Did the number of comics shops plummet drastically in 2022? I’ve seen many people on social media claim that this is true, but without any hard numbers to back it up. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some comics shops closed, but others opened, some stores expanded, some closed stores….but how does it all add up?
Finding the answer to this isn’t easy, but we do have some numbers for 2022 to report. Consider this a preliminary investigation, and an invitation to share information.
Getting hard numbers is more difficult than ever because of today’s fractured distribution landscape. Traditionally Diamond releases numbers at their annual retailer summit, a number I’ve reported in the past. I’m not going to riffle through all of my reports, but I’d estimate it’s usually around 1-3% either way. At the ’22 summit, they didn’t release any number.
But at ComicsPRO, Diamond announced that the number of retailer accounts remained stable, with a less than 1% decrease in total accounts ordering from them in 2022.
A second source for this investigation was a breakfast for retailers held by Lunar Distribution at the recent Emerald City Comic Con, which included this slide:
According to Lunar’s report, they had 177 new stores/accounts in 2022, with 116 of them being brick and mortar shops.
Of course this doesn’t tell us how many shops closed. I asked Christina Merkler, co-owner of Lunar and DCBS if she had the number and while she didn’t have it at hand, she characterized it as “a few.” I haven’t had a chance to reach to get an exact number, but it’s on my to do list.
Looking at the bigger picture, according to Diamond’s website they have currently 3500 accounts. The date of this number isn’t stated but its in line with other information they’ve shared. In 2013 Diamond released the figure of 2638 accounts, noting it was up 3% from the previous period.
Not all of these accounts are comics shops – some are online retailers or even “buying clubs” – although my understanding is that it’s harder to start this kind of account these days.
The best “industry estimate” is that there are around 2500 comics shops in the US, according to a piece in Games Radar. This ballpark number has remained pretty steady for the years I’ve been tracking it.
It’s down from the estimated 8,000-10,000 comics shops that existed in the 90s, but during those speculator times that included card shops, which were another huge source of speculation in those times.
Despite all the social media claims, according to those who sell to comics shops, it does seem that the number of stores remained stable in 2022. Of course comics sales and reading surged during the pandemic, a surge which has come to an end, especially for periodical comics. Is 2023 going to be a bloodbath?
Economists are mixed on just where we’re going with the recent bank failures, inflation and other troubling signs of an oncoming recession. It’s one of the defining characteristics of the comics industry that it always thinks its dying, but it hasn’t been true yet.
I’ll end with something upbeat however. It turns out that bookstores are one of the most “recession proof” businesses, according to a Forbes Advisor Analysis. Based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and Google Trends, they determined bookstores to have survived quite well in hard times.
At 43%, bookstores saw the biggest increase in the number of businesses during the latter part of the pandemic. Coupled with a moderate startup cost, bookstores also enjoyed steady wage growth during both the Great Recession (+13%) and the latter part of the pandemic (+16%), making this type of business the most recession-proof of all.
In 2022, The New York Times reported that more than 300 new independent bookstores had popped up across the country in the previous couple of years, calling this “a surprising and welcome revival after an early pandemic slump.”
The Financial Times attributes the recession-proof nature of the book business to the fact that books are relatively cheap “and yield an impressive bang for their buck in terms of entertainment.”
Heartening words indeed! If you consider comics shops specialized indie bookstores (they are), this could bode well for 2023. Even more, as ComicsPRO president Jenn Haines pointed out, “Comics retailers know how to fight and how to adapt.”
As mentioned, this is a preliminary report, but I feel pretty confident in saying that comics shops did not close in mass numbers in 2022. I’m also hopeful that they are likely to weather 2023’s issues as well…but we’ll see what’s to come.
Always nice to hear some good news for a change. I know of two local shops that have opened an additional store over the past year here in SoCal.
My local comic shop DID in fact adapt!! They stopped stocking comic books and leaned completely into TTRPG, MTG and wargames. I have to buy comics online now, which means I don’t go into my local ex-comic shop anymore. Diamond screwed a lot of people.
I appreciate having some decent shops both a short drive from my home and also within an hour or so. But I have to admit that when it comes to my monthly books, I’ve for the past few years had a mail subscription. The titles can arrive a few weeks after they hit the stands, but I’m saving 40 percent. Considering how much less content readers are getting (it takes me a few minutes to read many 2023 comics versus the time it takes to read comics from the 60s/70s/80s and enjoy the better artwork from those eras) I just can’t pay $3.99 and up for a monthly.
I do pick up the occasional back issue that catches my interest in a store. I wonder though about stores that I frequent that have the same back issues in the bins for years. No exaggeration. Like, some comics that they probably bagged/boarded when they were released in the mid 2000s. Why not have a frequent fire sale or a frequent half price sale or something to move ’em out the door? There may be perfectly logical biz reasons for not doing so. I’m not a shop owner. But, as an outsider looking in, when you can sometimes pick up a run of a series/miniseries online for much cheaper, I don’t get the point of a comics shop just letting these books gather dust, hoping that one day someone will come in and pay that higher price?
I know they as a small biz need to make money. But if you’re gonna sell a bunch of books at half price now versus waiting for the day 2, 3, 4 years or longer from now to sell them for full price, isn’t it worth just making the sale now? Again, I’m not an owner, so would love to hear that perspective.
Wanna cite the source for your data you corrupt hack?
I did cite my sources. Diamond and Lunar.
The LCS I normally go to, just about every week, is Nuclear Comics in Laguna Hills, CA. Kenny, the owner, often has sales on back issues and graphic novels. He recently opened a second store in San Diego, taking a lot of his back stock down there. I used to use a subscription service, but I missed the feeling of going into a shop and chatting with other fans and folks behind the counter.
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