It looks like the 32-page monthly comicbook magazine is doomed. Digital comics seem to be following the evolutionary model of MP3s, video-on-demand, and e-books.
What can comics shops do to remain successful?
Let me paraphrase the Shooter Dictum:
Every comics shop is somebody’s first visit.
If you’re lucky, you get to Seduce The Innocent. It might be a teen with some extra spending money. It might be a mother of three with nothing to do while her kids shop. It might be a grandfather who remembered when comics cost twelve cents. Or it could be a librarian who needs to understand what a “graphic novel” is because her patrons keep asking for them.
So, some suggestions. I have never worked in a comics shop, but I shop every week, and whenever I go somewhere on vacation, I always visit comics shops. I’ve been a bookseller for fifteen-plus years. I’m a librarian. I’m a fan boy who actively tries to get his nieces, nephews, in-laws all reading comics. I understand the Direct Market, and would love to see comics shop as common-place as McDonald’s restaurants!
These are suggestions. Do what you think is best for your store. I realize most stores are already doing this, so please don’t think I’m being patronizing or pedantic.
1. Small Business 101: Make your store as attractive and welcoming as possible. Store windows should contain either displays of store product, or offer a clear view into the store. A person walking by might notice the display, take a quick look through the windows, and enter your store. If you can afford to, install carpeting and recessed ceilings with pleasant lighting. If not, paint the exposed duct-work and pipes, and add some industrial lighting fixtures which look better than generic fluorescent lights.
2. Make your store a destination. Part of this is word of mouth. Part is your location. My first comics shop, Dragon’s Lair in Omaha, is on a main thoroughfare in a strip mall. It’s not a destination like a shopping center or local landmark, but it had word-of-mouth among my friends because they sold clear plastic role-playing dice. (This was in 1984.) So one day in January 1985, instead of walking to the shopping center where I bought comics at B. Dalton’s and Waldenbooks, I walked the two miles to Dragon’s Lair to see how cool it was. I’ve been part of the Wednesday Crowd ever since.
3. Computerize your store. There are various point-of-sale packages available, including Diamond’s ComicSuite. The POS computer offers a powerful tool, not only for tracking sales and inventory, but also for ordering and selling. With the new Diamond Digital initiative, it’s mandatory. Your store is probably already placing orders via Diamond’s online retailers site.
4. Create an e-commerce site on your store’s website. Offer pull lists and subscription services. Digitize the Diamond Previews catalog so fans can make customized order forms. Since customers pre-pay, offer an online discount. If the item is no longer available, become an Amazon associate and link to their website, so your store becomes the first place fans visit to search for items, and your store earns a finder’s fee for directing customers to Amazon. (Basically, team with both Comixology AND Diamond Digital!)
5. Diversify your store stock. Just as Barnes & Noble has increased the square footage devoted to toys and games in their stores, consider doing the same. There are so many licensed items inspired from comic books. Link your store product to your website, and perhaps even link to other websites which offer items you can’t sell effectively. (Spider-Man bedspreads, Wonder Woman cosmetics, Toy Story mac & cheese…) You could even install a cafe!
If nothing else, offer seating for those not shopping, such as parents. Ask them if there’s something they’d like to read while they wait. Perhaps a comic strip collection featured in the local newspaper. Or maybe a Toon Book if they’re with a toddler. It’s possible they’ll buy that book when their kids bring their comics to the register! Even if they do not purchase the book, you’ve made a good impression which will pay dividends later.
6. Offer exceptional customer service. You’re probably already greeting everyone who comes through the door. Always offer to help a customer, especially anyone you’ve never seen before. Recommend titles when people check out. If it’s a clueless parent shopping for a gift for their child who loves comics, allow them to return the book if the child already owns it. The parent AND child must visit the store together to make the return, so you can then sell directly to the child, and possibly make him or her a regular customer!
Of course, to avoid confusion during the holiday season, why not have your young customers leave a wish list for “Santa” in your store? If that works, expand it to birthdays, graduations, housewarmings, mitzvahs, christenings, weddings…
7. Make your tax dollars work for you! Start with the Small Business Administration. State and local governments also offer special programs, and most cities have a Chamber of Commerce or small business organizations. They can offer advice and networking possibilities. Of course, you probably have a good accountant who minimizes your tax burden and finds all sorts of deductions.
8. Realize that your store is an independent book store which specializes in comics and graphic novels. In addition to ComicsPro and other industry related resources, also network with the American Booksellers Association and attend regional and national trade shows. Consider also transitioning your paper comics sales from comicbooks (which will be readily available via digital downloads) to trade paperbacks, hardcovers, and other print editions. Instead of selling collectible comic books, sell collectible graphic novels! Of course, if you’ve got books for sale, you can join Amazon’s and Barnes & Noble’s affiliates programs, creating another online storefront with minimal computer infrastructure. (I’m not an expert on how much work this involves. But considering how many comics shops have eBay storefronts, it doesn’t seem too complicated.
These are just some ideas.
Consumers, what do you wish your local comics shop did better?
What does your local comics shop do that knocks your socks off?
Comics shop owners and employees, what worked best for you?
I’ve been writing for The Beat since July of 2010.
I’ve been reading comics since 1974, collecting since 1984, and spreading the graphic novel gospel since 1994.
I’m a bookseller, a librarian, an amateur scholar, a cool uncle, and a comics evangelist.
Ask me anything!