Comments Regarding October 2004 eBay
Pricing Changes & Promotional Releases
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First, to our past and present customers, thank you for your continuing support, and for allowing us to have such an outstanding opportunity to work with you for so long. We owe everything to your support!
In the past month, we made some pricing changes on eBay opening bids. We want to clear up misconceptions we've seen posted on public forums, tell people why these things were done, and give some answers to questions and speculation we've seen. For those who are curious, we hope this is interesting information and commentary.
In the past, eBay helped us by increasing sales and reaching a new group of customers. For a while, it was also the best place for people to catch up on earlier releases they had missed.
Over time, the percentage of items listed that sold dropped. From 1998 to 2004, we went from selling almost 90% of items listed all the way down to about 12% recently. Also, in times past, there had been regular competitive bidding increasing prices above minimums on more than half the items listed, where now that is more like 1% of listings. This is despite us having the lowest prices on eBay on a consistent basis for new Doctor Who items, and despite less and less competition from regular eBay sellers on these items.
At a point where 12% of items are selling, or less than one in eight, and where eBay fees on Big Finish CDs are $0.60 per listing, and Final Value Fees are sometimes over $1.00, on average it now costs us over $6.00 per item sold to sell on eBay! And that doesn't even include costs of deadbeat bidders, who really reduce sales again by another few percentage points.
And, Big Finish CDs are expensive even on the wholesale level. At a point where wholesale cost plus eBay fees were about $22.00 on 2CD titles and $14.00 on 1CD titles from Big Finish, and where we then pay shipping and packaging costs on many orders, it became obvious we needed to change pricing to reduce losses and try to break even. This also means limiting the number of items we list because, despite requests to list more, sales do not justify listing greater selection on any basis. All those items and more are available anyway by e-mail requests, and are listed on our web site.
So, we changed our eBay opening bid prices on Big Finish releases. This change was all about reduced eBay sales, ever-increasing eBay fees, and the inability to add any sort of auction links from eBay to our own site in the past few years, and was not at all about changes in the exchange rate or any other reason.
Yes, it's a bit of a paradox, but slower sales and less demand required the response of increased opening bids.
We hope customers will look at sale prices when listed on our site, and will use coupons when they are sent, as this will reward customers with lower prices for choosing to do business with us!
Why is this important to customers?
This is more than just a change in what we list and our eBay pricing. It's also a complicated situation with a history that needs to be understood. It impacts all retailers of Doctor Who items everywhere. It also impacts future pricing and availability to customers.
For a long time, there was little available merchandise for Doctor Who fans. Certainly, there were few new audio productions that were licensed, and little of that made it to the US. Retailers helped make the case to the BBC and others that said this product was worth making, so retailers helped Doctor Who fans worldwide to encourage the new growth of the audio series, and, eventually, the revival of new Doctor Who stories on television. If the financial incentive for the show wasn't real, if the success of the Big Finish book and CD lines wasn't good, it's fair to assume revival of Doctor Who would have been a tougher item to sell to the BBC.
Retailers were helped by the people producing the new items, too. We really had the same customers to please, we understood that concept, and we worked in partnership. Retailers weren't just middlemen. We were and are the sales force that understands the products and the fandom, and can work knowledgeably on behalf of customers. This includes negotiating reduced prices on Reeltime Pictures video releases for the US audience, and spurring the BBC to correct the missed release of More Short Trips to the US market...both of which involved Mike's Comics. We also helped induce a North American company to license the BBC Doctor Who audio lines, and we communicated directly with some distributor representatives at the NEBA Trade Show in early October, 2004, to try to get a new North American distributor for those audios. Certainly, other retailers can make honest claims of how they also worked to bring their customers what they wanted at good pricing, too. These things wouldn't have happened without the support of specialty retailers who are getting you Doctor Who merchandise from all over the world.
But, now things seem to be changing a little.
