One Way To Reduce Piracy: Improve The LCS Experience

I really considered just making a graphic along the lines of “This column censored due to SOPA” and posting that today. But I figured my iFanoverlords would expect better, and I do aim to please those rapscallions. So how about one way I think we could actually help reduce comics piracy? I’m no expert on the matter, but I have this column and I have enough opinions to get the discussion started. I actually had a list, but the first item on my list got away from me. So here it is, the first, but by no means only way I think the comics community can help combat piracy.

Step 1: Make comic shops not suck

Step 2: See step 1

Doesn't it just put you in the mood to read?

It’s a hard truth but comic shops are still the front lines. We can lob artillery shells of podcasts and cruise missile columns but comic shops and the people who work there are still the ground troops of our pop culture invasion. And comic shops have become an iconographic place in pop-culture, yet probably for the wrong reasons. People, right or wrong, think of comic shops as places where smelly nerds go to yell at each other and find ways to belittle any uninitiated person foolish enough to step into their lair.

And I’ll be damned if I haven’t been to shops that fit the model to a tee. I travel a lot and often try to scope out the local comic shop (LCS) wherever I am. I’m not naming names, but a recent shop literally had a tater-tot on one of the shelves next to a bunch of trades. A goddamn tater tot, people. Rule 1) Don’t leave your food on the shelves of your local shop. And Rule 2) if you own a shop, apparently you need to occasionaly check to make sure your shelves are free of leftovers. At no other business I frequent would such an issue ever present itself, but based on the smell of this particular shop from the moment I walked in, I wasn’t all that surprised.

Don’t blame bigger bookstores. Don’t even blame indie bookstores. I go to a lot of bookstores, and I would argue that they are whole different animal from comic shops. In my experience big bookstores often have reasonable comic selections, but they are just as often horribly disorganized, shrink-wrapped, seemingly randomly stocked, and heaven help you if you can find someone working the floor who has any clue about any of it. I hate the shrink-wrap. No other books get shrink-wrapped. I don’t care what font the novel I’m picked up is written in, I’m not Ron, but I do care about the art. I decided a long time ago that not being able to see that art means I will not be buying the book from that establishment, and will recommend others do the same.

One time at an airport–I want to say somewhere in Texas, Mr. Timmy Wood–I found 300, the hyper-violent homoerotic Spartan comic by noted crazy-person Frank Miller, stocked in the children’s section. I calmly took the entire stack of books to the register, flipped open one to the page where a guy is getting a spear through the throat, and let them know they had this book in the children’s section. The now mortified woman at the checkout counter put the books on a shelf beneath the register, and I’d be amazed if they were ever seen on the shelf again.

Indie bookstores, again based on my limited experiences, have their own shelving problems as they tend to throw in a few token indie comics with the humor section. The number of times I’ve seen Maus or something by Joe Sacco next to the latest collection of Zits or Boondocks is astounding. I know we can all agree that just because a book has words and pictures that it automatically goes next to Garfield. Nothing goes next to Garfield. Why is Garfield even in your shop, indie bookstore? But I digress.

Scenes like this at a comic shop are possible. See any familiar faces?

There are so many great shops out there for which a lesser store could learn valuable lessons. I worked in a shop that, while far from being perfect, made sure that everyone who came inside was greeted with a smile and a “Hello.” It’s not much, but the number of shops I’ve walked into and been ignored is staggering. I have walked around in silence aching for one of those wonderful LCS conversations to happen, all the while the employees organized decks of Magic cards behind the counter. But beyond being friendly, the shop I worked at moved some product. I knew those shelves backwards and forwards. I, and the rest of the staff, prided ourselves on being able to find a book for anyone who came in. I sold the entire first series of Runaways to someone who hadn’t read page 1, I got a middle-aged woman who was just browsing to pick up Astro City. I’m not bragging, these are my experiences and I found out quickly that people were more willing to buy a book when you could give them a synopsis, or your own opinion on it. On the other hand I’ve been to shops where I’ve already read every mainstream book that gets “recommended” to me. Yes, I already know Batman is very good right now, thanks.

So while I am in no real position to tell anyone how to run a business, I will give these three pieces of advice. Keep your place as clean, odor-free, and clutter-free as possible, make everyone who comes inside feel welcome, and have enough variety of books that someone new to comics can get something they’ll enjoy from your shop. This isn’t rocket science. And if the shop you go to fails in any of the above regards, say something. If the owner is a megalomaniac, consider letting them know that you’re dissatisfied and that Amazon exists if they’re really not that interested in keeping your business. It’s harsh, but its how the real world works.

I’m not an expert on SOPA, so I won’t pretend to speak authoritatively about what it says nor its implications. But I will say this: SOPA seems to be about the benefit of large corporations. Comic shops are not large corporations, they are more often than not small business run by hard working people operating on razor thin profit margins. Thus I can’t imagine there’s a huge lobbying presence in Washington from our local retailers. But those retailers are also the people who are getting hurt by piracy. It’s a tough situation, and I don’t envy anyone trying to run a small business right now, but the more welcome people feel inside a shop the more likely they are to return. I now forfeit the remainder of my time to the comments. Thank you.

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Ryan Haupt knows your local comic shop / indie bookstore / sacred cow is perfect and beyond criticism, but thanks for letting him know in the comments anyways. He does a podcast called Science… sort of, where he is also often wrong.

Comments

  1. chadwhitley chadwhitley says:

    Agreed. While out of town, I once visited an establishment that claimed to be a hobby/comic shop. When I stepped inside, I was met with a few tables and chairs, populated by people playing Magic, and a long box or two of back issues. Oh, and there were also a (very) few older trades on a couple of dusty shelves. There wasn’t a single current issue to be found.

    Granted, there may not have been much of a drop-in market in this location–and I don’t know about the status of their subscription service (if they had one)–but the whole experience turned me off.

    On the other hand, my LCS is fantastic–they always offer a wide selection of new releases, plus a host of trades and back issues. The discounts are good, and the employees are always up for a conversation.

