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With Life As We Know ground to a standstill, and reports of double digit unemployment circulating, it’s hard to know where to turn first during the current COVID-19 crisis.

Obviously step one is what all the health experts and local governments are telling us: Stay at home, wash your hands, practice social distancing and if you are sick, most of all, stay away from others.

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But if you’re already responsibly staying at home you are probably going on line, and if you are in the comics business, you know that the temporary closure of the thousands of local comics shop that serve our industry is a comics retailers catastrophe in the making.

Many of these shops are small businesses that run on already thin margins. Closing for a month to two months (and that’s what we’re looking at realistically) is going to kill many of them.

I recently spoke with Comix Experience’s Brian Hibbs, our regular Comics Beat retailer columnist, and I’ve never heard Brian sounds so alarmed. And he should be.

Comix Experiences has already taken many steps to boost their mail order and online business, offering curbside pick-up and promoting their excellent Graphic Novel Book Club,  which offers mail order and creators talks.

But this is still a dire time for small stores like his. “We won’t survive this,” he said of the potential two month closure. “Unless there are concrete steps by Diamond, Marvel and DC.”

I’ve often laughed at unfounded predictions about the death of the direct market…but this could be the death of the direct market, and Brian agrees. He was happy to see Marvel step up with a deep discount plan…but wasn’t impressed with the details. “It’s not enough.”

While there are fires and danger burning everywhere, we can’t save every other business. My heart is going out to the restaurant workers, entertainers, craftspeople and other public facing workers who have already lost their jobs over this and face losing much more.

But I think it is my duty, and our duty, to expend my energies towards our industry. I’ve said it many times about many things but it is always true: put the oxygen mask on yourself before you try to help others.

With that in mind, I asked Brian what I could do, and what others could do, to help comics shops. “They need to buy local,” he advised. “Stay off Amazon, stay off big mail order.”

Indeed, as we come out of this lockdown (and we will some day, hopefully sooner rather than later) we need to put the oxygen mask on local businesses before we try to fix the big picture The locals are what make the big picture.

Buy comics from your local comics shop. Order online or mail order to take advantage of curbside pick-up.

Several resources are emerging for finding out how to do this.

  • Boom Studios retail manager Morgan Perry has started a twitter list or stores offering retails sales.
  • Creator Leah Williams is also organizing efforts to help local retailers on her twitter.

She’s spotlighting positive steps that Diamond and other industry institutions can do:

Both Perry and Williams have endorsed the ComicHub solution (see below)

  • The CBLDF has put together several comprehensive resources for retailers. As a well funded national organization they are a strong clearing house for putting this information together.

First off Resources For Comics Industry Businesses Impacted By Coronavirus PLEASE READ THIS!!! It’s a list of local and government resources you can use to help yourself and your business, including the Small Business Administration and more. Local, state, and the US government are going to be key in recovering from the economic effects of the 2020 Pandemic.

Support Your Local Comic Shop During the COVID-19 Crisis is a listing of what I was suggesting above.

Below is a list of CBLDF Retail Members who continue to serve their communities throughout this current crisis. It includes protocols they are following to get comics safely into readers hands as well as contact information. Things are changing rapidly in many areas, so this resource will continue to be updated to reflect those changes. If you are able, please consider supporting your local comic shop during this time.

And finally, ComicHub, the POS software that helps stores set up mail order and online sales, is extending extending an offer for discounts and free installation to help CBLDF Retail Members get up and running. ComicHub Provides Discounts & Support for CBLDF Retail Members

ComicHub is a point of sale system designed explicitly for comic shops. It allows stores to quickly create an online store comprised of their inventory. The store’s customers can update their pull lists, make requests, browse stock, and make orders directly on the site.

In response to the crisis, ComicHub is waiving the install fee for all CBLDF Retail Members and reducing the monthly fee to $100 for the first six months. Inquiries about the system can be directed to stu.colson@comichub.com.

 

Brian expanded on his feelings in a public Facebook post over the weekend:

Sometimes they call Direct Market Retailers the “cockroaches” of retail (because we survive the craziest shit), but the real truth is we’re the “Elephants”: we NEVER forget.

