Comic Book Publishing Follies

Fri, February 15th, 2008 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Todd Allen, Columnist

You may have heard that Cold Cut Distribution, longstanding distributor of indy comics, was recently sold and in the process of relocating to Chicago. Sure enough, Cold Cut is now owned by Rogue Wolf Entertainment, and Lance Stahlberg, VP of Operations, was kind enough to enlighten us on the acquisition.

What's your background with comics and with distribution?

Lance Stahlberg: I've been wandering around the foothills of the comics industry for about seven years as a self publisher, writer, and sometimes editor. In that time I've become a student of the craft of making comics and of the industry itself in the course of trying to build my career. My original aspiration was to be a writer, but I always seem to gravitate toward roles that get me a lot more involved in production and management.

On the distribution side, I defer to my business partner. He's the guy who makes the machine in the back run while I get to do the fun part. When he first started in the distribution business, he turned a two million dollar company into a three million dollar company in just under three years. In the twenty-one years since then, he's risen to the top of his industry here in Chicago, and is happy to pass his secrets on to me.

Who's your business partner?

LS: You can call him Oz. He prefers to just stay behind the curtain

with the accounting ledger and let me be the face of the company.

What made you decide to buy Cold Cut?

LS: It was just too good an opportunity to pass up. Struggling in the self-publisher pool as I was had huge potential of burning me out before I got my break.

I saw that getting involved in the comic distribution business would help me on two fronts. It would give my Rogue Wolf comics a huge boost in exposure and enable me to build a solid network in the marketplace. At the same time, it created potential for a more flexible schedule so that I could more effectively juggle my career aspirations around my financial needs.

As I mentioned, I've become a student of the industry. Seeing Cold Cut for sale was a sign from above that it was time to start my graduate studies.

Is there any financial backing or venture capital involved in the acquisition?

LS: Yes.

Where will the offices and/or warehouse be located?

LS: Our operation is based on the north side of Chicago. That right there is a huge benefit in that we're more accessible to more stores and more publishers. Shipping costs and times won't be so daunting for folks out on the east and gulf coasts. Those located in the greater Chicagoland area may well find themselves getting pick-up or delivery service.

Cold Cut had some difficulties when they started losing manga accounts to Diamond. What are you planning on doing to off-set those losses and turn things around?

LS: There are a lot of areas where Cold Cut can expand, and their original owners would be the first to admit that. We're actually getting off to a strong start already. Even before opening the doors, we've added customers that Cold Cut didn't have before. Some people are finding out about this company for the first time.

We will be reaching out to manga publishers, web comics and a whole slew of publishers who may not have considered Cold Cut as a viable option before, either because they had not bothered to call them or didn't know they existed.

I've talked to store owners and I've heard the same complaints over and over again. So I know that even before we get into any discussions of new marketing approaches or expanding our inventory, we'll get stores hooked simply by delivering their orders on time and accurately, with instant re-orders and flat discount rates.

What do you think Cold Cut's greatest strength and greatest weakness are?

LS: On the upside, Cold Cut has a fantastic niche, especially in today's climate. Retailers know where they'll be all but guaranteed to find an independent comic. It's scary how many high quality books you won't find in those green pages of the other guy's catalog. Publishers know them as a viable option to the myriad hoops and unrealistic expectations needed to keep their tiny listing buried in the back pages of that other guy's catalog, too.

On the downside, Cold Cut is kind of pigeonholed in this really small, deep niche. They've traditionally only had a presence in the direct market, which hasn't helped their struggling suppliers as much as they could have. They also haven't reached out much to the marketplace, relying on their existing customers to come to them in recent years.

To that end, our top objectives are to expand the retailer base, develop a wider presence in the indie community, and create a printed catalog that is easily accessible to both retailers and their customers.

When do you anticipate being operational, post-relocation?

LS: With the help of Mark Thompson and Matthew High, the previous management, we expect to be ready to go as soon as the shelves are sorted and the ordering system is wired back in to its new home. They've been fantastic during the transition and have shown a genuine commitment to getting us off to a solid start.

We should be taking orders by the end of February.

What's the best way for people to contact you?

LS: We're transferring 800-4-COLD-CUT to the office phone by the end of this week.

Until we get the new website up, interested parties are invited to keep using the contact form at http://www.rogue-wolf.net/contactus.php.

And our address is now 5456 North Damen, Chicago IL 60625.

So there you have it, a new face, a new address, and just to keep it interesting, a mysterious business partner from the distribution side of the business who prefers a low profile. If I were given to wild speculation, I'd probably start listing candidates from the old Glenwood distributors or the former Comic Relief chain that effectively had its own distribution operation. At least if I was looking at distribution people originally near the Chicago area.

Todd Allen is the author of "The Economics of Webcomics, 2nd Edition." He consults on media and technology issues and is an adjunct professor with the Arts, Entertainment and Media Management Department at Columbia College Chicago. For more information, see http://www.BusinessOfContent.com. Todd even did a webcomic. Sort of.

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