Mob involvement? Well….
Anytime you have businesses holding monopolies in certain territories, like the linen business south of Canal, or the poster “sniping” business (putting up advertising posters on walls and fences) in Manhattan, garbage hauling in the New York metro area, or the parking racket—did I say racket?—I meant industry, around New York…
…or the periodicals distribution business…
…the notion of mob involvement has to cross your mind.
The founder and patriarch of Hudson News, Robert “Bobby” Cohen, was famously “connected” and “involved” with organized crime. Once he copped a plea on twenty counts of bribery in exchange for being sentenced to probation instead of prison time.
Fun Fact: Bobby Cohen’s daughter Claudia was Ronald O. Perelman’s second wife. Perelman had control of Marvel for a while, of course. After I was gone, by the way.
|Claudia Cohen and Ronald Perelman
During the early days of the Direct Market, Marvel’s V.P. of Circulation, Ed Shukin, a long-term veteran of the magazine distribution trade, made it very clear to me that among those we dealt with on the newsstand distribution side there were some pretty nasty characters, and he was openly concerned about the possibility of violent reprisals.
At one point, I wanted to stop shipping to an ID that was blatantly screwing us. Ed dug his heels in. He said the owner there wasn’t someone you wanted to piss off. It wasn’t worth two broken legs.
Fun Fact: Warner Communications executives Jay Emmet and Solomon Weiss were implicated in a racketeering scam. Weiss was convicted, but managed to avoid prison time. Warner, of course, owned DC Comics. Vince Colletta, who worked at DC Comics and seemed to know a lot about the matter told me that Weiss was “taking the fall” to protect someone higher up. There weren’t many higher ups.
Fun Fact: Warner higher-up, CEO Steve Ross cut his teeth in the parking racket—I mean industry.
Fun Fact: Bobby Cohen was a long time business partner of Time Inc., which Warner, under Ross, purchased.
Such a small world….
A couple of interesting clips starring Manny Gerard, former executive of Warner Communications:
Someone asked if the newsstand distribution process I spoke of yesterday applied to non-comics periodicals as well as comics. Yes, with a few notes:
Big Circulation Magazines
Big circulation magazines have a lot of clout. They get much better treatment by the National Distributor, which reallyreallyreally wants their account and loveslovesloves having a Forbes, Marie Claire or People among their offerings.
Local Independent Distributor Wholesalers (ID’s) need the big-circ titles. The retailers they serve would scream if they couldn’t get Elle or Parenting, and remember, ID’s are usually monopolies in their areas, so it’s not as if a news dealer would have an alternative source. ID’s have to play more fairly with big-circ titles because the threat of being cut off by a GQ means something.
Besides, ID’s can make money honestly with big-circ titles!
The thing is, big-circ magazines make most of their money selling ad space. Expensive ad space. Often hundreds of pages per issue. They could give the magazines away, or charge very low cover prices, but they don’t, because then, what would be in it for the National Distributor, the ID’s and the news dealers? The cover price is primarily for their benefit.
No news dealer is going to go ballistic if he or she can’t get Cricket or Watercolor Artist. National Distributors and ID’s treat the small circulation magazines with the same disrespect as they do comics, and just as cheerfully rip them off under the affidavit return system.
However, small magazines, which tend to be special interest publications like Pick Up Truck or Wizard also make most of their money selling ad space. So what if the ID’s cheat a bit on their affidavits? Any money coming in from newsstand sales is almost a bonus. Or at least, they don’t need total support from newsstand revenues.
The people who run ID’s aren’t stupid. They have a pretty good idea of the minimum sell-through percentage they can lying-ly report that will give them the greatest possible rip-off margin without killing the periodicals they’re screwing. They tend to report sales that are around break-even levels for the small magazines unless sales really are worse than that. Got to keep the victims alive so you can keep stealing the money from unreported sales and such, as described yesterday.
Naïve people and beginners in publishing tend to think of “their” National Distributor as being on their side—as a force for good that will help protect them from those unscrupulous ID’s. That’s what the National Distributors hope they’ll think. That’s what they try to convey.
But, nah, not so.
Think about it, who are the people sending the National Distributor checks every month? ID’s. The National Distributors are on their side.
The National Distributor is like the guy who bumps you in the subway, so another guy, the ID can pick your pocket.
All right, time for a disclaimer: Not all ID’s are unscrupulous. Maybe. I guess. Probably some are honest. Or fairly honest. Probably.
I don’t have a current advertising rate card for Marvel or DC, but a few clues tell me that they probably don’t make a whole ton of money on ads. First of all, comics have a very small amount of ad space to sell relative to most magazines. Second, ad rates are governed by circulation. It’s too long a lecture for today, but…you know anyway. Few readers, few “impressions,” means low ad space revenues. Comic book circulation figures are low and the cover prices are painfully high. To me, that means the companies are living off of copies sold, not ads.
Here’s another thing. While I was Editor in Chief at Marvel, 1978-87, the ad sales people, at President Jim Galton’s behest, waged a campaign to upgrade the ads. “National ads only” was the mantra. They got rid of mail order ads like the ones for X-Ray Specs and Broken Finger Key Chains. They made a concerted effort to go after movie ads, bicycles, sneakers and other national products. We creative types did our part by building the total number of copies sold substantially.
You know what? It was a Catch-22. We were selling so many comics, and therefore paying to print so many comics that if you factored out the cost of printing a page with an ad on it, it cost more money than we could get for the ad!
I’m doing this From memory, now, but the following is close if not exact: I believe it cost in the low $20,000’s to print an ad that ran in all 12 million-plus Marvel Comics one month, but the most we could ever get for a page was $18,000. The reasons we couldn’t get higher rates were many—advertisers realized that the comic book buyers tended to buy multiple titles, they didn’t like our demographics, etc. Still, it was better to have the eighteen grand than not. We had to print 32 pages per issue anyway.
Then, Marvel Comics lived off of copies sold, and I’m pretty sure it does now. Same with the other comics publishers.
So, the cheating by the ID’s had a greater impact on the comic book biz than it did on other periodicals publishers.
The advent of the Direct Market changed everything.
JayJay here. I dug out some old Marvel ad rate cards that I designed in 1987. Here they are for your perusal. Perhaps if anyone has a current Marvel ad rate card, they could post a link for comparison.
|Marvel Rate Card 1987
Click to enlarge
|Marvel Mail Order Rate Card 1987
NEXT: Fish in a Barrel, for Sure, I promise