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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

 
Matt Springer weighs in with a thoughtful followup on the death of the Direct Market in response to Chris Butcher's think-piece from earlier in the week. Among other observations, Dr. Springs calls Time of Death on the DM as it stands staggers today.

I highlight Matt's piece not because he calls out my frequent references to the current, dying network of superhero convenience stores, but because he makes some good observations about the current state and likely future of comics retailing.
"The experiences outlined by Butcher in his piece are undoubtedly the same experiences many savvy comics retailers are already having. These are the folks interested in supporting a variety of artistic viewpoints and serving readers with the type of customer service that nurtures their habits and embraces their enthusiasm..."
This is the type of comics retailing I have experienced in just a handful of shops, most notably Butcher's own The Beguiling in Toronto and Modern Myths in Northampton, Massachusetts. I often call shops like these the future of comics retailing, because if comics has a future that doesn't look like a dimly-lit crack house for spandex addicts, then it looks like these sorts of stores: bright, open, welcoming, and stocking an astonishing array of every type of comics in the hopes of securing as large a percentage of the community's comics-buying dollars as possible, from as many types of readers as possible within that community. Boys, girls, men, women, gays, straights, and anything and everything in-between and outside those definitions. And they get those comics into their stores by working with not just Diamond, but with any and every good distribution source they can find, resulting in a diverse stock in the store and frequently much-desired titles available weeks ahead of Diamond's sluggish handling of non-spandex titles. It's more work, yes, but ultimately for more money, as well as a wider, stronger customer base and a better reputation in the community. It's the superhero convenience store owner's worst nightmare, and it's the industry's last hope. Embrace it, or go away already.

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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

 
Saving Your Comic Shop: It's in the Hands of the Retailers -- Comics retailer Ilan Strasser, of Fat Moose Comics and Games in Whippany, New Jersey, has exploded the myth of cyclical comic sales. At least in his experience.

He tells retailer site ICv2 (link via Robot 6) that it's the "Big Two" (he means Marvel and DC, not Viz and IDW, for those of you who actually know what sells these days) that are to blame for decreasing sales.

He starts off, "I have wanted to comment on several stories during the past six months, but had serious, recurring email issues with my computer." Now, one might question the business skills of a retailer who allows "serious, recurring email issues" to plague his business for half a year, but let's let that one pass and get on the meat of it: "Marvel and DC, our big 2, have had to notice the decline in sales over the last six months. Overall, the trend has been steadily downward even when accounting for occasional small percentage increases. If they hadn't noticed themselves, I'm sure that Diamond would have pointed it out to them -- after all Diamond tracks all the monthly, quarterly and yearly numbers."

Tracking monthly, quarterly and yearly numbers, by the way, is called in some circles "cycle sheets," and is considered invaluable in monitoring past and current sales and predicting future growth (or lack thereof). Strasser says "You would think that Marvel and DC, having this serious and depressing information at hand, would revise the manner in which they do business. If they care at all about the future long-term health of the pamphlet comic book, you would think these two companies would take immediate steps to stop the irresponsible behavior they have shown over the last 15 years (at least)."

As much of a critic as I am of the policies of corporate comics publishers Marvel and DC, I have to call bullshit on Strasser here. He is asking the "Big Two" to change their policies so he can continue to operate his business as he always has, when in fact, it is the responsibility of the retailer and the retailer alone to adjust to changing market forces in his or her own retail establishment. In other words, if Marvel and DC believe what they are doing is working (and in the case of Marvel, clearly Disney, at least, believes it's four billion dollars worth of working), then they have no obligation to change their policies.

I would argue, rather, that a sharp businessman -- and Strasser claims to have been in business for nearly three decades -- must monitor the market and change his own policies in order to stay alive and even thrive. This is part of what I was talking about in my essay, A Future for Comics.

Diamond, DC and Marvel are all huge corporations that respond to the needs of their retail clients with all the speed and dexterity of a dying woolly mammoth. Changes, if any, will generally be slow and difficult to understand. I'm all for a healthy, thriving Direct Market for comics, as long as it is vital and alive and responsive to the needs of everyone in its community that is interested in any kind of comics at all. And sad to say, the vast majority of comic book stores that I have experienced are not meeting that standard. Because they have always thrived on selling monthly, floppy superhero comic books to an audience of mostly white guys of a certain age, they believe they don't need to change their business model. Meanwhile, the world's definition of what constitutes comics has moved pretty far beyond simply superhero comics. They'll likely always be a part of the pie chart, but if you run a comic shop here at the end of the first decade of the third millennium, you need to be aware of and expert in the retailing of graphic novels, manga, newspaper strip reprints, and any and all things comics. This is your stock-in-trade, after all, comics, so why stake your entire survival -- your ability to pay your mortgage and feed your family -- on the historically unresponsive and disinterested corporations that are DC and Marvel?

Strasser believes his world will turn bright once more if the following changes are made by Marvel and DC:

* Stop the big event with the multi-part crossover storylines.

* Price comics back down to an affordable level based on real costs and not short-term greed -- comics pricing has far exceeded the increase in inflation over the last decade.

* Solicit and publish their books on a timely basis. There is a world of talented writers and artists out there -- use the ones who can deliver product (let's call it what it is) on time and forget the big name, prima donna basis for utilizing talent, and create a system that punishes said talent when it fails to live up to its commitments.

* Stop publishing more than one monthly title of your major characters and don't produce miniseries that aren't exceptionally high in quality. Stop clogging the shelves with shit.

* Work TOGETHER to raise the health of the industry. Stop endlessly fighting to be first. You will always be one or two and within reasonable percentages in terms of volume and dollar sales. Wouldn't a scenario where a publisher isn't always first, but makes exponentially more money overall be better for either publisher?

* Start treating your retail partners like they really matter instead of conduits for your cash flow.

I would address each of these individually, but the fact of the matter is that each one is written with blinders on and an attitude straight out of The Direct Market of 1988. Strasser sounds like he is either unaware of or overwhelmed by the graphic novel revolution, and not responding to it in a sensible fashion that will help him sustain his business. Marvel and DC aren't publishing multiple titles of the same characters because they want to destroy his store, they are doing it because A) They know they can sell more comics that way, and perhaps more importantly, B) Because it gives them more fodder for the lucrative market for collected editions (what Eddie Campbell hates that the rest of the world calls "graphic novels").

I did find it amusing that Strasser says he is basing his demands and expectations on publisher awareness of the cycles in comics retailing, and then says "this notion that comic sales are cyclical is bullshit and always has been. If you know what you're doing as a retailer, sales, cash flow, and profits can be regulated."

Then prove it, Mr. Strasser. Disregard the cycles, disregard the actions of the companies that have you at their mercy, do nothing to respond to the changes occurring right this moment and for the past ten years in the greater comic book marketplace, and regulate those sales, cash flow and profits. Good luck to you.

How Strasser can say on the one hand that "This kind of corporate behavior has persisted in the 22 years since and shows that Marvel (and DC) care little about their retail 'partners' or about the overall health of the comics industry," and then expect on the other that he can do nothing to save his business except complain about the actions of companies he knows don't give a shit about him, is a question for the ages. It's all part of the cognitive dissonance that is rampant within the worst areas of the Direct Market, unfortunately by all available evidence, the vast majority of places that call themselves "comic book stores" in North America.

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Download my free new eBook of nearly four dozen interviews with comics creators, Conversations with ADD, by clicking here. A full list of interview subjects can be found here.

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Monday, August 03, 2009

 
Burning Bridges -- Frank Santoro has a great piece up about how the Direct Market era has come to an end, signified by the disinterest comic shops had in supporting the new Nexus efforts of Mike Baron and Steve Rude.

This is, in retrospect, a glaringly obvious point, and good for Frank for laying it out so well. My earliest days of weekly shopping (and one summer working) in the Direct Market look, through my rose-tinted specs, like racks and racks of nothing but Nexus, Love and Rockets, Cerebus, Elfquest, and The First Kingdom. Of course, there were many other exciting titles emerging at that time, but those are the ones that really stood out, and your knew if you found those on the racks next to Uncanny X-Men and New Teen Titans, you had found a comic book store that knew what it was doing, staying sharp, looking ahead and looking out for the best interests of its customers and the industry as a whole.

How times have changed. Good luck even finding the best and most vital comics titles at most "comic book stores," these days, one of the reasons why I continue to assert that the vast majority of Direct Market retailers are really superhero convenience shops, servicing the desires of superhero fans, not true comic book stores, catering to the diverse tastes of readers of comic books who seek out whatever genres and styles appeal to them and speak to them as readers, as people.

My experiences over the past couple of years in the Direct Market have been very mixed. There are few truly visionary comic book stores within a day's drive of where I live; the shop I regularly buy comics at is very good at special orders, but there's no depth at all in terms of the sorts of alternative and independent comics that I see as the vital lifeblood of comics at the moment, and if I miss ordering those sorts of books in the narrow one-month window of any given Previews catalog, I'm left to find things on eBay, from online retailers, or often, I'm just, as mom used to say, "Shit out of luck."

That Baron and Rude are "Shit out of luck" within the Direct Market blows my mind and saddens me a bit, because that was a comic I loved when I was 14. I'll admit I haven't read any new issues in years (I have never seen the new run on sale, anywhere, so the news it's failed is really no news at all), but any time I re-read the first batch of issues, they always bring a smile to my face. So much energy, so much potential. For Nexus; for me.

Where did it all go wrong?

Go read Santoro's piece, it's an eye-opener.

