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death-_the_high_cost_of_livingHey, gang.  We need to talk to about the looming problem with the Direct Market.

You’ve seen the articles about comic shop owners being worried about mass closings in the Direct Market.  We’ve got a couple GoFundMe’s active for shops in Seattle and San Francisco.  There’s the game store in the Phoenix metro area dropping comics.  And this is what’s public.  It didn’t take a lot of asking around to hear multiple stories about shops hanging by a thread that might not make it very far into 2017 if they don’t have a great holiday season.

So let’s talk about what’s going on with the shops and then we’ll talk a little about what this *might* mean for the greater industry.  I’m probably going to slip back into business professor mode, but I’ll try and keep the wonky language to minimum.

The Current Problems at the Shops

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The problems being articulated to me are the following:

  • DC’s prices are too low
  • Customers disappearing
  • Customers are switching to tpbs/book format
  • Customers don’t like Marvel’s output
  • Rising cost of doing business
  • Diamond credit crackdown

Let’s do this by the numbers.

DC’s Prices Are Too Low – Pricing has always been a thorny issue, but this one just makes me roll my eyes.  We’ve gone from retailers complaining about customers pushing back on Marvel’s $4.99 first issues and having to just WHY an indie publisher needs to charge $3.99 for a comic to make a living to whining about DC not charging a high enough cover price?  Stop.  Just stop.

Are DC’s sales partially due to a lower cover price?  I expect so, yes.  It encourages sampling and it’s easier on the wallet when you’re bi-weekly.  And after a DISMAL couple of years, DC really needed that wide sampling.  And some of those readers who sampled new titles stuck around or we’d be hearing a lot MORE about shops being in trouble.  Thing is, when Marvel first started upping the price on their more popular titles to $3.99, they didn’t lose a huge amount of sales on most titles (the exception being Loeb’s Hulk, IIRC).  If people LIKE the comic, they’ll pay $3.99.  I don’t think DC is stealing Marvel sales purely on price point.  It probably helped getting the initial audience and it probably helps retaining them, but it’s not such a big factor if Marvel’s creating material the audience clearly prefers. On two books a reader is lukewarm on, $2.99 is going to be $3.99, though.

So let’s just leave this topic alone and maybe you’ll keep those DC sales you currently have, rather than risk audience abandonment with a price hike.  I wish your customers were made of money, but not all of them are.  (Just the ones paying ridiculous prices for variants.)

Customers disappearing – This one startled me a little bit, but I’ve heard multiple stories about the customers, including regulars, dropping out since… perhaps the beginning of the Fall?  So after Rebirth finished launching and around Civil War 2?  There’s not a lot of agreement about why this is happening.  A particularly heated presidential campaign distracting people.  More customers switching to tpbs.  Marvel fans throwing in the towel.  Lots of different explanations, but not a clear narrative.  Nobody’s said “customers switching to digital,” and I doubt a regular’s going to admit that to his shop very often, but let’s throw that out there as a possibility.  Death of 1000 cuts?  Enough people are agreeing this is happening for me to believe it, but the “why” is up for debate.

Customers Switching to TPB/Book Format – Look, if you’re a regular visitor to this site, you’ve read me discussing this before.  It hasn’t changed and the needle keeps moving in this direction.  The short version: new readers don’t want to pay $3.99 for 20 pages that are a little on the thin side, in terms of story.  They want to get the complete story and not worry about running down individual issues.  Price and packaging are factors here.  Readers coming in at older ages, not being trained to make a weekly comics run is a factor.  It’s not nearly as convenient for the retailer and the ordering cycle, but this isn’t a new thing and it doesn’t look like it’s doing anything but gaining steam, so retailers would be advised to dip their toe in and get acclimated if they haven’t already.

The challenges here, and these are DEADLY SERIOUS challenges to retailers.  When a regular customer decides to switch to tpbs, there’s a gap before the new material can be collected in book format.  And it can be over six months.  In the case of DC’s Rebirth, first volumes start in… March?  Let’s just say if I was one of those shop owners who wasn’t sure if he was going to make it to January, I wouldn’t be real happy with DC not having those Rebirth tpbs ready for holiday shoppers when I could use the money to survive.

So your customer is waiting on new material.  I really hope the customer who told you their intent to switch to tpbs (not trade-wait… it’s time to lose that term) was receptive to getting hand-sold on some new material during that wait.  If not, you’ve got to hope that after 6 months, your customer REMEMBERS “oh, there’s new material in those series I read and I could go back to the shop.”  They could forget they still read comics in 6 months.  Out of the weekly habit, they might go to a different store or order the books online.  There’s a retention risk here that wasn’t nearly as serious before.  And it sound like a lot of shops are currently in the middle of weathering a year of customers switching formats.

I don’t think there’s anything unnatural about this switch and the customer gets to choose what format the customer wants to read in.  This is about the customer.  But it doesn’t mean a big transition isn’t going to be a strain on a shop. And yes, this does sound like an independent bookstore with a much larger newsstand, doesn’t it?

Customers don’t like Marvel’s Output – This is always a touchy subject as Marvel corporate always goes into a bunker and denies everything while the hardcore fans pitch a fit.  And Marvel is doing extremely brisk business in areas outside the Direct Market.  Marvel as a company may be doing quite well, but the bulk of their ongoing DM lineup is in a bad place when you take the variant covers away.  This has all been discussed before, so again, I’m going to just do the highlights.

  • Marvel has been locked in a template for a decade, trying to duplicate the success of Civil War. In broad strokes, it goes like this: six months of cross-over event -> six months of reboot with variant covers -> six months of cover-over event. And the DM audience is just over it.  Especially when the crossovers don’t feel organic and half of them are duds.  It interrupts the attempts at an ongoing story in the regular titles and guess what?  Those interruptions aren’t great for the burgeoning tpb audience, either.
  • Marvel has trained an awful lot of their audience that they’re reading the story of the universe and only the stories feeding into the big events count. So it tends to be an all or nothing proposition and the series that keep out of the events tend to get marginalized as not counting as much.  It’s silly for the self-contained titles to flow like that, but it’s a function of the promotional style.  I’m not sure Hawkeye would’ve gotten its tpb sales under Fraction/Aja if it was constantly crossing over, though.
  • Marvel’s chasing different demographics, but trying to keep them in the same imprint. Marvel is having HUGE success with the tween market, selling tpbs into Scholastic Book Fairs.  Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur does HUGE numbers there, but the monthly comic is a barely a blip in the DM.  And then people get upset that 40 year old men aren’t picking up comics targeted at tweens.  I must be getting old, because I remember when that was an ugly stereotype.  The point is, Marvel is putting some of those characters that do big numbers OUTSIDE the DM at the forefront of the monthly titles.  If the Scholastic audience doesn’t migrate into the shops to seek out the monthlies, OF COURSE, there’s going to be an audience disconnect.  In a perfect world, comic shops would be selling to wider demographics, but especially in shops that serve a tighter market, this is going to create some confusion with audience.  I know demographics are scary, but when Harlequin (the romance novels) bought Mack Bolan/The Executioner, they sure didn’t put the Harlequin logo on the cover.
  • How many different Avengers/Inhumans/Squadron Supreme/Iron Man, etc. titles does ONE person really want to buy? The line extension is out of control. And if you cross over inside the family of titles enough to make it feel like an all or none proposition, well… there you go again.
  • Inhumans and X-Men. How’s that Terrigen Mist plot point been working out the last couple years?  Breaking records on that new event yet?

The cherry on the top of the sundae is when some of the owners think that they’re losing sales on non-Marvel titles because some of the primarily Marvel readers are just not coming in much any more.

On the bright side, at least Marvel’s getting better about keeping tpbs in print, which was an astonishing problem for years.

The truth that nobody wants to hear is that Marvel could probably downsize the DM and make a go out of chasing the Young Adult market through Scholastic and the “regular” bookstore market if they had to.  It’s going to be pretty darn interesting when the 2016 Bookscan numbers drop, so we can see what’s real and what’s hype, but they’ve been building other markets.  We also don’t know, and won’t know, if Marvel’s digital sales have picked up.

The other thing is that while the state of Marvel’s DM mid-list is approaching late stage New 52 kinds of pathetic, they do a good job of papering over that weakness with those variant covers.  Which probably means shops that have a good market for those and/or shops that are large enough to take advantage of those without much extra ordering may be making out like bandits.  But clearly not the entire market.

Is it time for Marvel to get new editorial direction and finally use the nuclear option – a reboot?  Axel’s staked his name on Marvel not needing to reboot, so I’m sure he’d say no.  The majority of retailers I talk to would just as emphatically say yes.  I don’t think the midlist is likely to improve with  yet another iteration of “Marvel NOW,” a promotion that’s been run into the ground.