  2. flakbait flakbait says:

    If I ever had the capacity to start my own business, it would be a comic shop. Have a coffee bar, some comfy places for people to read, extensive trade selection, wi-fi, big open space for gaming. These are the things that could make for an awesome comic shop.

    Unfortunately I’m not sure how much cross-over there is between the people with that sensibility and the people who have the business know-how to make it happen.

    • ComicsFan1 says:

      I think that’s part of the problem. Comic readers have the luxury of sitting around making suggestions like “make it a hybrid comic store/coffee shop/arcade/movie theater” with no concept of the resources you’d need and the obstacles you’d face to even open a store like that, let alone keep it profitable.

      Most owners I’ve known do a pretty fair job of catering to a very demanding, oftentimes fickle customer base. Yes, it is the owner’s responsibility to keep their store clean, well lit, well stocked, and staffed with friendly, knowledgeable people. If your store doesn’t do that, it shouldn’t be your store for long.

      Having worked at a couple of different comic stores, I can say that most comic store clerks will make your experience 100x better if you are friendly and do your part as customers to let them know what you need. Know that a 600 sq ft store can’t possibly have EVERY issue/TPB/storyline ever written ALWAYS available. If you want suggestions for a good read, give the staff a hint at your tastes and don’t make them guess (“what comic would you recommend for a 4yr old girl who chronically wets the bed”). If you special order something, pick it up. Don’t be rude. Don’t be weird. And let them know when they’re doing something right!

    • ClasikRok ClasikRok says:

      That sounds great, but I don’t think there are enough profits to be had to keep a comic shop like that in operation.

  3. Garfield is there because KIDS. LOVE. GARFIELD. Don’t ask me why – I don’t understand it either.

  4. I continue to be amazed (at age 32 no less) of these horror stories. I have always had incredible stores. My current one has actually been nominated 3 times for the Eisner Spirit of Comics Retailer award (next year we’re getting a win!).

  5. nikbackm nikbackm says:

    Step 0: Make sure that there ARE any comics stores around, whether they suck or not.

  6. nmoline says:

    The LCS has no role to play in reducing Piracy. I’ve never talked to one person who admits to pirating comic books that says “I pirate because my LCS sucks.” Maybe because there isn’t one nearby, but not because their LCS sucks.

    The best way to reduce piracy is to give up on the LCS model and create an online model with lower price $.99 to $1.49 for new issues or an all you can eat $19.99 per month subscription service.

    • Ryan Haupt Ryan Haupt (@haupt) says:

      No role? Seems a bit single minded. But if you’ve never talked to one person who admits it…

    • nmoline says:

      Not sure if my grammar was correct. It was to be read that, of the people I have talked to who do pirate comic books, never have any of them said it was because their LCS sucks. Usually it’s all about price.

    • Ryan Haupt Ryan Haupt (@haupt) says:

      I guess my point was that yes price is an issue, but retailers have no control over price, they only have control over their store. Creating a good memorable experience could make someone think twice before downloading. Arguing that shops shouldn’t bother because your solution is a surefire fix is the wrong way to work towards solutions.

    • nmoline says:

      Ryan, I believe that the LCS needs to change to benefit their own personal bottom lines. I just don’t see how an LCS change will make any sizeable dent in piracy.

    • Ryan Haupt Ryan Haupt (@haupt) says:

      “Creating a good memorable experience could make someone think twice before downloading.” It’s not a guarantee, just an idea.

      Your personal incredulity is not a convincing argument. ;-)

    • KenOchalek KenOchalek says:

      @nmonline: As much as I’d love the system you describe in your last sentence…I’m really starting to believe we’re not going to see anything like that for a long time, if ever. The publishers simply WILL NOT (and likely can’t) abandon the retail community en masse without also abandoning a large portion of their audience (some folks simply do not want digital comics).

      If you haven’t, I recommend you check out Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunleavy’s Comic Book Comics (in print and digital!), they do a nice job explaining how and why the direct market developed, which really helped me understand why the conversion to digital (or the demise of the direct market) isn’t going to happen overnight.

      I think Ryan’s article speaks to the point that comics is such a small industry that EVERYONE involved plays a part in keeping it going. Everyone has an appreciable effect on the whole thing.

    • juanm85 says:

      There are people who pirate because they don’t have a good store, I’ve heard it before. But people who pirate do it usually because of cost associated with collecting.

      I completely disagree with your solution to piracy. If everything were to go digital only today, comics would either be dead or a small niche market it a couple of years. Having 3000 stores board up there windows is definitely not the way to go.

      Stores need to improve themselves and show that the comic experience in a brick and mortar store is always going to be vastly superior to just going to an app store and buying whatever catches your fancy. That’s something I preach about in my store constantly.

    • Gerry Lopez Gerry Lopez says:

      People pirate comics (or anything else) because they like free stuff. There is no other convincing argument for it. Publishers making their comics available digitally, no matter the price, will not end piracy. If anything, it will make it easier since the scanning would already be done. Any anti-piracy code that can be put on a digital comic can be circumvented, given enough time. Music is widely available in legit digital formats, but piracy continues there as well. It’s a fact of life. With this in mind, Ryan’s suggestion, while on the surface seems like it would have no affect, is actually quite valid. You can’t eliminate piracy, so create an experience that makes going to the store (or downloading a legal copy, for that matter) more enjoyable and worth the cost. In any case, it’s one thing that can be done, not the ultimate solution.

    • I think an affordable subscription service ala Netflix/Spotify would do more to kill piracy than anything else.

    • SenatorSnake says:

      I used to pirate the heck out of comics when I was stationed in area that didn’t have an LCS. I also didn’t have a car so I couldn’t drive to another town whenever I chose. If there were digital comics available at that time, I would have bought them online but my point is that…. I’m tired. I have a hangover.

    • Smasher says:

      Sorry coming late to the party but until LCS sell their back issues for less than the cost of a brand new single issue, regardless of whether it’s a #1, the first appearance of _______, or any other momentous occasion, the pirates have (peg)leg to stand on.

      Back issues are an artificial market used by the retailer for their personal profit. It does not promote readership.

