I’ve written before about my issues with purchasing direct from publishers and my thoughts on publishers moving outside the distribution model. I’ve even discussed the effects exclusive agreements have on my business and why I don’t like them. While I dislike the consolidation of power in a few distributors and there are issues with direct sales by / from publishers, there often isn’t enough discussion about why distributors are good.
Consolidation of Orders
Shipping cost is a given. Often you can get free shipping offers if you purchase at a certain level (often $400 – 500). However, as you can probably see – there are a lot of games we only ever sell 1 copy in a year. Unless you are talking about a very large publisher with an extensive catalog, you can’t get that free shipping threshold by purchasing a single game. The ability to consolidate orders is a major boon especially for small publishers.
Almost every distributor we work with has an online sales portal. Often those portals give us an idea of their stock and their prcies as well as our past order history and outstanding invoices. Those are all great tools to have, and the ability to place orders online is a major boon. Most publishers just don’t have the skills, knowledge and funds to devote to creating such a website. As such, you find yourself sending e-mails, calling or heck, faxing orders in. And never mind having to ask for information on previous orders or getting tracking information – often, you don’t even get that.
I’m not talking about catalog choice (i.e. having more games to sell); I’m talking about choice between distributors. There have been numerous times when a publisher is out of stock but distributors still have them. Having multiple accounts with multiple distributors can often mean the difference between completing a sale or not.
Better Service (Mostly)
Good tools are nice, good service is better. Now, there’s no guarantee you’ll get better service (and in some cases you don’t); but I’ve yet to get as truly horrible and unprofessional service from a distributor as I have with publishers. A distributor’s focus is selling you games; while a publisher’s focus is publishing games. Sales is but one part of the many balls they must handle.
Consolidated Industry Knowledge
Of all those who have a view of the industry, distributors probably have the clearest. Their ability to see sales across multiple stores gives them an idea about movements in the industry, which can be of great benefit to a retailer who is placing pre-orders. Sometimes this benefit happens inadvertently – like a pre-order you placed for a game never being filled because the distributor didn’t reach their order threshold; other times it’s deliberate as when a distributor informs you of a best-selling game. In both cases, as a retailer you are greatly benefitted.
While I’m probably not going to make any friends with publishers, the fact is that sometimes some games should be kept off the shelves. Whether they just aren’t that interesting or they are badly designed or have horrible artwork, there are numerous games which are published that just won’t sell on a retail level. Distributors help keep these games out of circulation and thus reduce the amount of time retailers have to spend researching games. And when you have over 50+ new games / expansion / components arriving each week that need to be researched, any time savings in that regard are a boon.
Mitigation of Risk
Lastly, there’s the matter of risk mitigation. If you have a game that you’re iffy about, you could pre-order 1 copy. Now, you know the distributor is likely to order a few more copies than their pre-order amounts, so if you suddenly sell that 1 copy you can always get more. The fact that you don’t need to purchase those copies beforehand but have them easily available places the risk of the purchase on the distributor, not yourself. That mitigation of risk is very important for your profits.