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Unshelved comic strip for 8/17/2004

Going it Alone

Last year we outsourced the fulfillment of our merchandise to a third party. We mailed our goods to them and they warehoused them indefinitely. When an order came in we passed the details on to them and they packed it up and shipped it out, charging us for the actual postage cost plus a relatively steep fee.

At the time this was absolutely the right model for us. We didn't have any infrastructure for dealing with orders - we printed out the PayPal notification emails and waited in line at the post office or hand-weighed the resultant packages. It was a long-winded, error-prone process. And merchandise seemed like a break-even, low-volume proposition we were happy to offload.

Since then, however, we have gotten a lot better at this. We've done two major mailings of preordered merchandise - the WWDD books and shirts and the Mad (About Reading) Cow shirts - and I've written a fairly sophisticated (some would say overengineered) merchant package that makes it easy for us to efficiently sort through orders and automatically generate the right postage. Meanwhile merchandise has become a larger and much more important part of our operation. It's responsible for about half of our revenue. Outsourcing fulfillment is costing us a lot of money. Finally, we're moving to a model where most of the fulfillment we do is of preorders, i.e. a bunch of stuff all at once instead of a little bit here and a little bit there. In that case it doesn't make as much sense to ship it off to a third party. It's economical to just push our way through it.

At a talk earlier this year at Cartoonists Northwest I asserted that fulfillment is worth doing yourself when there's either very little of it or quite a lot. It's worth it when there's very little because it doesn't take much time. It's worth it when there's a lot because it's worth the time. We think we've made the transition to the latter. So we've begun switching back to doing it ourselves again. Wish us luck!

Staying ahead

It's a week later and so far my new strategy of simply drawing two strips a day before I do anything else is working really well. I never want to stop. I'm not incredibly far ahead yet, but the great thing about this is that I get a little bit farther ahead every day. I had talked about upping this to three strips a day, but now I think two is the right number. It suits my attention span, and it's enough to get and keep me ahead so long as I'm incredibly consistent. That's something that has heretofore not been a strong point, but so far so good.

John speaks

An interesting interview with my favorite comic artist John Cassaday, artist (not coincidentally) of my two favorite comics, Astonishing X-Men and Planetary.

This Unshelved strip

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