      Piracy in principle takes the hobby out of comic books. Yes, it’s stealing. Yes, it’s wrong. But it’s existence speaks to the problems of the industry and the retailers that support it.

  7. Firevine Firevine says:

    I want tater tots now.

  8. stevetwo stevetwo says:

    The last word in LCS says it all: It’s a SHOP! Just like any department store – Target, Talbot, whatever. Regardless what you’re selling, part of your job as a retailer – any retailer – is to be friendly, be polite and assist when asked a question. It’s not just about keeping product in stock and on display.

    Maybe they somehow think they’re entitled to be snarky. Maybe they believe that because they work in a comic shop, they’re the end-all be-all in comic knowledge: they’re smarter than you, and thus every one coming in are morons. A lot of the bad apples are people who’ve never been in the retail business, and for some reason, believe they can act like they do with and to friends. Doesn’t matter. They’re sludge, and like every other retail store, will lose business if they don’t have a friendly atmosphere. The dark, smelly hole-in-the-wall guys with a bad or disinterested attitude are proof. You never see anyone spending any time in their store, do you?

    P.S. Anyone traveling to Orlando, Florida: we’ve got great shops.

    • Gerry Lopez Gerry Lopez says:

      Yes! We have a couple good shops further down South in Florida as well, in Ft. Lauderdale and Hollywood.

    • gregbmarcus gregbmarcus says:

      Agree, I have 2 comic shops within reach in Orlando that are constantly having events and introducing comics to new readers. In the past year I have also had the opportunity to meet Nick Spencer and Charlie Adlard at one of these shops. Even though I went digital on all DC books, I still visit this shop for all other purchases because the owners have earned my loyalty.

    • Yeah, shops in Orlando are cool, and I was made to feel extremely welcome when I was down there.

    • Crin Crin says:

      Yay I love my comic shop in Orlando!

  9. Bryce31 Bryce31 says:

    I had a shop in my city where the owner had his sleeping area in one isle, it also wasn’t in the best part(Gang Territory) of town.

  10. Tip for finding any iFanboy guys in a crowd: look for the bald head. Dead giveaway, every time.

  11. It’s amazing how little understanding of the consumer’s experience so many shops have. One of our biggest shops in downtown Minneapolis is a huge offender. I walk in, maybe get a half-hearted “hey”, and then I’m left to wonder in silence. Floppies are interspersed with trades vertically on the shelf. Since very few floppies have a spine, this make browsing impossible. They sort by alphabet to the letter, including adjective. Heard Uncanny X-Force is good? Don’t bother checking near the other X-books, because it starts with a “U” stupid. This shop is 10 minutes away from my house, 5 minutes away from my work and stock everything.

    I drive 35 minutes away to a suburb to buy my books (Minds Eye). Clean shop with an easy to browse, sensible layout and organizational system. A couple of comfy chairs for paging through potential purchases. But It really comes down to staffing. They have a friendly staff, who are nice to my wife (very important, don’t make spouses feel unwelcome, they are potential customers) and open to conversation.

    LCS owners, please understand: These are stores, not clubhouses. This is a business, please treat it as such. Want more business, try talking to the customer. People constantly asking where a well stocked book is, think about reorganizing. See a familiar face, remember they keep the lights on, act like you know who they are. Someone asking for recommendations, ask what they are into and try to steer them toward indies or lower selling big two books, broaden your customers horizons and increase your abysmal profits. This shouldn’t be hard. yet so many get it so wrong.

    • pjm2270 says:

      Neil,
      I too live in Minneapolis and know exactly the store you’re referring to. I’ve been lucky enough to get a weekend gig at Captain Jack’s Comics at 8730 Lyndale Ave in Bloomington. Not too shill too much, but, If you’re already going all the way out to Eagan for your weekly comics, why not stop in and check us out? We have over 200 long boxes of back issues, a large selection of all the weekly comics, tons of TPB’s, and a pretty nice kids section too. And if there’s something we don’t have or that you can’t seem to find, let us know and we we’ll see about ordering it for you. I’m there on Saturdays. Stop in sometime and introduce yourself (my name is Paul). I know we’d be thrilled to have your business.

    • ClasikRok ClasikRok says:

      That’s the way you treat a customer! :)

      I don’t live in the Minneapolis area, but if I did, and Paul treated me the way he treats Neil here, I would be sure to check them out.

  12. itsbecca itsbecca says:

    Agreed times a million. It may sound horrible and entitled, but the truth of the matter is if you want people to buy your product then you need to make it as easy, and/or enjoyable. It’s the same with any business really, but there’s a particular hurt on the entertainment industry because their product *can* be found so easily for free and fast. So when one business screws up it doesn’t necessarily mean their competitor will be getting that customer, now there’s that option of.. no one getting the customer. So don’t screw up.

    I know my LCS experience changes my buying habits drastically. Granted my option has generally been don’t buy or go to amazon instead of pirating, but for the losing business it’s essentially the same. For some of my life I had a small shop I’d go to with great selection and super knowledgeable staff. I wouldn’t hang out there much, but I became fast friends with the people who worked there and subsequently bought way more stuff than I would’ve normally based on their recommendations. They knew me and my interestes and their recommendations were always spot on because… they actually bothered to get to know me. On the other side of the coin I’ve had a hang out LCS. Again, I bought a ton of comics based on recommendations from friends I met there (staff and otherwise). They’d let me sit on the sofa and flip through the new Diamond catalogs, had really good hold policies etc. For both stores *I even bought trades there too* because of a mix of guilt and loyalty.

  13. KillTheG1mp KillTheG1mp says:

    I only visited one LCS and its the one I continue to go to every week. But every time I go there I’m greeted warmly, while I browse the shelves for new comics the clerk (who knows my name) prepares my stack for me and most of the time we chat a bit about new issues or I ask for recommendations for new series and they all have their passion and their speciality which is great cause I can try a variety of books from their accounts and reviews!

    The owner is also really cool and likes to chat and have the opinion of customers on certain books that sell less by that we buy (like O.M.A.C., for example). I can also send him an e-mail for modifying my pull-list on the go and I’ve had the best service ever and it’s just comics (in your face, coffee shop employees who mess my order!!!).

