I'll be doing my pre-orders for February, 2007 this weekend.
After the 'comic wars' of 1995, (when 2500 comic shops survived out of 12,000; when Marvel went bankrupt Chapter 11; when my own business proceeded to endure a 3 year downturn), there was a single national wholesaler left standing. Diamond Distributors has 'exclusive' rights to sell Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, and Image comics, or roughly 85% of the comics produced.
This has actually proven to be a monopoly that works. Diamond is a sort of 'benign tyrant', who really does seem to have the comic businesses welfare at heart. Almost anything a comic shop could ever need is listed, including games, toys, dvd's, posters, art books, etc. etc. They allow us to buy a quantity of just ONE of many items and titles.
Each month I get a phone-book sized catelog, with roughly 5000 line items. If I was to spend even 30 seconds on each listing, it would take me 42 hours just to read the damn thing. You learn to quickly make snap decisions, and even then it takes me 2 full days to make my orders.
I wish every customer who ever wondered; "Why the hell did you order (or not order) THAT?!. understood the difficulty. That plus trying to guess 2 to 3 months in advance what the customer will want, compounded by constant late or changed product. There is always that 'Ah, Hah!' moment when the product actually arrives, and you realize that you made a huge mistake; either by way overordering a dud, or way underordering a winner. Probably the most important decision I make every month is trying to decide on a reasonable budget , and then trying to squeeze the product into that budget.
Fortunately, I enjoy doing it. It could've been sheer drudgery, I suppose, but I like daydreaming about all the cool stuff, and trying to figure out what will sell and what won't. I have to be careful to fit it into a real budget, because whenever I go through the 'wish list' and order everything I THINK will sell, it comes out two or three times what I'm likely to actually sell.
There were a few rough years when I didn't ask myself; "Will this sell?" but asked myself: "If I don't order this, will anyone notice?" I have to luxury nowadays of actually including about 10 or 20% or my budget for whimsy, or what I like, or just to experiment and play around. I know I can sell most things, eventually. Of course, I'll lose this freedom if I make too many bad decisions.
These preorders actually end up being only about 35% of my total budget, because I do constant 'just-in-time' reorders, and I actively order books, games, and comics from about 10 other distributors.
But it is a make or break time of the month.