Here’s the thing, though.  Marvel’s better about planning ahead than DC is.  If they were to walk into the office tomorrow, give Axel his severance, put Sana in the EIC chair and say “we need a new direction – start lining up the reboot,” the earliest that would come out would be Fall and the way I hear it, I’m not sure the shops that are in trouble could hang on that long.

Retailers should have been pointing readers to the Image titles that so many of Marvel’s A-list writers have left for and started doing so 2+ years ago when there was time to build a little publisher diversity into the system.  Some shops did, but apparently not enough.  There is a sense that the pure Marvel fans have been leaving and it’s too late to get them interested in something else.  That sentiment is not as universal as other things, but there’s definitely extreme concern from some of the retailers.

And just because people get so touchy about Marvel, let me throw out a couple titles a lapsed Marvel fan might actually like.  I’m six months behind, because the family got me an Unlimited subscription for Christmas last year (which is why I’m not a totally lapsed Marvel fan), but Carnage is a shockingly well done 70s Marvel flavored horror/adventure/fun mashup with Man-Wolf and the Book of Darkhold mixed up in it; Daredevil is currently one of the more enjoyable pulp style adventures on the market; and Black Widow is Waid/Samnee, which is all you need to know.  I’m not a Marvel hater, but I do understand and share the profound disappointment in their output of the last few years with some of the fans who have walked away.

Rising Cost of Doing Business – There are mentions of rising rent and rising minimum wage.  This is a cost of doing business issue.  It’s very real, but it’s somewhat out of the scope of what a publisher can control, save taking the cover price off the book… except not that many customers are likely to be excited about $4.99 cover prices, which makes it a Catch -22.  And an unfortunate Catch-22.

Diamond Credit Crackdown – There’s a clear narrative of retailers getting nervous because Diamond’s being serious about credit limits and it sounds like maybe a lot of shops got behind while DC and Marvel were both in the tank.  Or maybe there was some over-ordering on big titles that didn’t have as much popularity with the customer as the publishers were hyping.  Either way, this is a real problem.  Diamond took a hit with the Hastings bankruptcy.  They weren’t the only company that took a hit and you really don’t want the distributor for 90+% of the monthly product going bankrupt, so Diamond really does need to protect itself.  I’m not sure the market would survive the scramble for all the publishers to arrange alternate distribution if they didn’t.  It’s a problem and we can just hope the shops in trouble have good luck with holiday sales.

In Summary

 So what we’re *probably* looking at here is a combination of customer tastes changing a little faster than anticipated and those changes, plus the cost of doing business rising,  gumming things up for a set of shops.

What’s This Mean Moving Forward?

Again, if you’re a regular Beat reader, a lot of this isn’t new.  This looks like a manifestation of that perfect storm scenario I’ve been concerned about since ’10, which New 52 and the indie resurgence pulled the market out of.  The retailers seemed a little more concerned right now and let me be very frank: when Direct Market comics dealers are very quiet about problems for 3-4 months and then say “it’s BAD,” you should worry.  Comics dealers are usually grousing about something, and if they’re not, they’re usually having legitimate concerns about something.

This is why I’ve been begging retailers to embrace the book format if that’s what’s selling and to add more publishers to the mix so there aren’t so may eggs in one basket.  Both of them aren’t necessarily something that can be done overnight.

The first question is how many shops are really going to close?  There are going to be some clearance sales and hopefully that buys a little time for some ships to get righted.  Are we talking 20 shops?  100 shops? More?

The second question is WHICH shops are going to close?

You know how the conventional wisdom is that ~300 shops make up the bulk of orders for independent comics?  I actually think that number has creeped up the last couple of years, but it doesn’t take a lot of hits to this sub-group to start impacting the independent publishers in a meaningful way.  50 small shops is a drop in the bucket for DC and Marvel.  50 indie shops could be 10%+ of sales going away for an indie publisher.

My gut feeling is that if retailers are concerned about a lot of the Marvel audience walking out, that retailers with a wider selection of publishers will be losing fewer sales and better able to weather the storm, but that depends on how well everything else is selling, the rent, wages and so forth.

I really hope some of these shops being identified as in trouble can gut it out and emerge healthier.  (And it does look like Whatever…, the San Francisco shop with a GoFundMe met their goal.)

What everyone wants to avoid here is a snowball effect and there are a couple scenarios for that.

Scenario 1:  Widespread shop closings among the shops most dependent on DC and Marvel.  Enough for both DC and Marvel to feel the bite.  Marvel doubles down on the bookstore market and DC starts switching to more OGNs.  Everybody starts feeling more of that pain while waiting for the tpbs come out.  The DM gets busted down to a core of larger shops that had deeper pockets to weather the storm.  Digital serialization and print tpbs becomes a lot more common for the Big 2.  Indie market proceeds as usual, but the shift towards tpb continues.

Scenario 2: Closings take a big bite out of the indie friendly market and monthly indie comics aren’t as viable as they were in 2016, but not enough closings to bother DC and Marvel, which continue business as usual.  There’s a wild scramble as indie creators debate whether OGNs should stick with the current publisher or to court one of the mainstream book publishers with a graphic novel imprint.  Smaller indie creators fall back on digital and get VERY familiar with (alphabetically) Kickstarter and Patreon.

I think what’s more likely is a much, much smaller scale version of Scenario 1 and then Marvel shores things up Q4 ’17 or Q1 ’18 by trying Something Different from the rut they’ve been stuck in.  If “I’m sorry, I won’t do it again” worked for DC and Rebirth, a *sincere* apology and return to fundamentals should work for Marvel.

We really don’t know how many shops are in imminent danger and plenty of them are doing well.  That doesn’t change the fact that prominent retailers are sounding the warning bell and are seeing trends that alarm them.

We’re just going to have to wait and see what happens.  If nothing else, the takeaways are that book formats and more complete stories are still gaining steam and the audience is getting disgruntled enough to say no, having a complete run of a title be damned.

If this gets bad, distribution is going to change a little.  Digital’s going to be a little more prominent.  Books are going to be even more prominent and if there are more geographic holes in distribution, that means increased demand for digital and mail order.

The laughter you hear is Jeff Bezos.

Want to learn more about how comics publishing and digital comics work?  Try Todd’s book, Economics of Digital Comics or try some fiction.

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73 COMMENTS

  1. I think the article also should have included the impact of the large-scale online comic sellers such as DCBS. Although buyers need to order and pay in advance they offer discounts that can’t be beat and deliver the comics right to the buyer’s door, with no risk of books that were requested not being given to the reader due to sell outs. I think it’s probably more profitable to operate a such a large scale and almost worry that comic shop are going the way of the small family farm because of this situation.

    Services such as Marvel Unlimited are also making some impact on current comic sales. If readers can wait 6 months, new comics are released on that format at virtually no cost to the reader.

    But, the way comics are written now, with 6 to 10 part stories, some of which are intentionally drawn out, do not give readers much entertainment value for the money spent. It can cost readers $28 to read a 6 part comic from Marvel and it takes about an hour to read that story. There are much more productive ways to spend that money (movies, books, video games, etc) instead of buying 6 comics which might or might not be any good. The Big Two need to tell more stories over a fewer number of comics to give readers a better value and to make it easier for newer readers to be able to pick up an issue and figure out what’s going on.

    Good article by the way but feel bad for local comic stores. Feel like they might need to expand more toward selling genre merchandising instead of comics though.

  2. Let’s not forget the notable lack of Star Wars stuff relative to the last couple of years. In 2015, Star Wars saved a lot of retailers. Not only did the new Marvel titles sell CRAZY numbers, but it also brought fans into the stores who also bought merchandise, toys, t-shirts and other stuff besides comics and books. Tomorrow we have a new Star Wars movie that’s going to bring in $120M in its opening weekend and there are zero tie-ins. In fact, Marvel just cancelled Darth Vader, one of the best SW books and replaced it with? What? I’m not sure why Disney isn’t using Marvel as a transmedia tie-in to the SW universe to any great extent, but it’s not only a huge missed opportunity for them, it is also depriving retailers of one of the biggest drivers of store traffic at a time they need it most.

  3. I defer to your expertise, but I don’t see how you get from “Marvel is locked in a cycle of events followed by new #1s” to “Marvel needs a reboot.” Isn’t that like trying to get out of a hole by asking for a bigger shovel?

    The advice to diversify and not put so many eggs in two baskets seems more sound to me. Image’s output is the best it’s ever been, and while not every book can be TWD or Saga, I see real opportunity there. And there are a lot of other publishers putting out great work that I hope can find an audience in the DM.