Customers who stood with us so far through over 60 Big Finish Doctor Who releases, often accompanied by releases of Judge Dredd, Bernice Summerfield, Excelis, Unbound, Gallifrey, 3 Dalek Empires, Tomorrow People, Kaldor City, new Short Trips books, and other releases from Big Finish and others, are deserving of the loyalty and support of retailers, just as they have been loyal and supported us for so long. We retailers of Doctor Who merchandise all know this, and respect our customers for their loyalty.
However, Big Finish has announced two releases they will release first to their own subscription customers, will release free of charge only to their own subscribers, and will substantially delay to the rest of the world. Retailers cannot compete with this if Big Finish chooses not to allow that competition. That's their right. But, it also does a huge disservice to the loyalty of our retail customers who have been with us, sometimes since we first were selling Target novelizations over 20 years ago. It sends a message that the loyalty of a six- or twelve-month subscription is more important than that. It says the loyalty of retailers who supported Big Finish from Day One, including Mike's Comics' introduction of Big Finish audios to the US market at United Fan Con in 1999, is not worth the same regard as when we all started out as partners.
Now in our 29th year of mail order sales, and into our 21st year selling Doctor Who merchandise, we have only seen that such short-sighted practices lead to the direct demise of product lines that are otherwise good and successful, and otherwise deserve to continue. At the very least, we believe the true and mutual partnership between retailers and those who produce Doctor Who merchandise is vital. As fans ourselves, not just retailers, we're fairly sure fans will be the ones who ultimately suffer if that relationship is undermined.
Already, evidence of decreased sales linked directly to uncompetitive Big Finish subscription merchandizing policies has driven up our opening bid prices on eBay, and has made it more difficult to stock backlist Big Finish titles in the kind of depth we want for our customers. If other retailers need to make the same choices, you will pay much more for Big Finish releases, and they will be much harder to find over time.
So, we're going to try hard to change this to encourage a better outcome for our loyal customers. We hope you'll bear with us as we try. If we are successful, we're hopeful Big Finish will announce a change in the coming few weeks. As we know the gentlemen and ladies at Big Finish are a bright and responsive group, we hope to have them act on a convincing collection of information on your behalf sometime soon.
What evidence do you have there's a problem?
Why does it matter if Big Finish limits release of titles to only its direct subscribers?
In recent weeks, on public forums, we've noticed postings saying people left fandom or stopped purchasing Big Finish CDs because they couldn't afford the price of multiple purchases to get the premium items, or couldn't afford a subscription. Fandom is supposed to be inclusive, not exclusionary, and it bothers us as fans when we lose people because of special deals that ignore the very real consideration of affordability. Not all of us are blessed with deep pockets.
We've also had a large number of e-mails and calls telling us our customers feel they deserve the same respect from Big Finish as the subscribers Big Finish is attracting via its subscription giveaways.
Some of these people have written to say "if this is the trend, I won't get a subscription AND I can't continue the series." It's not about the numbering, either. It's not a matter of whether Her Final Flight is #64 & 1/2 or #65 in the series, or if it's "Special #3" to follow Real Time and Shada. It's a lack of inclusion for fans after being faithful and loyal. It's about fans not having fun.
Others have written to say they must go to Big Finish because they need to get new releases in a timely fashion, and, even though they really can't afford to commit subscription money in advance, they have no choice but to do something to get a title they really want, from the only source making that title available. This is often followed by familiar comments about thinking it's best to give up on purchasing Doctor Who CDs altogether...which is actually a viable alternative. If enough people choose to stop buying these new CDs, at that point there really will be a problem in continuing the series. Making these choices isn't fun, and since Doctor Who fandom is about fun, forcing such choices seems wrong.
Since fandom is what spurred Big Finish into existence in the first place, and is what will bring Doctor Who back to TV, it seems to us this is all very wrong. There has to be a more constructive approach here.
What are we doing about it?