I am going to REMEMBER who stood up for the kinds of relief a closed-by-government store NEEDS (Image, Boom!, Dynamite, ETC) and REMEMBER who hasn’t (Marvel, DC, Diamond). We need certain specific things (extended billing, full affidavit-based returns, reduced production schedules to “hits only”, Minimum Advertised Price to not force all of our trade into mail-order, bandwidth expansion of our messages, more) and I think we’ve communicated them clearly in the industry forums, and some of our partners have given us (STILL) Radio Silence (DC), Plans That Don’t Actually Help (Marvel’s increased discounts), and Platitudes.

Personally, I am pretty sure that Diamond is going to treat me right even without a public statement (my emails to my credit rep has gone unanswered which reflects, I earnestly believe, my general relationship with Diamond of “I’m going to tell you what I am going to do, and you’re going to say ‘OK’, because I am a 30+ year account who has never been out of terms, and I’ve kept every promise I make”, but I’m not worried about a Perfect Diamond Account. But I’m worried, FUCKING WORRIED, about anyone who might be on COD.

Or Net 7 or 14.

Comic book stores, with a few notable exceptions, aren’t in this for the giant windfall profits (LOLZ!!!) — I mean, there’s a business path to make windfall profits in comics, but that’s more a thing about Late Stage Capitalism than something about the actual market of readers of comics, really — but we take on what might not be significantly more than minimum wage jobs for maximum punishment from our vendors because we fucking love the medium we’re in.

Anyway, the business of dispersing individual periodical non-returnable items with a cover price of $4… well, the math on the mediocre margins had previously worked out for most of us because the average mechanical transaction time was 30 seconds or less.

To set up a new remote situation (Curbside, delivery, ongoing payment, whatever individualized detail you want to say) can take ten minutes or more per transaction now, via email or phone, and even fulfilling them each can take significantly longer… there’s just not enough money to actually make a profit vs what labor and space costs in California. Jeez, let alone my own costs.

And I am committed to making sure that everyone working for me gets paid as they should.

You, comics consumer, check in with your local store, make sure your “pull list” is up to date, and (if your financial situation allows) that you’ve made arrangements for your store to charge you through this crisis.

And if you have anything left to spare for a comics shop in San Francisco, we’d be happy to sell you a membership in our awesome Graphic Novel of the Month Club (www.graphicnovelclub.com/start) — we have a kids one too!

Monday is the deadline for the roughly FORTY PERCENT of comics retail spaces that are *already* mandated closed-by-the-government (because MOST COMIC SHOPS ARE CONCENTRATED IN URBAN AREAS!) to place FOC and get clear guidelines to see if we have any White Knights.

It seems we don’t, and it’s just the smaller wedge of the industry that’s banding together. That’s OK. We’re also cockroaches.

But we NEVER forget.

 

And more than 20 shops penned an open letter to readers, with tips on how to help their stores survive:

We’d like to take a moment to speak to you all as retailers in this medium that we all so dearly love. We are in unprecedented times, and the struggle ahead of us all has yet to even be fully measured, let alone prepared for. We as retailers are already beginning to feel the pressure of what is happening, and over the course the months and possibly years to come, many of us will be struggling to survive.

We have received many messages of support, and are overwhelmed by the efforts people have made to make purchases with us over the last couple of weeks as things have developed. People have come in to collect when they are able, and have arranged mail orders when they are not. It is all greatly appreciated, and we, as an industry need you. We know that it is difficult for us all right now, with worries around jobs, money and of course most importantly the health of ourselves and our loved ones.

Many have asked us what you can do to help us through this time, and we would like to take the time to suggest the following:

  • Start a standing order if you don’t have one, and add to it if you do. If you’re someone who pulls from the shelf each week, or you like to grab a few things to supplement your order, please let the store know what you would like. The greater degree of certainty with which we can place our orders right now, the greater our chances of making it through this. Use sites which give upcoming release information such as https://www.previewsworld.com/, http://www.comiclist.com/index.php or your local store’s own release information to give us as much advance information as possible about what you would like.

  • Please clear your order at least once a month. In person if you can, or by mail order if you cannot. Cashflow is absolutely crucial to us at this time as bills fall due, and by making a purchase once a month you helps us to meet our obligations to staff, landlords and suppliers. If we go into complete lockdown and stores are unable to fulfill mail orders, please consider buying vouchers or the like to the value you would estimate your comics to be. Again, this will help us massively, not to mention ensure you don’t have a massive backlog when we reopen.

