In the Chicago area, there is only a handful of comic book store chains. I am aware of only Amazing Fantasy and Graham Crackers (Graham Crackers was where I did my first official comic book signing, so I have a very warm spot in my heart for them). Graham Crackers, I clearly recall, had special variant comic book covers exclusively for their stores. I'm guessing it didn't do all that much, since I don't really see them anymore. You are far more likely to find special convention covers than Graham Crackers covers.
Maybe they just aren't thinking big enough.
IDW is starting a new Godzilla comic book series. Not interested, Americans have NEVER done Godzilla right (am I really supposed to believe a home pregnancy test will work on a radiation mutated lizard? I heard the explanation, but all I could think was, "Seriously?"). IDW is readying some REAL variant comic book covers.
Here's the deal -- if your shop orders at least 500 copies of Godzilla #1, they will get a special variant cover that shows Godzilla smashing the comic shop.
As you can see by these images bookending this portion of my blog, they actually work to equate the facade of the building and the logo is nice and prominent. This is actually a clever marketing gimmick.
The question is, who is the gimmick for?
We're talking 500 copies here, so let's do some maths. Indie comics are priced different from the Marvels and DC's. So $4 per copy is standard.
Question #1 -- will this be handled by Diamond or no? Given Diamond's monopoly (I'm pretty sure IDW is signed as a Diamond exclusive, so doing this themselves is breach of contract), that means you order through them. Diamond buys books from publishers at 40% of the cover price and sells them to the stores at 60% of the cover price. So, for a $4 book, the retailer is paying $2.40 per book.
Everybody with me so far? That's good!
So, 500 copies times $2.40 each == $1200. There are not many comic chains with that kind of positive cash flow. Now, some chains are taking IDW up on this offer, but it's not going to be a mom and pop store. There are two kinds of stores that will carry this --
1) Chains that can sell at least 300 copies of these books. At $4 per issue, that is how many they need to move to break even. That's a LOT of books, given that lots of stores don't stock many copies of the books they order. They underorder instead of overorder because they have to warehouse that overstock. We're talking enough books to fill a short box, and they have to sell 60% of them. That's too risky a proposition.
2) Stores that will write the expenditure off as advertising. They can give them away as premiums in the store or at movie theaters when comic book movies like Thor, Captain America, and Green Lantern come out. I just don't see demand that high and they're going to be giving them away. And that's a LOT to give away.
Given print on demand, that number can be flexible. 500 copies is very expensive per unit with a pro printing press. You still need seperate covers even if the insides are the same. The extra headache is added to the cost. Of course, if there's some loophole that enables IDW to handle this themselves, there are lots of cheap alternatives. There are printers in China that will do full colors for $0.50 a book, but the lead time is huge and you are hoping and praying they don't screw up the order or delay things, because who are you going to complain to? And that assumes the savings are passed on to the stores. If IDW sells the books at cost (which is HIGHLY unlikely), that's $250 for the books, and you still need to warehouse the ones that don't sell.
This sounds like a cool idea but completely impractical. If the minimum order was lower, I'd say it's a good idea. But 500? I see a lot of books in quarter boxes and being given away free to people who aren't interested in comics and are unlikely to enter the comic shop. I don't think this is going to work out all that well.