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Monday, January 05, 2009

 
Your Essential Monday Morning Read -- There's no better way to start off your morning, your week, and your year than reading Christopher Butcher's Future of Manga essay. Butcher looks at where Manga sales are at right now, in both mainstream bookstores and the Direct Market of superhero convenience shops comic book stores, and looks ahead not only at what he expects in 2009, but how the system can be improved for all concerned.

Fact: Many comic book stores could substantially improve their bottom line by wisely developing or improving their stock of Manga. If you own a comic book store, chances are that there is a Borders or Barnes and Noble near you that is selling tons of comics (Japanese comics, yes, but so what?) right out from under your nose. It continues to boggle my mind why any canny businessperson would want to leave money on the table like that, but you don't have to visit too many comic book stores to see that that is exactly what is happening.

Anyway, go read Butcher on this. It's fascinating reading and an easy-to-digest prescription for a better comic book industry in North America. Will comic book stores swallow their medicine? Probably not, but I'm betting some of the smart ones will read Butcher's thoughts and at least start to see where their stores -- and their financial bottom line -- could be improved in the year ahead. In the end, it's a win-win for everybody from Manga publishers, to Diamond, to superhero fans whose stores would be on more solid ground with a better chance of surviving and maybe even thriving in the future.

And think, all they have to do is sell comics.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

 
The Beguiling's Peter Birkmoe on Kramers Ergot #7, and Some Final Thoughts -- There's not a better comic book store that I have ever been in than The Beguiling in Toronto. It's an inclusive, progressive shop that has exactly what I've always said a good comic book store should have, something to offer for every age, interest and gender. And I should have known that they would have an excellent plan for retailing an expensive artcomix hardcover, too. Here's Beguiling owner Peter Birkmoe's thoughts on Kramers Ergot #7 and its $125.00 price point.
While I’m reluctant to give out precise numbers on what we order on any item, I would say that our orders on this are going to be very high, both in high in terms of a anthology and high for something that expensive. We don’t really operate on a preorder basis for item like this that the store supports, and by supports I mean items that we are ordering with the intention hand-selling, offering additional promotion for, and stocking for as long as the item is available. Preorders for us are for things we wouldn’t stock unless specifically asked . . . Tarot, Witch of the Black Rose, Toys, etc. An anthology with new work by Sammy Harkham, Daniel Clowes, Adrian Tomine, Jamie Hernandez, Chris Ware, Carol Tyler, and Kim Deitch is not a preorders-only item for us at any price.

We have ordered every Kramers since the first issue, usually pretty deep, and have yet to regret it. Still having stock on now out of print books like that is one thing that helps our reputation as a great store. In all likelihood, we will have some sort of event for this book, further increasing what our initial order would normally be. There is no doubt that this is an expensive book, and out of the price range of many people, but for those that can find a way to afford it, it will be money well spent.

Amazon discounts like that have been around long enough that I would imagine it affects my sales on just about everything I sell, so it won’t affect my ordering on this one any differently than my normal ordering, and I can’t say how great that effect is. I don’t feel great about this, but one can’t lose sleep over it.

Peter Birkemoe, The Beguiling
Thanks, Peter, for sharing your thoughts, and thanks as well to Christopher Butcher at The Beguiling for passing them along to me.

I'm not at all sure why this subject has resulted in such heated discussion over the past few days; when I first posted about the book and its price tag, I just wanted to explore my own reluctance to lay out $125.00 (or $100.00, after a retailer discount that was offered to me) for a book that seems aimed square at the market I have been a part of for most of my adult life -- artcomix readers with a taste for experiment and a willingness to pay a little extra for the sort of comics I crave.

Off the top of my head, I have in the past paid $40.00 for books of sketches by Chris Ware, and $50.00 for hardcovers reprinting Love and Rockets comics I already owned, and I never once questioned such expenditures or regretted them in any way. Last year I spent $100.00 on The Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus, but that's not artcomix. At least, not what we typically think of as artcomix. But I bought it, make no mistake, because of the art, by Steve Ditko. If a Volume Two were to be published with an equal number of pages of John Romita Sr. art, I wouldn't even think about buying it. To me Ditko's entire Spider-Man era is worth a hundred bucks. I like Romita's work to an extent, but not a $100.00 extent.

Sorry, there I go exploring my own spending habits and comics interests again, and that's kind of what started off this whole magilla. I do think its very important for all comics readers to think about what they buy and measure their own enjoyment of it -- if we all bought what we truly valued and stopped buying bad comics out of habit or to "keep the collection complete," we would have a better comic book industry in very short order, I think. There's not a superhero title I am a completist about, except maybe Street Angel, but even then, if Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca turned the title over to Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver, I would have to call it a day and occasionally re-read my old Rugg and Maruca issues. And how does collector completism figure into this?

Well, I have the last few volumes of Kramers Ergot, you see. I think I have either three or four of them on my bookshelf. And I decided some time ago that, like Love and Rockets and Eightball and some other artcomix titles, Kramers Ergot would be a title I would always support and always want to read, craving as I do "what's new and what's next" in comics.

Then that philosophy met the $125.00 price point of the new volume.

I got a funny email last night from an old internet pal, one of the most well-known comics bloggers and a guy I like a lot. He was having some well-earned fun with the idea that I, who have always subscribed to Tom Spurgeon's axiom "The only comics that are too expensive are shitty comics," had finally met a comic that was too expensive.

I don't think KE7 will be shitty comics. I don't think it costs $125.00 due to greed, or hubris, or cruelty. I hope it costs that much because it has to in order for the creators, editor and publisher to make a modest profit. I don't imagine anyone is getting rich off this book. I do agree with whoever it was at Johanna's blog that said something to the effect of, "it's like getting 96 art prints for 100 dollars." And I'm sure that is true. Except that if I could buy them individually, I seriously doubt I would want all 96. But of course, there is no a la carte option, nor should there be.

I have no doubt Kramers Ergot #7 will be great, progressive comics. A beautiful book that may expand the boundaries of what is possible within the artform of comics. And costs more that what I pay for a week's worth of groceries for a family of four.

I think an expense like that needs to be considered. Weighed. Thought about and pondered. And given my decades of support for artcomix as a medium of expression, I have to believe I am not the only one unsure if it's a wise expense. The economy hasn't even begun to sink to the levels it ultimately will settle at. I ask myself if I have the right, as a father and husband, to be so selfish as to spend $125.00 on fewer than 100 pages of comics. "But they're great comics," I could tell my wife, as she beats me to death with the tombstone-sized hardcover (I don't imagine more than one or two whacks would be needed).

Well, I've been told many times in the past few days that the book will be a huge success. It will be a huge success because people will want to read it. And I'm sure many will want to read it, whatever constitutes "many" in the realm of boutique artcomix hardcover aficionados. 500 readers? 2,500? As a longtime observer of this artform and industry, I can see the book selling fewer than a hundred copies. And I can see it selling thousands. It all depends on the zeitgeist and the marketing, probably much more so than it does on the quality of the work. Because, while I do not believe Kramers Ergot #7 will be shitty comics, neither have I yet been convinced that it, or any single anthology volume of any creative lineup or production quality, is worth $125.00 to me personally.

Maybe as we get closer to the date of the book's release, we'll know enough about the book that my mind will be changed. I'd love to be convinced that this is a must-buy book for me, and that I'll forever regret not spending $125.00 (or $100.00, as noted above, if I buy from the one retailer that offered me a discount) on it. As Peter Birkmoe's comments above prove, the way to make this book worth the pricetag is to make it an event, and I have no doubt that The Beguiling will be very successful in making a big thing out of this release.

But I don't know how many retailers will go to that trouble. The Beguiling can do it because it's the best comic book store in North America, if not the world. I have only set foot in two other shops (in 36 years of buying comics) that even come close to the savvy and expertise and sheer quality of The Beguiling. So maybe KE7 isn't for me or readers like me. Maybe it's for shops like The Beguiling or Modern Myths or Million Year Picnic, who have paved the way for the future of comics and presumably made a nice living doing so. Peter Birkmoe and his crew will make the book something to be celebrated, and I think that is very cool, and a very good thing for comics. I hope it helps make the book a big success in shops forward-looking enough to carry it and smart enough to market it right, to the people that can afford it. I hope Tom Spurgeon is right and that all these factors combine to make Kramers Ergot a monster hit.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

 
Dick's Bookseller Interview -- Essential reading, especially for his definition of "mainline graphic novel." The li'l bastard in me wishes he said "mainstream," but, it's still a great piece.

Dick Interviews The Happy Bookseller.

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Monday, February 25, 2008

 
More on Hibbs's "Ridiculous" Assertions -- Yes, they're still debating how wrong Brian Hibbs is in his analysis of Bookscan's reporting of graphic novels sales, this time at The Beat. The comments section is where the beef is, and for bonus fun, read my headline five times fast.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

 
Borders Moves Non-Direct Market Graphic Novel Retailing to The Next Level -- I awake this morning to a pretty shocking development in the marketing and selling of graphic novels in North America.

Dirk Deppey points to an ICv2 story about Borders opening "Concept Stores," which feature what sounds like an incredibly progressive and attractive approach to marketing certain categories of books -- and graphic novels are one of the five types of books Borders is pushing.

The New Borders Concept Store

Staunch Direct Market supporters -- one is tempted to say zealots -- often tell me that Borders and other mainstream bookstores don't sell as many graphic novels as one might think, and I've even been told that GNs and Manga mostly just sit there until their eventual return, because the Direct Market continues to be the place where people are buying the majority of comics and graphic novels.

My anecdotal experience tells me this is wishful thinking on the part of people who believe they are somehow entitled to corner the market on comics and graphic novels, even as most of them ignore and degrade the fastest-growing sector of the comics market, Manga. But this Borders news this morning really tells me something is going on, and it looks more and more like how I see the future of comics retailing.