  4. I don’t think that Marvel needs a universal continuity reboot (although the X-Men franchise needs to be reset in some way to re-focus the line, and I’m not meaning the rehashes that are being solicited post-Resurrexion either) but I think they need a reboot of their business model related to their monthly comics. They need to charge less and get themselves out of the wash, rinse, repeat cycle that they are in in terms of earth-shattering events, followed by series relaunches, followed by more of the same. The seasonal model isn’t working in my mind because nothing of any lasting value gets built. I’ve read complaints from many fans that once they start getting into a series, they fear that it’s going to be canceled ad relaunched again, setting up a new status quo.

    It doesn’t seem like these change are going to occur with current editorial leadership. Change at this point wouldn’t hurt Marvel if it could lead to some stability. They need to build good and lasting comic series and not be so intrigued with events, relaunches, new and expensive number 1 issues, and variant covers.

  5. 1) Diamond is also feeling the crunch of losing IDW to Random House next year, in the book trade.
    Bookstore returns might already be happening in advance of the transfer, hurting Diamond’s profits.

    If Image skedaddles…

    This is the sister company to Diamond Comic Distributors, the Direct Market distributor. Both should be run on separate books, but there’s probably some overlap in distribution, and the bottom line is the bottom line, regardless of divisions.

    2) The Marvel titles I’ve been enjoying have nothing to do with the events. Squirrel Girl, Ms. Marvel, Mockingbird, Venom (both versions)… they are self-contained, feature stable creative teams, and are written and edited for the trade market.

    3) How many pure comics shops are there in the DM? How many of those are “book stores”, like Bergen Street, Rocketship, Comix Experience?
    Most stores really don’t merchandise graphic novels like a bookstore. I see the shelves packed, but few displays.

    4) The indie market is a bit immune to the DM, as most of that has shifted to bookstores and trades.

    5) I’d love to see an analysis of each of those stores which require crowdfunding. Are the stores merchandised well? Do the owners/managers engage in community outreach (like a discount for good report cards)? How diverse is the product mix? Do we need a “Comic Shop Rescue” series on SyFy?

    6) How many stores participated in Small Business Saturday? I’ve heard very little about the special comics printed for that day. Oh, wait…. “Local Comic Shop Day” was the Saturday BEFORE Black Friday. ??? How many stores had Black Friday sales?

  6. I took a quick look at what the maximum feasible difference Rebirth being at $3.99 would have made to the overall revenue for the year:

    http://blog.comichron.com/2016/12/the-difference-dollar-makes-what-2016.html

    Upshot: a couple of points at most, bringing 2016’s growth pace into line with 2014’s growth. As mentioned above, Star Wars at Marvel made such a splash in 2015 that we’ve had some trouble keeping pace this year — yet the year is still positive, if just barely.

  7. I agree with almost everything but to me the most important fact is the migration to TPB format,(at least i did it)

    Another important fact to me is that many top writers ran away to image in the last years like Gillen, Fraction, Brubaker Hickman and Remender

  8. On the crowdfunding question, I can say Zanadu is a local institution and its stock is diverse and well-merchandised; my wife was managing the store when I met her back in the 1990s. A forced relocation due to work on the building is the looming issue, as I understand it.

  9. Speaking as a guy who runs a books-forward comics business, I think Todd radically overstates the potential conversion rate of book-preferred buyers on superhero material. In the significant majority of cases, the size of that audience is 1/3 or fewer of the audience for a serialization of the same work, and more typically as little as a tenth.

    A malaise on Marvel will never be solved by “customers switching to trades”

    There are individual books that are exceptions (HAWKEYE, SQUIRREL GIRL, et al), but when you’re talking about the bulk of Marvel and DC’s lines… well, there isn’t much market juice there. Here, as an example, Waid’s AVENGERS is selling, what? like 40k copies? v2 as a trade barely brought 2k in orders at initials, and I’m sure it’s lifetime DM reorder velocity will no ore than triple those initials. No Waid Avengers material is on any bookscan I have yet, but “comparable” books (say, Hickman’s trades in the years he was still on the book) show numbers that are similar — 2-3k, with not a significant long-tail that I can envision. I’d be surprised if lifetime sales on v2 of Waid’s ANAD ever reach much over 10k sales reported. 40k vs 10k? I’ll take the 40k audience any day of the week

    -B

  10. Burnout is a thing. Between the movies, TV series, animation, games and comics…i can only absorb so much comic related media before i just don’t want any more of it. Gluttony makes you sick and that’s where i am now. I think the fanbase is beyond overwhelmed on all sides of their media consumption with comics related *stuff*.

    Confession: i quietly stopped being a comic shop regular 2 years ago. Just stopped going every week. I didn’t qualify for a sub box and If the shop had an owner, i couldn’t tell you who it was and i doubt anyone there ever knew my name. The experience wasn’t great…mostly ignored by staff at a store that had terrible hours (9-5) for someone who works in an office every day. I like digital and trades ordered at a discount online whenever i feel the need to read something new. The Wednesday warrior hobby being a job is so far in the past for me.

    I also just don’t enjoy reading stories in a floppy format over a 4-6 month period anymore. I like buying collections and treat comics like a book. Read the story in 1-2 sittings. Not to mention, even if i wanted to get back into floppies, the current cycle of reboots and relaunches is too confusing and intimidating. Asking the shop employee who’s face is buried in his/her phone to help explain me back into the current landscape feels like a bridge too far for me.

    I’m pretty down on comics in general. It’s this weird golden age where everything is really high quality, but not very interesting or fresh to me. Its like everything is a slick, over produced studio album, and i just want to watch a live show on youtube or go to a gritty punk show in a basement. Even Image stuff is starting to look and feel the same to me. If high end homogenized is a thing, that’s what i’ll call it. I’m also starting to get a “this is a TV pitch pretending to be a comic” more often than i’d like from creator owned books nowadays. They look and feel like big 2 books. Very little creative risk taking and experimentation with exceptional craftsmanship. Big 2 quality work with a different IP. Not enough for me. Kind of adrift at sea, looking for something new and exciting to grab my attention.

  11. “The truth that nobody wants to hear is that Marvel could probably downsize the DM and make a go out of chasing the Young Adult market through Scholastic and the “regular” bookstore market if they had to. ”

    No, it couldn’t. I have no idea where you are getting this from. Marvel can’t afford to stock in the bookstores without the income from the Direct Market subsidizing the trades and offsetting the losses from returns. And the book fair market is only profitable when you’re doing really big numbers (where is the evidence that Moon Girl is doing huge numbers there?) because Scholastic takes such a big licensing fee.

    Dan DeDio and Jim Lee were upfront about it- if a book doesn’t sell well as a monthly TPB sales don’t really matter. People have no idea how expensive making a typical comic book is.

    This is all the same delusional talk we hear about digital. But people in the retail business heard over and over customers say “I don’t want to read my comics on a screen.”

    The fact is that both Marvel and DC are heavily subsidized by their owners. The industry bet the farm on “diversity” and lost. They didn’t listen to the people who warned them that all those people showing up at cons weren’t there to buy comics. In fact they attacked them- this blog did so more than anyone. No one has ever listened to retailers except those retailers who tell them what they want to hear. But the only people who know this market are the people who actually have made a living selling comics.

  12. Speaking as a customer, I used to be a “Wednesday warrior” but the quality and quantity of so many good comics being published led me to switch to tbp purchases to maximize my reading/purchasing power.

    I purchase discount tpbs from Amazon or InStockTrades; I also actively suggest book purchases to my local library (with the benefit that others get to enjoy the purchase, also).

    I still purchase monthly titles from my LCS, but my average weekly expenditure dropped from over $50 a week to around $12 a week.

    Based on my experience and the comments here, it seems like there are a lot of cheaper purchasing alternatives to the LCS if customers are willing to wait for their comics.

  13. I just ran a quick check of just how big an impact Star Wars at Marvel made in 2015. At least $34 million, or 6% of the entire market — it would have been the fourth largest dollar publisher, behind Image. Given that superheated pace was unlikely to continue, it’s something that the market has managed to stay even a little bit ahead.

    Looking at it another way: the DM is up 1.82% over last year through November, But if you compare it with 2014, before Star Wars #1 and its million copies, through November we’re up more than 9%.

