Home Retailing & Marketing GameStop’s experiment in selling comics has ended

GameStop’s experiment in selling comics has ended

Comics periodicals were a tough sell.

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ThinkGeek Logo (PRNewsFoto/Geeknet, Inc.)

The move from GameStop into comics retailing has ended.

Back in the summer of 2018, comics retailers were hit with a double whammy of mainstream retailers jumping on the comic book bandwagon that caused a lot of brow wrinkling.

The first was DC’s well known Walmart 100-page giant experiment. At the time this was expected to be the end of comics as we know it, with hand wringing and many cries of alarm. 

That turned out to, surprisingly, not be the end of comics specialty retailing, as DC eventually made the content available to retailers even as they expanded the program.

The other move was, to those I spoke with at the time, thought to be the real potential stealth bomb: the plan to sell comics periodicals in GameStops around the country. Given that there are more than 4000 GameStops in the US, this could have been a LOT of comics.

As GameStop’s director of consumer products Clint Walker explained at the time: 

But the opportunity for us is we’ve got a great selling culture. Our number-one focus for our stores is building relationships, which we just see as a natural fit. As for comic shops themselves, we know it’s an opportunity. Some of our competition has gone to the wayside, like Hastings [note: the national entertainment retail chain that filed for bankruptcy in 2016] or some of the other, smaller operations. But, in general, [this move] very much aligns with our goal of being the fast fashion in pop culture. There’s just a tremendous opportunity as we continue to grow our partnerships with Marvel and DC and some of the anime properties we’ve been introducing.

However, the program was only ever tested in ThinkGeek shops (a chain that has had a lot of problems of its own), and as of this month, it’s been officially ended. Comicbook.com managed to talk to some GameStop folks and get the details:

“Our team of merchandising experts are constantly exploring what new products we should offer in our stores, based on customer demand,” a GameStop spokesperson said. “While we initially conducted a small comic book test in our ThinkGeek stores, as this time we are not planning on offering comic books inside our stores. The number of SKUs we would have to carry to ensure we offered a wide selection of comic books verses the lack of customer demand at this time simply does not make offering comic books in our stores a good proposition.”

These comics in the test stores were to be sold on spinner racks which would be stocked with comics on a weekly basis, according to details shared previously by GameStop. The company aligned with Diamond Comic Distributors to make the tests happen and said the test stores and their selections of available comics would cater largely to Marvel and DC readers. 

OUCH – quite a burn there. “The number of SKUs we would have to carry …. versus the lack of customer demand at this time.”

As our own Brian Hibbs is always explaining, the number of SKUs (stock-keeping units, or barcodes) comics retailers have to deal with is a reach-for-the-aspirin proposition. 

The January 2019 order form features 1106 solicited periodical comic books. Of those, only 454 of those SKUs are new items – the other 652 are variant covers. That means a staggering fifty-ninepercent of all solicited comics are actually variants. That’s completely and entirely absurd! It is deluded, it is dangerous, and it actively works against the best interests of the market.

No one but comics retailers would be crazy enough to deal with all those SKUs, it seems. While the failure of the GameStop experiment may mean less competition for comics retailers, the “lack of customer demand” seems like a low blow. Does no one want to buy comic books?

I’m not too familiar with ThinkGeek stores, but they seem to be places to sell merchandise – FunkoPops, Han Solo in carbonite somethings,  Harry Potter goblets and so on.  One would imagine that the rather petite story value of your typical comic book was not entirely alluring to the customers that frequented these stores.

For publishers, this is a bit of a bummer – losing 4000 potential new sales outlets sucks. However, it does seem to prove that comic books belong where you find them now: dedicated comics specialty retailers.

Also all you “They just need to put comics on newsstands like they were when I was a kid and everything will be glorious!” types, as I’ve said many times, it ain’t that simple.

 

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