in turn provide for the future of this industry.

"Without distributors, self-publishing profitably would be impossible."
Without distributors, self-publishing profitably would be impossible. The time and costs involved in paperwork, soliciting, billing, and shipping shipments to hundreds of retailers would be insurmountable for even a two or three-person company. The small press, defined as any company with fewer than five people on the payroll, would not exist, and the mid-line publishers would face enormous costs, limiting their ability to market their books effectively or perhaps preventing them from producing at all.

Yet it is the small press which is the source of the future of this industry. It is the small press which has seen its sales increase in the past four years. It is the small press which allows the vibrant, the different, the truly new book to appear.

Comics & Movies: Industry Similarities

The comics industry is similar to the movie industry in this regard. In both industries, a few high-profile, well-financed companies produce popular entertainment on a regular schedule, satisfying most of the audience and bringing in the lion's share of income to the retail locations. But a multitude of small companies produce small, artistically-crafted works which turn a profit, but generate much less revenue for the retail locations. These works serve a higher purpose: they are the inspiration from which the "major" releases spring. They themselves satisfy a small portion of the audience, but they satisfy that portion deeply rather than superficially. They cover topics or present a point of view which could not be produced by a large company in need of a blockbuster hit, and as such they satisfy the (presumably smaller) audience looking for that point of view.

Occasionally, and not as unusually as one might think, one of these small works becomes a bona fide hit, finding an audience much larger than its retailers or sometimes even its creators believed possible. In film, one can point to "Like Water For Chocolate." In comics, "Bone." When large companies produce materials aimed at a wide audience, they tend to stick to the tried and true formula ("Speed 2"). Smaller companies with more investment in personal vision can produce individual works which speak to unique themes, whether it's comedy ("Clerks"), mystery ("Sling Blade"), or history ("Crumb"). It's these works which add spice and variety to the otherwise filling but generally bland diet of steadily-produced gumballs.

Small companies are so valuable to both industries in so many ways - providing a sort of "farm system" proving ground for both creators and characters, maintaining audience interest, offering alternatives to "mainstream" fare, and drawing in people who would normally not even bother with the medium. As with independent producers in film, independent publishers in comics provide the motion which keeps the industry moving forward.

What We Do At Cold Cut

At Cold Cut, we work to ensure the future of distribution and the future of the industry by supporting the small press like no other distributor. Independent publishers are our only suppliers, so we provide an in-depth independent focus unattainable by anyone else in the field.

"The primary way we support both ends of the supply chain is by simply maintaining availability."
The primary way we support both ends of the supply chain is by simply maintaining availability. Availability is key for independent comics, for both suppliers and retailers. New books with growing readership need to maintain availability of earlier issues to satisfy the many new readers jumping aboard with each issue. Established books with continuity need to maintain availability of past issues and collections to acquaint new readers with the established plotline. We strive to keep every item we carry in stock at all times so stores can reorder with confidence, allowing them to maintain a wide variety of stock while minimizing risk using a "Just In Time" inventory system.

We also work to promote promising new entries in the independent field. For retailers, our monthly catalog spotlights a few independent comics in depth, providing detailed reviews, plot synopses, sales comparisons, and art samples. Any retailer interested in independent comics can sign up to receive our monthly catalog free of charge.

Another program for retailers is the Cold Cut Sampler Pack. Each order we ship contains a free sampler pack of reading copies of 6 or 7 different independent comics provided by the publishers, to help expose retailers to new material they might have otherwise not seen.

For publishers we offer our Frequent Flyer program, where we stuff publisher-provided flyers describing their book into orders leaving our warehouse, thus assuring the flyer gets to a store interested in independent comics. We also offer an outlet for news of independent publishers and their books in our monthly catalog, with pages specifically dedicated to independent news. With affordable advertising, publishers can highlight their own books in our catalog and be assured of reaching only the most independent-minded stores.

Most of all, at Cold Cut we offer quality service. For retailers, our friendly staff can answer even unusual questions about book content or issue numbers right on the phone. We are experts on our products and are happy to share our information to our retailers' benefit. For publishers, we offer a focused client base who are especially interested in carrying independent comics, and a number of programs designed to help reach them.

Even as industry consolidation continues, service will continue to be paramount. In the retail sector, service is one of the biggest factors influencing a consumer's choice. In distribution, the same is true. At Cold Cut we continually strive to improve our service, expand our selection, and increase our value to both suppliers and retailers. We believe our sustained growth has proven we are on the right track. We intend to maintain our sterling reputation and continue to work with both retailers and publishers to increase sales, improve availability, and strengthen the supply chain of this industry into the 21st century.

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Cold Cut Distribution - 220 N. Main St. - Salinas, CA 93901 - (831) 751-7300