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Kevin Wada signing at Comix Experience for Pride Night back in the Before Times (Via Facebook)

By Brian Hibbs

Back when this all started, some people didn’t understand why retailers were so adamant about digital not getting released before physical during the COVID-19 crisis.

Here’s the thing about periodical comics: Because of the way that they are released weekly, they operate a bit like a moving train — they hurtle along, and they have to follow a strict schedule. One of the reasons I advocated for digital comics being held until print comics could resume was “The Desynch Problem.”

In a nutshell, the problem is that while, maybe, a week or two worth of comics could have been “caught up” in print after getting behind digital, we were going to be eight weeks or more behind before a single print comic was going to be able to ship. It would have been flatly impossible for either stores to “catch up” to that amount of product, either from a cash flow and/or work process (even processing two weeks of comics at once would have been a really difficult challenge for most stores), or from the consumers’ ability to buy in and absorb all of those comics.

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New comics “return” next week, and I am of the opinion that this is more or less a result of DC “forcing the issue” by intentionally allowing for de-synch on physical periodicals, something that is clearly untenable. As I write this on May 13th, there are more than 83,000 people dead from this virus, and if things keep on at the same rate they have been last week, it looks like that number will be well over 90,000 by “New Comics Day.” I realize your opinion on this may change based upon where you live, but this doesn’t seem to this observer to be a responsible time to be shipping periodical comics again.

It has always been my experience that comics primarily are sold to the browsing reader. The overwhelming majority of my customers are not like you, reading comics news and opinion sites. The vast and towering majority get their “comics news” from walking in to the store and seeing what’s on the rack. They don’t have a subscription preorder box; they do not even want one. They don’t know what’s being released in advance (and they don’t really want to know, either — at least not if they “have” to); they don’t “keep up” with comics news and gossip. No, the overwhelming majority walk into the store and encounter comics there in a state of virginal grace, and buy based upon what they can see with their own eyes.

pftaw280-1.pngMost comics appear to be sold in major metropolitan areas, according to the leaked Marvel document from a few months back. And most major metropolitan areas are still partially or even mostly closed to “normal” business. For example, in San Francisco, we’re finally going to be allowed to open for “curbside pickup” just two days before new comics arrive — that means no browsing, no dithering on purchases because they need to be paid for and completed before you ever even arrive, no upselling, no picking out which cover option is the one you want to buy, no casual conversations about what was a great read this or that one was. In other words, all of the tools we use to sell comics are mostly crippled or made dull.

(And all of this at increased risk to my staff and customers from the very process of traveling around)

I said it before, and I’ll say it again: in most of the cities where most of the comic publishers are headquartered — New York, Los Angeles, Portland — none of the employees of those publishers are allowed to go into their offices for their desk jobs. So, to me, thinking that it is sensible to try to drive customers into traveling to retail stores to buy periodical comic books seems quite a bit insane.

I think that if DC hadn’t tried to force themselves out of the distribution system (relying heavily on the Fear of Missing Out, or FOMO), that we still wouldn’t be talking about having New Comics Days for some time yet. The problem, from my point of view, is what I said above: Most new comics are bought more on a whim than a firm plan, and the overwhelming majority of customers have zero interest in buying comics if they have to order them 3+ weeks in advance. But, because we’re still effectively closed in most meaningful senses, we can only responsibly place orders for for-sure purchases: Ordering “rack” copies when you have no open racks to display them on is a sure way to have unsold product at a time where unsold product is likely worse for most comic retailers than having no product.

Realistically, the math says that we can’t survive and pay rent and utilities and wages on just new comics preorders; and getting in that new product weakens our ability to ask for reductions in rent and utilities or paying wages: If the machine is running, then therefore we must pay to have it run. Outgoing expenses increase, while income isn’t enough for most stores to pay for any of it.

I totally get if you live in a community that isn’t having restrictions: I think your governments are playing with people’s actual lives, but I understand “well, some commerce is better than no commerce” as an operating assumption. But I would submit that trying to keep trains running while passengers are unable, or more importantly, unwilling to even get to the station just doesn’t make any sense: Anecdotal reports from stores that have been allowed to “reopen” days or weeks ago say that many customers are choosing to stay away.

So, I know that my only sane reaction was to order strictly only what I already have preorders for — no “rack” copies here. Play the game defensively; try to reorder when customers realize that they can’t buy off the shelf, if they even realize that we’re open. If we have a “push” way to reach even half of our customers, I’ll be shocked — people who don’t want to have standing orders at a comic shop generally aren’t interested in signing up for your mailing list, yo — and “pull” methods like various social media are extremely inconsistent on who you’re able to reach, without spending more precious cash flow that most stores can’t afford right now), and hope and pray that it won’t put us all out of business because some executive decided that something is better than nothing, even if it isn’t enough to pay for its own costs to handle.

It’s the same Desynch Problem, just in a different way: If any store anywhere has those new periodical comics (especially if it is a big mail order house), then FOMO dictates that we all have to get on that train, even if we end up losing money because we ride.