The categories Borders is featuring in these Concept Stores are Travel, Cooking, Wellness, Graphic Novels, and Children's Books. Anyone who knows books knows that the people who spend money on the categories listed other than graphic novels spend a lot of money, and that's a telling part of this striking development. Borders must have a good deal of faith in graphic novels as a keystone of their future revenue stream if they are making them part of the five categories being tested in this initiative.

Here's a review of one of the Borders Concept Stores, at Ars Technica, as well as the Borders Concept Store webpage with pictures and video. What Borders is doing here is very, very important to the future of graphic novel retailing, and I'll certainly be keeping an eye on it. This could be a big turning point, and it's without question a signal to the less progressive stores within the direct market that it's time to start seriously looking at what the future holds for their industry, and how best to adjust to the graphic novel revolution of the past decade. Some stores, like Jim Crocker's Modern Myths (I interviewed him yesterday), have already positioned themselves to compete with a store like the one Borders is testing. There's no question I would continue to shop at Modern Myths if I lived in Northampton, even if a Borders Concept Store opened up right next door. But a lot of comic book stores will be forever diminished in the eyes of consumers if the Concept Store rollout goes nationwide, and consumers get a taste of what good graphic novel shopping really looks like.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

 

Retailer Interview: Jim Crocker of Modern Myths -- Jim Crocker is the owner/manager of Modern Myths, a comic and gaming shop in Northampton, Massachusetts that currently holds the title "The Best Comic Shop I Have Personally Visited In The United States." Many of my ideas of what makes a professional comic book store truly professional stem from my all-too-infrequent visits to Jim's store. I'm grateful to Jim for the time he took to answer my questions, and for his years of online and in-person friendship, and his willingness to help me understand the world of comics retailing.

Jim, I know we did this a few years ago, so thanks for allowing me to talk to you about retailing again. I'd imagine you've learned a lot in the years since we first discussed this subject. How has your philosophy of comics retailing changed in the past few years?

Jim Crocker: Well, it hasn't, all that much, really. The biggest changes are in terms of adjusting to the changing marketplace, most notably the increasing deluge of product. We've definitely gotten more picky in terms of new books we bring in, and in being okay with letting titles that haven't sold in more than a year simple go our of stock when they finally do move. Having to adjust our business model to deal with too many comics is a problem I don't mind having, though.

Tell me how you came to be a comic shop owner?

Like most of my peers, I started reading comics at a very young age. Unlike some of them, I stopped reading for a few years when I hit high school but eventually got back into them in college when I started working at a used book store in Connecticut. My career path led to the mass market retail book trade, eventually landing me in Ann Arbor, Michigan, at the Borders Group corporate headquarters as a publisher liaison.

All along I maintained an interest in comics and gaming, if not necessarily an obsession. While living in Ann Arbor, my wife -- my fiancee at the time -- got a job at a local shop that I started regularly patronizing and chatting with the manager. When he decided to return to grad school, he asked if I'd be interested in managing the store...they agreed to match my Borders pay, so I went to do that, which eventually led me to my own shop after several years working for that company, including opening a satellite store.


How many other stores/outlets for comics are there in your immediate area? What is your relationship with them like?

Right now, there are two or three local stores that can reasonably be considered "competition." We all specialize in different areas and have a different feel, so as far as I can tell, there's no animosity and even little sense of real competition. I send folks to either on occasion if they're looking for stuff we don't have, and I know they will occasionally do the same. Some of the other shops in the area we will refer customers to include the local art supply store and the independent general-interest book shops here in town.

When we first opened, there was an "old school" comic shop of long-standing in the area that has since closed, along with another short-lived shop started by its former manager. It's our company policy not to speak ill of our competitors in any way, and I strongly believe we compete fairly and without malice, but it's impossible not to accumulate some resentment by your mere presence when someone's favorite shop closes down, whether you had anything to do with it or not. We try not to worry too much about it, and go about our business professionally as best we can.

What would you say distinguishes your store from others in the Northampton area?

I guess it's our emphasis on a "bookstore" model, that probably comes from my background in the book trade. Many customers have explicitly mentioned our section of used graphic novels and trades as a strong draw.

As you know, the issue of some publishers selling their wares at conventions before Diamond ships them to the direct market has been much-discussed among those of us that care about such things...have convention sales affected your business in any way?

Short answer is yes. New York Comic Con and MoCCA both mean that we have customers walking in apologizing for buying stuff there who would have made purchases at our store. For what it's worth, the effect is particularly pronounced in the games industry, which has a San Diego-style event every year in Indianapolis, and these same arguments have been going on for a decade or more. Without a clinically-controlled double-blind long-term experiment to verify results, we're only ever going to have anecdotal stories. My hunch after years of witnessing the back-and-forth is probably this: retailers do take a hit when product is released early at shows, but the effect is largely local, and not as bad to their bottom lines as they emotionally feel like it is. Early release at shows does help publishers with publicity, but it doesn't help nearly as much as they emotionally feel like it does.

If customers of yours buy something at a convention, but had previously pre-ordered it, what do you think is the best way to handle it?

Make a mental note and put the book out on the shelf for someone else to buy. If it happens very frequently, perhaps bring it up with the publisher. The product we sell is available pretty much everywhere, and while it does feel...disingenuous for publishers to sell product direct before we can get it, it's not a lot different than Barnes and Noble getting a new trade a couple days before us, or similar.

How much of a problem are convention sales for retailers overall?

I can't speak definitively for other retailers, only myself; but with that said, I suspect it varies very widely depending on their business model and proximity to the big cons. A friend of mine in Indianapolis says he basically doesn't sell any games in the two weeks on either side of that huge game convention. I imagine it can be a hassle to be in San Diego or right in New York City. Then again, we make a huge amount of money setting up at three or four local cons ourselves, both to sell merchandise and drive traffic to our store and web site. I understand that some folks don't want the hassle of what essentially amounts to setting up a second business model, but it is one way to make some lemonade with the local Cons that affect sales.

Do you think publishers need to change their convention policies? Is there any incentive retailers can offer in order to mediate a compromise?

A blanket policy of not offering to sell any book that is not also available to the retail channel to sell seems to be the most fair way to address the problem, but of course I have a bias. That said, even if I get the book the Wednesday before the show, many folks will probably wait to get it there anyway as they hold off on making purchases for budgetary reasons or want a copy for the author to sign. If nothing else, the books should be available the Wednesday following the show. A several-week gap is just not professional and makes retailers look like they're behind the curve, which is a disservice to the good stores that actually bother to stock the sorts of titles we're talking about here.

All that said, I really don't think there's anything that stores in general can offer as an incentive, other than a general sort of goodwill and commitment to consider projects from those publishers more carefully than they might others. In the bits of this discussion I've seen so far, I haven't really seen any publishers offer their own ideas or plans, and I think that's what's needed here.


What kinds of comics would you say your customers are looking for most often? How wide a variety are they looking for?

Well, all kinds, I guess. We sell more trades and collection, dollar-wise, than we do periodical comics, and that's always been the case since we opened, so there's that aspect. The weekly regulars are mostly looking for superhero stuff, while the "casual regulars" tend to be committed to particular ongoing series in trade, like Y, Hellboy, et cetera.

Non-superhero media ties-ins have been an increasingly potent force lately, as Buffy Season 8 has been our best-selling periodical comic since the first issue and continues that dominance through a dozen issues so far. We also see periodic short spike in interest based on coverage in places like the New York Times Book Review, and particularly NPR publicity, which is a reasonably potent cultural indicator here in New England.

What do you do to stay knowledgeable about the comics your customers are interested in? What publications do you read? Websites?

Publisher's Weekly and ICv2 fairly religiously, Newsarama and CBN occasionally, mainstream media wherever I notice comic-related topics or interviews -- Adrian Tomine was on Terry Gross a couple of weeks ago, for example. I also just try to strike up conversations in the store, and generally read through Previews pretty much cover-to-cover two or three times in a month to let it sink in and percolate. We also aggressively solicit publishers to send us previews, galleys, and other good advance publicity. I'm also involved in ComicsPRO, the comic retailer's trade organization, and that can be a good source of inside info sometimes.

How many employees do you have?

Myself, full time, plus one full-timer on salary and two part-timers.

Do you require your staff to stay knowledgeable about upcoming product? What tools are available to help them to answer customer questions?

Yes, within reason. Everyone is expected to read and familiarize themselves with the new issue of Previews each month and have a general working knowledge of the various sections and most important creators. We have always-on internet access at our register and encourage our staff to use Google and the distributor and publisher sites to get information. We also try very hard to maintain good, transparent records that everyone can access, so that all staff will know things like what we've got on order, when it might arrive, and the current status of any given customer's special order -- all systems typical of good mass-market bookstores, and well within the reach of serious independents.

What would you estimate is the ratio of male to female customers in your store?

We've never done a reliable survey. I'd guess twenty to thirty percent of our customers are women.

What is the ratio of male to female on your staff?

Three to one.

Do you use distributors other than Diamond? What strengths and weaknesses do you see in purchasing stock through other sources?

Yes. I think that it's important to understand that Diamond is actually two companies: a fulfillment source for the brokered publishers, and a more traditional "distributor" for everyone else. When it comes to the "Big Four," along with the major manga companies, Diamond is far and away the best source for independent retailers. When you get outside them into the smaller presses -- including the big mainstream publishers who are rapidly expanding their graphic novel offerings, then there is real competition from mainstream book distributors like Baker & Taylor and smaller regionals like Cold Cut. Many larger stores also have direct relationships with publishers, but our volume allows only infrequent orders for us, so we rarely go that route.