  14. I guess I don’t have much of a stake in this anymore; I went digital a few years back and pick up my trades online. All I can say is if Marvel actually did a line-wide reboot, I’d finally shake off my last attachment to that publisher. I don’t really like or buy most of what they’re putting out these days, I mostly keep up with the online conversations in the hopes that characters I’ve been invested in for years will get a few months with a decent writer before the next relaunch happens. If Marvel decided to fully jettison the stories that got me invested in the first place (as opposed to just ignoring their own continuity on principle), I’d have no real interest in the product, no matter what names were attached.

  15. I haven’t been in a comic shop for years. I went into the local shop at the launch of New52- and was greeted by empty shleves on at least two occasions. I asked about a pull list- they gave me a card with a url. i’d need to visit to set one up. Nah. If I’m going online anyway, I’ll just go to DCBS or IST.
    Why wouldn’t I?
    Back in the 1990’s, I also was ridiculed (more than once) by staff at Comic Relief in Berkeley for buying Jack Kirby comics. Ridiculed for supporting their budiness. I have received similar treatment elsewhere.
    I have an unlimited account, and have for 5 years. I rarely read anything new on it at all- and when I do, Idon’t get far- even given the fact I can read for no additional charge.
    Marvel’s entire strength is in their backlist.

  16. I’ve noticed a lot of shops being vocal are ones that have been around for decades. How are the shops who have embraced the “new readers and buyers” doing? The ones that have embraced digital marketing and community?

  17. ‘The big two’ have been over producing for years, bullying LCS owners into investing in a wide and weak assortment of superhero titles. Its an attempt to grab the maximum cash from the finite direct audience. In doing this, LCS owners go light on indie titles so they often sell out on release day (or don’t get ordered at all). This prevents indie books from building momentum with the weekly comic audience.

    The shops and weekly customers are an eco system that is being destroyed by ‘the big two’ corporate farmers who tie weak and extraneous titles to their shared universe, blackmailing LCS owners into ordering them. Smaller publishers and true indie books are being over produced as well, but they are in a more natural position to compete with one another on an individual basis.

    As weekly buyers bore with superhero books, they may not find a very wide assortment of indie titles at the LCS. So, they either retire or switch to trades from another source.

    For example, 1 in a thousand variants are an abusive practice, stealing dollars from indie books (maybe even causing new #1s to be skipped) weakening the assortment at the LCS, eroding there ability to engage indie customers.

    Even though ‘the big two’ probably know this what is happening, they probably aren’t going to stop.

  18. This was a great article to read with a lot of points to think about.

    As a customer, I only buy trades and mini-comics, but I know I’m the exception.

    I would like to see a greater push in the Scholastic and All Ages areas. I think a big problem has been catering to older readers (25+) for too long and not trying to bring younger readers in.

    I do go to comic stores and book stores to buy my trades now, but that Amazon discount is always looming and a Hell of a deal. I don’t know how anyone can compete with that.

  19. I do think that digital takes a big chunk out of the store sales. Tablets are easily available and you can get your books without going into a comic shop. I switched to digital years ago and never looked back. I don’t miss it, because going to the comic shop on an evening or especially a weekend meant that I had to deal with gamers and crap like that, taking up space and making it difficult to shop. I think way too many LCS are afraid to embrace the digital and that hurts them. I know Brian Hibbs in one of his complaint filled columns, griped about digital and how he wasn’t going to support books with digital codes. Well, that’s fine, I’d rather go to Comixology anyways

  20. I switched to trades and reprint volumes years ago, but pamphlets are apparently still the life blood of most comic shops. I don’t blame people for not wanting to spend $3.99 and up for a thin floppy. Neither do I.

  21. I have both worked at a DM Comic Shop and a (now defunct) digital comic retailer.

    It’s been like 5 years since I spent a few months working in a comic shop helping out but most of the boxes I saw that closed there then were due to people actually passing away. I know things have likely changed in the last few years but when I asked if that was common the shop had mentioned it was one of the biggest reasons they were losing customers.

    I do think what others have mentioned is worth noting about places like DCBS. I used to always go to the comic shop on Wednesdays and then I found DCBS. I used to shop in Michigan and it’s super common to get 10-20% off of the cover price there (with no taxes!!) in my experience.

    When I moved to another part of the country a shop owner was complaining to me because a customer was asking to get his books bagged and boarded (not just having the bags and boards thrown in his box). Apparently the customer also complained about how the discount was so low (I think it was like 5%, taxes in that area were 8% so basically it was a wash).

    The shop owner turned to me like I was going to agree with him. I mentioned that my shop prior to here had a 20% discount, no taxes, and on top of all that bagged/boarded my books for me. This was the moment that shop owner found out that the only reason I shopped there was because it was my local shop. I had started transitioning to DCBS before then and cancelled my pull box with them shortly there after and have been ordering from DCBS for the last 6 years.

  22. My own situation with comics:

    I fell out of love with my LCS. There was a decent discount, but I think it was partly motivated by the owner’s greed; he would order more copies of books to get and sell the variants. Unfortunately, his business practices became frustrating. First, there was the lenticular cover month where he decided he would instantly mark them up, even for regular customers. I overheard him bragging about it, how it was his one chance to make a big profit. Sounded like something that put stores out of business in 1995.

    Then, there were rules regarding credit cards that in the state of California are a bit illegal; basically, he didn’t take them if they were under $20 and your regular subscriber discount was less if you use credit. I spent $50 a week there for over 10 years. Maybe it’s customer entitlement but I was not interested.

    So, I started using DCBS. I never miss books, they always come in on time… when I go away, some books to pull won’t be “forgotten.” And I get a bigger discount. I often do the bundles which sometimes include titles I may not normally buy because the discount is larger. It pays off.

    There is a wonderful store in Burbank near me called House of Secrets, and they get my business when I want to browse and find some books I hear buzz about but didn’t order. They treat their customers right. The discount is lower, though, sadly. If I could afford it I might be a regular customer just because I like them.

    I’m personally glad DC isn’t $3.99 because even with a DCBS discount the volume of books would kill me. As it stands, there are too many titles. And as for Marvel — no wonder their backlist doesn’t sell well, and no wonder people don’t invest in titles anymore, since nothing gets past #40. I think it’s interesting to note those evergreen collections like The Walking Dead or Sandman – sequentially numbered floppies, and sequential trade paperbacks. You know Vol. 1 comes before 2, 3, 4, 5, etc. How would one pitch most Marvel books these days to people? At least for a while Ultimate Spider-Man was an easy recommend…. and again, it was easy to follow.

  23. Guess I’ll put my $0.02 cents in:

    Nothing wrong with DC charging only $2.99 for their Rebirth titles. Matter of fact, I applaud them for doing so. Problem is, I’m simply not interested in most of them, no matter the price. I don’t think price really matters all THAT much. If you really want a title, you’ll buy it at $3 or $4 (or maybe even $5.

    I happen to like quite a few Marvel titles these days. Problem is, a couple issues are fine, then BAM! You’re knee-deep in the middle of their latest Earth-shattering, Universe-altering, nothing will EVER be the same again (and we REALLY mean it this time!) crossover. Civil War One was fine. CW2 if total dog excrement. I read about 25 Marvel titles a month, and seriously, EVERY FREAKING ONE of them have crossed over into that mess.

    As for 95% of titles out there these days, I’m reminded of a pro wrestling promoter who drew a tiny crowd to his shows. When asked why turnout was so light, he honestly replied, ” I put on a show that hardly anyone wanted to see.” That, I feel is what’s wrong in the comics industry: All publishers (including Marvel and DC) are mainly putting out books that most readers don’t want to read.

  24. Marvel Unlimited is the best way to experience Marvel. You can read the backcatalog while you wait for whatever new pops up, which is not lighting the world on fire as previously stated here.

    Libraries, mailorder businesses, deeply discounted book outlets (online or otherwise) and piracy are not only easier but more affordable.

    I was activistic about comics a long time after I fell out of love with the medium. Eventually without conviction that comics were being run like anything other than movies, books, TV and music (and rendering huge swaths of output as plain as those other mediums), I just decided to quit allowing some special dispensation for a medium that squandered its weird, outlaw birthright and walked away.

  25. I have been reading comic books for 25 years (I’m 35). The past few years my pull list has shrunk. I was a huge Marvel zombie but put me in that category of “What the hell are they doing over there”.

    The X-titles are a joke. It’s unbelievable how mistreated that line has been since Gilleen left. It’s a travesty really.

    There are like 8 teams ov Avengers and apparently every single hero is one.

    Captain America is a nazi.

    Iron man is dead

    Hulk is dead

    Thor isn’t Thor.

    Spider-Man is Tony Stark.

    Hawkeye killed Hulk?

    War Machine was killed and replaced with a female one.