(Here’s an interesting observation: DCBS and Midtown Comics were, combined, something under 9% of Marvel’s sales according to that leaked doc. However, my state, California, alone, is more than 10% of Marvel’s sales, and I am not aware of any CA store that’s able to do better than curbside pickup legally. This seems like a poorly thought out math response to me.)

pqtaw280-2.pngYou will note that no retailer anywhere (at least that I was aware of) really said a single word about graphic novels still being produced and shipped during the shutdown — this is because there is really almost no Desynch Problem for a perennial book product. First- week (or even first-month) sales, at least for anything of meaning and value, are a tiny drop in the bucket for what you’ll sell over the printing life of a graphic novel. If I can’t capture that sale today, I’ll still likely be able to capture it “on the other side of this” because books are the very epitome of a “long-tail” product, and books don’t go “stale” (usually). Conversely, periodicals are essentially a perishable good: Their shelf life is measured in days, not weeks, for most titles, and if you don’t capture those sales at the top of the cycle, you’re dramatically less likely to be able to sell them for anything but a loss.

Now, my colleagues might then argue that this is a lousy model for us to pursue. And I might even be convinced of the merits of that argument (although I always always fear throwing one’s baby out with the bathwater) but I am strongly of the opinion that taking a FOMO-based approach like DC has forced upon us is significantly more perilous and fraught and ultimately risky for the entire system of selling periodicals than another few months of waiting it out would have been. That is to say that the very rush to get back to “business as usual” directly hurts a very significant percentage of the people doing business because they can’t do it in a profitable way.

The problem is that the business that is usual was one that had gotten all upside down, striving to sell more titles to fewer people, rather than understanding that Less is More and trying to grow the audience. Unfortunately for a post-shutdown restart, trying to sell products that few people want (the national sales charts indicated that there weren’t even 100 periodical comics that 20,000 or more people were interested in buying in February 2020, despite there being at least 2442 accounts that buy comics — under ten copies for the average store) in a climate where most consumers are afraid to leave the house even to go to the doctor’s office, even to treat recurring conditions, doesn’t sound like the right move to me. And rather than using the pause to reformulate a better path forward that makes us stronger on the other side, this seems to me that it inevitably can only weaken and divide us.

The raw irony of it being DC of all companies that chose such a reckless and tone-deaf pathway is completely overwhelming. DC’s main motivation appears to be not having a “single point of failure” that Diamond represents — except that it was in fact DC that manufactured and ensured Diamond’s sole periodical distributor status back in 1995. Virtually every other non-Marvel publisher wanted to wait out Marvel’s Heroes World purchase and support multiple distributors, but DC signing with Diamond (again, ironically, because they believed that no other distributor was capitalized well enough to withstand Marvel’s loss) triggered the very distribution collapse they were afraid of. (sad trombone)

To add insult to injury, DC has decided to compound things by trying to rewrite the very structure of things by leaning on DCBS and Midtown Comics, the number one and number two retail accounts, and therefore the #1 and #2 competitors to the other ~2400 comic book store accounts, to become “new distributors.” The thing is, history shows us, from Heroes World, to the KSP-led Capital City, to the noble failure of Cold Cut, the volume of comics sales is not enough to profitably support distribution that isn’t offering a “full line” of publishers.

In order to have received the handful of DC comics released by Midtown and DCBS, I would have had to lose money on shipping and labor. DC comics periodicals alone don’t represent anywhere near enough volume to profitably purchase (especially because we buy all of our DC backlist graphic novels from Penguin Random House already) – and we’ve historically been a “DC store”!

That is purely the argument on the business case of dollars and cents — it doesn’t include the “There’s no fucking way I am buying from my mail order-driven competitors, thus making them stronger” — we can’t make a profit from using this “new distributors.” They’re not “distributors.” They don’t have payment terms; they don’t have an actionable terms of sale; and they don’t have any systems in place or possible to enforce compliance even if they did. They don’t have the mechanical support needed to actually be a distributor — things like CSV files to import into point-of-sales systems, or advance solicitation catalogs, or any of the tools that make it possible for stores to deal with the back-end business of selling comics are all nonexistent. And they can’t be created on the fly, in a panic.

pull quote new.pngThe word I hear is that it was only a small percentage of retailers that even bothered trying to use these “new distributors,” and all polling seems to indicate that the overwhelming majority of ones who tried are nearly uniformly switching back to Diamond as fast as they were able. It strikes me that the only real growth prospects that these “distributors” have are either the “bad actors” in retail (who were out-of-terms with Diamond before the plague), or “buying clubs” where fans join together to circumvent the market to get cheaper terms. A “distributor” without thousands of clients, or the actual infrastructure to operate a wholesale business (dramatically different than retail sales), really isn’t any kind of alternative to that “single point of failure,” and can’t be made genuinely viable without a truly tremendous amount of capital investment in marketing and systems.

The other thing DC is trying to pull off here is an “aligning” of their sales channels to have everything everywhere on Tuesday, to “eliminate consumer confusion” (hahahahahahahaha!). These “channels” are effectively three buckets: direct market periodicals, digital comics, and book market.

Now digital has never been a solely viable thing, at least as currently situated: Virtually every publisher (including DC executives when you huddled with them in hotel bars at 2 a.m., back in the old days) was clear that digital was not a meaningful percentage of sales, and that no digital comic currently produced by a physical publisher generates enough income on its own to even come close to paying the creative costs of creation and the physical overhead that publishers bear. This includes the “digital-first” ones!