There's three important factors I consider in a decision to us any supplier, and that's cost, availability of inventory, and ship times. Diamond does a decent job on the first two and a poor job on the last, but the fact that I'm already ordering from them for all my Marvel and DC anyway means they'll likely get a good share of my "indie" comics dollars as well simply by virtue of the convenience of consolidation.

The first thing I always see when I come in your store is the kids' comics section. How many of your customers are kids or parents buying for kids? What are the best-selling kids’ titles at Modern Myths?

Again, we haven't surveyed. We're in a college town, and our store is on a road that's not easily accessible to kids, so it's a small percentage, probably less than five percent%, but they're a disproportionately important constituency, as is the case everywhere else in our society. In this case, I am assuming that you mean under-12s by "kids," which is primarily what that section is aimed at. Bone, The Simpsons, and Tintin and Asterix are probably our best movers from that section.

Do you offer subscriptions or a pull list to customers who pre-order through the Diamond Previews catalog? Do you offer them any sort of incentive for pre-ordering?

We do offer subscriptions. We do not discount from cover price, but we offer what we think of as "service incentives." We never require any sort of down payment or deposit for special orders, we give a free copy of PREVIEWS to interested subscribers -- thought at may go to an at-cost copy if the price goes up any further -- plus a twenty percent discount on collecting supplies like bags, boards, and boxes, and we have a couple of specific "satisfaction guarantees." If we ever miss a book on your list and you have to get it elsewhere, the following issue, or one comparable value, is free. We also offer a full return for credit with any book you're unhappy with -- this is basically a guarantee that covers our recommendations, and encourages folks to try new titles. We also like to think that the weekly reorders, email list maintenance, and having our books out promptly are all value-adds as well.

You don't offer discounts, although some retailers do. Why did you develop your approach to discounting, and how has it benefited your store?

Our approach to discounting is simply based on running the numbers. To run a professional general interest comic shop that pays its staff a fair wage requires a certain margin, and the prices that most publishers set their books at make that a workable proposition. We're not going to second-guess the people who make the books as to what they ought to be priced. That said, we do try to have options for price-sensitive customers, including used books, back issue sets, and a twice-annual dollar back-issue sale.

What is the best experience you've ever had with a customer?

I think that it's the cumulative effect of a parade of people who leave the store smiling that has the real impact, rather than any single anecdote I can recall.

What is the worst?

I've never really participated in those sorts of discussions with my peers...you get ups and downs in any situation where you're inviting other people into your space, so I try not to dwell too much on the problem customers. We've been very lucky in never having had anyone be violent or even verbally abusive much thus far. The worst experiences are when we catch a shoplifter, of course. Obviously, that's the textbook definition of "bad customer." It's also enough of a community that family tragedies do impact us. I've twice -- so far -- gone and bought large collections from the survivors of regular customers who died unexpectedly. That was rough, but also oddly gratifying that the families said words to the effect of "he would have wanted you to do this for us if anyone had to..."

Journalist Tom Spurgeon recent commented that retailers “should be selling the most comics in any format,” and yet when it comes to manga, for example, most of them are not. Your store seems exceptionally well-stocked when it comes to almost all sorts of comics, but do you think the majority of comic book stores, in your opinion, adjusted well to the development of the graphic novel market?

Majority? Probably not, but I do think it's instructive that how direct market shops adjusted to that development is one of those things that a lot of customers now use to figure out how "good" a store is. Such judgments are largely subjective, but a good selection of trades now seems to have become one of those "default settings" that most customers use to judge us by.

What advice would you give to your fellow retailers in terms of dealing with the graphic novel explosion?

Start with rigorous inventory control and a serious dedication to properly handling all special orders. You don't need to -- I'd say you can't -- stock every in-print title from every company, including Marvel and DC. Rotate old stock out, either by trading or liquidation, on some kind of semi-regular basis. Take advantage of alternative sources of supply, and start dealing in used graphic novels. That's a really condensed version of hours of conversation and boring inventory management discussions, but those are the basic principles.

It seems like most direct market comic shops attract mainly male superhero fans; how can direct market shops better attract readers of non-superhero comics? Do you feel the direct market as a whole has a responsibility to?

I think they do a better job of attracting a general audience by making themselves over to look and feel as much like a mainstream specialty retail boutique as they can manage with the resources available to them. Walk around a Barnes and Noble or a Waldenbooks -- even a cooking store or specialty shop like Hot Topic -- and see what they have that you don't, and try to either offer that or an alternative.

As far as "responsibility," I don't necessarily believe there's a moral imperative or anything; if people want to run professional, clean, well-lit superhero boutiques, that's fine, as long as they understand they're limiting their audience and work with that. My belief is that the shops that embrace the entire medium and not just one admittedly-lucrative section of it will be the best-equipped to grow and prosper, because they'll have the widest potential audience to go after. I do believe that Diamond gets a bad rap in this. They could certainly do more, but at the end of the day anyone, largely regardless of format or subject matter, who can make the cut gets in to Previews to have a shot at reaching the direct market, though there are legitimate arguments to be had as to what that cut ought to be.

What are the likely long-term consequences if the direct market doesn't grow out of its superhero-dominated paradigm?

I'm not as pessimistic as I know you are about this. The direct market has been "superhero-dominated" since its inception, and I'd argue that it's much less-so today than ever before, thanks largely to manga and the success of non-superhero properties at the big brokered publishers. We probably sell more Vertigo titles than any other single imprint, Image has spent the last couple of years developing some really interesting titles they never would have gone near in the '90s, back when they were Marvel wannabes. And Dark Horse doesn't even really do superheroes anymore, unless you count Hellboy. If a market that's 60 percent superheroes pays the bills so that I can stock Kochalka and Tezuka and Tomine and Wolverton, that's fine. That said, comic shops do need to realize that all that "other stuff" is what gets people looking at the graphic novel section at Barnes and Noble. If they can't offer it, they're running a real risk that the guy whose kid wants Death Note will grab Civil War since he's there already.

Your store seems to devote much more space to graphic novels and other sorts of books, with a minimal emphasis on floppy, monthly comics. Tell me why this is, and what effect it's had on your customers behaviour?

We still devote plenty of space to periodical comics -- 40 linear feet of wall space -- but we self-identify as a book store, and try to organize the store accordingly. I'm not sure what effect it's had on our customers' behavior, other than to maybe encourage them to explore other sections, and maybe to mellow them out a bit with regard to getting it now.

Do you think, as a whole, the direct market for comic books is functioning well? What's its long-term prognosis?

I think that it functions well as long as Diamond functions well, and that's the elephant in the living room. Right now, the system works pretty well, and Diamond has management right now that has a pretty good understanding of the symbiotic relationship the vast majority of direct market stores have with them. If Diamond goes down, most independent direct market shops go down with it, but the reverse is equally true, despite Diamond's efforts to push into mainstream book distribution. Long-term, as long as there are monthly comics, the single-store business model will survive. The format is too time-, labor-, and inventory-intensive for too low a margin to be really attractive to mass marketeers, so as long as we can add value with expertise and service, the good shops will be around as long as comics are.

What is the direct market doing right?

In addition to what I just mentioned, many publishers are venturing outside the superhero comfort zone and bringing great new ideas.

In what ways could it be improved?

An industry standard for titling and abbreviations would be nice, though highly unlikely. The usual complaints about interrupted series, long wait times, self-indulgent creators, etc. The entire industry, particularly retail, is grossly under-capitalized.

Do you believe the majority of comic book stores demonstrate professional business standards? Can they be competitive with mainstream bookstores such as Borders and Barnes and Noble?

Again, the "majority," no. But the best stores are right there, and there's more of them every year, which I think is a big leap from a decade ago. I think that they can compete with the right business model for the technical reasons I gave before. I guess we're proof that it's possible.

Do you feel a majority of direct market shops actively seek out customers of all ages, genders and interests? If so, how? If not, should they?

Majority? No. I think they're shortsighted not to, but again, I can't really get worked up over a moral or ethical imperative to do more than deal fairly and truthfully with customers and suppliers. Beyond that, people are free to run their businesses as they see fit. I want to note that despite my repeating this, I also don't think that means they get to exempt themselves from having the standards of mainstream retail applied to them. If you don't have a public restroom, you're being disingenuous if you cry foul when people would rather shop somewhere that does.

I'm not sucking up when I say Modern Myths is just about the perfect comic book store: A clean, welcoming environment with literally something for every member of my family and all ages, genders and interests. But I'd imagine you see things you'd like to change or improve. Where do you hope the store will be at in a year, five years, ten years down the line?

Okay, you are sucking, up, but I appreciate the kind words anyway. Trust me that for everyone who agrees with you there's someone else who really dislikes one of the very things you're praising. We do try to keep learning and making adjustments as the market demands and our customer base grows. To some extent, most retailers create the store they would want to shop in -- which is why it's so very hard for most of them, myself included, to take criticism constructively. That's what I do here.

It's always hard to say where we'll be down the line, but we're currently working on an e-commerce solution that'll let us do some selling over the internet. Expansion to additional locations is always there in the back of my mind, but there is considerable risk involved that the current economy discourages, and finding good management and the proper location are the biggest hurdles. I think just about all small businesses are holding their collective breath to see what happens in November, and we're not in that much a hurry that we can't wait until then to see what the next half-decade might look like.

See more pictures of Modern Myths on the store's LiveJournal.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

 
Top Shelf Convention Sales Proposal -- Brett Warnock of Top Shelf Productions has issued a response to retailer Robert Scott on the topic of artcomix publishers selling their wares at comics conventions before Diamond has shipped the books to comic book stores in the direct market. Brett's response, and a proposal to help mend fences with retailers who don't like the practice, come in response to my recent interview with Scott, who in addition to being a San Diego retailer also heads up the retailer organization The Comic Book Industry Alliance. Here's a sampling of what Brett has to say:
"For us, convention debuts truly are a matter of survival. We've stated publicly many times that roughly a third of our annual income comes from convention sales. And launch books play a significant part in that. This is simply not a practice we can afford to eliminate. Period.