    In Montréal, Millénium Comics is the place to go! ;)

  14. juanm85 says:

    Excellent article. Couldn’t agree more with all the points. I have the benefit of helping run a store that I am tremendously proud of in terms of our staff and stock that we carry. (Diamond has been doing secret shoppers this last year to grade stores and I was very proud to have my store earn the highest grade possible, sadly not many others stores got it) People who run stores need to understand it is a business. Greet people, be polite, do not act like you are the god of the comic universe. People appreciate if you remember them or even ask how their day is going.

    Now I will say a lot of comic fans need to be help us out. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked up to someone to ask if they needed help or had questions and had them look at me as if I had sprouted a second head or offended them but just trying to talk to them. Also, do not come in with pretentious and/or negative attitude because most of the time you will come across as a jerk, and people will respond very negatively to that. Don’t be the stereotype caricature comic guy.

    Come in, have a polite and civil conversation (I’m a chatterbox, and you can get me going on any topic)about whatever is on your mind and support your LCS . And you know what, if the people who run your store are being jerks or aren’t carrying the stuff they should, don’t be afraid to let them know. Honesty is the best policy.

    • ClasikRok ClasikRok says:

      I definitely agree with you on all points except for one…the comics fans/customers.

      Unfortunately, you cannot control your customer’s, and the way they act (or react) is the way they are going to act. Don’t forget, “The customer is always right.” If they don’t want your help or are acting like jerks, just say something polite and let them go ahead and be miserable. You can’t please everyone, but if you are polite and treat them nicely, maybe you’ll win them over. That’s really the most you can hope for.

  15. mark. mark. says:

    in the spirit of this article, i’d like to give a shout out to a couple of good places in my town (chicago), for people to frequent when they come in town. these places most definitely deserve your dollar:

    - chicago comics – friendly people, huge selection, doesn’t smell

    - alley cat comics – this is a newer one in my neighborhood (what up, andersonville!). hands down the coolest LCS space in the city and some other nicest motherfuckers who ever worked in a comic shop. since their space is in a renovated industrial garage, during the summer they open up the garage doors and show movies and party and such at night. it is awesome.

    anyone else have recommendations from their neck of the woods?

    • Cincinnati, OH – Up, Up and Away

    • KenOchalek KenOchalek says:

      Metro Detroit (northern suburbs):

      Comics & More (Madison Heights): This is my LCS. Tiny store, but the owner does a great job making the most of it. Predominantly comics and trades, some action figures and card gaming stuff. Great conversations to be had on Wednesday, and the owner generally does a nice job keeping the discourse and atmosphere kid and “civilian” friendly.

      Detroit Comics (Ferndale): Nice looking shop, and I believe they have a monthly book club kind of thing.

      I’ve heard good things about Warp 9 Comics (Clawson) and Green Brain Comics (Dearborn, west of Detroit) but I’ve yet to go to either one.

    • mark. mark. says:

      @ ken – and all of them are near delicious, delicious coneys…

    • ClasikRok ClasikRok says:

      My LCS’ are Zapp! Comics in Manalapan/Freehold, NJ and Steve’s Comic Relief in Lawrencville, NJ. Zapp is usually better stocked on Single Issues and Back Issues, but I have never had a bad experiece at either store. Always friendly staff. Never snarky and always willing to help if you need any.

  16. BigE BigE says:

    I worked retail for years, both part-time and as my first career, and there’s a simple truth when it comes to working in a shop: it’s not enough to love the product you sell — you have to love people. If you fancy yourself an “expert” on what you sell, but you’re not a people person, you’re going to be miserable working retail, whether it be in a clothing store in a mall or an LCS. And what’s worse, you’re going to make potential lifetime customers miserable as well.

    There are a number of great shops here in Chicago, but as far as the best model for what an LCS is capable of, Challengers Comics + Collectibles gets it. Clean, Comfy chairs, tons of collected editions, friendly, professionally attired staffmembers, tons of programs for kids…and more.

    But as far as comics piracy goes, I look at it like I did music piracy. Sure, local record shops were/are guilty of the same kind of snobbery that Ryan describes above. But for me, who considered himself a music snob and didn’t mind going in these shops, Napster and Limewire provided one distinct advantage: price. And for a college student with questionable morals, this was what ultimately swayed me toward piracy. I’m not proud of it, but it’s true.

  17. Ryan Haupt Ryan Haupt (@haupt) says:

    I’m really glad to see people are taking a positive spin on this and promoting the stores that do things right. Bravo, iFanbase!

  18. glennsim says:

    A few thoughts:

    I will also note that of the 3 people I know who pirate, the quality of the LCS has nothing to do with it. In fact, one of them pirates the individual issues but then buys the hardcover at the LCS.

    On the other hand, there’s probably some business to be gained from me in the back-issue arena to draw me away from online stores. But most of the shops I’ve been to don’t seem to want that business from me. Some of the experiences I’ve had:

    One shop had the gaming tables all set up in front of the shelves where they stored the back issues. People were sitting at the tables playing games. In order to look through the boxes, I would have had to ask the people to move.

    Another shop didn’t have anything priced – they looked them all up in the price guide at checkout. If I’ve got $50 to spend, how do I know how many I can get?

    Several stores are guilty of poor organization. If I’m a big enough fan to want back issues, I’m going to know the difference between “Amazing Spider-Man” and “Spider-Man”. And if I’m looking for Issue #3 of Spider-Man: The Arachnis Project, I expect to find it alphabetically as Spider-Man: T or maybe Spider-Man: A. Do not expect me to dig through your entire pile of “Misc Spider-Man” to find that one issue.

    Finally, come on Mr. Store Owner – you know you’ve got books either already priced at $1.00 or priced at $2.00 that you really need to sell for $1.00. Put all of those in a single set of boxes (still organized, BTW), and let me get at those $1.00 goodies.

  19. The thing is there are some shops that make you feel like your walking into a private club you shouldn’t be at. Kind of like some comic related websites.