But we who have been doing this for a long time know that several DC executives are really really eager to try to make digital a thing (even though they’ve now had a decade and things have barely improved on that front), so it’s very very hard not to read the new “digital comics release at 12:01am Tuesday” as a direct shot across the bow against DM retailers in an attempt to get the most fanatical readers to switch channels. I do not think it will especially work, because the consumer as a whole has apparently rejected the format, but it is a deeply, deeply shitty move to unleash in the middle of a shutdown when stores are vulnerable.

The “book market” is a funny thing. They release on Tuesday, and were not willing to take a one-day hit to their normal operations for graphic novels (at least the decades ago these things were originally set in motion), and because of the physical realities of setting print runs and physically moving product, this then meant that comic shops therefore were releasing books “six days early.” As a book-forward DM store, I can’t really say that it had any meaningful impact on actual sales (like I said: first-week sales aren’t really how reprint books work, and the overwhelming majority of customers buy a thing where they see a thing, and are not gaming out their purchase sources), but it was a nice show of respect of “dancing with the one what brung you.”

The flip side of that is that I don’t actually care so much of “losing a day” to bookstores, but again, a deeply shitty move to their #1 sales channel when we’ve been forced to our knees.

We’ve been told over and over and over again by Diamond, the publishers, and most especially DC that there were physical reasons why things had to time out as they did, as we spent two full decades fighting for “day early release” of products to stores — that phrase refers to the notion that we get comics a full day before we release them to customers, which in turn, allows us to complete all of our back-office work (those subs don’t pull themselves, dude), account for the differences in shipment arrival time even within the same city, and generally let retailers properly merchandise our racks and not be horribly burned out from the receipt of our shipments (Comics receipt day is my hardest work day, by far) — and that it simply wasn’t possible to get comics into stores’ hands earlier than Tuesday reliably. Key considerations for publishers were both making sure that uniform release could happen in the UK, as well as the pesky little problem of Monday shipping holidays means many stores can not receive the books on time. Despite multiple people asking, the current DC has nothing but stony silence to questions about those issues.

There’s also a host of mechanical issues that are anything but clear surrounding receipt times. Take for example of the tiny little stupid issue of “Midnight Releases” (like the imminent “Death Metal #1”) – DC has stated that retailers are now allowed to release comics as soon as they get them (ignoring that even in the same city, current commercial shipping circumstances can mean multiple days difference in receipt for stores) — does this then mean that some stores are able to have that “midnight release” as early as 12:01 a.m. on a Monday, even if other stores aren’t getting the comics until the next day? Is your ability-to-sell now a function of which “distributor” you use? Creating “Haves” and “Have Nots” is the worst possible thing a manufacturer can do.

Ultimately the comic book industry is deeply invested in “Wednesday” from both a mechanical as well as marketing POV, and any attempt to change that date, especially by fiat, and especially when it ignores the physical laws of time and space, seems like a terrible move that can only create discrepancies in local markets and sow confusion in a time where steadfastness is perhaps the most important consideration. I’m never ever going back to rushing through check-in procedures again and throwing the books up on the rack as fast as possible again. Those days were hell for retailers, and caused immense amounts of destabilization (seriously, “air freight wars” nearly destroyed comics in the ’80s) – why would anyone willingly want to go back to such things? And how dare DC Comics try to force us to do so despite the clearly and overwhelming dissent from their client stores.

Tuesday periodical comics just aren’t a thing, and can’t be a thing, no matter how much DC wants to try and make them so. More than anything else, I resent companies that try to wrest some teeny perceived advantage, one that DISadvantages countless others, in the middle of a crisis. That shows low character, and until recently, that’s never a charge one could make stick against DC in terms of retailer relationships. Our collective orders will be affected. How could they not?


Brian Hibbs has owned and operated Comix Experience in San Francisco since 1989, was a founding member of the Board of Directors of ComicsPRO, has sat on the Board of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, and has been an Eisner Award judge. Feel free to e-mail him with any comments. You can purchase two collections of the first Tilting at Windmills (originally serialized in Comics Retailer magazine) published by IDW Publishing, as well as find an archive of pre-CBR installments right here. Brian is also available to consult for your publishing or retailing program.

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36 COMMENTS

  1. Spot on! The only thing I would add is that most book store and mass market retailers don’t respect street dates, unless it’s a MAJOR release. They just put the books on the shelves when they arrive. This whole business about creating a “unified” release is just a load of crap

  2. I can appreciate Brian’s frustration with DC, but I think that a business model heavily reliant on a browsing customer (in a retail location) is incredibly risky during a crisis that will likely extend for the next 18-24 months. Even if we find a way to improve testing and contact tracing, I imagine that customers will have some residual wariness around casual browsing in retail stores (for non-necessities) until we have a vaccine.
    I think it may be worthwhile to explore different ways of engaging with that browsing customer and diversifying income (beyond periodicals). If that doesn’t happen (or if retailers with the kind of model described in this essay don’t rethink their approach), it’s hard to imagine how any comic book retailer survives this crisis.

    Also – I often wonder how digital comics would’ve fared if they weren’t priced at the same rate as paper comics (is there any other media/culture industry that does this?).

