For anyone who isn’t particularly active in the online comics, there was a major controversy this past week revolving around Valiant’s Book of Death: Legends of the Geomancer. This event is especially notable given that since their relaunch in 2012, Valiant Entertainment has earned a loyal following precisely because they haven’t involved themselves in any sort of controversy, and, even in the few instances where they may have unintentionally angered a fan, they have immediately attempted to correct the situation.*
The controversy regarding Legends of the Geomancer is due to its status as a retailer incentive; essentially, for every 25 copies of Book of Death #1 that a retailer (i.e. a local comic book store) ordered, they would receive one copy of Legends of the Geomancer #1, which would not be released digitally or collected in trade. Without knowing the exact numbers, we can estimate that this would put the print run somewhere under 3,000 copies; however, the readership for the “average” Valiant title is about 7-9k, meaning that there is a considerable difference between the potential readership and the supply of the book. Anyone with a decent knowledge of comics’ history or at least an understanding of the Law of Supply and Demand can guess what happened next: single copies of Legends of the Geomancer were being sold for upwards of $50, or 12x the cover price. Naturally, this created a great deal of resentment among fans who either couldn’t afford or refused to pay these kinds of extortionate prices, and although Valiant isn’t technically responsible for this, they had to have known that it would happen.
Prior to last week, the best way to characterize Valiant’s relationship with creators, retailers, and especially fans was one of respect. This gimmick, however, is the opposite of that. It encourages the worst natures of both the fans and the retailers (I personally agree with Brian Hibbs’ statement that it is immoral and unethical for a retailer to sell a comic for more than the cover price). It creates an environment of vitriol where the “have-nots” are resentful towards the “haves.” It’s exactly the kind of tactic that helped bring about the collapse of the comics’ market twenty years ago. Simply put, it is the opposite of respect, and while we have come to expect as much from the corporate overlords behind Marvel and DC, it hurts that much worse coming from a publisher who has been so active in fostering positive relationships.
The strangest aspect of this whole controversy is the story itself; Legends of the Geomancer #1 is, like nearly everything published by VEI, a very good comic. It’s rather baffling that Valiant would actively limit the number of readers for the book. While they have argued that the story itself isn’t “important” to the larger Valiant Universe, it seems odd to cut off many readers—those who cannot afford the marked up prices, trade- and digital- readers, or simply anyone without access to comic book store—from something completely. It’s reminiscent of a Bill James quote that appears in Moneyball where he likens denying fans access to something that they want to playing baseball in a stadium and locking the fans out. Essentially, Legends of the Geomancer is being read in a very small room with most readers being left off the guest list.
The obvious solution is for Valiant to make this right either by increasing the print run for the both this issue and the remaining three issues, making the book available in the digital and trade formats, or by scrapping the project entirely. Admittedly, this would be a logistical nightmare, and Valiant would probably need to make copies of Book of Death returnable for retailers who over-ordered in order to get Legends of the Geomancer; however, doing so sends a positive message to all parties involved that VEI does listen to their clients and their partners in the Direct Market. It shows that they recognize when they are at fault and will do everything in their power to make amends. It would demonstrate that they continue to value positive relationships with customers and retailers over simply turning a greater profit, and that that mentality is precisely what has made their relaunch a success.
*-This is point where it’s important to note that I have myself have been the beneficiary of this. There was an error with my copy of the Armor Hunters trade paperback, and when I contacted Valiant about it, they sent me the deluxe hardcover free of charge.