Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Changes to WOTC Pre-releases

Another week, however, and another controversy.  WotC has told distributors they can no longer offer incentives in order to get retailers to purchase pre-release tournament products through them.  It appears WotC wants the focus on the pre-release and the story surrounding it rather than on individual items that not all stores will have available for players.

Even though Wizards of the Coast has not announced this policy change publicly, distributors’ release announcements for Shadows over Innistrad make no mention of any pre-release specials tied to ordering the pre-release from that distributor, which is a noticeable change from past pre-releases.

For those not familiar with how pre-releases are handled, stores in good standing with WotC are allowed to host pre-release events for each new Magic release.  All pre-release products come from WotC and are allocated to stores based mainly upon how many players the store had attend a prior pre-release.  However, stores have the option of ordering their pre-release product directly from WotC or one of about a dozen distributors.  WotC even facilitates the choice by offering the list of approved distributors to stores.  Each distributor, or WotC itself, sells the pre-release products to the store at a specified discount.

As pre-releases can account for hundreds of thousands of dollars of sales in a short period of time, distributors have found it lucrative to convince retailers to sign with them by offering incentives for doing so.  Such incentives have included discounts on other WotC products, free sleeves and deck boxes, and limited edition items such as the store-branded playmats ACD offered a few years ago, or the POP figure from Southern Hobby.  Now, WotC wants to end the practice.  Due to the amount of cash a pre-release brings in during such a short amount of time, neither stores nor distributors will want to push back against this and risk losing the ability to host a pre-release.  Ergo, unique promo items will go by the wayside and distributors will find some other ways with which to compete on pre-releases.

Response from WOTC via ICV2.
We asked Wizards of the Coast to confirm whether it had asked distributors to eliminate incentives for pre-release orders.  A spokesperson responded:

“Although we do not disclose the terms of distribution agreements, we want to ensure every retailer that we do not prevent distributors (or retailers) from marketing prerelease products. Rather, we ask distributors to refrain from certain incentives and conduct that detract from the player experience and damage the brand. For example, in the past we’ve demanded distributors stop offering playmats with explicit images of our characters or from withholding Magic product unless stores buy other nonrelated items.

“It is best for retailers and our fans when distributors compete on effective distribution, price and customer service; our policies reflect this.” 

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