  3. One thing that I can’t escape thinking is how this reads as an unflinching refusal to change in a time when everyone is changing how they shop – customers have pivoted to new shopping habits. It’s as if at some point, before the epidemic began, there was one tried and true way to run a comic shop and any deviation is doomed for catastrophe.

    Shops are in a new age of getting products to customer in modern way outside of “walk ins”. Shops are doing delivery, curbside pickup, and shipping in order help their customers. Retail is dead, long live retail.

  4. Jamaal, a big reason digital comics likely won’t come down much further in price is that they’re already pretty close to the minimum threshold beneath which the publisher’s share of the sale price collapses. The platforms prefer that publishers charge a certain amount, particularly when it comes to bandwidth-intensive full color products.

    So it’s not just that they’d make less money per copy — they’d likely make MUCH less. Since the fixed cost of creating the comic book does not change, the profit margins might go down to nearly nonexistent.

    (And no, we probably wouldn’t make that up with volume; comics history has shown that demand is inelastic, and price cuts don’t encourage enough extra sales to make up the profits lost.)

  5. @Jamaal Thomas: “I can appreciate Brian’s frustration with DC, but I think that a business model heavily reliant on a browsing customer (in a retail location) is incredibly risky during a crisis that will likely extend for the next 18-24 months.”

    I mean, yes…. but it is literally DC and Marvel’s business model for periodical comics… and most of their book biz too.

    Most retailers I know are making extreme changes to their ongoing businesses (I would be happy to believe that the number of online shopping sites for comics stores has increased at least five-fold in the last six weeks) — but that doesn’t imply that these changes are at all viable themselves to pay ongoing expenses.

    “Also – I often wonder how digital comics would’ve fared if they weren’t priced at the same rate as paper comics (is there any other media/culture industry that does this?).”

    Given that it is truly trivial to download digital comics content for 100% free, and yet there doesn’t seem to be any great move to digital reading, ten years in, I’d guess that publishers just would have made 1/4th of the income for most releases, had they priced them at 99 cents and undercut what it costs to pay for production.

    Fundamentally, I think the “unit” of comics isn’t the panel, it’s the page, and it’s actually the GUTTER that “makes comics what it is”. And that doesn’t work at all well on a phone (comparatively few people have access to better equipment)

    @Chris Williams: “One thing that I can’t escape thinking is how this reads as an unflinching refusal to change in a time when everyone is changing how they shop…”

    I think this is on you reading into it; it’s certainly not what I am intending to say (I could be a shitty writer, to be sure!) — I know I, for one, have pivoted to having a web-driven way to shop, with multiple ways to order product (It has been, in fact, technically illegal in California to do Curbside, fwiw), and I see most of my peers doing the same.

    “…customers have pivoted to new shopping habits.”

    But here’s the thing, they really haven’t, yet. I think our online store is rocking pretty OK, and still we haven’t been able to make more than about a third of our normal gross sales, and, I think this is key: it’s a pretty different mix of goods than what was selling in meatspace. For example: we used to sell 3-5 copies of the WATCHMEN TP a week, every week, for much of the last 15 or so years — haven’t sold a single copy in shutdown. Pretty much every single traditional best-selling book has utterly flatlined — because those are selling to those walk-in customers.

    My peers are mostly telling me the same stories, and I can promise you there’s absolutely positively no “one true way” to sell comics — there are probably fifty different viable mix and match methods, if one took time to list them all out.

    But The Great Pivot doesn’t make a great deal of difference to a hard reality of my multi-decade anecdotal experiences in selling new periodical comics to readers: most make the buying decision by LOOKING at a work. That’s just not a non-clumsy, or more usually non-existent, thing on the internet-based transactions that are required in a best-case-curbside-or-shipping retail environment. It’s not how customers WANT to buy, and I’ve fairly certain a lot of people are just going to bounce off the whole PROCESS of it.

    Or to put it as a customer said to me in email today, “Buying new comics just isn’t as fun any more”. I know, buddy, oh how I know.

    -B

  6. As ever, an insightful, interesting (if depressing!) read.

    I do think, though, that Brian’s view of digital overlooks the absurdity of that channel as it stands today. The way DC and Marvel sell periodical comics in digital formats limits the potential audience for them, essentially, to the already existing marketplace. Many of the same barriers are in place for the broader market (esoteric release schedules, impossible to follow ordering, bewildering browsing experience etc etc) and the same limitations on market growth are in place.

    I’d be willing to bet 99% of digital readers are “in-store” buyers who simply lack the time to get to a store as regularly as they once did. Very few are new readers, I think.

    I’d be very interested to know if Marvel Unlimited has attracted a higher proportion of new-to-comics readers. I suspect the data shows it has, but mainly because it’s a cost-effective way to get comics into the hands of the children of long-time readers.

    I’ve little doubt that the industry will shift to digital-for-periodical and book formats for physical at some point because the entire “floppy” market is propped up solely by the buying preferences of an ageing market. I’ve also little doubt that that digital product won’t look like a scanned floppy.

