Or: In Which I Tell a Comics Shop Owner How To Run His Business.
London’s oldest comic shop is closing. Not London UK, London ON. The Comic Book Collector is shutting down soon:
It’s the end of an era for longtime comic book collectors in London. The Comic Book Collector, which is the oldest shop of its kind in the Forest City, will close its doors for good on Thursday. “It’s just been slowly spiralling down as far as customers,” said Tim Morris, who’s the store’s third and current owner. Morris, who first set foot in the shop as a customer in 1984 and became its owner in 2001, said recent changes by one of the two biggest comic book companies are largely to blame for his store’s diminishing customer base.
As is so often the case, people are sad their shop is closing. And so is owner Tim Morris. He even took the occasion of another article, to lay the blame for the shops shutting down at least partially with Marvel:
One of the biggest factors in the sales decline, Morris says, is the proliferation of needless, low-quality books the last few years from Marvel Comics especially. “Marvel Comics has been doing a bunch of crap for the last five years,” he said. So where there was once a single monthly title starring self-reflective mutant antihero Deadpool, there are now four. “Give me one good Deadpool book,” Morris said.
There’s also a disconnect between the company’s comic universe and the cinematic one.
“(Fixing) continuity would bring a lot of people back,” Morris added.
He’ll have customers come in the store fresh from the multiplex who are confused because they don’t understand why the Hulk’s alter ego, Bruce Banner, is dead.
And Spider-Man is Hispanic.
And Thor is a woman.
I know this is an argument often heard, but as I was typing this up for K’n’B, a shocking, dangerous thought struck me.
Could the comic shop owner, when faced with such a horrific dilemma, perhaps go to his shelf of hardy perennial bestsellers and pull down Civil War, or maybe collection of Thor by Walt Simonson or even Thor by Jack Kirby? The folks making the new Thor movie say it is practically a love letter to Jack Kirby so maybe giving Kirby comics to them would be appropriate.
Or get one of those Spider-Man collections….or Iron Man trades, or Secret Invasion or Infinity Gauntlet, or any of the classic stories that get readers hooked on this material.
I don’t mean to make this Marvel vs DC again, but DC’s backlist is rock solid, and when you want to start somewhere, they give you a roadmap. Marvel has no such clear-cut “classics” but they have many, many collections. Surely when an elusive new reader comes in still out of breath from the wonders at the cineplex, a wily shop owner, rather than throwing up his or her hands and saying “Sorry, but Hulk is Korean now. I can’t take your money,” could say “Hey, if you like the Hulk in the movies you will probably like Planet Hulk. In fact I hear they used it for the new Thor movie!”
I know it isn’t this straightforward, and I’m sure Tim Miller has a lot more experience talking to actual customers than I do sitting here at my computer. And if you are set on people becoming Wednesday Warriors then, yeah, people who read the floppies are going to get a big question mark over their heads when they see everything is changed around.
But there have been many, many good Marvel comics with the traditional characters. And they are still for sale. There may be hope in that fact.
Doesn’t this presume that a comic store can survive only selling “backlist” collections?
Is that even possible?
Memo to Heidi. With the exception of less than maybe 10 Marvel graphic novels, Marvel graphic novels do not sell. Just like their comics…..
I wonder what % of business LCS count on from collections vs. new issues? Like the reason this might not be the way to go is because they need to sell people on new comics. If nothing else, that gives them a reason to come back to the shop, rather than just getting more collections at traditional bookstores.
Did this article just imply that comic store owners are turning away customers because none of the characters are the same ones as the movies? Surely it can’t be consumers deciding that they don’t want to buy the books Marvel is putting out.
I am someone who has never worked in a comic book store, and I know my opinion therefore has little to support it, but I’ve had similar thoughts, Heidi. I don’t know if it is even possible to make money this way, and I’m sure people smarter and more experienced than me have tried, but I would WANT to run a comic book shop like a regular book shop but for graphic novels. I would cater to long-term fans of course, but really aim at bringing in new readers.
I suspect there are more people curious about superheros and comics than ever, but would need a guiding hand to actually get them reading and enjoying something. When you consider the number of books out there with the same character, the confusing numbering and naming schemes, the number of bad books, the number of books that require some knowledge of the continuity to enjoy, and the sometimes off-putting stereotypes about comic book stores — well, it wouldn’t surprise me if a lot of people don’t bother pursing that momentary curiosity.
I think some people just need someone to shove a great, self-contained graphic novel into their hands and say “Hey, you HAVE to read this!”.