...I propose a volunteer program along the lines Robert talked about, wherein as much as possible, publishers and the CBIA work together and the publishers give advance notice to the CBIA, when they become reasonably aware that a book might launch at a particular show. It's not always an easy task, though, because the publishers are at the whims of fate, as they wait for copies to arrive directly from the printer — often times from China or Hong Kong. Publishers might only know this information a week or two in many cases (or less).

Moreover, these publishers should build-in to their projected convention inventory needs a modicum of overage dedicated to selling (at wholesale, of course) to retailers in the city of the convention in question. The advance notice would allow for retailers to inform customers to notify their staff and clientèle.

The onus on the member publishers would be the need for honesty and transparency concerning debut books. That said, the onus on the CBIA would then be to first contact the member publishers in advance of a show (maybe three or four weeks ahead), and simply ask; "Do you have any debut books at the show? Any attending authors we should know about?" Copies of these launch books would then be available either before the show opens to the public during set-up (why the gods created the mobile phone), or at any point during the show.
"
I've excerpted Brett's post, so please click on over and read the entire thing, as it is quite enlightening and goes a long way, in my opinion, toward solving the problem retailers have with publishers debuting books at conventions.

Another point I agree with Brett on is that direct market retailers need to have returnability of product as one of their tools. At the moment Diamond does not offer returns, putting all the risk of whether a title will sell or not in the hands of the publishers and retailers. It's long past time Diamond grew up and started acting like a professional distributor, and I'd strongly encourage the CBIA, ComicsPRO and individual retailers to lobby Diamond heavily to start taking returns on some basis. This would immeasurably strengthen the stability of the direct market and allow it to be more competitive with mainstream bookstores, which is where a lot of buyers of comics and graphic novels (including manga in the equation, of course, because they are comics and we are talking about the overall market for comics, here) are spending their dollars. Borders, Barnes and Noble and independent bookstores can afford to be a little more experimental when it comes to ordering comics because they know they can return it if it doesn't sell. Diamond should find a way to make that happen for the retailers that allow it to exist, and those retailers should tell Diamond they want returnability to have a more level playing field with mainstream bookstores.

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Retailing: Where I'm Coming From -- In the comments that follow my interview with retailer Robert Scott, you can read Robert's comments on what he sees as a disconnect between his point of view on comics retailing and my own. The gist of his point is this:
"I don't really have a problem with you asking for higher standards from DM shops, it's that you seem to give small press publishers a pass on those same standards."
My response to Robert was such that I felt it was worth a post of its own, so here it is:

Small press publishers' standards of professionalism don't much interest me, Robert, so maybe that is the disconnect.

Firstly, you'd need to define "small press." Because I see a big difference between, say, Fantagraphics, which I know will turn out dozens of major books every year that I am interested in, and PictureBox or Alternative Comics, which at the current time may turn out anywhere from two to a half-dozen.

As a retailer, I recognize and respect your right to demand that they fulfill whatever obligations they enter into with you, through their agreements with Diamond or however else.

But as a consumer and as a reader of comics, I don't spend a lot of time thinking about the issue. It's not on my radar.

As far as publishers who have to pass the hat to stay alive, as both Top Shelf and Fantagraphics have done (and both with the support of this site), I have no problem with that at all. If things have gotten so dire that self-starters like Gary Groth and Chris Staros have to go directly to consumers hat in hand, then that just goes to show that the direct market hasn't supported their work to the extent it deserves. And you can argue whether the direct market has a responsibility to support great comics vs. comics retailers know they can sell, but again as a consumer, all I care about at the end of the day is whether I have access to the kind of comics I want to read. And that is what Top Shelf and Fantagraphics publish. And increasingly, those are the kinds of graphic novels I am finding earlier and easier outside the direct market.

It would be great if Eightball came out annually like clockwork. It would be fantastic if Drawn and Quarterly offered co-op to retailers. But artcomix are more about art than commerce, and again, as a reader and consumer I'd rather read one issue of Eightball every three years at ten bucks an issue than every issue of New Avengers every month for those same three years, at any price. I place a high value on the quality of the comics, and little to no value at all on whether artcomix meet their ship date. I agree it is important to you and I hope you try to work with the publishers to better meet your own needs. Since Fantagraphics and some other publishers have been dealing more and more with mainstream bookstore distributors, I wonder if this has forced them to be more stringent about scheduling? Certainly their book trade catalog would indicate that this is so, but I have no idea how they are meeting their schedules in terms of getting the books out on the promised dates. I do know they arrive in mainstream bookstores days or weeks before Diamond distributes them, which is why I no longer rely on a Diamond-dependent comic book store to acquire the books that mean to the most to me as a reader.

So yes, I see we have a disconnect, as you would expect a businessman with his unique needs and problems and a consumer with his unique needs and problems to have. Since I interviewed you and have learned more about your store, I am sure I would like to shop there and obviously you have a wide variety of comics from a wider-than-most-DM-stores number of publishers. I understand and appreciate your frustration, but at the end of the day, as someone who has observed a changing comics industry since the very early 1970s, I do believe things remain in flux and I no longer believe that comic book stores that rely on Diamond are necessarily where the majority of the comics that I want to read will be sold or found in the future.

I believe stores that seek out alternate means of distribution other than Diamond will thrive. I believe stores that find ways to work with non-superhero publishers will thrive. I believe many new ways of doing things are developing and will continue to develop, and I hope that smart retailers find a way to work with all the publishers they deal with in order to make their own businesses more profitable and stable.

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Monday, February 18, 2008

 
Dirk Removes the Blinkers from The Direct Market -- I had meant to post something late last week about the ridiculous 2007 Bookscan analysis Brian Hibbs posted at Newsarama, but Dirk Deppey beat me to the punch.

This is all policy-wonk, inside-baseball stuff, so if you're bored of the talk of comics retailing and the future of comics, feel free to click over to Comics Continuum and read about what's happening in next week's issue of Justice Society or whatever.

If you are interested in where comics retailing is going, though -- especially in the heinous self-deception that otherwise smart guys likes Hibbs subscribe to in order to tell themselves all is well within the terribly broken direct market -- please read Dirk's deconstruction of Hibbs's Bookscan analysis.

Dirk's common-sense, home-run point is obvious to anyone who actually dares to step out of the shadows of the direct market and into the light of the greater overall marketplace for comics and graphic novels:
"How are companies like Drawn & Quarterly and Fantagraphics managing to afford all those pricey hardcovers that they’ve been releasing lately? And where do they go? Do Chris Oliveros, Brett Warnock, Kim Thompson and Dan Nadel all get together in some hidden forest somewhere, back dumptrucks into a big bonfire and burn copies of Storeyville and Acme Novelty Datebook while they dance around laughing? How long before the credit-card companies and investment bankers who are probably supplying the money for all of this get wise? I really should update my resumé, shouldn’t I?"
It always makes me sad to read someone intelligent like Brian Hibbs distorting the truth about the direct market and the ongoing transformation of the comics industry; but at times like these, I remind myself of the phone call I received from Hibbs a few years back in which he told me, quite seriously, that "everyone who reads Love and Rockets also reads Superman."

After I read Hibbs's pound of baloney last week, I dropped a quick email to Fantagraphics publicity czar Eric Reynolds to ask him about what seemed to me to be the obvious fallicies contained within Hibbs's "analysis." This is what Eric told me:
"Brian can compare Bookscan and ICV2 numbers all he wants, but the fact remains: our bookstore sales have outstripped DM sales for something like 7 years running. I'm glad the DM is closing the gap, though, if in fact they are."
As far as artcomix selling in mainstream bookstores, all I know is what I see with my own eyes. I bought Shortcomings at my local independent bookstore (Red Fox Books in Glens Falls, New York) because it was the first place I saw a copy. I often see non-superhero graphic novels appear in non-direct market bookstores days or weeks before they appear in comic book stores, and if it's something I want, and something I have not pre-ordered from my retailer, then I buy it then and there. Like a normal book buying member of the public. And it goes without saying that Manga's dominance within the mainstream bookstore arena is virtually unprecedented in my comics-reading lifetime, which began in 1971.

More and more I sympathize with the plight of otherwise good comics retailers who just aren't seeing the big picture. It's not altogether hard to understand why they have such a blinkered point of view -- at the moment, their business model is working for them, as it always has. And yet a hugely more profitable market for comics is constructing itself just outside their field of vision, like a Death Star with a cloaking device. But the cloaking device seems to me to be constructed by the retailers of the direct market themselves, who don't want to see what the future holds for their way of doing business, and like Brian Hibbs last week, distort any available information to convince themselves that the sky is not falling.

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

 

Retailer Interviews: Comickaze's Robert Scott -- Robert Scott is the owner of San Diego’s Comickaze comic shop, as well as the head of the Comic Book Industry Alliance, a national group comprised mainly of comic book retailers within the direct market. Robert and I have both had strong opinions about retailing and buying comics, he from the perspective of a longtime retailer, and myself from just about thirty years of experience as a consumer of comics within and without the direct market. We have often disagreed on what the future of comics retailing should look like, but I think we both agree that we'd like that future to be bright and to include an even larger audience for comics than currently exists. I'm grateful he took the time to share his thoughts and experiences in comics retailing.

What is your background? Where did you grow up, and what was your childhood like?

