by Darryl Ayo
No good can come from double-shipping. It is a wasteful, destructive practice that benefits nobody. It is especially detrimental to the people who devised the practice and think that it will enwealthen them.
What is it?
Double-shipping is when a monthly comic book series begins releasing issues on a faster-than-monthly basis. Usually not on a predictable schedule or timeline. What double-shipping is supposed to do is increase the publisher’s sales by releasing a higher quantity of a particular product. The result is a flooding of an already over-saturated market.
The only people who could even conceivably benefit from double-shipping is the job position “writer.” While every aspect of comics creation and production is work, the writer’s work can be moved along faster than other aspects of production, particularly the art duties which are often very physically labor-intensive and usually progress at a fixed rate of speed.
The possible side-benefit of double-shipping to the writer is that their contribution is the only aspect of the work that can be completed quickly enough that they may participate in every issue. This recasts the “writer and artist” partnership as a “writer, and then artists” hierarchy.
Double-shipping undermines the equal authorship of comic book artists. All strategies that replace a series artist will undermine that artist’s authorship because the artist does not have a hand in the creation of the work in the same consistent way that the writer does. Even if the artist is consulting with their replacement, the replacement is a replacement.
Whether one of the remaining three dollar comic series or the more common four-dollar series, doubling up the quantity means some difficult problems for the customer. Either the customer takes a beating in the wallet by buying a greater quantity of a series or the customer begins adjusting their purchases according to the increase in quantity. These adjustments can be the filing down of other series or, ironically, quitting the series which has increased its rate of production.
The retailer is buying all of this material. Therefore, if double-shipping backfires and causes the customers to reduce their purchases, the retailer is the entity stuck holding the bag. Also important to note: if the customers reduce any of their purchases, the retailer suffers. This may not always be easily calculable but it certainly is a factor.
If double-shipping causes a customer to stop buying the increased-production series, then the retailer loses. If double-shipping causes the customer to stop buying a different series that they used to consistently buy, then the retailer still loses.
And you can see a picture developing of how this practice eventually creates problems for the publisher itself. If their mid-list or struggling series begin to lose readers who are now shuffling their cash toward accommodating the increased production of a more popular series then the publisher has sabotaged its own product.
Relationship advice: you don’t want to smother people. Give your audience room to breathe! Let go of your grip for a moment. Just a few weeks. Monthly serialized comics take time to make. About a month, as you might thing. Use that to your advantage and don’t try to dominate your audience’s attention. At first your audience will be happy, sure. But then they’ll start feeling overcome and overwhelmed. They might not articulate it that way because they might not think of it that way. But when people start to complain that “Character ABC is everywhere nowadays” and when readers begin to take a series for granted, then you’ve got a brand integrity problem. Let people breathe. Let them wander away and come back to you, refreshed. Let them miss you for a little bit.
Call to action
Just say “no!” to double-shipping. Instead encourage the comic book companies to use the anticipation of the future issue to their advantage. Remember what they used to say: “See ya in thirty!” Suspense is a tool that can be used to great effect in serialized storytelling platforms. What these publishers need to focus on doing is using their time more efficiently. DC and Marvel both publish a high number of different series. To that end, not every series gets the proper attention and promotion. Instead of double-shipping anything, these companies need to consider reducing the number of items that they publish.
But that’s a topic for another day.