  20. Maty. Maty. says:

    Comic shops need to make themselves into a destination, where people want to spend time AND money.
    Hell, there’s still an actual video store in my neighborhood- they have a curated selection and weekly screenings outside (in back of the shop), with BBQ’s and such. Why not at an LCS?

    • Smasher says:

      A shop may be able to get away with that every now and again (it’s a great idea) but I think there’s some legal/health department type reasons for why that can’t be a regular thing.

      To that end though – a little cross programming with other local businesses could be a neat draw.
      For instance if you have a bar in town that does geeky science lectures or trivia nights, maybe your LCS could co-sponsor it. Prizes like store gift certificates or cool trade paperbacks.

      Host Wednesday “book clubs” at local spots. The LCS doesn’t need to be a hangout but it does need to attract more customers.

      It’s easy to arm chair retailer on a message board though. Running a business is a lot of hard work.

    • Maty. Maty. says:

      Yeah, book a few tables at a bar nearby or something, and have some sort of theme or speaker or presentation. Course, that would exclude the under-21′s but……………

    • itsbecca itsbecca says:

      Don’t know about the legality, but my Lcs fairly regularly has events where they throw down some burger’s and dogs on the grill. They also hold overnighters on holidays and have crazy back issue sales. There’s alot you can do.

  21. Some of the worst small businesses i’ve ever been in have been comic shops. Yes i’ve been to/heard of a few great ones, but so many of them fit that cold, impersonal dungeon model we all know. I got tired of bad customer service, being ignored, being judged for what i wanted to read, and mostly begging for popular titles that weren’t in stock. (Amazing Spiderman, Detective…not in stock on a Wednesday or Thursday afternoon?)

    I know that the no returns thing is tough, but you can’t sell me whats not on the shelf and i’ve always been turned off by the “you should have pre-ordered it” lecture. Determining store inventory should not be a customer level problem, and i’ve never liked how thats been allowed to become the norm. No other small business/industry works that way for a reason.

    The poor LCS experience was what pushed me towards same day digital comics. Seriously, a website and a computer is a better shopping experience than my local shops. I’ve found more community and conversation on this website than i’ve ever had at any comic shop.

    Yes its important to keep it local, but only if they can earn your business. You’re the small guy, you have to work harder. You have to create real value for the customer besides having business hours and lights that turn on.

    There is a small local bookstore chain near my house that has some comics in the periodical section. If i pick up a print copy of anything thats where i go…They even sell some used trades and have sales on new stuff every so often (what a concept!). Good customer service and stocked shelves…they even have a coffee shop. Its a pretty enjoyable place to go shopping and discover new things.

  22. Conor Kilpatrick Conor Kilpatrick (@cskilpatrick) says:

    If anyone’s got any recommendations for a good comic book store on the west side of Los Angeles then I’d love to hear them. I’ve been to a few and they’ve all got their own significant problems.

    Maybe I can take up a collection and move Bergen Street Comics out west.

    • Maty. Maty. says:

      I’m heading to NYC in a week or so- thanks for the reminder on Bergen Street Comics!
      Can anyone recommend a good sci-fi/fantasy bookstore in NY/Brooklyn ?

    • Kamilo Kamilo says:

      I live out Pasadena way which might be a bit far if you’re on the West side depending on where exactly (welcome to Los Angeles, we’re spread out here) but I go to an awesome store called Comics Factory. Great selection, awesome helpful staff, great community. At least give it a visit if you’re in the area.

    • Maty: Forbidden Planet has a nice selection of sci-fi/fantasy books. I’m currently on the lookout for any others, but I like to frequent there whenever I pass it by.

    • Maty, there is, of course, the Strand. They do have a good fantasy sci-fi collection (though not great). Bookoff is uptown, and has cheap books, but no way to tell if they’ll be the cheap books you want.

    • KenOchalek KenOchalek says:

      @conor: It may not be convenient (depending on where exactly you are on the west side), but the few times I went to Earth-2 Comics in Sherman Oaks were always great experiences. The owner used to have a great column on CBR (that’s what got me to make the trek from Eagle Rock a few times before I moved back to Michigan – he just seemed like an awesome dude that deserved my business).

    • i’ve always loved Golden Apple. Now that they are selling, i dunno what its like. Comic Bug in LBC is pretty good from what i hear. Its LA…you might have to drive a bit to find the best spot.

    • Impossibilly Impossibilly says:

      @Conor – Have you been to Meltdown Comics on West Sunset? They’ve got a great selection, friendly staff and host regular events including Nerdist podcast tapings and an open-mic stan-up night in their back room. I went there in May and really enjoyed it.

  23. The LCS where I live is pretty awesome. It sucks that there’s hardly any customers though.

  24. Kamilo Kamilo says:

    I think half of the problem is that comic shops and trading card stores need to once and for all separate themselves from one another. The communities are similar but at the same time VERY different and often quite antagonistic toward one another. A shop near me recently did the right thing and put a wall in, splitting the store between the two communities, and its been working beautifully for both sides. When you get card shops that dabble in comics or vice versa, both sides suffer from the split in focus and dueling communities.

  25. NJBaritone NJBaritone says:

    I love my LCS but it is so incredibly crowded and cluttered you can barely move. The staff, however, is terrific and I get a whopping -20% as a subscriber. The two nicer, cleaner, more “professional” looking shops nearby are full of stuck up snobs who trail you around the shop and have such a superior attitude. I’ll take my hole-in-the-wall shop any time.

  26. I’ve noticed a trend in some shops to not actively pursue restocking on back issues, or forego selling them altogether. There’s one in Manhattan that truly irks me. It took over its second floor location from a shop that was there for years, and had tons of back issues in opened boxes on top, and even more in unbrowsable lower boxes. The new owners have less than half of what the old owners had, and the selection is all from the last five years, and literally in NO particular order. This shop was getting so blasted on a certain well known review site it offered discounts to customers for good reviews. Classy.

    Another thing that bothers me is the guiding thing. Yeah, I understand comic prices change every year. Do you want me to come back? Make me feel like you want me to come back, by not gouging me for every penny you can.

