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Let’s Save Comics!!! More thoughts on new readers, Marvel attrition and DC cover prices

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Yesterday’s piece on current retail issues in comics by Todd Allen drew a lot of attention and kicked off a lot of discussion. Some of it was in tweetthreading form, and with permission, I’ve gathered thoughts by retailers John Hendrick (Big Bang Comics) and Ryan Higgins (Comics Conspiracy), and commentator El Anderson. It’s Storified below. I also reached out to some retailers for comment and we’ll be running them in the future. Jake Shapiro of Washington DC’s Fantom Comics,  a well known progressive comic shop that caters to newer readers, also weighed in with some comments, and a promise to write more for The Beat in the future.

There’s a lot more to be said about all of this, but let’s ponder it for now. (Art above from the cover to Marvel’s Civil War The Oath by Jeff Dekal.)

Jake Shapiro:

Your piece was 100% on point from my perspective. Fantom Comics is having one of the best years in its 11-year history (THE best year, depending on how you measure),  and a big reason is all the things you pointed out—we sell a ton of trades, and we diversify our audience enough that we’re not nearly as Marvel/DC dependent as some other shops.
Plus, the community factor is huge for us; we can’t fight progress when it comes to online retailers and digital distribution, so the only thing we have over Amazon is our community.
With that said, the past month has definitely been a downswing. Part of it is the natural ebb and flow of retail, but in addition to the reasons you mentioned in your article, the election has had a particularly big impact here in Washington, DC. Many of our customers are people whose entire livelihoods are threatened by the looming Trump presidency, and we saw an IMMEDIATE downturn the week after the election.
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18 COMMENTS

  1. I hate twitter. What a useless way to make a substantive point. It truly is a communication form for Trump’s America. Have no idea what argument/statement that Big Bang Comics was even trying to make as I’m not willing to spend unnecessary time to scroll through dozens of tweets.

  2. I am really, really tired of hearing how it’s the customer’s job to read a Previews catalog every month and then find the books they want and then pre=order them in the *hope* the DM store actually follows through with that. Forget that…it’s MUCH easier to just buy that stuff on-line now.

    Interesting points, though. I don’t think it’s true bad comic stores kill bad comic stores. It’s a really tough business with a thin margin and outside of major cities, I can’t imagine how hard it must be to stay open. The entire industry is built on the idea DM retailers loan out tons of money three months ahead of time and then receive product they alone are responsible for seeing the sell-through on.

  3. Well, I apologize for my comment above – it was kind of rude. I still hate twitter and think there are better ways to express ourselves, but I finally did take the time to scroll through all of the tweets and think that Big Bang Comics made some good points.

    It’s a very interesting discussion about a sad topic. I’ve been going to comic shops since the 1980s and even though I currently use DCBS because my local comic shop closed down 5 years ago, I miss being able to go into a place and actually be able to flip through comics and look at covers, etc. There’s a difference between ordering comics from an online catalog and being able to look through them in person.

    I do believe comic shops will need to continue to diversify to stay in business in many cases to try to attract a broader crowd of customers as I do believe the number of people who want to buy monthly comics will continue to dwindle over time as the Big Two seem content to market towards long-term (and aging fans) and as younger folk turn more towards TPBs and digital comics.

  4. We need to have a very serious conversation about how pre-ordering might not be a relevant form of running a retail business in 2017 and on. I know the whole system is based on that, but it was a system created for a different generation. If you’re under 35, the idea of looking through a paper catalog and ordering things you might want to get weeks in advance on a tight schedule doesn’t jive with how people experience and purchase products and services today. I think the future is in shops that embrace social media and have very strong online and mobile presences. It might require investments, like diamond creating an app for customers to me a modern catalog. Comic shops often feel adrift in time.

  5. I like how comixology has it for shops that use that…you can look at all the books coming out and hit a button telling a comic shop to pre-order. That’s better, but the system still seems really bad to me. Like, I also buy a lot of physical books from book stores, and they think the idea of pre-ordering is confusing. They usually ask to wait a week or two before release and then they’ll reserve a copy.

    But I’m sure it’s all the customer’s fault, somehow. It just seems to me DM retailers should be fighting Diamond for much shorter order lead time and retainability. Let Diamond figure out what to do with the piles of unsold floppies.

  6. They need to hire writers interested in creating products their customers want. I can’t believe the amount of snarky comments aimed at readers in their books. They obviously have contempt for a ‘for a lot of their customers.