  7. Wednesday release was always the prime reason that i was never able to have a pull list or reserve books at a shop. All the ones around me required larger minimum orders that i wanted to spend each week to keep a pull list open and because of work, I could never get to the LCS during the week before closing (10-5 is really awful shop hours if you want customers who are employed.) Didn’t want to spend $25 a week on books i didn’t want just to get one indie book i wanted. Couldn’t ask for indie books unless i had a pull list. Comics marketing is such that you don’t hear about most smaller titles until the week they come out and get reviews or hype…and you can no longer order them. Vicious circle. Weekends were my only time to get to a LCS, and by then most stuff was sold out that was bought for the rack, and no chance of ever getting any smaller titles or indie books. So frustrating to go into a shop every week with a list of things you want and leave with nothing. Mail order, trades and digital became the only way to read comics for me.

    My main takeaway from this article is that there aren’t that many comic shops or comic readers, so sticking to archaic sales styles as the world becomes more digital and instant on-demand focused is a strategic mistake for industry health.

  8. i think Jamaal is spot on. Shopping habits will change drastically. The days of walking around and doing unnecessary outside things in public is over until some kind of vaccine is released if/when that ever happens. Any urban shop dependent on working people stopping in on their lunch break has to realize that a large portion of these people are either unemployed or doing work from home for the next 6 months to a year.

    Any small retail business that isn’t looking into online stores and social media presence is putting themselves out of business. Assume very few people will ever come back to your store going forward. No more walk ins, browsing and asking for recommendations. You have to reach your customers in different ways and understand what they want and need. Not just waiting for a grand reopening and hoping everything resets to the past version of normal.

  9. My LCS has been open since May 1 without any new comics to sell. I was their only customer on May 14, and I only bought old back issues. There is increasingly large real estate opening back up in a limited phase. The NEED new products, and they NEED customer traffic All stores must find a way to get the browsing traffic even in these trying times, or else I fear all these small shops will shutter. We absolutely need DC to have pushed to reignite the industry. You need customers, customers need product to restart the habit, and the publishers need an industry. We’re all going to have to adapt or else we’ll all be sitting home broke in 6 months waiting for a handout. I believe DC will be seen as a leader in getting comic books back on shelves. The Tuesday release may end up changing due to later market forces (i.e. better deals or less hassle with Diamond), but right now – today – DC is the only entity in the driver’s seat. And no one else has the say so, otherwise no new weekly comics would be had for months. Adapt and innovate, or whither. This is a battle with the forces of nature. We must adapt to survive. If you think in June everyone will be hunky dory and skipping into your stores with no masks, you are oblivious. Customers are going to be hesitant to come in period. You’re going to have to fight with all you’ve got to get customers into your store or onto your website if you want any comic sales in the months to come. And if you don’t, look no further than the recent PR statement from DC: digital comic readership is up by 35 percent on DC Universe over the last 2 months! This is a 35 percent increase in digital comic reading for cheap, cheap, cheap. I can right now wait 12 months and read every DC comic book for only 8 dollars per month. Let that sink in. You are competing with 8 dollars a month for readers who are becoming increasingly disconnected from the real time, regular habit of physical comic sales. Add to it the bonus of hours of video content. And for Marvel it’s an even better deal for turnaround. For only 10 dollars per month, there is a 6 month delay for reading every new comic book. Sit back and laugh at the innovation, or put your head in the sand and pretend there are not market shifts right now, but both things are happening and DC is at least priming the pump for a somewhat normal market to begin taking shape again.

  10. “Mail order, trades and digital became the only way to read comics for me.”

    Most of my comics purchases these days are IDW’s hardbound reprints of classic newspaper strips (the Library of American Comics) and I’m using mail order for those. It’s been so long since I’ve bought floppies — as opposed to trades — at a comic shop, this discussion is pretty alien to me.

    I guess some people are still obsessed with getting their new periodicals every week, but that audience is increasingly aging, dwindling and conservative in its tastes. If it’s not superheroes or Star Wars, they’re not interested.

  11. I used to frequent a “local” comic shop that a coworker introduced me to in the early-to-mid-2000s. It was in the next county and was at least a half-hour’s drive away. That was my first experience in a comic shop. Prior to that, in college, I bought comics in Books-A-Million or Waldenbooks (again, in another county, an hour’s drive away, since my local Waldenbooks didn’t carry comics). The comic shop also sold gaming cards and other stuff. I don’t think it’s in business any longer.

    A local bookstore in my county experimented with ordering comics through Diamond for a while, but that didn’t last long, because there wasn’t enough demand (the bookstore had a primarily older customer base, and the kids came in for gaming tournaments, not to buy books. The bookstore went out of business over a decade ago.

    I ordered comics from TFAW for a while, but it got to the point that I could no longer order two or three weeks’ worth of comics at once in order to save on shipping, because they quickly went out of stock. I had to order every single week. This, in effect, meant I was paying roughly $8 for a single issue. I gave up on physical comics entirely in late 2016, switched to digital, and haven’t looked back.

    If you’re wondering if I ever searched for a local comic shop reasonably close to my house, yes, I have. Recently, in fact. Unfortunately, Comic Shop Locator says the nearest shop is in Memphis, which is 0 miles* from my Florida ZIP code (“*Mileages are approximate. Actual driving distance and times may vary.”)

    So, yeah, I don’t – and won’t – miss comic shops.

  12. I’m starting to wonder if any fans live less than an hour’s drive from the nearest comic shop, bookstore, movie theater, public library, etc. The ones who post online constantly mention how far everything is from them. If they’re not exaggerating, they’re prime mail-order and digital customers.