I'm a native San Diegan, having lived almost exclusively in San Diego for 45 years. Both of my parents loved to read for enjoyment and with their help I started reading very early. Most of my reading was whatever the folks had around the house and although my father was an avid sci-fi reader, the only comics he ever brought home were titles like Star Trek, Dark Shadows and Ripley's Believe it or Not, but even those were probably limited to sick bed reading. My wife and kids don't really understand my love of comics but my daughter did intern at IDW last year.

When did you start reading comics?

I didn't really read any superhero comics until I was around 12. I had a friend whose father brought home stripped cover issues from the supermarket he worked at. Mostly DC fare and the only one I really enjoyed was Superboy and the Legion of Superheroes. I didn't really become a fan of the medium until Junior High although the first attraction this time was monetary. I saw a friend offering another student $10.00 for two comics that said 25 cents on the cover. Having collected sports cards, it made me curious about what made comics worth more than cover price and I thought if I read some, I might notice some commonality. Soon, I was so enamored with the stories I was reading that future value was no longer the motivation for reading comics. Most of what I was reading was Marvel but occasionally I'd check out the Legion or Warlord and every once in awhile I'd get ahold of some Crumb or Freak Brothers books too.

In early 1980 while at college, I was growing pretty bored with comics and almost quit reading them for good. Fortunately I came across Heavy Metal and Marvel's Epic Illustrated. It was the first time I actually thought of comics as art and realized that comics for adults didn't have to be synonymous with drugs and sex, although those still seemed to creep in. Those magazines saved comics for me.

I wrote and published my first comic work, The End for AFC Studio, in 1999 and co-published Wasting the Dawn with IDW Publishing in 2005.

How did you come to be a comic shop owner?

The friend who tried to buy those 25 cent comics in Junior High School and I had always felt that we were destined to be comic moguls. Meeting back up again in college we began buying quantities of hot projects like Wolverine, Titans/X-Men, and Alpha Flight #1, from local retailers at a discount and after a short wait would begin trading them back to retailers for store credit, essentially making our hobby pay for itself. Soon we were looking for better deals and found that a local distributer, Pacific Comics, would sell to us wholesale and once that happened, a local retailer offered access to back issue overstock that he had stored in garages all over San Diego. It was on consignment, meaning we didn't pay unless/until it sold, so we started hitting a local swap meet with our first retail venture. Over the next few months, as we built a following for the back issues we would get requests for new comics too, and having the wholesale account, we decided to give it a go. When it worked, it worked well; but weather conditions weren't always conducive for outdoor sales of comics and we decided to open a shop, The Comic Alternative, with too little money and a few thousand back issues --not a terribly original origin.

Unfortunately, neither of us had any actual business training and we were both going to college, I was actually also working two part time jobs too, which was really making it difficult to meet our business responsibilities and after a couple of years, we packed it in and I pretty much left comics behind. It is not a method I would endorse for anyone else.

Comickaze


Please tell me about Comickaze and what the store is like.

Comickaze has evolved quite a bit as I have come to understand the intricacies of the industry better. What started as a 900 square foot Comic and Card store in the early ‘90s with a focus on mainstream comics and back issues and single sports and Pokemon cards and pogs, has grown into a 2400 square foot comics superstore where speculating on future value has given way to the promotion of the comic medium in all of its many genres and formats, as an incredible form of entertainment.
We have a 100 square foot kids’ corner in the front window that gives families access to hundreds of kids’ and all ages comics and graphic novels and giving parents a buffer from themes they might not want their children dealing with yet. We also stock toys, urban vinyl statues and related, items that give "civilians" an excuse to enter a comic shop they might feel they'd outgrown many years ago. Once inside, they also find a selection of Manga so large that during Comic Con, the Borders nearest the convention sent a delegation of folks from Viz Japan to visit us after they were disappointed by the Borders manga selection.

We have also replaced a majority of our back issue bins and displays with bookshelves to house the largest selection of mainstream and indie graphic novels and related prose work in San Diego County. We have been honored as the Best of San Diego by multiple publications over the last three years and I was the first, and only, San Diego retailer to be an Eisner judge.

Do you have a philosophy that guides you in your decisions about the store?

Somewhat. I want everyone who visits Comickaze to be able to find a book or item they will enjoy, even -- especially -- if they are not already comic readers. We're constantly asked what are the hot books, which ones will be worth more in the future and our response is that the value of a comic is in reading and enjoying them, just like prose books, movies and music.

I also have a philosophy in my role as a retailer and while that role does involve the promotion of the comic medium, publishers need to remember that retailers are not the ones responsible for promoting titles. That is the publisher’s role, just as it is for music labels, movies and video games. My role as a retailer is to use my resources to sell my store as the logical venue for purchasing comics, in the same way that retailers that sell Coca Cola. Levis and Chevys try to establish themselves as the go-to stores for those items. And just like Coca Cola, Levi and Chevy, publishers need to step up to their responsibility to provide co-op and other support to retailers if they want retailers to include their product in their promotional efforts.

It confounds me that so many people applaud small press publishers who create work without being able to adequately support it and yet rail against (all) retailers for being unprofessional. I wonder how well most folks could do their job well if most of it was reliant on product provided by folks who were producing that product as a side job. I don't care how bad a job anyone thinks a retailer is doing, the fact that they have committed to a lease and inventory puts them head and shoulders above many creators in terms of commitment and responsibility. To somewhat paraphrase you, Professional comic publishers are well-organized. Professional comic publishers provide accurate solicitation info. Professional comic publishers do not release product without also creating demand for it. Professional comic publishers ship on time, all the time.

Professional comic publishers have prices clearly marked and up to date barcodes on all merchandise. Professional comic publishers operate their business in accordance with local, state and federal laws, including labor and employment laws. Professional comic publishers do not favor one genre or sub-genre over another.

How many other stores/outlets for comics are there in your immediate area?

We have five stores five to ten minutes away and another dozen or so within 20-30 minutes. About half have been around as long or longer than our 15 years.

Do you visit other comic book stores to find out what your competitors are doing? How do you keep up with the competition?

Nah, I don't visit other shops as often as I used to do. It always seemed to make them unnecessarily nervous. Now I actually look to other retail for ideas. I don't just want to be recognized as the best Comic Shop in San Diego, as we have been for the last three years, I want to be recognized as one of the best retail experiences. So I take notes everywhere I shop and/or see interesting ways to excite customers. I also have a large number of customers who use us as a second or third shop because our location isn't convenient but they know we'll have things available that they aren't finding anywhere else. I love to talk to these people about what they do and don't like about their regular shops. I attend San Diego Comic Con, where I'm also an Eisner sponsor, and Book Expo America, a book industry trade show; and this year maybe SPX in Baltimore too, to find product that I know other shops won't be carrying. I also work with many incredible retailers every day in the Comic Book Industry Alliance, including just about every winner of the Eisner Spirit of Retailing Award.

In other words, I try to maintain such a fantastic selection of exciting product that every person in San Diego will want to visit us if we can make them aware that we exist.

Convention sales have recently been an issue in the ongoing online discussion about comics retailing. You’re located near the biggest North American convention, held every summer in San Diego. Have you had customers buy something at a comic book convention that they had previously pre-ordered through your comic book store? How did you handle the situation?

Yes, we run into this problem every year.

You ask about losing pre-orders, something that often comes up in these discussions. Personally, I don't believe customers should have to pre-order their comics sight unseen months in advance nor do I want to see comic shops forced to hoard customers in that manner. Please also understand that while I don't feel an ownership of my customers, I do believe that publishers owe it to me, and other retailers who support them, not to usurp our efforts, especially by taking unfair advantage of their ability to sell direct, uncontested and without notice, to the consumer. I feel publishers have even more of a duty not to compete with retailers when they are not offering things that are standard in the book industry in support of their work, things like galleys, creator signings and co-op just to name a few.
Ironically if you asked most retailers in the area if it affects them, they'd likely say no but that is misleading because it's mainly small press publishers who are engaged in the pre-selling and we are the only store in the area to embrace those publishers’ works.

How do we deal with it? Not well so far as I've failed to impress on the publishers that pre-selling their product doesn't affect the 90 percent of my competitors who don't stock it, but it seriously hurts my chances to sell this product to customers that we've cultivated over the years, especially when they have the added opportunity to get them signed at the show. I've also failed to help them understand that there is no evidence that their claim of "pre-sales as outreach" doesn't stand up in light of their claims that pre-sales are needed because sales onto the DM aren't growing for them.

It really shouldn't be that hard to understand that if they are already struggling so much selling this work in the DM, that pre-selling into that market is going to capture sales that would've been made in DM shops but unfortunately most publishers seem to feel that their need trumps everything and everyone else. I believe this is shortsighted and destructive both to the publisher and retailers, regardless of how much money it brings in the short term because it closes off avenues for growth.

When I have five or more copies of a new release I can make a display on our suggested reading table or endcaps, or at the very least I can give it a face-out display on the wall, giving it a stronger opportunity to be seen by our customers. Reduce my immediate need to 2 copies or less and after the first week it moves to its spine out home on the wall until it can justify something better. That's a fact of life when stocking thousands of titles with a finite budget and display space.
That said, I also believe any problems between publishers and retailers should be transparent to the consumer, so to keep them from having to choose sides and feeling uncomfortable about something they should be enjoying, I try to find non-confrontational ways to "influence" my customers. One is by making Comickaze feel like a comic convention everyday without the $30.00 per day entry fee. We help our customers find the books most likely to excite and engage them. even when they don't know what that book is themselves. We offer such a wide range of product, it's rare that an entire family cannot find something they want. We've also taken to asking customers about their convention plans and when it happens that they mention looking forward to getting a new release from a favorite creator, we usually ask them to mention that they usually get that creator's work at Comickaze, so that the creator knows we support them.