  • Any little extras you can order will help. Stores have an inventory sitting on the shelves that isn’t doing much right now. Any extra orders of a book here or a back issue there in addition to your standing order will help. Do you have a wants list? Send it through!

  • Please signal boost us on social media. Most stores are constantly putting out information, offers, pleas and so on. As much attention as you can bring our way is appreciated.

  • And above all, please be patient with us. Many of us are now operating with reduced staff, reduced hours and reduced access to our stores. We may encounter shipping issues, stock supply issues and more. A little kindness and forbearance will go a long way towards helping us all get through this with our mental and physical health intact. Please bear with us if there are delays in getting product shipped, or irregular product deliveries. Rest assured, we’re doing our absolute best.

We know we’re asking a lot. But we believe in this medium, and we believe in the role of comic shops as an important community hub. Ours is an underappreciated medium, and having a place where we can all be united in our love for this unique, powerful means of storytelling matters. Having a place where we can be exposed to new stories matters. Having a place where we can learn about the history of comics matters. And having a place where we can meet, make friends, escape from the daily grind and even just talk a bit of frivolous nonsense about superheroes matters. Please help us preserve this industry so we can continue to give you that place when this crisis is over.

And of course, all the best to you all. We’re all in this together. Be kind. Be patient. Be helpful. Be considerate.

Best,

Gosh! Comics, London, UK
Big Bang Comics, Dublin, Ireland
Close Encounters, Bedford, Northampton, Peterborough, UK
OK Comics, Leeds, UK
Comix Experience, San Francisco, USA
Impact Comics, Canberra Australia
Tilt Comics, Athens, Greece
Comic City, Canton, W. Bloomfield, Pontiac, (Detroit) Michigan, USA
The Comix Shoppe, Swansea, UK
Generation X Comics & Games, Bedford, Tx, USA
Blue Ox Games, Greenville, NC, USA
Bridge City Comics, Portland, OR, USA
Alternate Reality Comics Las Vegas, NV, USA
Golden Eagle Comics & Games, Reading, PA, USA
Titan Comics, Dallas Texas, USA
Hooked on Comics, Lebanon PA, USA
Comics Conspiracy, Sunnyvale, California, USA
Strange Adventures, Halifax & Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada
Strange Adventures, Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada
Comic Hero University, Fullerton, CA, USA
Impulse Creations Comics & Collectibles, Tulsa, OK, USA
Arkham Comics & Games, Pearland, TX, USA
Bridge City Comics, Portland, OR, USA
Mighty Moose Comics, Bellevue, Washington, USA
Comic Envy Asheville NC, USA
Cosmic Monkey Comics -Portland Oregon, USA
Time Warp Comics, Boulder, Colorado, USA
JHU Comic Books, NYC, USA
Proud Lion Comics, UK
Automattic Comics & Toys, Corsham, UK
Aw Yeah Comics, Muncie, IN, USA
Cape and Cowl Comics, Oakland, CA, USA
Dr. No’s Comics & Games SuperStore, Marietta GA, USA
Galaxy Comics, Saginaw, MI, USA
Big Planet Comics, Bethesda, MD, College Park, MD, Vienna, VA, Washington, DC, USA
Rainbow Comics, Cards and Collectibles and Rainbow Comics, Cards & Collectibles – Lincoln, USA
Zeppelin Comics – Benicia, CA, USA
Big Adventure Comics, Santa Fe, NM, USA
Twilight Comics, Swansea, IL, USA
Casablanca Comics, Portland, Maine, USA
Books with Pictures, Portland Oregon and Books with Pictures Eugene, Eugene OR, USA
Gobsmack Comics, Horsham, UK
Double Midnight Comics Manchester NH, USA
Fat Moose Comics in Whippany, NJ, USA

This is just the start of industry mobilization to help direct market retailers. The Beat will keep updating the list as more resources become available. Feel free to reach out to us at info @ comicsbeat.com with links and information.

We’re all in this together and wherever we end up will be because of our collective actions.  Collectively, we can act now. 

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