    I feel like there is a correlation between how Trump became president and the downfall of Marvel. People want to read about Steve Rogers, Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, and Peter Parker. People who read floppies don’t want to read replacements. Because someone doesn’t want to read an Asian hulk, a black iron man, a black captain America, or a biracial Spider-Man doesn’t mean they are racist. It means they just want to read what they grew up on.

    Don’t disenfranchise your audience. Give two options. Digital is for youths. Floppies are for adults.

    I also think it’s too expensive to be sustainable. I think the House of IDEAS hasn’t had an original one since Civil War.

    It’s just depressing really.

  26. One more customer perspective, alas an European one. I live in Berlin, where we have a few very good shops and ONE which is truly fantastic for readers of American comics: Black Dog Comics. They order Marvel, DC, Image … and basically at least one copy of every small publisher book. I can’t remember a more diverse market, and I am reading comics, on and off, for 25+ years. I spend at least 150$/€ every month on single issues alone and that sum is rather increasing than decreasing. I got pulled back into comics through comixology but I guess a LOT of people who don’t care that much about the “market’s health” or about holding paper in their hands when reading are consuming their comics online for free. It was never easier to read “stolen”, digitalised comics online than now. However mixed my feelings towards Marvel are right now, I think all publishers are doing a pretty good job at publishing so many good books, and there are as many talented people creating those than never before in the history of comics (imho), so there should be enough material out there for every comic fan to be happy to spend his/her money on. 2016 was missing a big hit (like 2015 had Star Wars) and DC Rebirth was and is great, but also didn’t manage to produce that “must-read” title that gets buzz outside the hardcore-comics press. We’ll have to wait and see what 2017 brings…

  27. Bizzle, I agree with you 100%.

    Hu ormer Marvel Zombie here. I don’t even recognize this universe anymore, down to mutven the editorial level. Its been NERFed so hard, every corner has a safe protective barrier on it. It Zsafe” that the way they write their stories and their entire approach to conflict and conflict resolution is just pandering to the overly outraged crowd.

    And I hate them for their pissing-contest against Fox. No more Fantastic Four, no more effort going into creating new 0mutants that Fox might want to put in their movies. And Disney but a strict halt on any heroes as Marvel Zomvies as comics or even merchandise.

    I was happy tp see Marvel trying to engage younger readers, but they went so overboard that they practically dismantled their entire universe. Why bother reading when everyones been replaced?

    And who ever thought that turning SpiderMan into Bill Gates was a good idea? Peter Parker, Corporate Overlord isa huge sign of how far out of touch Marvel has become.

  28. On the other hand, I just moved to the Finger Lakes region of Central New York- – and I’m amazed at all the great comic shops here: Syracuse’s Larger than Life, ComixZone, Cloud City & Play the Game, ithaca’s Comic for Collectors and Pulp Noveau in Canandiagua. They are all pretty fantastic and I’m enjoying more comics than ever.

  29. if DC bumped the price on everything up to $3.99, I would be out. No more comic books , pretty simple. The $2.99 price point has me in every week.

  30. Mr. Hibbs can speak to this with more authority but based on what I’m hearing anywhere up to a third of the comic shops in the country right now are in danger of failure in the next six months. Even the most successful stores are carrying too much debt. And when fans demand that stores keep a full range of trades in stock they are really asking retailers to go out of pocket on books they will never, ever sell for the most part. You look at fully stocked shelves and feel good about comics- retailers look at them and wonder how they will pay off their SBLs.

  31. Regarding switching to Trades. I find when reading trades exclusively, you read less superhero stories and of those, it’s often the mid list books that suffer unless there is something truly special about them. People want bang for their buck when they are spending that much on 1 story and if the big books aren’t that great, then they probably aren’t buying much at all.

    Controversial opinion time: I think a significant percentage of comic readers aren’t really fans of comics, they are fans of superheroes and comics is how they get them. If they can get them elsewhere cheaper and just as entertaining to them, then off they go. Today there are PLENTY of superhero TV shows they can watch that fit the bill. Plus there are the occasional Netflix show that’s watched in a splurge, movies and cartoons. One can easily replace the amount of time they spend reading comics with watching all that stuff. Ideally these shows would draw people into buying comics but it’s more likely that the vast majority of the audience for these shows are just happy watching the shows and don’t feel the desire to seek out more of it in other media. Even if they were, they won’t find a comic on the racks that’s just like the show they are watching.

    Other possible factors:
    I think the demographics of comic readership are really changing. Older readers aren’t reading as much and while younger readers are buying books – they aren’t buying them at comic book stores. They are getting them via Schoolastic, Bookstores, Amazon, reading them at Libraries, etc.. Also, they buy Raina Telgemeier books (and others like it) and not what a traditional comic stop stocks.

    I also wonder if the sharp rise in the number of conventions has anything to do with this. People are saving their money to go to a convention and buying books there, either directly from publishers or the creators. At San Diego, it appears Image’s booth gets busier every year, but I could be wrong about that. I’m not surprised though, the near constant sell outs of Image books over the past few years indicates the market is still under ordering and leaving money on the table. That money might be gone now, not unlike the Manga market from oh, say 15 years ago now?

    I’ve heard it said that Kickstarter is the 2nd largest comics publisher when you look at all the comics that are successfully funded. Some of that money is likely comic traditional comic book readers who aren’t spending it at the stores.

    What to do to draw this money back in? I’m not sure but I think if the publishers took all the money they spent on creating and promoting variant covers and put it towards promoting comics to the general public (not unlike what DC did years ago) would really help. I also think stores ought to be racking, face out, at least 1 of the majority of Image TPBs and some stuff from other publishers. I think there is a lot of interest there, but not many pre-orders. I believe they would sell as almost all of them are good to great books and pre-orders for the next trade would likely happen. There are a number of readers who are leaving Marvel & DC (and by extension, their LCS) and retailers need a net to catch them. I think a significant chunk of Image TPBs for them to browse through would work..

  32. I’m a giant DC and Marvel nerd. That said, I rarely ever buy single issues and I don’t mind being several months behind. I use Marvel Unlimited for Marvel and Marvel-Star Wars stuff, and I buy a few DC paperbacks here and there. Theres simply no way that I can justify 3.99 or more for a single issue of *anything*. Maybe comics publishers need a new model based more around collected paperbacks initially and less around 20 page issues bi monthly?

  33. “Mr. Hibbs can speak to this with more authority but based on what I’m hearing anywhere up to a third of the comic shops in the country right now are in danger of failure in the next six months.”

    Authority? No. I don’t know anyone’s fiscal situation other than my own.

    What I DO know is that Marvel has had two under-performing event aftermath’s in a row, and for stores that “Carry BOTH kinds of comics — Marvel AND DC”, that’s going to cause a major cash flow problem.

    And DC’s Rebirth’s second quarter is hard as “standard attrition” actually translates to “that’s a lot of unsalable comics!” when you have double-shipping titles.

    I think Jamie hit a really good point right after you RE: Superhero TV. The stuff comes free into your house, and is often MUCH BETTER than the print comics, and is 13-26 hours for each series each year.

    But, again, I really strongly think that PEOPLE LOVE COMICS, and stores that are able to adjust their product mix to deal with the new balance of customers’ tastes are going to be able to weather this doldrum. Stores that stay “old school”, and don’t try to change with the time, are going to have an increasingly hard time unless Marvel and DC really strongly rethink their publishing plans.

    At the end of the day it ALWAYS comes down to content!

    Also for Jamie: “I think the demographics of comic readership are really changing. Older readers aren’t reading as much and while younger readers are buying books – they aren’t buying them at comic book stores. They are getting them via Schoolastic, Bookstores, Amazon, reading them at Libraries, etc.. Also, they buy Raina Telgemeier books (and others like it) and not what a traditional comic stop stocks. ” I think virtually every word of this is as wrong as wrong can be — at least for stores that are willing to change with the times, and present things the “right” way.

    I do think, though, that when DCBS and Midtown are likely the #1 & #2 accounts (or vica versa), that deforms some of the way that the publishers understand the market, because they’re trying to catch the attention of the #1 & #2 buyer, and perhaps missing how or why #’s (say) 10-3500 work

    -B

  34. I am over 60 and have been a regular buyer of Marvel comics
    since 1965 (even owning a comic shop in the 1980’s for a time).
    After all that time, I am considering giving up on Marvel.
    The heroes i grew up reading about are nowhere to be found–
    Thor, Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America, Wolverine are all different in a non-organic,
    politically-forced move by the company to diversify. I have no problem
    with a diversified Marvel Universe, but why must it come at the expense
    of all of my favorite childhood characters? Apparently Marvel is unable to
    create NEW characters of color, female gender or sexual orientation that
    they feel may appeal to comic fans, so they tear down 60 years of history
    to force their agenda down my throat. How many truly iconic characters
    has the company created since the 1960’s Marvel Age of Comics? Probably
    no more than a handful (Wolverine and ???). Go back to creating great
    characters–some of whom will be Black, Asian, Hispanic, Female and LGBT!
    I am not a hater–if the stories are good, I will consider buying them. What i
    will not buy are books that i have collected for over 60 years that have severed
    the connection i built with the iconic heroes i grew up with–all for a misguided,
    ham-handed corporate agenda that has nothing to do with story telling and every
    thing to do with forcing that viewpoint on me.