    Also, as others have said on here, just because a book guides for a price, doesn’t mean you’re going to get it. One of my favorite LCS (who I later did “cleaning for comics” for, and found some gems in his huge basement area) was selling old Ultraverse books about 8 years ago for a buck. I asked him if he had anymore (hey, the stories were good), and he thought for a moment, pointed me to some boxes and said, “Maybe in there, they aren’t marked a dollar, but that’s what I’m charging.” This is how you keep customers.

    One last horror story. A few years ago, a shop I’d gone into for the first time whipped out a Wizard magazine and proceeded to attempt to gouge me. I had that same Wizard in the car, and lo and behold, the prices he quoted weren’t in the magazine…in fact, the titles he looked up were not even listed.

    Why am I sharing the one good story and two horror stories? Simple. It seems all of us have two horror stories for every one good story. Or maybe it’s just me since I go to a lot of comic shops.

    • stevetwo stevetwo says:

      My biggest pet peeve for LCS: back issues have no order.

      When I travel to a different city or state, I make an effort to visit a local shop, AND, much to my wife’s chagrin, I’ll usually buy something – anything – to show my support for LCS’s. However, I will walk away from any shop (or table at a comic convention for that matter) where the back issues aren’t in alphabetical. The exception might be a box of current “last chance” issues. It’s like the owners don’t believe their product is of any value to a customer, so they don’t want to bother to get off the stool to fix it. Do you think I want to spend half an hour running my fingers through 50,000 of your cruddy old issues in search of something I want? Hell, no! *Clink!* (That’s the sound of the door shutting behind me as I walk to the car without a bag. My wife, sitting in the car and knowing exactly why I have nothing, says, “lousy place, huh?”)

      What this has to do with piracy at the moment, I dunno.

    • ClasikRok ClasikRok says:

      I really don’t get the “Price Guide” thing. If that’s the way you’re going to play it and ask for $10.00 just because a price guide says that’s what it’s “worth,” my reply will always be, “That’s not worth it to me.”

      If you’re going to play the Price Guide Game, then haggling is already implied. And I’m not going to pay $10.00 for a book I only want to spend $3 or $4 on.

    • ClasikRok ClasikRok says:

      I also want to add, that’s something I’d more expect at a convention or show…Not at a Shop. That’s pretty wild.

  27. j206 j206 says:

    Just stumbled upon this anti-SOPA video. Check out the cameo by an iFanboy staff member. At least I think it’s them. Either that, or Molly has a twin out there.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1p-TV4jaCMk

  28. chadwhitley chadwhitley says:

    Someone should write a horror comic about bad comic shops. It could be written from the perspective of a lonely tater tot, abandoned and left to rot on a shelf filled with Garfield collected editions. It could be called, “Little Comic Shop of Horrors.

    Or not. :)

  29. Scarface Scarface says:

    I drive about 30 minutes out of my way to go to a good store, when I could easily drive 5 minutes to a local shop. The final straw for me was when I went to the shop local to me about 4pm on a Wednesday and asked for the new issue of an Image book and the shop owner looked at me like I was an idiot and said “We got it somewhere around here. You’ll have to come back.” Why would I want to come back when I’m standing in front of him at that very moment with cold hard cash and ready to buy something. Right there he lost my money.

    These types of retailers are far too common in the industry…. This particular shop is completely cluttered with old comics all over the place and he’s always sitting watching pirated movies. If you go into the shop and ask to find something in the clutter he rolls his eyes and just acts like an ass.

    Wondering why sales are dropping year after year and we can’t attract women or new readers into shops? Imagine if your first impression heading into a store was a fat greasy store clerk and the stop looked like an episode of hoarders…. Would you want to come back?

    • LOL! This made me laugh, but it is incredibly sad that someone can making a “living” being such a worthless salesman.

    • ClasikRok ClasikRok says:

      An experience like that would definitely turn me off to the shop. I would definitely let the guy know it too.

      Clerk: “We got it somewhere around here. You’ll have to come back.”
      Me: “That’s ok. I’ll wait for you to find it.”

      If he doesn’t get off his lazy butt and help you right then and there, I’d ask for his name (if he just works there) so I can let the owner know. If he is the owner, I’d just tell him to his face, that he’s lost a customer, and I will go out of my way to make sure anyone else considering patronizing his shop is aware of the way that shop is run.

      You just can’t run a business like that and expect to stay in business.

  30. chronotis chronotis says:

    Want to reduce piracy? Make, print comics affordable. I am looking at you Marvel and your 3.99 price point for 20 page comics.

  31. NathanNicdao NathanNicdao says:

    My LCS are great. One just got reduced from a hole in a wall store in a mall into a kiosk. But still, it’s near me, so I go there. My main LCS is further, but I go there for FCBD and signing events. Not that big of a store, but the staff is comprised of family members of the owner. Very welcoming and knowledgeable. Also not greedy when it comes to prices. They put signed copies randomly to the $0.5 bin, and have $1/back issue sales. All issues, except when there are delays, arrive at Wednesday morning local time, which is very very early.

    Come to think of it, an LCS may cause piracy in such ways:
    1. The LCS is too far making the customer feel more convenience with downloading.
    2. The LCS sucks making it troublesome and a chore to go to.
    3. The LCS does not carry a lot of books, often runs out of stocks
    4. Overpricing

  32. rafterman rafterman says:

    Improving the LCS is a good idea, but certainly not the solution to the industry’s problems. I think it might be nice to have a website that tracks all the shops across the country and posts basic info on their locations and such. Something like a Yelp for LCs or one of those sites where you grade your teachers. Let people share info on which sotres deserve business.

  33. Timmy Wood Timmy Wood (@TimmyWood) says:

    I always stroll by the airport bookstores graphic novel section just out of curiosity.

    Also, Houston has some great Comic Shops (Bedrock Comics, great shop in Houston) but also some pretty terrible ones. There is one that will remain unnamed but the Wednesday that Captain America died a guy who worked there yelled “Caps Dead!” to every customer as they walked in the store. He also tried forcibly push Shadowpact AND they wouldn’t put up new comics on wednesday until sometimes as late as 7pm.