  13. So if most print readers are never going to go digital and digital sales are stagnant, then retailers can rescind on their idea that the digital should cost the same. A reduction of 0.50 to a dollar seems appropriate.

  14. It’s funny. I used to think little of DiDio — from the outside looking in, it looked like he was weak creatively, weaker as a manager. (In regard to the former, it may be that he focused on the more lucrative things and, at the other end, maybe ignore entire books. OTOH, if he was leaving the lesser stuff to Bob Harras, well, Harras was the EIC when Marvel went bankrupt. Of course, that was due more to financial greed than editorial but editorial was a factor.)
    And what replaced DiDio? I’m not sure Lee has a grip on things, not sure he has much of a clue. When he and DiDio were co-publishers, there was zero overlap between the two, and current times is awful to learn half the business. And I’m not sure they were equal haves.
    And as for the ATT angle, well, they have to be nervous in Burbank. I think ATT has little interest in publishing specially when they’re drowning in debt.
    tl;dr: I’m not sure anyone’s really in control at DC and that there’s no little fear there, a drive to show ATT that they’re bringing in the $$$ even in these times. And they don’t care about the LCS. Then again, Big Business clearly hasn’t cared about small businesses during the pandemic.

  15. “I’m starting to wonder if any fans live less than an hour’s drive from the nearest comic shop, bookstore, movie theater, public library, etc. The ones who post online constantly mention how far everything is from them. If they’re not exaggerating, they’re prime mail-order and digital customers.”

    This was true for me for most of my life. Two years ago we moved and my closest comic shop is now literally a 15 minute walk from my front door, maybe 90 seconds if I drive. But right around the time we moved, the last comic book I was buying physically was wrapping up (Mark Waid’s last Cap run) and there was nothing compelling enough to keep me buying physical copies anymore. I was reading or skimming a lot digitally, but the only current mainstream comic worth keeping up with for me was Immortal Hulk, and there’s no legal platform that makes reading one single comic book title every month make any economic sense at all.

    I read comics rabidly from 1972 to 1990 or so, driven away by the Image founders’ unreadable pre-image Marvel trash, then came back in the mid-’90s when Busiek and Waid saved Mavel for anyone who actually liked reading comics with words and stories that made sense and respected both the characters and the readers. But a combination of the quality of the average new comic, the lack of vision in both hard copy and digital publishing, and now the permanent changes to our lives that the coronavirus has visited upon us make it impossible for me to imagine ever browsing a comic book store rack again or buying even one more comic book inside a shop.

  16. Please explain this to me, because I don’t understand.

    Comic readers want new content.

    Creators want to make new content.

    Publishers want to see new content.

    Thanks to COVID-19, the current retail channel is not tenable, so publishers are looking for alternatives, like digital or other distributors.

    But… because the old channel MIGHT come back in the future, the publishers should not use these alternatives.

    Rather than make SOME money now, they should make NO money for months, just in case all those readers wait patiently for the months that it takes for the system to recover.

    (I’m not certain most of them will.)

    Don’t get me wrong… I understand the burden of the situation for retailers. But the fundamental disconnect here is that the traditional comic book industry is based on the premise that the LCS is the end customer… NOT the reader.

    So, as long as the shops keep running, everyone is happy… except for the readers.

    What am I missing?

  17. What you’re missing is that digital alone is not enough to pay for creation and overhead of virtually all comics that are released as periodicals. So when you then do genuine harm to the wing of your business that is paying those costs, through DeSynching channels and cross-channel issues, you run the towering risk of destabilizing the entire thing worse than it already is. “First thing: do no harm”

    Also, there’s no “might” about it — comics start shipping again for arrival in stores next Tuesday! (too early, if you ask me, most fans aren’t going to come pouring back, but that’s what next week will tell us)

    -B

  18. If you really wanna keep periodicals around, then I would argue you don’t have the pages colored – or even inked – until they’re ready to be collected for the trade. The periodical prices need to come down, because there’s so much stuff out there that’s a better value – including superhero movies, TV shows, and novels.

    Some comparisons follow. For the purpose of these, let’s say 1 comic page = 1 prose page = 1 minute of screen time (although, judging by some of the motion comics that Archie has released, it seems 1 comic page actually equals around 30 seconds of screen time).

    Supergirl season 5 (digital)
    $14.99 / 19 episodes / 40 minutes = $0.0197236842105263 per minute

    Supergirl season 4 (Blu-ray)
    $22.49 / 22 episodes / 40 minutes = $0.0255568181818182 per minute

    Supergirl: Master of Illusion (prose novel)
    $9.49 / 256 pages = $0.0370703125 per page

    Supergirl: Being Super (trade paperback)
    $7.95 / 208 pages = $0.0382211538461538 per page

    Supergirl: Last Daughter of Krypton (trade paperback)
    $7.02 / 155 pages = $0.0452903225806452 per page

    Supergirl: Reign of the Cyborg Supermen (trade paperback)
    $7.95 / 168 pages = $0.0473214285714286 per page

    Supergirl: The Killers of Krypton (trade paperback)
    $7.95 / 160 pages = $0.0496875 per page

    Supergirl season 5 episode (digital)
    $2.99 / 40 minutes = $0.07475 per minute

    Supergirl Annual #2 (periodical)
    $4.99 / 41 pages = $0.1217073170731707 per page

    Supergirl #40 (periodical)
    $3.99 / 24 pages = $0.16625 per page

  19. @Nate- what you are missing is that Brian Hibbs is owed something because he never had a business plan and takes abuse from the publishers because of it. I’m even trying to be snarky; in his last column he went to great lengths to tell us that this is from his love and passion of comics and making a profit is NOT his focus, which is possibly a factor in why he has economic conflict with this profession.

