The webcomics blog about webcomics

Year End Thoughts, Part Two

This was the year that merchandise blew up in webcomics. No, not that argument about whether or not a creator sucks for selling shirts (no link, because you’re as tired of it as I am); the actual mechanics of giving you goods in exchange for money reached a crisis.

In some cases, it was troubles with storefronts and software; in others, it was taking the time to produce products to sell. But the dominant issue was delivery. Few creators want to take the time to handle shipping and fulfillment themselves (a notable exception being R Stevens, who reports he enjoys the process; we’ll come back to him in a moment). So the solution is to outsource the task of maintaining inventory, processing payments, and fulfilling orders. If you’re PA or PVP, this might be through a large company like ThinkGeek, but many other comics went with a boutique outfit that set positioned itself to serve the community: Vault.

Let’s be blunt. Vault screwed a lot of strips. Tales of lost orders, unshipped merch, and upset customers abound. And just when that started to get under control, issues further back in the supply chain reared their ugly heads. The Dumbrella comics have banded together to do their own distribution now; in practice this means that R has more fun packing and shipping and Jeff Rowland gets some good material, but would definitely prefer more time to get everything done.

Backlogs are being cleared by other creators, and an opportunity is being created for somebody. Maybe Dumbrella expands their empire into fulfillment for those outside the conspiracy. Maybe somebody conscientious can start a new distributor business and do it right. Maybe ThinkGeek finds their customer base reads a wider variety of stuff than was previously thought. But this is a tipping point, and in the new year something approaching a robust solution is going to have to occur. Because orders not going out due to the distributor dropping off the face of the earth (or the shirt manufacturer being an utter whackjob) means no money for the webcomickers. And we at Fleen support the right of webcomickers to eat.

[…] We have previously reported on the failure of Vault Distribution and the impact it had on the creators that were involved. At that time, we also pointed out that there now an open niche in the market and creators who were looking for someone to help sell their stuff. (As a side note, if you’re one of the small distributors out there, and are looking for some exposure – please use our contact form to tell us your story.) […]

[…] The book itself is well put-together, something I’ve come to expect from Lulu; there are other small presses out there that deal with webcomics that have sold me multiple titles that fell apart on the first read, but ATBOP feels solidly bound and not likely to crap out on me. This page has spoken before on the need webcomics creators have for reputable vendors that will allow merchandise channels to stay open, and it looks like Lulu may fill one of those needs. […]

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