  34. binarymutant says:

    Lower the number of prints; Raise the cost since the demand is higher; Offer digital copies for free for promotion; profit.
    Extra points for numbering the prints. Extra points for doing everything by hand (including binding). Extra points for authors signatures.

  35. Regalfan Regalfan says:

    I dumped my LCS about 2 years ago after realizing No discount program to speak of. Want to keep loyal customers loyal? Give them 20% off. Chances are very good I will be pumping that 20% back into your shop anyways. He also used to run a “Every 6th issue ordered of a series in your subscription is free” promotion that he unceremoniously dropped without notice. That money saved ALWAYS went back into his shop. This coupled with discontinued back issue/trade sales (all books, full price, all the time), a very cramped retail area (he converted the downstairs of his two story home) and more inconsistent dealings (running a 50% store credit back trade in program for current series, then not giving you the full 50%) lead me to abandon the store altogether. I now order more books and spend less by purchasing from DCBS. All this after I actually attended the owner’s wedding 1 month before throwing in the towel. Worst of all, this store is still WAY better than our other LCS in town, which literally orders 0 new issues every month of ANYTHING, due to owing a huge bax taxes bill. His “current issue” rack features DC’s Hourman series from 1999. Seriously!

  36. sackoshyte sackoshyte says:

    Gaming tables has always been something to keep me away from a LCS, but lately it’s places like amazon.com and the prices that are driving me away from even the best of the local stores. I know the staff appreciate my business but it doesn’t amount to $ for me, and that’s all that matters. I want a better deal.

  37. twiceborn twiceborn says:

    There aren’t any comic shops where I live, but I haven’t resorted to getting my comics illegally. There are plenty of online suppliers that provide a comprehensive catalog, free shipping, bags, boards, and good discounts, depending on how many ongoing titles a customer pulls from week to week. I’ve been using one of these suppliers for the past three years. It’s an honest alternative to the brick and mortar shop. That being said, if there were a good shop nearby, I’d be there on a regular basis.

    • ClasikRok ClasikRok says:

      Agreed. I use DCBS now, but I used to use Midtown Comics. You can subscribe, order via Previews, or purchase what’s in stock. Issues, Trades, Collections, Toys, Cards, the WORKS. Very versatile.

      I use DCBS now as the discounts are a bit better (but you have to order the books coming out 2 months from now, Previews-style), but I would definitely reccommend Midtown to those looking to order current books that don’t have a LCS nearby.

  38. Thank you for posting this, as it is a message that really needs to be heard.

    Comics are an incredibly hard thing to get into but rewarding if you can. I say this because I just started reading comics around the time DC launched The New 52. I say this because I was that person that who had bad stereotypes about comics and comic shops. I assumed that comics were for kids, that the shops were filled with the guy from The Simpsons, and that I couldn’t possible jump into a series where it was on issue #600-something.

    Having been a huge fan of superheroes, action movies, video games, RPGs, etc. all of my life, I figured that I would have to enjoy comics and finally decided to go to a local comic shop near my cabin. It is a decent sized city and this was the biggest comic and games store around. Well, I typed the address into my iPhone’s GPS and set out to downtown. I had a hell of a time trying to find the damn place because their Google address was wrong. Not a great start. I managed to find it because I called the store, and said where I was, and then heard him yell to me from down the street. I entered the hidden lair.

    Inside two big racks of new single issues, a bunch of shelves for TPBs, a few board games and the various card games and trinkets. As I was walking in, I had the idea that I would feel at home with my fellow nerds. When I did finally get into the building, no one was anywhere near the comics! Everyone (around 15 guys) was in the backroom playing a variety of games at different tables in a very messy room. And to top things off, the guy who had let me in the store said welcome and went back to playing his game.

    So, there I was a want-to-be new comic book reader in a store for the first time and left alone with all the comics. What the fuck… How can this be the biggest and best store in the area? Well, I was still determined to at least give comics a shot and asked a different fellow that worked there who walked by the front what I should do. I told him kind of my background of nerdiness and whatnot, but that I was in need of some help. He didn’t offer any suggestions but just asked me what super heroes I liked, which I told him I really like Wolverine. Unfortunately, he wasn’t knowledgeable about Wolverine really and there weren’t any new series that began at that time he could find. So, I ended up picking up a one-shot about Wolverine and a free Daily Bugle about the origins of FF, Spider-Man, etc.

    Regardless of how whether I enjoyed the comic (which I really did, I absolutely loved it!), I didn’t like the comic book experience. I’ll be honest, money thankfully isn’t an issue for me, and this guy could have easily gotten me to buy a few graphic novels and one-shots. But he didn’t. Instead, I left with a free comic, a $3.99 one-shot and shitty customer service. Why is he even working in that place when he couldn’t manage to offer a few suggestions that he likes himself?!

    • ClasikRok ClasikRok says:

      LCS’ will always have a bit of stigma about them that just turns people off. Unfortunately, many of them are true, like your situation here.

      They just are not very warm or inviting. And the fact that profit margins for shop owners are not the best, the stores unfortunately suffer, and money is put towards selling other items like toys, cards, games etc, where the shop can make more money.

      When you think of a Comic Shop, you probably think of Comic Book Guy, a snotty know-it-all who’s clothes are a bit too small for his size, who sits and reads comics all day making snarky remarks to the few customers that happen to frequent his shop, rather than being a salesperson and actually help someone find what they are looking for.

      I really don’t understand what this guy was thinking when he couldn’t help you find a book with Wolverine, if he’s your favorite character. I HATE it when people say “there aren’t any NEW series that are beginning NOW” with that character.

      I put those words in CAPS for a reason and I’ll tell you why.

