Retailers are the backbone of the comics industry. They’re the infantry. Without good retailers, it’s all for nothing. People might crow and rave about the future of the book market (although that’s taken a turn) or digital comics, but the fact is, if you want to make money in comics, you’ve got to sell them to retailers, and they have to sell them to customers. Retailers can be the strongest asset in the comics industry, but they can also be the weakest link. Today, I’ll be discussing the latter.
A friend moved and was looking for a new comic shop, looking to drop a bundle on this week’s comics. He found a place close to where he was staying and looked up their website and saw a screed espousing the evils of digital comics. Heaven forbid one of the customers be of the mind to enjoy both digital comics and the ones they were selling. So that’s off-putting, but not so bad, right?
I moved to a new place, and had to find a new shop. Fortunately, I had quite a few around me, and I checked out the Yelp reviews, and started at the first one, who didn’t carry about half the books I wanted. They don’t order Scalped or Hellblazer, and if you know me, that’s a problem. But worse than that, I’m standing right there in front of you, in this store, and I know how it works, and the offer was never made to try to get them. Any store worth their salt would have tried to gain a customer right then. Instead, I never went back. This happened at two other stores, before I settled on the one where I’ve been buying my books ever since.
Another friend of mine actually worked in a shop for a while where they were not allowed to talk to the customers, or recommend them books, lest the customers not like those books, and not return. This is a manager who has no idea what the concept of sales is about.
There was a shop in my old neighborhood in Queens, literally a 10 minute walk from my apartment, and they were so awful that I would take the train into Manhattan, an hour more of my day, to go somewhere else. They mostly only carried Marvel and DC, claiming they didn’t sell the other stuff. That’s fair again. And they did offer to get me the other stuff. That wasn’t what turned me off. No, what got me was the fact that the guys behind the counter made sure to call each other “fags” as often as possible. And I never shopped there again.
Of course, most of you have read the story of the shop in North Carolina who is boycotting all Grant Morrison work and won’t carry Action Comics because of the word balloon reading “gd,” and the blasphemous nature of those two letters. Well, that’s his right, and there but for the grace of– I’ll stop there. Oh I could go on, but there’s a discussion that could get ugly fast, and it’s not the point.
I saw complaints on Wednesday of a certain shop charging $6 for the new issue of Batgirl #1 because “that’s what people are paying on eBay”. This was said to a customer in his store, the day the book came out.
The point is that these shops are part of a very small front line between the amazing content being produced by the creative geniuses of the comic book industry, and mostly apathetic public. Sales are in a long decline, and instead of reaching out and figuring out ways to market to their local community, they do stuff like this:
But hey, you run your business how you see fit.
The scary thing is, for books that aren’t Marvel and DC, and even for a lot of their titles, it’s a game of inches. If you have a creator owned book, it’s part of your job to call the individual shops, and get them to order your book. If they do, it’s up to them to sell that book. Their sales depend on how much or how well that retailer does so. To my mind, a good comic book retailer can sell a good book. They know the product out there, and they know their customers. When someone walks in, and they’re looking for something new, and maybe don’t know much about comics, they should be able to point them to all sorts of great stuff, which exists, based on what books, movies, and TV shows they like. If a book is good, it can be sold. And the customer will come back for more. That’s if you want to put the effort in.
However, if you’re just a big comic book fan who thought opening a store would be a fun place to hang out and talk about comics, you probably quickly found out that there’s a lot more to it. I’ve been in great comic shops, and they’re great because they make the extra effort. I mentioned my new shop earlier, the wonderful Double Midnight Comics in Manchester, NH, and these guys really care, and they put in the effort. They hold events, and even get creators to come to signings all the way up here. They do community outreach. They do draw nights. They host gaming. The first thing in the store is a well appointed all ages book section, and more important than any of that, they’re enthusiastic. They like comics, and don’t have a crappy attitude. That is a hard thing to maintain in this economic climate with the comic book market we now have.
Without retailers, there is no comics industry. Support the good ones. If you are a retailer, be one of the good ones. If your retailer is bad, go somewhere else. Show them they have to better, and reward or punish them with your dollars. To all the retailers who make comics better, thank you. To the folks marking up books the day they come out? What is wrong with you?