For our part, Mike's Comics has tried to be honest to our customers. We've tried to raise the issues through the distribution channels and explain to Big Finish how our subscribers deserve all the respect and more given to the many of those flocking to Big Finish now for an "exclusive" item. This is fandom, not Big Business, and "exclusive" isn't what fandom is about.
We will continue to supply products when they're made available to us.
We continue to discount items purchased through our web site on most new Doctor Who items by 10% or more.
Where we can discount, we will discount more heavily with larger orders.
When possible, we will reward repeat customers with coupons or opportunities to enhance discounts.
We will continue to offer a free shipping option to US customers on web site purchases over $50.00, whether or not we can continue this for eBay purchases.
On a regular basis, we will continue to offer the most competitive pricing on new Doctor Who merchandise you will find anywhere. Not sale prices, not specials, not for the sake of a price war. The prices we quote to customers have always been lower than the regular prices posted by our competitors on their sites for the same items.
If retailers cannot get selected titles right away because of manufacturers' policies, we will try to find some way to address this in the favor of our regular customers, using those titles we do receive.
In addition to this, we will also offer sale prices outside of eBay, sometimes advertised and sometimes presented only to customers who send their want list. We are determined to do all we can to be competitive on price, and satisfy all our customers as well as possible.
We will continue to support and carry a variety of items and product lines. This includes discontinued or de-licensed or hard-to-find items, like Virgin and Target books. In any case where we can create a constructive relationship, we will be happy to carry all current lines of Doctor Who and related books, audios, videos and DVDs.
So, what's left that our customers might not understand clearly?
We're not saying Big Finish doesn't deserve to make profits to keep their product lines going. Certainly, it does. However, they got retailer support to grow to a point where they have now an ongoing license with the BBC, and they're doing just fine. While supporting Big Finish is a reason to buy their CDs, it's dangerous to abandon the retailers who got them to many of you in the first place, and who make the marketplace for Doctor Who merchandise. Retailers need your support. Buying Big Finish items through retailers supports the retailer AND supports Big Finish.
We're not saying Big Finish isn't trying to do something special for customers by offering special items like Her Final Flight to subscribers. But, they're not seeing things the way I just stated them here. There's more than just one side to this story, and the community of Doctor Who retailers in the world deserve to be partners for what they put into satisfying customers. As Big Finish did with The Maltese Penguin, Big Finish can also offer special bonuses through retailers as well. There's no need to leave any of your supporters out in the cold. Retailers have subscribers, too.
We're not saying Big Finish can't succeed in some sense if they become your only source for their merchandise. But, it seems likely they will do better to introduce a new generation of Doctor Who fandom, spurred by the return of the show to TV, to their own products and other merchandise, if they do so as partners with the existing and knowledgeable retailers already equipped to help them. It takes time and effort to develop and grow a following. We don't think excluding retailers and those who don't subscribe direct with Big Finish is the way to do this. Please also consider that shipping a "free" item costs money... we're not saying this because we expect it will make us wealthy, but because we want to make our customers happy.
We are saying Doctor Who retailers are special people. Whether it be Chris or Keith or Gene or John or any of the others you may deal with, in any country, you will be hard-pressed to find a group in business more dedicated and able to work with customers, understand their needs, and genuinely do well for them.
We are saying Big Finish has a lot of special people, too! We want to work with them, as we have done in the past, to make all our customers happy, and to attract many more new, happy customers in the future. Big Finish deserves applause and support for all the good they've done, and we want an opportunity that will allow us to continue that support in future.
Finally, we will always admit to making our share of mistakes, and not seeing parts of the grand picture. In our zeal to help our customers and to help fandom, if you think the logic behind these comments of ours is simply wrong, despite the experiences that tell us it is sound, please write and explain. There are things deserving to be discussed, and supporting and promoting a fandom that has given so much to so many is worth the time it takes to communicate. We'll be happy to listen, and, where appropriate, reply and discuss further.
Again, thanks to everyone past and present who has chosen to do business with us! We look forward to hearing from you all again soon!!
Patty Cryan & Michael Salvo
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