      NEW- Wolverine has been around for quite a while now. He’s been in several series (Team books, Solo, Ongoing, Minis, Guest spots). Unless they have absolutely no stock on anything in their store, there’s so many books he could have gave you. This is Wolverine we’re talking about, not some obscure character like D-Man (who resembles Wolverine). I can see that maybe at the time you went to the shop that all of the titles featuring Wolverine had storylines that were underway, but even in that case, get the current issue anyway. Most books have recap pages on the first page of the book, and those that don’t will usually have some reference as to what came before to help you understand what’s going on. AND, if you were still confused you could come to a site, like iFanboy, where there are hundreds of people who could help you figure out what you’re missing. Or fansites that offer synopses of previous issues, etc. If you’re interested in a book or character, jump right in, the waters fine!

      NOW- Like I said, Wolvie’s been here for a while, so if you are still too intimidated to jump in on a series that’s not a #1 issue, there are lots of trades and collected editions of FULL stories out there. Marvel even puts out inexpensive ones called “Essential” that collect about 20 issues for under $20.00. Granted these are B&W in newsprint, but it seems a no-brainer for someone that works at a LCS to give to someone to start there. There are also several Trades and Hardcovers of the series that are coming out now.

      You like Wolverine, try Uncanny X-Force, Wolverine (solo series), Wolverine & The X-Men, New Avengers…these are all excellent current series featuring everyone’s fav Canadian Mutant.

    • Yeah, I have been reading comics for a few months now and it really isn’t any thanks to him at all. For what it’s worth, I have been back there since, after having learned a ton of stuff, and it is still a very similar feeling. I wouldn’t ever go in there for a recommendation again, just if I knew exactly what I wanted. I have managed to get a good sense about the stuff that I enjoy.

      I do have to give huge amounts to praise to a little comic shop near my house that I have seen a million times but never had the balls to visit over the years. I went there on a Tuesday but they were closed. I went again the next day cuz it’s Wednesday and they would have to be open :P Well, the stop is tiny at about 12′x40′. There is only one guy who works there and the selection isn’t fantastic but it is at least organized enough. I later found out it is actually a sister shop to one of the biggest/best in the Midwest about 4mi away.

      Anyways… I got there after work with about 2 hours til closing time. Once again I decided to throw myself on the mercy of the guy who was working at the time and tell him my story about how I wanted to get into comics but I didn’t know how to begin and that I had already had a shitty experience prior. Well, I ended up talking to this dude for 3 hours. He isn’t even the owner and he stayed in the store for an hour after closing time to stay and talk to me about comics, superheroes, movies, video games and what not. He told me about how DC was rebooting their universe and it was the perfect time to get into comics and told me to just grab a few #1′s to see what I liked. By the time I left there, I had 100 Bullets Vol 1, Sandman Vol 1, Walking Dead Vol 1 (had seen some of the TV show already) and a few one-shots of random stuff.

      This was honestly one of the best customer service experiences I have ever had. There was no reason for him to be as nice as he was or stay even a minute after the store should have closed. Plus, he didn’t push me to buy anything at all either, which was very nice.

      So pretty much every Wednesday I travel 1mi to this shop vs going 4mi to the mothership (which all the employees work at both stores) because it is small but I had such a great experience that I relive it every week.

      Could I buy the roughly $50-75 of comics a week on Comixology or torrent them for my iPad and never have to leave my desk? Yes, I absolutely could but I choose not to because there is no buying experience or relationships being formed.

  39. Scarface Scarface says:

    I really think there should be more open discussions about LCS with customers opening talking about their experiences with the comics community. I think part of the problem is that a lot of these shops don’t know that they are offering a shitty experience for customers and driving people away from the industry.There needs to be like a “secret shopper” that goes into every shop and rates it. They do that with major chains in every other business, so why not comics.

    You’re never going to go into a Burger King or a Best Buy and have the place look like someone’s dungeon, cluttered with boxes to the ceiling, and employees that don’t want to offer assistance as the franchise won’t allow it. The industry needs to find a way to reward shops that are doing a good job and they need to at divulge customers experiences/reviews to the shops that suck. Something has got to change before it gets better and until we start calling out shitty shops there is no incentive for them to step up their game.

    • ComicsFan1 says:

      Yeah, but unlike a Burger King or Best Buy, comic stores are usually not big chains and are owned by one guy rather than a huge corporation with corporate rules and infrastructure that keep stores clean and well stocked, with employees that toe the company line

      And secret shoppers are HIRED by store owners that want to see how their business is doing. They don’t just randomly evaluate stores for free. If you don’t think your store is providing a mediocre experience, you wouldn’t hire secret shoppers to evaluate your store to let you know what needs improvement.

      Stores are rewarded by customers choosing to spend money, plain and simple. If you stop going to shitty stores, those stores go out of business. Staying in business IS your reward!

  40. Maty. Maty. says:

    The tough times are not necessarily the sole fault of the comics shop. It’s usually due to mediocre product- look at the recording industry.

  41. SenatorSnake says:

    I have to give a shout out to Meltdown Comics in Hollywood, CA for their amazing service, great selection and clean store.

    Their “competitor,” the famous Golden Apple Comics, is a dark, dirty, unfriendly and disorganized place.

  42. Smasher says:

    If you could, would you buy your comics from a vending machine?

  43. einstein399 einstein399 says:

    We recently moved to a new city and found out our apartment was right next to the only comic book shop. We stopped in to check it out and buy our weekly stack. The man working there did not greet us nor acknowledge our presence. When I asked if he had the latest issue of whatever I was reading he pointed at a wall with a disorganized selection of single issues. Needless to say, we never went back and now wait to buy our comics in our old town whenever we see our families. A first impression makes a big difference. Even though we have to wait every few months to buy our comics, we would rather buy from people who are friendly and a very clean,organized store. What we call OUR store is Fantastic Planet in Plattsburgh,NY and it is probably one of the best stores we have ever been to.

  44. Peteparker Peteparker says:

    I personally like finding out that a store is complete crap.

    We have around 10 different LCS’ in the same relatively small metro area, and the fact that there are multiple stores with dog stains on the carpet, trash on the shelves, or no heating or cooling happening in the store whatsoever allows me to write them off completely.

    One store actually made a huge change by converting from a toys and comics Hoarder’s storage space to what resembles an actual place of business. This change alone caused me to drop my long-time favorite and start a new pull box at the new one.

    Cleanliness is next to godliness, right?