How much of a problem are convention sales for retailers?

This isn't a black and white question.

First let me make it clear that my concern is not convention sales, it is convention pre-sales or the direct sale of any product that has not already been distributed into the book or direct market. If I haven't motivated customers who shop with me to buy a title from Comickaze, there's no way I can be upset if they buy anywhere else. In fact that is the one action that I can justify as outreach, even though the numbers don't bear out the outreach claim too well. If a customer has never been exposed to a creator or a series before, and they discover it at a convention, that can be a huge thing for consumer, publisher, creator and even retailers. But only if the experience is leveraged to its full ability, which it just isn't. First of all if a customer is seeing a work or creator for the first time, there is no reason for them to need the newest work because every work is new to them. If a customer is already familiar with the work or creator, chances are it is because of the efforts of a retailer and most likely a comic retailer. What kind of reward is it to make it harder for that retailer to make that sale in the future especially, if publishers are to be taken at their word, when even with pre-sales they are doing no better than breaking even? That is the opposite of outreach, bringing to mind the image of a snake eating its tail.

And if it is such a strong business move, why do so many major vendors of all kinds, eschew direct sales in favor of sending the consumer into a retail venue? A venue that is available to support the product and the consumer 365 days a year?

Seriously, if the outreach was working, we'd be seeing an increase of the number of DM stores carrying small press titles and an increase in the number of copies initially ordered.

Finally, the biggest problem for me is that there just aren't a lot of small press blockbusters, so that losing even three to five sales on a $15-plus, or two to three times that on a Bone or Blankets graphic novel, is not only a big loss immediately, but since I'm already committed to buying those books, that money is tied up in those now unnecessary copies. It can't be used to re-stock copies of other titles I carry, some of which may be from that same publisher, or for store maintenance, promotion or myriad other things that we need to do daily. I am now forced to carry product whose demand has been diminished rather than re-ordering it as needed and if you multiply that by the half dozen or more projects and publishers it happens with each convention season, it is a much tougher hit than most seem to understand.

What actions do you think publishers should take to mitigate the problem? Is there any incentive retailers can offer in order to mediate a compromise?

Honestly I believe that they should eliminate pre-sales. One publisher has already said that they see more buzz on books released the week before a convention than the ones that are pre-sold cold. It makes sense to me too. When a book is available through hundreds (or thousands) of venues as well as media prior to a convention, it allows the buzz to begin as well, surging forward and driving folks to the publisher/creator at the show. It makes them a higher priority because folks have had time to check them out, publishers don't need to rely on chance to get notice. It is an active behavior, not a passive one.

But here are a few things that might assuage some of the enmity. Every publisher knows well ahead of time which shows they are attending. They should also know which shops in the area are supporting them and readily provide a list of these stores to everyone coming to their booth letting the customer know where they can get other books in their catalogue the rest of the year. They should also let all retailers know ahead of time what creators will be attending the show, allowing retailers to make displays of work by those creators promoting the opportunity to meet the creator. They should provide an opportunity for retailers to obtain signed book plates or something similar to be placed in store stock as a bonus with purchase. These are things that require publishers and retailers to work together for mutual benefit.

What kinds of comics would you say your customers are looking for most often? How wide a variety are they looking for?

I think everyone is looking for entertaining work which makes for a very wide variety. They just don’t necessarily know it when they come in. See, we're set up in a center that gives us access to folks walking off a meal, waiting for an appointment or class to start or running errands. Because of our merchandising we get a lot of folks coming in who don't even know comics are still being created, let alone that Spidey, Supes, and Bugs are no longer the extent of what the medium offers. Because of that, and our efforts to push the envelope in the products we offer, we can be pretty confident that we can find something of interest for anyone motivated enough to enter our shop.

What do you do to stay knowledgeable about the comics your customers are interested in? What publications do you read? Websites?

This one is tougher as we do carry so many titles. Basically as I mentioned, there are certain shows I make great effort to attend, I talk to and listen to my customers, asking them questions about books they've heard of but are below my radar. I look at creator web sites and of course invite creators to share info in the CBIA. Other retailers in the CBIA are also very helpful in recommending new work. I am also working on a new site for creators and retailers to work together in a different method then the CBIA.

How many employees do you have?

Ideally three, but at the moment just one and a half, but I hope to rectify that shortly.

Do you require your staff to stay knowledgeable about upcoming product? What tools are available to help them to answer customer questions?

No requirements yet. Generally they are hired based on product knowledge, usually
different strengths than already exist. We engage each other sharing books that we appreciate and pass customers to the most appropriate person to answer a question or let them know we don't know but will get them the answer. Between our own reading, distributor, Google, Wikipedia and publisher websites we have a very good knowledge base to pull from.

What would you estimate is the ratio of male to female customers in your store?

Probably about 60-40. With all of the anecdotal evidence I see online, it always cracks me up when I notice that I'm the only male in the shop.

What is the ratio of male to female on your staff?

Haven't had a female employee yet.

Do you use distributors other than Diamond? What strengths and weaknesses do you see in purchasing stock through other sources?

Yes, we have a handful of distributors. Strengths are being able to obtain inventory that is not carried by or is out of stock at another source, different terms like discount, pay terms or returnability, and speed of procurement. Weaknesses are the possibility of reduction of discount when splitting orders, creating more work by having to track multiple distributors. There's probably more examples on each side but these spring immediately to mind.

How many of your customers are kids or parents buying for kids? What are the best-selling kids’ titles at Comickaze?

We have a large number of kid-oriented purchases and they are spread over many publishers. Naruto, Bleach, Runaways, Franklin Richards, Marvel Adventures, Teen Titans Go, Legion of Super Heroes in the 31st Century, Owly, Abadazad, Sonic, Star Wars Clone Wars Adventures, Archie and Gemstone's Disney books are all titles that are on heavy order here.

Do you offer subscriptions or a pull list to customers who pre-order through the Diamond Previews catalog? Do you offer them any sort of discount, or benefits for pre-ordering? Some shops give Previews away free to subscribers, for example, or hold "secret sales" announced in newsletters and such.

Yes, we offer a pull service for those who meet a minimum order but we don't rely on it over much and do not offer a discount in conjunction with it. The service itself is the benefit but as I mentioned earlier, I don't want my customers to feel that they need to preorder to get the books they want and ultimately that is why subscriptions and pulls exist. We generally maintain at least three months worth of ongoing titles and reorder at least once a week for items we've sold through on, this allows our customers to actually see and make an informed buying decision that allows them to be excited about the books they take home, instead of forcing them to take books that looked good in solicitation but not so good on arrival.

What is the best experience you've ever had with a customer?

Hard to pick one but the ones where a tag-along non-comic reader comes back to tell us that they really enjoyed a book we suggested and are back for the next are awesome. There's also the parents who are happy that their child is now reading without being told to or the people who started shopping with us when they were children and are now shopping with their own children. I don't really focus too much on things like this because its all a byproduct of doing our job well.

What is the worst?

Having to explain why the books they invested so heavily in years ago have no real resale value today.

Journalist Tom Spurgeon recent commented that retailers “should be selling the most comics in any format,” and yet when it comes to manga, for example, they are not. Have the majority of comic book stores, in your opinion, adjusted well to the development of the graphic novel market?

I'd have to disagree with the absolute of Tom's statement if not the intent. It would be both fantastic and just, if DM retailers sold the most comics in any format, unfortunately over the last 20 years, the DM retailer has been treated less as an opportunity and more as a necessary evil, which puts a huge obstacle in the way. It also doesn't help that the entire market from distributor to publisher/creator to retailer exist in a protracted infancy, seemingly reinventing itself every 5-10 years since its inception but mostly reactively rather than proactively. Also remember that there are only around 2,000 DM shops and the list of book stores reporting to Bookscan alone is over 7,400. That market is easily five times the size of the DM, it should outsell the DM but according to the recent Bookscan report on graphic novel sales in the book market, it appears that despite tremendous sales of a few Manga series, the 2007 book market had less than a 2 percent growth over 2006, whereas the DM grew over 18 percent! If anecdotal evidence is to be believed, the DM actually outsold the book market in dollars by about 1.7 times, $370 million to $220 million. Possibly close to double, when you consider that the DM sales number is what sold through Diamond and doesn't count books the DM buys through book distributors.

For the purpose of your question though, neither publishers nor the last remaining full service retailer have instituted any of the policies that help the book market to finally and profitably offer comics. This is probably the biggest reason for the obvious disparity between the sales of periodical comics and graphic novels in book stores.

Book stores have many different types of books and the ability to use them in different ways. Some can be used as loss leaders, others can be ridden while hot, discontinued when not. DM shops are specialists; we don't often have the luxury of discontinuing lines or using them as loss leaders, we're just "supposed to" carry it all and then find buyers. We also lack the ability to return stale merchandise.

You'd think that publishers would want to support the market providing guaranteed sales but we're not sexy enough, so instead Point of Purchase displays, Co-Op advertising and product placement dollars are lavished on the book market who despite receiving all of this extra support also maintain the ability to return any unsold product. These inequities will continue to inhibit the DM efforts thus increasing the likelihood that most new DM shops will continue to be opened by fans first and business people second, as well as ensuring that most of those shops will make the decision to support the big four publishers who provide the most recognizable work., because only a fan(atic) would work so hard and invest so much for so little return. This is why there is still no national comic chain.