    I think you can gleam some knowledge from Hibb’s columns but for the most part his entitled tone and complete lack of awareness for how the customer will/should feel dilutes any good points he might make. It’s about the customer, plain and simple and that is who publishers should cater to- always. I say this not liking digital comics whatsoever btw and preferring the feel of paper between my fingers- sorry, I refuse to use the term “floppies” for COMIC BOOKS, just like the term “shelf porn”- but Hibbs thinks the publishers should cater to him and his issues since, you know, he did this out of love, for us, like a kind of retailer messiah. No one forces you to start a comic book store.

  20. I think we can all agree that the next six months, at a minimum, are going to be a delicate time for the industry. Stores will see lower customer counts, retail will have to work differently, store income will be lower. An already tight financial picture for shops will become even tighter.

    Frankly, there’s something publishers could do that would matter more and be of greater help than the day of the week DC wants their books on sale. That would be for publishers, Marvel and Dynamite especially, but also IDW, Valiant, and Titan, among others, to scale back their variant cover programs. Stores aren’t going to have the operating income to order tons of variant covers. Variants prioritize short-term balance sheets for the publishers over the industry’s long-term health.

    I don’t know if this is something Diamond can enforce on publishers. I dimly recall that cover counts dropped due to the Great Recession. Certainly, they could strongly encourage publishers to scale back their variants. But they shouldn’t have to. Publishers can read the environment just as well as you or I, and they should be taking proactive steps to protect their business and the industry, because without an industry they have no business.

  21. “I read comics rabidly from 1972 to 1990 or so, driven away by the Image founders’ unreadable pre-image Marvel trash …”

    I gave up on Marvel and DC when they copied the hideous Image style in the ’90s. The last straw was when Marvel brought back Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld to “rescue” several of their books. (Lee couldn’t write but at least he could draw. Liefeld could do neither.) By the end of the ’90s, I wasn’t buying anything from the Big Two.

    “the traditional comic book industry is based on the premise that the LCS is the end customer… NOT the reader.”

    I’ve noticed that, too. This site pays too much attention to the woe-is-me wailing of comic shop owners, and not enough to the readers.

    It’s the readers who get stuck with overpriced, barely readable junk that makes money for the publishers and the retailers. If more are choosing not to buy this junk, I can’t blame them.

  22. First: DC (and others) are stupid if they want to de-emphasize New Comic Book Day on Wednesdays. Other specialty retailers would kill for a clientele which visit stores weekly. That’s the Golden Egg of the Direct Market, and DC is acting like Veruca Salt singing “I Want It Now”.

    Second: Bookmarket strict-on-sale days.
    I worked three years at SuperCrown, and nine years at Barnes & Noble on the front line of retail. New books come out on Tuesdays. (Why? 60 Minutes on Sunday, morning shows on Monday? Public holidays?)

    The big titles…the corporate office buyers sign an affidavit which details the release of hot new titles…the instant bestsellers like Stephen King, Dan Brown, J.K. Rowling. Usually, the publisher is also buying display placement in the store for the first week, to push sales. With a larger discount because of the bulk order (at least three cases of books per store, if not hundreds of copies…based on previous sales), the store also discounts the book. Like grocery store loss leaders, it’s to get you inside, and buy other stuff. The publisher wants that big first week of sales because: New York Times Bestseller list, and, like movies, there’s more product coming in the pipeline and sales immediately trend downward to the long tail.

    Each week? There’d be a page of the SOS titles we had to monitor, usually a page of about twenty titles. Monday evening, staff would prep the books. Since we closed at Midnight, if there were fans who needed a copy, we’d keep one register open and sell a few copies at 12:01 AM.

    Back in the 1990s (and still today?), we’d also get the new weekly titles in paperback. That had a date on the box, but those hit the shelves immediately…no affidavit, no repercussions.

    The last Harry Potter title was SUPER STRICT. We couldn’t even crack open the boxes until that day (a Friday, with selling starting at Midnight on Saturday).

    Third: In bookselling, copies can’t be returned until three months later. Sometimes, a publisher will see crappy sales, and instantly credit the retailer who turns the copies into “instant remainders” so that the publisher saves money on shipping and handling.

    In superhero graphic novels… it’s rare that a collected volume stays on the shelf more than one year. TRUTH: Superhero comic books are soap operas for guys… nobody buys DVD collections of “One Life to Live”, and few are going to buy “Aquaman Vol. 5: Sea of Storms”. Hell, even Batman’s “Wedding” is long forgotten. That’s the big mistake DC made with the New 52: no stand-alone graphic novels like Watchmen or The Dark Knight Returns to buttress the backlist.

