Decades ago Scott Rosenberg was faking interest in his comic book Cowboys & Aliens, trying to get it made as a film – despite the comic book not actually existing. All he had was a cool cover and a cool name. He made a splash on the cover of Variety and spent the next years trying to get the movie made, through a variety of studios. Eventually, with his Platinum Studios publisher, he got a bunch of people to actually write and draw the comic as a graphic novel (including Fred Van Lente) and then published it, in the hope of making it happen for real this time.
And as part of that venture he tried to game the system. Giving cheques to the bigger comic book shops of the day, if they would order thousands of the graphic novel in question through Diamond Comics Distribution.
The cheques would cover the amount it would cost to order them, plus a bit extra on top. These comic shops complied, sold the already-below-cost 115 page $3.99 graphic novel for 50c, or free with any comic, or just free if you walk in, to help shift the thousands they had, and it worked. They reported the sales, Entertainment Weekly called Cowboys & Aliens the number one graphic novel of the week, and they made a splash.
They’d persuaded Top Cow to list the title under the Image section (by way of another cheque). As a brokered Diamond publisher, Image could declare that Cowboys & Aliens was a graphic novel for the sake of the sales charts, even though at $3.99 it fell under the price point of $9.99 that Diamond usually demand to be counted as a graphic novel.
If they had tried this refunded-costs promotion directly through Diamond, paying for certain stores to receive Cowboys & Aliens for free, those numbers would not have been counted in the charts. But by just giving a cheque to the stores, they would be, and would count as full price sales.
When Diamond staff read my Lying In The Gutters column at the time, they realised what was going on and decided not to count the excess orders paid for by Platinum, and instead declared that it was the twelfth best seller of the month.
But it was enough to make the difference. Platinum sold Cowboys & Aliens as a movie starring Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford, directed by Jon Favreau. They did it. Job done.
And in an ironic twist – those tens of thousands of extra four dollar Cowboys & Aliens that were printed and ordered by these shops – the ones that they had to give away for free because they had so many…
Well, actually now selling for up to $36 on eBay. Ten times the cover price. You know, I once saw a dumpster full of them.