One idea was that based on what movies were popular, I would stock a bunch of winning trade paperbacks, that I would advertise in the shopfront (probably with my own message such as “You liked the movie, now read the award winning story it was based on”, or whatever is appropriate), I’d only do this to advertise books I know were going to be a satisfying read for new customers, though. I don’t think I would have pushed Old Man Logan by Miller when Logan came out, for instance, because, well, I don’t think it’s the most satisfying story for new readers. But there are other options.
As for the shelves, I think I would divide broadly by age group first, (maybe as simply as “All-Ages” and “Adult” then by genre, then probably by series but POSSIBLY by author. That’s instead of the convention I see today which is to divide by company and then by character, which I think is far less approachable for new readers.
I’d also aim to train my employees to be approachable salespeople first, who based on the demographic of a customer, and based on what they are looking for, they could offer two or three books that might appeal to that customer. If they’re looking for Thor books, for instance, sure, here’s Thor: God of Thunder, but also X-O Manowar and maybe Ultimates Vol.1 or even a Hellboy story. And they’d know how to hook people’s interests on those books. Maybe they buy more than one book, maybe they don’t — if they do, I’m sure at least one of them will give them a good enough time for them to want to read another, and if they don’t and they don’t like the book they do buy, they’ll have a new idea of where to look next if they want to try again.
I’d dispute that marvel has been putting out good books with traditional characters, but I haven’t been able to afford marvel prices for long time. Also when I think of marvel now I only think of hero fighting hero. The problem with the collections is that they are all in the past. Sure I could buy a Ms. Marvel collection (though I don’t need to since I bought the original issues when they came out) and see Carol Danvers being a heroine, but that doesn’t jibe well with the fascist she is today. I could buy Simson’s run on Thor and then buy the issues where Thor is siding with the hydra/nazi Captain America. The collections are old issues. They are a good read but to me they aren’t introductions to the characters that exist today because those characters are gone. The Tony Stark and Reed Richards I read when I first started to read comics aren’t the Tony Stark and Reed Richard who would build a prison for friends and allies and then hunt them down and throw them into it. The Hank McCoy of the Avengers I started reading would not risk time and space to bring people in from the past. The Thor I remember was actually worth of holding the hammer. It would take a lot to explain to a new customer just why the characters in the collections were so different from the characters in the current books. Then there is the fact that most writers don’t even bother to match the characters, they just write story where the character does what the story needs.
When people walk into a store to buy a comic, they want to buy a comic. They generally don’t want to be upsold a graphic novel that costs at least five or possibly 10 times more than they were expecting to pay. They also generally want to buy something that is, you know, new and not something that was first published a decade or more ago. PLANET HULK first came out in 2006, for pete’s sake.
And exactly how long was that retailer even supposed to hang onto a copy of the PLANET HULK trade hoping that someone might eventually buy it because years later Marvel decides to make it part of a Thor movie?
I’ll grant that plenty of comic retailers could be better businessmen but I could also be better at my job and Heidi could be better at hers. But when people who actually make their living selling comics tell you why comics aren’t selling, it’s probably a good idea to pay attention and not get defensive because they’re saying something you don’t want to hear.
I’m past caring about Marvel as a publisher. Devoid of ideas, no risk taking, just constant sales gimmicks and superficial formats rather than innovative stories.
Mike, DC makes a bomb off its trades in bookstores. Since most M floppies cost $4-5, it’s not a massive jump to get better value for money by getting the trade. It seems pretty reasonable as an alternative.
But I do agree the issue is that Marvel is killing any growth in demographics.
I think a lot of comic shops would prefer to do things the same way for 30 years and never adjust to the market or respond to trends. That’s how you run yourself out of business.
MBunge and Mark both show a different attitude to me, but it’s probably the attitude that keeps comic book stores in business.
For me, I don’t care a lot about what’s newest. I do peruse new comics, but more than that I just want a great time spend reading — I’d much rather have the best than the newest. I’d rather have something that’s old but “tested” (many people have read it and loved it) then gamble on a new issues just because it is the most up to date record of a character’s history. I mean, after I’d read a few comics I realised this whole character history and continuity spiel was a marketing illusion anyway. So, to answer the question “Who want’s to read a great comic that’s ten years old”, the answer is the same as “Who wants to watch a great book that’s ten years old” (or a great movie, or even a videogame) and the answer is: lots of people!
As for comics vs. trade paperbacks, I’m afraid a single issue (finished in 10 or so minutes) has rarely been enough for me (unless those issues happen to be self contained masterpieces that I want to pour over very slowly, like Sandman, but they’re rare). I suspect most people are the same. A TV show is 30-60 minutes of story, more for a movie or videogame or book. If I lent somebody a single issue, I’d expect them to get to the end and think “that’s it?”. A graphic novel or collected edition, though, that’s something to get your teeth into, and if written well things can pay off in bigger ways over several issues, leading to more satisfying climaxes and conclusions.