  35. Has anyone talked about the possibility that with all the movies and superhero hoopla people are tired out of their minds about comics. I stopped watching the movies with Avengers 1 and say Deadpool cause someone else begged me (pleasantly surprised). Also has anyone talked about the independents getting more of a market share again….namley Image? They are making the most creative comics out today above and beyond anybody granted they don’t have the superhero history Marvel does and Marvel doesn’t do any creator-owned stuff which is unfortunate, but they also don’t need to. They once tried Epic back in the 80’s. DC did Vertigo and starting to get that off the ground again. I personally fucking hate superhero comics. Give it a rest they are mostly done for kids. Sure some titles from time to time are catered for adults (MAX), but I’m not sure how often if at all they do this anymore. Kids need their parents to drive them to the comic shop. Adults go for nostalgia or for mature books unless of course you haven’t matured with if you go to any conventions you’ll see what I mean. For us 90’s teenagers who have grown up and don’t give a shit about the Hulk or Wolver-fucking-ine we see alternate stuff. The rest of this planet has evolved (the foreigners- Asians, French, Spanish, etc) have seeked alternative stuff. Adult stuff. Mature stuff. Fantagraphics, Image, Dark Horse, etc. for stories about people not punching walls or carrying planets over their shoulders. That shit is boring as balls. The real heroes are the artists and writers and like Jack Kirby, Daniel Clowes, Charles Burns, Robert Crumb, Richard Corben, Mike Mignola, Frank Miller, Ted McKeever, etc. They are the ones who created the authenticity of the comics they worked in. They made/make exciting fresh stuff. The market or comic shops go through their ups and downs, but usually come back when really creative people are involved, but frankly they don’t need to go to Marvel or DC. The real shit is elsewhere. If you haven’t tried it it’s cause you are just not there yet and you might never will. Once you leave superhero stuff you might never go back. That’s not true sometimes something comes along that is worthy of reading, but rarely does that happen these days. America needs to expand there minds. Read historical stuff, fiction that is not superhero, autobiographical and biographical stuff. Comics are growing so fast in these alternate places. They take you to wherever you like. Expanding your mind. We don’t need to fucking visit Metropolis or Gotham every fucking week or month or year.

    Also I wait for books to come out. Finished complete stories.TPBs or hard covers. I’m not even talking about that because the assembly line process is archaic. I feel sorry for those artists not having a life for years drawing Spider-man or Deadpool for years, but I don’t even think that is happening these days anyways. It seems they rotate artists a lot more which also means they don’t really give artists the ability to grow and become popular as they did in the 90’s. Perhaps they just don’t want superstar artists and writers to up and leave like the Image guys did.

  36. >The heroes i grew up reading about are nowhere to be found–
    Thor, Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America, Wolverine are all different in a non-organic,
    politically-forced move by the company to diversify. I have no problem
    with a diversified Marvel Universe, but why must it come at the expense
    of all of my favorite childhood characters?

    This makes me question if you actually read Marvel comics?
    Thor: Original flavour has his own book
    Hulk: Original flavour just died a short time ago and kinda alive again already. Will be back inside of months I guess
    Captain America: Steve Rogers has his own book and it is really interesting, because of the different take on him working for and against Hydra at the same time
    Wolverine: Old Man Logan has his own book and is Wolverine, just older

    So basically all the ones you wonder where they are there except Hulk.

    >Apparently Marvel is unable to
    create NEW characters of color, female gender or sexual orientation that
    they feel may appeal to comic fans, so they tear down 60 years of history
    to force their agenda down my throat.

    Ms. Marvel, Cindy Moon (Spider-Woman), Riri Williams (Ironheart), Lunella Lafayette (Moon Girl). Just to name a few newly created characters.

    Basically you want to read anothers 60 years of the same stories about the same characters, who should be kept basically in stasis. Nothing should change. Why not simply re-read the old stuff again and again via Marvel Unlimited, when all you want is the old stuff?

  37. One of the reasons there aren’t a lot of new diversity characters created is Marvel and DC have a bad track record when it comes to compensating creators for those characters. Why on earth would you create a character for either company (who have demonstrated history of screwing it’s creators, no matter how much they’ve done for them) when you can likely publish the character at Image or some place else with a better track record?

    They also don’t have much faith that a totally new visible minority superhero will sell well enough to their current readers and that’s sadly backed up by some evidence.

  38. It’s odd that you acknowledge the rising cost of business is a thing but angrily dismiss reports of the $2.99 price point not being profitable enough for retailers.

    Well, not so much odd as jerky.

  39. Preach it, Mike Ford! I agree 100% with everything you said. As a long-time fan, I hate the fact that all my childhood heroes are gone and Marvel just pushes their agenda now.

    To Strabo, I respectfully disagree with your points. I don’t want to read about an unworthy Thor.
    The real Hulk is dead. Captain America is evil now and written by someone who has no love for America. I don’t want to read about old Wolverine. The ONLY childhood hero that is not currently changed is Dr. Strange, because there’s a movie out. And possibly Daredevil.

    I still love superheroes, but wouldn’t take or read a Marvel or DC comic if they were sent free. I didn’t leave comics, comics left me. That’s why my LCS isn’t doing well. No one buys their main product anymore.

  40. I agree completely with the Marvel stuff. I used to be a Marvel fan, but since Civil War it’s been an endless cycle of late, boring event books followed by 6 months of fill in artists and go nowhere stories. I used to follow Remender and Hickman’s books but with them gone I just can’t get into the books. I followed them back to image and their stuff blows me away there.
    Another issue with me was that Marvel seemed to take all the best artists and writers off their core books and put them on the Star Wars line, I’m sure those books are good but I just didn’t care for them.
    I used to follow Bendis. I was a member of the infamous Bendis board for 10+ years but when he shuttered it I lost the community I had that informed me on comics, I still have no place to hear news and reviews about books that I trust.

    As for DC I was only buying Snyder’s Batman because it was a great book. Besides that I just can’t get into their characters, they’ve always seem too strong, too boring and I can’t relate to their stories.

    A big part of dropping so many books for me was I’m in Canada and with the exchange rate being 30% and higher it’s pushed the prices to where I can’t afford them. a $3.99 book goes for $4.99 with some stores charging even $5.99. Nope, I’m not paying that when a trade will come and i’ll find it somewhere discounted. And don’t even get me started on the price of action figures right now.

    The economy hasn’t been kind to those on the bottom, with stagnating wages and inflation that spending money is all but gone. We can only call millennials lazy and make memes for so long before we have to face facts, they aren’t spending their money on comics and the like. They’ve grown up with the movie versions and can’t or won’t read the issues.

    I used to love going to my LCS, it used to be filled with my friends and people I could relate to, the fun made dealing with a**hole shop owners worth it. With my money stretched so tight I don’t want to deal with the cheap lying rip off artists running the stores anymore. Granted this is the exception not the rule there are many awesome shop owners and employees. But bad customer service is a dirty secret no one ever wants to discuss in this industry but we need to deal with this.

    Most towns have 1 or 2 comic shops in them, cities many more when 1 or all of those stores close how many readers simply move on and stop following comics? I never thought I’d give up my comics but after a month or two I really didn’t care and it kind of surprised me how easy that was.

  41. This is going to be a controversial opinion, but I see no overwhelming reason to support small businesses, and I don’t think I’m alone. Why am I paying more for something I can get cheaper elsewhere, especially with complaints of poor customer service, poor stocking of items, etc so pervasive these days? Now, call me an “ungrateful millennial” or whatever, but I don’t have fond memories of walking down by the crick, with a rolled up comic in my back pocket that I got from the local five and dime. It’s not an experience that I relate to. Same with comic shops. I have several I love, but the world would keep spinning if they shut down tomorrow.