  7. Back in the day: I hear about a somewhat interesting book coming up. I wait for it to come out, and browse a shelf copy. Half the time, I buy it. After a full read at home, I decide whether or not to add it to my sub. So some fraction of those wasteful extra shelf copies turn into subscriptions.

    These days: I hear about a somewhat interesting book coming up. I look for it on the shelf, but it’s not there. (The clerk might tell me they had one or two shelf copies, but it’s gone by Wed afternoon.) Maybe I run across a review or two later. Maybe I get a digital copy. Maybe I wait for more reviews and decide if I want the trade. But the trade gets bought online. The lack of shelf copies leads to no store subscription.

    Can the non-big-two afford to send out returnable first issues? Not sure what else is going to break the cycle here.

  8. Speaking of returnability, I think it’s time for us ‘readers but not collectors’ to work together to swap comics, or get a rebate from the distributor/retailer on ‘read once’ comics, or get some small resale value from all these $4 single issues we are buying. I am finding that my recent back issues have absolutely no resale value, and no one even wants them for free. That affects how many comic books I will purchase, as I am not building a ‘legacy collection’ for my heirs.

  9. For what it’s worth, I have decreased the number of books I purchase from my LCS and read every month due to lack of space in my house. I suspect I’m not the only one who had cut back for this reason.

  10. Talk about an unsustainable business model; if you’re buying new comics with the intention of selling them back at any decent percentage (let alone a profit), you are going to be sorely disappointed. I believe in the past 100 years that worked for about 6 months in the 90’s!

  11. One of the reasons why Disney bought Marvel was because Disney needed IP that would appeal to boys. At the time of Disney’s purchase of Marvel a lot of people wondered what Disney’s influence would be on the brand. Disney had a reputation for being heavy-handed in its management of subsidiaries. Everyone was assured that Disney did not want Marvel to change a thing and just keep doing what they were doing. This turned out to be false. Now, Disney is turning almost all of Marvel’s main IPs into things that will appeal to girls. Even something like the Totally Awesome Hulk seems like a woman’s idea of what the Hulk should be like. The Totally Awesome Hulk, like another near-perfect character, Superman, has been purified of any internal conflict that made him interesting.

    There are other little changes as well. Prominent figures like Editors like Joe Quesada don’t regularly give out interviews and “Cups o Joe ” anymore. Marvel just does formal press releases though news outlets. I think Disney is behind the reason why editors are now mum for the most part. Disney probably did a lot of research into Marvel’s recent past.There were accusations of there being a fratboy culture at Marvel offices in the early 2000s…I’m sure if that’s true…but it seems as though Disney is trying to distance itself from any informality that would give that impression that Marvel is a frathouse.

    The YA market everyone occasionally mentions is really the YAW market–young adult woman market…and as we can see with DC’S YOUNG ANIMAL line, so is DC.

    The goal doesn’t seem to be inclusion but to replace one imbalance with another– an eye for an eye. Like I said before, the job market is not a meritocracy. Employers, and employees have biases and prejudices.
    Some people are happy because there’s just more girl-orientated content out there. To quote Heidi “DISNEY LOVES PRINCESSES. I TOLD YOU SO!”
    https://www.comicsbeat.com/marvelhyperion-announce-ya-novels-based-on-rogue-she-hulk/

    Perhaps this is agenda driven or perhaps DC and Marvel have done market research and concluded that the future is one where female consumers will be more reliable than male consumers.

  12. “The YA market everyone occasionally mentions is really the YAW market–young adult woman market…and as we can see with DC’S YOUNG ANIMAL line, so is DC. ”

    Should be

    The YA market everyone occasionally mentions is really the YAW market–young adult woman market…and as we can see with DC’S YOUNG ANIMAL line, DC agrees with that assessment as well. There is only one Young Adult comic with a male as a main protagonist

  13. I really love how old these misogynist old men readers are exposing themselves left and right crying over how the old white guy leads are being replaced by younger, more diverse characters. Then they’re crying because their very insular old white male system is falling apart.

    It’s all so wonderful!

  14. They’re not crying, Chris. If anything they’re laughing at the irony.
    But enjoy the racist, sexist rant. (oops, forgot “ageist”)

  15. “They need to hire writers interested in creating products their customers want”

    That doesn’t make much sense. If people aren’t picking up the books, how does anyone know whether the writers are writing them well?

    Plus it’s not the writers who launch whatever titles they want.

  16. Honestly, is there something against using Facebook to write COMPLETE posts, instead of this crazy Twitter thing where you have to say something in 54 Tweets? It’s really just nuts. Stop trying to be “cool”, and let technology be our friend! ;)

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