If I though I could get somebody interested in comics, I would give them a collection or graphic novel rather than a floppy. They’re better value for money too.
I don’t think the above is the attitude of most long term comic fans. I get that. I’m only been reading for a few years. Maybe in a few more years I’ll be addicted to floppies. But for now, that’s how I feel. I think a lot of non-comic-book-readers would feel the same.
An alternative strategy might be for Marvel to publish books that people actually want to buy.
As a comic shop retailer, I have several points:
1.) One of the biggest lapses in judgement on the part of the Big 2, and really the entire comic book industry, is that they don’t do any promotion to the masses that comic books still exist! They advertise only to the current readership. Auto manufacturers provide dealerships with marketing materials (and marketing $) to help them promote their products. Franchisors provide franchisees with marketing materials (and marketing $) to help them promote their products. Comic book publishers rely solely on the independently owned and operated comic book shop to market their products…and most of us can’t afford to do that. A 30 second commercial from Disney and/or Warner Bros, (or hell, even Image, Dark Horse, IDW, Boom or Dynamite) proudly promoting comic books before their TV shows and movies is a great place to start.
2.) There are plenty of places to direct Marvel movie fans if they want to get into comics: Civil War is our go-to book, but you could also point to JMS’s Thor run, Planet Hulk, Brubaker’s Captain America. Waid & Samnee’s Black Widow and many others. With Runaways hitting Hulu, that’s another one to point people to.
3.) Most comic shops stay in business because of monthly comic books. It’s just a fact of life. And when one of the two largest publishers of monthly comics has been missing the target for as long as Marvel has, (as a whole, not counting excellent books with dismal readership like Unstoppable Wasp, Hawkeye, Ms. Marvel and others), it makes it very hard for a shop to survive.
Marvel has done this to themselves with their constant re-numbering, “world-changing” events, manipulation of the market with incentives and variant covers for every blessed issue that they publish. They also need to cut their output by 50%. Excellent books perfect for new readers are being overlooked because Marvel isn’t doing anything to tell anyone about them.
Unfortunately, the ones that are paying the price for their refusal to listen and short-sighted leadership is the independent comic book shop.
Long time reader – over 40 years. Zero interest in alternative versions of Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, Spider-man, etc. for PC sake. They destroyed the characters. If they needed more diversity, that is just fine, they should have created new characters and promoted them, not stolen the books away from the established identities. That and polluting the books with left-wing politics that isn’t needed to tell a decent story (don’t need left or right politics – Keep them out of comics and stop indoctrinating). Now they’re just… ugh.
I would say it would be more difficult to run a comics shop without the cash flow and steady business derived from periodicals. We’re 60%+ book sales… but I would close without that 40% periodicals!
That THOR volume, for example? $35. That’s a LOT of money to think someone walking in after seeing the new THOR film will spontaneously plop down. It DOES happen, but pretty rarely.
That price point on modern collections IS a big barrier, no doubt. I think if someone is enticed into the stores by the movies or TV shows, they’re more interested in a story with the character they like, regardless of whether it’s in a comic or a graphic novel form…but man, $35 is a lot to drop. $15 to $17 seems a much easier lift for something like that; they probably spent a similar amount on the movie.
And it seems a better bargain than $4 for 20 pages of a story that doesn’t have an ending. That seems like it could be just as alienating as the $35 paperback.
It is nutty that Marvel doesn’t produce a line based on the MCU. They could call it… Ultimate Marvel or something. Just brainstorming here.
As far as variant versions of the heroes go, why would normal, non-comics people care? Miles Morales is just great.
Secret identities, gender, race… even death is different in cape comics. (It’s just a way to take a little rest) That’s not a bug, it’s a feature. Hulk smashes, Spidey swings, Thor has a hammer.
Or the shop owner could explain about Thor being a woman..you know, the run that’s actually sold pretty well? Or explain Miles Morales to them? You know, the book that’s also been a consistent seller for years upon years.
@Tom – Oh, you want politics out of comics? Those books you read 40 years ago had tons of politics in them.
@ Chris – Yes, I know exactly what was in them. They tackled lots of social issues. But they were generally fair and didn’t come down too much on the left or right they just talked about troubles of the day. There is such a thing as non-partisan politics.
@ Chris – I should have stated my point more precisely – I don’t mind politics in comics, as long as you see both sides. But nowadays, you don’t. You see one. And whether it is left or right, only seeing one side means you’re not getting the whole picture. But anyway, I don’t want to turn this into a political debate. No worries, you are right to say that comics back in the day had their political issues as well! Cheers!