    The mentality that wants me to support Mom and Pop is the same one that wants Marvel to never change, and keep offering the same product it did 50 years ago. This is a common argument in the geek TV world. There are tons of adult fans angry at Power Rangers because it “sucks” compared to when they were kids, or hate Cartoon Network for showing nothing but Teen Titans Go – never stopping to realize they’re not the target audience. Thirty year olds wonder why today’s kids can’t love Snake-Eyes as much as they did, not realizing that maybe it’s time to give a new generation their OWN stories. There’s no shame in knowing when to walk away. I’ve seen folks say things like “I didn’t leave comics, comics left me.” Well, take that as a hint. Maybe the industry doesn’t want or need you anymore. Time to find new hobbies and pursuits!

  42. The reason to support small businesses are that it is generally in one’s best medium- and long-term interests to do so. For e3xample, every study that I know about shows that local and small businesses keep more of their money within your community, helping things like the tax base, keeping people employed, investing in their community, and so on.

    http://www.independentwestand.org/what-happens-when-you-shop-local/ might give you some more thoughts.

    -B

  43. Great article! Great comments!
    Here is my two cents:

    DC’s prices are too low:

    Don’t be ridiculous. $2.99 is the perfect price point for DC books. DC is back again and giving their core fans what they wanted at a reasonable price. How can this possibly be a bad thing? As a retailer I would much rather sell two copies of a $2.99 book each month than one copy of a $3.99 book. Do the math for God’s sake! And as an extra bonus, this lower price point will make for lower priced hot selling trades which is where the real money and future of the comics medium lies.

    Customers disappearing:

    Customers are not disappearing at all. They are transitioning into different genres and reading formats, again with the trade collections without a doubt the preferred method of comics delivery. If a store’s customers are disappearing it is because that store has not made the transition away from the big 2’s dated and rather boring super-hero fare and floppies and into a bigger selection of trades and the many wonderful and interesting non super-hero genres offered by other publishers.

    We are constantly getting new customers exploring comics for the first time. We do our best to steer new customers away from the big 2 and into higher quality and more sophisticated titles from other publishers which we feel will develop these new customers into long term fans of our wonderful medium. And before you trash me you should know that it is working in our store. Our print sales are continuing to grow by double digits every month and have been for years.

    Customers are switching to tpbs/book format;

    How is this considered a problem? I consider it a Godsend! Imagine a business model where the product your customers want is always in print with no risk of getting stuck with non-returnable worthless paper that is unsellable after a week. Imagine a product that looks good on a bookshelf or a coffee table and doesn’t have to be stored in bland white boxes enclosed in taped plastic bags hidden away in a closet. Imagine a product that you can easily liquidate at cost once it no longer sells instead of at a huge loss.

    Yea, customers switching to trades is a problem I embrace with open arms!

    Customers don’t like Marvel’s output:

    Duh! Is this something new? I mean really, how many stories can you tell about characters that are over fifty years old for the most part that haven’t been told a thousand times before. Marvel comics and graphic novels these days account for about 10% of our sales. I really feel that if Marvel ceased publishing tomorrow things would get even better. Most of our few remaining Marvel customers already read other books as well. They would just have more money to spend on other more deserving titles from other publishers. If you are a comics retailer who is dependent on Marvel then you are in serious trouble. Better get on that transition away from the big 2 or you are surely doomed.

    Rising cost of doing business:

    This is a problem that has plagued all business since the beginning of time. Deal with it. Our shop is in San Diego so don’t go whining to me about the cost of doing business. If you are not in New York or California you have nothing to complain about .

    PS, if you are one of those retailers who discounts comics, stop. You’ll be amazed at what happens to your bottom line……

    Diamond credit crackdown:

    Yes this is a problem. But can you blame them. Their customers are comic book retailers, and comic retailers are not exactly known for their business acumen…..

    I am extremely upbeat about 2017. I love a good challenge in business. And what could be more challenging than surviving in the world of comic book retailing?

  44. I’m a millennial and I support local businesses as much as I can. I don’t particularly love most comic book stores, but I do like keeping my money local and going back into my community.

  45. Speaking as someone who’s worked at a level of product ordering/merchandising/functional management at a used bookstore/comic shop hybrid for 7 of the last 10 years I can say for sure that if we didn’t have the used books as the bread and butter we would have closed well over a decade ago. On a credit only system, it means that functionally the books are a pure profit system and even with that we had to convert to a max 50% credit in any transaction scenario to keep cash flow even enough to stay open as other used bookstores closed around us.

    I’d say one big thing that needs to change with comics is treating comics stores with similar rules to the bookstore market. I know I’d order deeper in trades if they were returnable and honestly? I’ve got ‘new’ trades from Diamond with bookstore price tags affixed that can’t be removed without damaging the book. Comes across poorly.

    That said, being able to have comics returnable across the board? Would also take a lot of the risk out of taking risks. And when I say returnable, I mean spring for shipping or pickup back rather than stripping UPCs. There’s a ton of early Rebirth issues that are sold out at Diamond but we had returns for that another store could sell. If Diamond actually took the comics themselves back, they’d have deeper stock with which to sell through to other retailers rather than just having to feed the cost back.

    Same thing with toys/statues. I’ve been swimming in stuff that other retailers are complaining is out of stock because my toy buyers just aren’t into that line or whatnot.

    Having a lack of returnability across the board puts the risk on retailers, which…when you need upwards of 80% sell through to make money on the cost alone, much less overhead/staffing/etc. doesn’t leave a healthy margin for error. Either the markups need to go up or the option to return and cycle stock needs to be worked into the system because forcing all of that risk on retailers leads to either failure or conservative orders which hurts everyone down the line.

    There’s other issues as well but I think this would go a long way toward helping sustainability within the current system. Not having a single distributor monopoly would help a lot too, but even if Diamond wanted to address that it’s not like they could or as though anyone is really in a position to step in, so…here we are.

  46. There will never be returns on comics and TBP

    Diamond is not stupid and doesn’t want the headaches

    DC and Marvel doesn’t want to return to the old days

    However, if they did – it would not only save the market, but grow it

  47. Oh don’t get me wrong. I don’t think it’s likely at all. But it’s one of the few major moves I can think of from Diamond to actually support retailers in a meaningful way.

    The problem is they they proclaim the desire to support retailers while offloading all risk onto said retailers, then act shocked and appalled when stores go under because they never saw the trouble signs barring a few late payments or whatever. It’s a system in which everyone gladhands about wanting to support each other without actually looking into what can be done to *actually* support each other meaningfully. Creates problems all the way down the chain because stores can close suddenly and the canary in the mine shaft wasn’t heard over the hundreds of other canaries in the mine as a whole.

    (bad use of that metaphor I know, but you get the point)

    As with a lot of economic systems right now, there’s a lot of “How do we fix this?” while blatantly refusing to acknowledge the deep rooted issues that are lingering which could stand to kill the whole industry if not addressed because hey…change is expensive and difficult.

  48. “The reason to support small businesses are that it is generally in one’s best medium- and long-term interests to do so. For e3xample, every study that I know about shows that local and small businesses keep more of their money within your community, helping things like the tax base, keeping people employed, investing in their community, and so on.”

    The paradox of thrift. It’s entirely rational for me to decide to order comics online and save. But if everyone in my area makes the same decision the LCSs go under, contributing to unemployment, lower tax base, etc., etc.

    For me, it’s a question of value. Say I have $200 to spend and all trades are $20. I can go to my LCS and get 9 (sales tax, remember). Or I can order from talesofwonder.com and get say, 14 or so (no sales tax, discount, enough for free shipping). And my LCS adds nothing of value in terms of service. I might as well be buying from Walmart as from them.

    And here’s an issue I can’t believe hasn’t come up: torrents. I prefer trades and I prefer print but I have absolutely searched for out of print material in torrents and I know each Wednesday every Marvel and DC comic is available, often before most comic shops even open (especially on the west coast).

  49. Torrents of comics have been around for a very long time. I’m sure they are a factor but I don’t know if the use of torrents has increased to the point of causing the current problem comic shops are facing. The same goes with digital comics. There was a LOT of fear among retailers that digital would kill them, then digital came out in spite of retailer opposition. Comic sales went up and appeared to be unaffected by digital. I believe it’s been determined that digital sales are down as well.

  50. I’ve always assumed torrents weren’t a big enough problem for anyone to be worried about. Any company that is. I know creators have spoken out about them but has any company ever tried to stem the torrent tide at any point? I don’t recall hearing of DC or Marvel (or their parents) doing anything about them. Does anyone have a sense of how widely torrents are used? If an issue of Batman is downloaded 1,000 times that’s an acceptable loss, maybe? But 10,000 times?

    I suspect thought that the problem the article is addressing is mostly shops heavily invested in the Big Two being brought down by Marvel’s continuing weakness and the fading of interest in Rebirth.