    Most comics shops do not sell antiquarian books of comics. Which is a shame, because I’m willing to spend $50 on an old book about comics. I once spent $200 on an Absolute Edition.

  23. I truthfully have gone to the store on a Wednesday only two or three times. I go whenever it’s convenient, and Wednesday usually isn’t. Tuesday or Thursday are most often the best days for me. Not being a Wednesday warrior, the whole mentality of “I must get my comics on a Wednesday!” is just incredibly weird to me. Any day except possibly Monday makes sense to me, really.

  24. “TRUTH: Superhero comic books are soap operas for guys… nobody buys DVD collections of “One Life to Live”, and few are going to buy “Aquaman Vol. 5: Sea of Storms”. Hell, even Batman’s “Wedding” is long forgotten.”

    The Marvel Essential volumes on my shelves would disagree with you. Some guys (and women) do want collections of comics that were important to them when they were growing up.

  25. Brian’s very good at specious generalizations. I’ll never forget the angry phone call he made to me in the 2000s in response to a pro-alt comics column I had written for Comic Book Galaxy. “Everyone who reads Love and Rockets also reads Superman!” he yelled at me from the other side of the country. It was as laughably wrong then as it is now.

  26. Alan, I never said that. What I said then, and I still know to be true, is “Most people who buy LOVE & ROCKETS serialized also buy super-hero comics, because they don’t act in the rigid ways you are assigning genre; they’re interested in supporting the MEDIUM of comics”

    -B

  27. I stand by my recollection of the conversation. Your version is very nice, but you have scores of columns you’ve written and probably thousands of comments that should make it easy for anyone to decide which version is most likely true.

    That said, I wish you and all comics retailers the very best in navigating this unprecedented time in comics retailing.

  28. Have whatever recollection you like; I certainly never said something so obviously incorrect. I most self-evidently never tied L&R to something so oddly specific like SUPERMAN.

    -B

  29. That’s what I remember you saying, in those exact terms. It’s possible I am misremembering, as it is possible you are. Again, there’s a public record out there to help anyone who cares about this draw their own conclusions. Not much point in discussing it any further than that, one thinks.

  30. “Most people who buy LOVE & ROCKETS serialized also buy super-hero comics, because they don’t act in the rigid ways you are assigning genre; they’re interested in supporting the MEDIUM of comics”

    So… most people who buy LOVE & ROCKETS do it because of the format, not because of the actual story and art?

    I’m sure Los Bros Hernandez would be happy to know that.

  31. ???

    Most of the people who buy ANY serialized comic are doing it because they like that format and want to support the creation of the work. They KNOW in the first place that it is being serialized because they care about that format and they shop in stores that sell serialized comics. Therefore, they’re also extremely likely to ALSO buy (some) super-hero comics.

    There are certainly people who only buy L&R in book format; this part of the recollected conversation was nothing about them.

    ADD’s assertion at the time was… well, I don’t actually remember his side of the debate all that specifically. Something like “alt” comics readers and (ugh) “mainstream” comics readers were wholly different things; which has never been an observable thing to this store (and we sell proportionally more “alt” comics than a typical store by a great measure) — again, most people buy into the MEDIUM of comics, when you give them that choice.

    My purpose, as I recall, in calling ADD was to help him understand that trying to separate readers into camps was largely inaccurate, and absolutely counter-productive if you wanted to sell more comics.

    -B

  32. @Nate – If your correct assessment of the speciousness of Brian’s over-generalization didn’t convince anyone of who is recalling the conversation correctly, his reply to you should settle it pretty definitively. Thanks for nailing it.

    Now, it’s entirely possible his store is this Comics As Medium Utopia he describes, in which people who love Bernard Krigstein and Barry Windsor-Smith are also smitten with the complete works of Alex Saviuk and Vince Colletta, but in the nearly five decades I have shopped in comic book stores and interacted with fans and readers all over the world, the fact that there are two kinds of comics readers — those who love comics as an artform, and those who are actually superhero fans who only like superhero comics, don’t even see artcomix as comics, and would rather watch Heroes reruns or Star Wars, or take a nap, even, than read a Chris Ware or Los Bros graphic novel.

    There are indeed two camps, everywhere outside Brian’s store. Which speaks to his skill as a retailer, I guess, that he has fostered such a wonderful, seemingly impossible environment in which the greatest works of the medium and the shittiest jobber comics are held in equal esteem by his egalitarian customer base.

    I totally recognize and respect Brian as a retailer who has written extensively for decades about his experiences in his shop. But I continue to despair, for nearly two decades now, that he thinks his experience translates to the vast majority of comic book stores and their readers. It just doesn’t.

  33. @ADD: Thanks, but I’m just trying to understand this for myself. I have no agenda.

    @Brian: Is it not equally possible that the reason readers bought comics in serialized form simply because that was the only format it was available in?

    I can’t speak for every reader, of course, but the reason I bought comics in serialized for was never out of any “love for the medium”.

    I bought it because I wanted to know what happened next, and single issues was the fastest way to get that. :). Frankly, I’ve been arguing for years that the webcomic model (wherein a new page comes out X times a week, and is later collected in a more permanent form) is the way forward… but of course, that doesn’t help “the comics industry”.

    Makes a good chunk of coin for the creators, though. :D

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