By Jason Mojica
Last time, I said I’d spend my next few columns talking about some of the things I’d come up with so that my business (Hey Kids Comics!) didn’t have to rely on in-store sales alone. That was, um… six months ago. So, what happened? Well, it turns out that conjuring up ways to keep yourself busy is pretty easy to do, and suddenly things like sitting down to write about what you’ve learned keep getting pushed further and further down the to-do list.
This is a long way of me trying to say, “I beg your pardon.”
Onward! Since last we talked, my store has doubled in age! That’s right, we just celebrated our 1 year anniversary as a brick and mortar store! It’s been a good year, and it’s also been a weird semi-pandemic (semi-demic?) year in that I’m not sure that any of the sales / foot traffic patterns I’ve witnessed in the past 12 months will repeat in the next 12. One thing I’m sure of is that we wouldn’t have made it without going beyond in-person retail sales.
The Hey Kids Comics Club subscription box that we talked about in the last column continues to be an important part of the business, but one thing I didn’t expect could have much value has actually shown lot of potential, and that is the virtual event.
Now, I know that President Biden has declared the pandemic over, and nobody wants to spend more time on Zoom than they have to, but hear me out. When I opened the shop, I never even considered doing a virtual event until a publicist for a new kids graphic novel reached out and suggested we do one with the author. My reaction? Uh… why would I want to do that? When you’re trying to get people to cross the threshold of your physical store and buy tangible goods, a virtual event doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
Unless, that is, you have a way to sell books to people who live nowhere near your store. And that’s where, for us, Bookshop.org comes in. If you’re not already familiar, Bookshop.org is a B Corp that was created as an alternative to Amazon–one that actually distributes very real dollars to participating independent booksellers around the country. We’re talking about a 30% commission on affiliate sales, plus a semi-annual profit-share from purchases made by customers who didn’t select a particular brick & mortar shop to support.
Now of course, getting people to visit a third-party site to buy books online when they are most likely already paying for “free” shipping via a Prime subscription seems like… work. Especially when the appeal of your shop for most of your customers is that you’ve made it possible for them to not have to buy books online! But if what you’re doing with your store gets the attention of people who live outside your neighborhood (say, via Instagram or TikTok), then you’re in a pretty good position to take advantage of selling through Bookshop.org
One of the lists from the Hey Kids Comics store on Bookshop.org
And what better way to encourage people outside your neighborhood to interact with your shop than by hosting an event that can be attended by anyone on the planet? It all comes full circle, and everyone stands to gain: the audience, the author, the publisher, and the store!
Our first event came about not due to an inquiry from a publicist, but out of my enthusiasm for Jon Chad’s Pinball: A Graphic History of the Silver Ball. As a fan of both comics & pinball, I wanted to do something special to promote the book. My first thought was to actually replace about half of our tiny store’s retail space with a pinball machine, but it seems there’s a run on them here in Brooklyn and none were available. I reached out to Jon to see if he had any plans to be in the area for a signing, but it wasn’t in the cards, so I proposed a virtual event. In the end, we came up with something that we thought would work for an all-ages audience: a perspective drawing workshop rooted in lessons Jon learned making his Pinball book.
[EMBED VIDEO HERE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sMCU-oc_9rY ]
As you can see, there was nothing technologically fancy about it–we used the standard Zoom subscription without the fancy webinar add-on. It was promoted on Hey Kids Comics’ & Jon Chad’s socials, with a signal boost from the book’s publisher, First Second. We also sent out an email blast to our store & sub box mailing lists. It’s worth mentioning that none of these communications contained a hard sell for the book–the emphasis was on the free event, with a mention of the book and a link to it on Bookshop.org.
Flyer for our virtual event with Jon Chad
In the end, we had about 21 participants from all over the country, sold six copies of the $24.99 graphic novel via Bookshop to folks far outside our neighborhood (hopefully turning them into repeat online customers), and 5 copies at the store in the first month after the event.
The icing on the cake of those Bookshop.org sales is that our 30% cut came without having to invest in inventory to make those sales possible, and we didn’t have to handle the fulfillment. Now, in order to participate, shops do have to become a member of the American Booksellers Association (part owner of Bookshop.org), but I can tell you that, at least in our experience, it’s been a good investment.
Plus, then you’re a member of the ABA and can take advantage of their resources. As the comics trade continues to be folded into the traditional book trade, and as more of our customers skip the floppies in favor of the trades, there are probably a few things the modern comic shop can learn from the folks who’ve been at this racket for more than a century.
See you at our next virtual event!