I don’t run a comic store, but it would seem like periodical comics are what serve as steady income for shops. It’s easier to get a person hooked on buying 5 comics a week featuring their favorite heroes than a different graphic novel every week featuring random heroes from random points in their continuity. This guy is apparently closing his shop, because readers in his area cannot sustain his shop being open any longer. If it’s because half of his Marvel sales are gone, than that’s the reason and he has a right to say so. Some might argue he should have diversified his products or marketed differently, but it doesn’t change the fact that a loss of Marvel readers has hurt his business.
I don’t run a comic shop so don’t feel comfortable telling people who do how to run their business. I would guess it’s a hard thing to run no matter what the characters are.
I kind of want to call out this statement by Mark Bowker because I think it is 100% correct:
“Marvel has done this to themselves with their constant re-numbering, “world-changing” events, manipulation of the market with incentives and variant covers for every blessed issue that they publish. They also need to cut their output by 50%. Excellent books perfect for new readers are being overlooked because Marvel isn’t doing anything to tell anyone about them. Unfortunately, the ones that are paying the price for their refusal to listen and short-sighted leadership is the independent comic book shop.”
Yes, yes, 100 times yes. Every single bit of this is a self-inflicted wound.
What kills me worse is that its from people making six figures a year to pilot the plane into the ground, sheesh.
Brian’s comment is interesting. Periodicals do bring people into stores, although I think the strategy behind periodicals is faulty (personally).
I also agree that having iconic characters who are actually different in print would put a lot of new readers off.
Finally, Marvel’s essential books were an amazing, low-cost way to get into classic comics (my Captain America, Hulk, and Punisher volumes are well thumbed). It’s a shame Marvel isn’t looking at this approach to support its readership.
But of course it isn’t.
What about Marvel Digital? Most new readers are going to ask online for reccomendations rather than seek out a store these days, and everytime I see the question come up on various sites, plenty of people recomend trying the service out. So instead of plunking down $35 for JMS Thor, they can read a far larger selection for less. Thats why floppies are going to make or break the market going forward. Marvel has alienated longtime fans, and new ones arent buying into the old system. The Netflix binge crowd isnt patient enough for the old monthly method. And now Marvel is bullying the retailers. The industry is in a tailspin and new readers just arent buying.
Clickbait headline worthy of Rich Johnston there.
That really is a great headline.
Marvel trade paperbacks aren’t all that cheap! That Thor Epic Collection pictured above is $35 (and newer ones are now up to $40!)… who off the street wants to spend that much cash and take a chance on liking it or not?
Sounds like this shop is entirely dependent on current superhero pamphlets, and particularly the ones from Marvel. Every shop needs to learn this lesson: “Diversify or die.” The material that kept shops afloat in the ’80s and ’90s will not keep them afloat today.
David Taylor said: “Finally, Marvel’s essential books were an amazing, low-cost way to get into classic comics (my Captain America, Hulk, and Punisher volumes are well thumbed). It’s a shame Marvel isn’t looking at this approach to support its readership.
Totally agree. I have several shelves of Marvel Essential volumes. They were a great, affordable way for me to catch up with the company’s Silver and Bronze age comics I had missed, or wanted to read again.
I had problems with some of the choices — “Essential” Godzilla and Super-Villain Team-Up, but no Not Brand Echh or Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD — but on the whole I was satisfied. And I already had Echh and Nick Fury in other formats.
But Marvel scuttled the Essentials program at the end of 2013, in favor of the Epic volumes that are in color and cost twice as much. I bought one — the Captain America volume with the Stern-Byrne stories from 1980-81 — and have passed on the others.
“Sounds like this shop is entirely dependent on current superhero pamphlets, and particularly the ones from Marvel. Every shop needs to learn this lesson: “Diversify or die.” The material that kept shops afloat in the ’80s and ’90s will not keep them afloat today.”
I think a lot of comic shops do diversify but there is no escaping the fact that that the superhero genre is a very popular one and generates in a lot of revenue. Many readers who have turned their backs on Marvel’s PC driven books are not turning to alternatives but leaving the market altogether.
To the shop owner that posted about “the Unstoppable Wasp” being an excellent book? If all owners are trying to push titles like that one, in spite of the fact that practically nobody wants to read them, well ,that might be part of your problem.
Nadia Pym is a character that has the potential to be likeable, but the OVERWHELMING girl power theme to her book is going to put off a lot of average readers. Issue 2 was almost unreadable because of it.
What people need to realise and understand is that just because a book is well written or the art is fantastic does not also mean the subject matter is interesting enough to make it a hit.
You could have Grant Morisson and Jim Lee do Brother Power the Geek and nobody gives a s__t.
Re hulk, i bet more people are put off that he’s a homo than a Korean
“i bet more people are put off that he’s a homo than a Korean”
Just you, cupcake.
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