The graphic novel market by virtue of its price point and its lack of "collectability" is currently a better match for the book market but that does seem to be changing, if slowly. In the future, DM retailers will need to embrace graphic novels in whatever genre appeal to their customer base because it will be increasingly more difficult to cover their overhead $2.99 at a time and TPBs allow for more casual buyers. It would also be nice to see more DM shops offer special orders to provide customers with book they have access to but have decided not to stock. We do this with videos and gaming handbooks.

How can direct market shops better attract readers of non-superhero comics? Do they have a responsibility to?

As I said above, I don't think it is the DM retailers' job to attract readers of any specific genre, any more so than it is the responsibility for a movie theater to attract viewers for any genre of movie. If anything they should probably be considered more akin to a radio station where the program director or owner has decided to emphasize a specific genre. A top 40 station doesn't necessarily signal the death of the music industry nor does the dearth of classical stations. In that vein, a comic shop’s acceptance of or aversion to spandex, really shouldn't be used as a statement on the DM retailer. Retailers will always order what they believe they can sell and probably what they can sell easily, in quantity and profitably.

The responsibility for promoting the work to a level that it attracts enough consumer support that retailers believe they can sell it easily, in quantity and profitably must fall on the publisher. In the meantime, while publishers are using their resources to promote their work, retailers do have the responsibility of utilizing their resources to attract consumers to their shop(s). I believe that a superhero-only shop has more of a responsibility to attract Golden, Silver, Bronze and Modern Age hero readers than it does non-superhero readers. Does McDonald’s have a responsibility to offer and attract fans of hot dogs or PB&J? No, and I really don't think it casts a bad light on them that they choose not to.

Ultimately if both groups do their job well you will see that the efforts of publishers and the efforts of the DM Retailer will have an intersection and the common efforts in that intersection are where we will ultimately see the success or failure of the market and perhaps the industry. This is precisely where things like pre-selling fall.

Does it make sense to you that some comics retailers would decide to eschew an entire portion of the market for comics?

Yes, it makes sense to me that someone would open a shop that was JUST SPANDEX or JUST MANGA or maybe even JUST ALAN, NEIL, WILL & FRANK, if that is what excites them enough to make that commitment to open a business. Certainly you’re not going to fault a publisher for only publishing what they are passionate about or say that they can't call themselves a comic publisher unless they publish every genre. As much as comics are about art, if you put a price on them, they are also commerce. As such, vendors and their customers owe it to each other not to harm each other and to listen when the other believes harm is being done.

Some shops near where I live have made major changes in terms of how they display graphic novels and the amount of space they devote to GNs vs. floppy monthly comics and other items. Have you made any changes to adjust to the increasing market for graphic novels over the past decade?

Yeah, as I mentioned earlier, we have been transitioning out of back issues and using the space for comics with spines, trade paperbacks and graphic novels. As recently as 10 years ago 25 percent or more of our floor space was dedicated to back issues; today it's less than 5 percent. We have around 20 book shelves full of trade paperback and graphic novels, three four-foot racks, two spinners and a counter of Manga, and our sales run almost 50/50 between comics and trade paperbacks and graphic novels.

Is the direct market for comic books functioning well? Is it positioned to thrive in the long term?

No, I don't think the DM is functioning well. To much of it is being run as a hobby rather than as a business. Even Diamond, the one entity that seems guaranteed to turn a profit, seems to approach everything as, "how can we minimize cost?" If the DM somehow managed to gain serious traction, I'm not sure Diamond would survive it. There is very little of the DM that I see positioned to thrive at this point but I do see glimmers here and there.

What is the direct market doing right?

I'm not sure if you're referring just to retailers and Diamond or if you mean everyone involved in some aspect. For the most part I will say that the retail side is working very hard to up their game. In the last decade the CBIA and its over 800 members have effected great change in the way business is done and information is shared through hundreds of sole proprietor shops and small press creators and publishers. During that time we've seen other retailers step up to form Free Comic Book Day and the new trade group ComicsPro, where members recently leveraged a single store signing in L.A. by Kevin O'Neill into an eight store national tour, giving fans an opportunity to meet a fantastic artist who is normally not so accessible to fans and are offering mentor opportunities to folks considering comic retail.

In what ways could it be improved?

There needs to be a lot more education. The barrier to entry needs to be raised for publishers and retailers helping to ensure that they understand their responsibilities before they pull the trigger and allowing them to hit the ground running when they do.

Do you believe the majority of comic book stores demonstrate professional business standards?

I can't say because I haven't seen the majority of comic book stores. The majority of the hundred or so that I've seen do, but like every type of business I've seen there are some clunkers for sure. It's always been my opinion that there is no benefit in talking to or about most of them because some folks have different goals and will never accept yours. I created the CBIA for those who, like me, felt that they wanted to change things up but had not figured out exactly how to do it. If the folks who spend so much time chastising retailers spent that time talking up their favorite shops and encouraging folks to support them, they'd actually accomplish some thing.

Can they be competitive with mainstream bookstores such as Borders and Barnes and Noble?

Sure, if that's their goal. I don't see why not.

B&N and Borders cannot devote the space to compete with even the smallest DM Shop in terms of product nor provide the customer support that we can. Big Boxes also can't move as quickly as we can nor can they suffer the smaller sales, insane product sizes, lack of bar codes and all of the other "artistic" measures that make up small press comics. The DM can. What will ultimately determine if we can compete is whether or not publishers are willing to work with the DM rather than dictate to them and then we also have to hope that the product remains viable and profitable in the face of the digital age and the horrible mismanagement of content that's been shown so far.

Do you feel a majority of direct market shops actively seek out customers of all ages, genders and interests? If so, how? If not, should they?

No, I think the majority of the ones I know of actively seek out the demographic that works for them. I don't know that shops near college campuses will see a lot of benefit in maintaining a large selection of all-ages and kids’ books, nor would I expect a neighborhood shop to devote a large space to Avatar or window display Lost Girls. One of the greatest things about the medium is its ability to deliver an incredibly diverse range of entertainment and multiple great shops can and support each other on the same street by choosing different specialties. Trying to make every shop a cookie cutter of every other shop shop is a disservice to the medium. As a consumer, sometimes I need a generalist and sometimes I need a specialist. I think that is how the comic market works best.

You and I have had sometimes heated discussions online about comics retailing, so I really appreciate you taking the time today to share your thoughts with me. One thing you have repeatedly said, though, is that I have no worthwhile opinions when it comes to comics retailing.

I don't remember that phraseology. I think the closest I came was telling you "As for your opinion on the future of comics? Not interested, I’ve been helping to direct the future for the last decade from inside the industry, not waiting for somebody with no industry experience to tell me how it should be." "Not interested" is quite a bit different than "no worthwhile opinions" and to be fair, this was after multiple instances of you referring to me as posting drunkenly, calling me a nimrod and other things that were making it appear to me that you were not interested in discussing fact, only advancing an agenda which I indeed found uninteresting. In fact this exercise came not as a result of you contacting me to set things straight but me contacting you.

Fair enough, although in that initial contact to me you did mention that you “wonder if [I’ll] ever write about something [I]you know about,” which is funny to me, since that’s all I ever write about. I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on whether I know anything about the topics I choose to cover in my writing. That said, should the voice of the long-time customer be included in discussions about the direction of comics retailing? Is that experience useful to retailers seeking information on why and where comics are bought?

Probably not as much as you think. At least not any more than my grocer, pharmacy, mechanic or comic publisher includes me in discussions of how they do business. DC is the only one who really does this, but it's once every 18-24 months. I think good retailers do what we do, which is constantly talk to their customers and as we just did, occasionally poll them on their general feelings about selection, service, location, hours and giving them an opportunity to offer as much feedback as possible. Ultimately though, even a 30-year consumer doesn't really have any special knowledge just by virtue of being a 30-year consumer. Heck there are a lot of retailers that don't understand that if they stopped their 20 percent discounts, they could lose half of their customers and still earn the same dollar profit, yet the first thing every customer will say if you ask them what their shop could do to improve is, "give me a (bigger) discount." That and, "Store X sucks because they don't carry book Y." This does not mean that you shouldn't talk to your LCS if they aren't meeting your needs but it does mean that a diatribe that all shops should open on time, be well lit and vacuumed more than once a season is probably not going to reach the necessary ears, effecting the changes you’re looking for. What it does do though is to encourage more of the same type of talk to proliferate and it is grating, annoying and probably not the best use of your time.

If you believe this is a valid course of action, because you are really trying to improve things, why not try this. You, and your readers, pick stores that have these glaring flaws and talk to them, like we're talking here. Let 'em know that they've fallen short on some customer services issues and you wanted them to know about it. If they fix the problems, great, you have a better store to shop at. And if not, actively promote Store Z to all of your friends instead. If enough people stop shopping there the shop will either get better or close. If there are no local alternatives then you are probably starting to see why this shop can survive as is.

Who besides retailers and publishers do you believe should have a voice in the discussion?

Maybe distributors, since it often takes them to complete a business transaction. Really this particular discourse was a result of retailers asking publishers to stop harming them by pre-selling. If you believe publishers don't have to answer to retailers, the people who are often their top customers, what makes you believe that retailers owe that duty to the consumer?

These are the kinds of things that along with my own 30-plus years buying and selling comics, 10 years of publishing or helping to publish my own and others’ work, cause me to discredit much of what I see in blogs. It's easy to see when someone is missing key component(s) of an argument as it is for a major league hitter to see a AAA fastball. It's my hope that in the future when you and others are reporting on matters such as this and find yourselves reacting to someone with such incredulity, that the first thought is to belittle them, that instead you will stop and do what you've done here. Present some well thought-out questions and opinions and ask for the same back. Education and respect is how the comic industry will move forward, lack of it is how it will die.

My thanks to Robert Scott for taking the time to talk about his experiences and opinions on comic book retailing.

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