  51. This article was obviosly written by someone who does not understand business and is trying to make correlations between things that truly don’t have any,

    There really is only one reason for the problems facing the Direct Market retailer, the same problem that has existed for decades but is magnified now because there are more competing channels for comics than ever before.

    The overriding problem remains that publishers take no responsibility for growing the consumer base for their work. Instead of marketing to generate new readers/customers, they resort to raising cover prices and shipping frequency to squeeze more money out of the existing base. Don’t believe me? just look at the plateau of sales over the last 10 years. The only time we see books exceeding 200k is artificially inflated variant driven amd/or lootcratish titles.

    So not only do we not see enough new buyers to offset the normal attrition of readers, publishers are driving them away with their greedy tactics.

    Comics are the only entertainment medium that relies on the retailer for it’s sole marketing outreach effort. Do movie theaters market movies? Do radio stations and music stores market music groups? When they do any outside marketing, it is usually subsidized through co-op funds from the publishers.

    Sometimes we get lucky and can ride the wave of supportfrom other media projects based on comics. Watchmen, 300, Scott Pilgrim and The Walking Dead are all prime examoles of titles that havesignifivantly moved the needle and delivered new readers into the market.

    That and the amount of traffic generated on Free Comic Book Day are true indicators that there are a much greater number of people looking for an excuse to become comic readers. Unfortunatley one push a year (and one still mostly carried by the wallets of comic retailers) is just not enough,

  52. Here’s a significant factor that not enough people are considering as a growing contribution to the decreasing importance of the comic book shop: the rise of the comic convention as a ceremonial and regular fact of life. People used to go to a Comic Con once or twice a year. Now, you can go to one every month. It’s become the pilgrimage that going to the comic shop used to be.

  53. “I suspect thought that the problem the article is addressing is mostly shops heavily invested in the Big Two being brought down by Marvel’s continuing weakness and the fading of interest in Rebirth.”

    And I wonder if the rebooting/relaunching of the Marvel and DC universes every 5 years isn’t driving older readers off, without bringing in enough new ones. Companies used to assume that readership turned over every 5 years, as one group of kids outgrew comics and another discovered them. Are Marvel and DC returning to that mentality?

    The dependence of so many shops on the Big Two’s superhero pamphlets makes them seem like relics of another time. (There’s a reason why some people describe comic shops as “superhero convenience stores.”) If you really want to explore the medium, including its history, you’d better live in a big city with large, well-equipped shops, or get used to mail order.

  54. @Will
    “I didn’t leave comics, comics left me.” Well, take that as a hint. Maybe the industry doesn’t want or need you anymore. Time to find new hobbies and pursuits!

    No, that`s a terrible attitude to show contempt at long-time customers who helped build Marvel. These long time fans deserve better than that!
    Also be careful what you wish for as Marvel`s sales are in the tank, and they might be begging for those old time fans back one day!

  55. The bottom line is the game has changed why pay $3.99 for a comic book when I can get unlimited access to Comixology and Marvel Unlimited for pennies on the dollar?
    Why drive all the way to my unfriendly LCS when I can order comics and trades that will come to my door with DCBS and Amazon Prime?
    Basically the LCS are in trouble. I think if it wasn`t for Magic The Gathering crowds most would be out of business.

  56. @TheAmazingStam – see, that’s dangerous thinking, because Marvel doesn’t really owe you anything. You’re approaching this like a shareholder, when that’s not the nature of the arrangement.

    As for the old-time fans, they’re gone. Plain and simple. Sure, catering to them might lead SOME of them back, but not enough to really make them the focus. The old time fan wants too much in order to come back. DC did Rebirth, basically as a “We’re sorry for what we did”, and a bunch of fans still wanted them to kiss the ring and do a little humiliating dance. The thing to remember is that these companies don’t *owe* you anything, long-time fan or not.

  57. @Will.
    The thing to remember is that these companies don’t *owe* you anything, long-time fan or not.

    Maybe my friend,but let`s sticky this post because I predict in less than a year Marvel will do a 180 with all their SJW theme comics and will please their old-time fans by bringing back the old school style. Marvel is going to have to go back to basics to stop their ship from sinking. It`s all about money, and Marvel`s old time loyal fans have the deep pockets that the majority of cosplay SJW fans don`t seem to have.

  58. @TheAmazingStam – And you just had to go and torpedo your argument with “SJW” nonsense. The injection of diversity is an attempt to get the dollars they’re not already getting, from audiences they’ve previously ignored. That, my friend, is the future. Any industry propped up by the buying habits of middle aged White men is an industry in trouble (unless you make Cialis or Rogaine), and they’ve finally come to realize that. What’s gonna happen when you die? Are you still going to be rallying from the grave “Put White Spider-Man back in high school!” to an audience base that clear couldn’t give two shits? The Marvel you grew up with is fine, but it’s done. I just don’t get why fans can’t grow up in their expectations.

  59. “I didn’t leave comics, comics left me.” Well, take that as a hint. Maybe the industry doesn’t want or need you anymore. Time to find new hobbies and pursuits!”

    So true. Superhero comics are primarily a generational experience, and each generation enjoys its own comics. They’re still part of youth culture (only now people outgrow them at 35 instead of 15). If you’re a Baby Boomer or a Gen X’er, stop whining that Marvel and DC have left you behind. There’s a huge generation out there called Millennials, and that’s who the Big Two are trying to appeal to these days. That’s the future.

    At some point — hopefully before you hit 50 — you have to realize that you’re no longer the audience for stories about men in tights. You can still enjoy your generation’s comics as I do, through reprints and back issues. But the comics of the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s are NOT coming back.

    Will said: “The Marvel you grew up with is fine, but it’s done. I just don’t get why fans can’t grow up in their expectations.”

    Bravo.

    As Boris Karloff said about young people in the movie TARGETS: “It’s their world. Let them have it!”

  60. @Will
    The bottom line which you don`t seem to get is middle-aged men have been buying Marvel and DC Comics since the 1980s. They`re Marvel and DC`s main bread and butter customer base. You alienate the core main buying audience they will go somewhere else with their money like video games. I could see Image and others doing the SJW stuff,but for Marvel and DC to do it just shows how out of tune it is with its core audience.
    Please don`t underestimate middle-aged men. A few times on this very board I had people giving me comments that I was crazy to think Clinton would not be President back in July, and Trump would win in November. We know how that turned out.

    Marvel and DC are going to get a rude awakening for alienating their long time fans over the next year,especially Marvel.
    Sticky this post as I predict Marvel will go back to the basics by this time next year.
    Marvel can cater all they want to SJWs ,but if the SJWs are not buying the comics than they have to go back to what made them successful in the first place.
    It`s like I do comic book conventions the SJWs/cosplay never spend anything,but the old school base does.
    Marvel will start to figure this out.
    This will be my last post on this subject until the Marvel reboot begins.
    Peace and love :)

  61. George says “If you’re a Baby Boomer or a Gen X’er, stop whining that Marvel and DC have left you behind. There’s a huge generation out there called Millennials, and that’s who the Big Two are trying to appeal to these days. That’s the future.”

    Millennials are those who are in their late twenties and early thirties. Young adults would be people between the ages of 10 and 18…an entirely different generation.

  62. Saber Tooth Tiger Mike said: “Young adults would be people between the ages of 10 and 18 …”

    If you’re under 18, you’re not an adult.

    The Big Two are doing little to appeal to people under 18 (i.e., kids). They’re going after the 18-34 age group, which Millennials fit into. That’s the young adult group. It’s been the target age group for a long time, at least since the mid-’80s.

    The difference is that they’re not just going after white males. They’re expanding their reach to females and people of color. Which seems to piss off a lot of cranky old white dudes.

  63. @Amazing Stam

    I am also a middle-aged white man who has been reading Marvel and DC Comics since the 80s and I, for one, am enjoying the industry’s attempt to appeal to a broader audience of readers. I don’t love all of Marvel’s output these days, but I am thoroughly enjoying the adventures of Ms.Marvel, Jane Foster Thor, Riri Williams, Miles Morales and others. So please don’t lump people like me into some ridiculous fabricated group of “SJWs”.

    I see that term thrown around a lot on message boards and it seems so overly simplistic and divisive to me. Like it’s “us old fans” vs. “those meddlers who are trying to FORCE diversity on us”. I am both an old fan and someone who enjoys reading about some of these new characters. Enjoying comics about characters from diverse backgrounds does not make one a “SJW’ – just a comics fan who appreciates a good story. And you’re missing some good stories if you write off all of what Marvel and DC are doing so dismissively.

  64. I think that the main point you missed in the opening was “Game Store.” It was, is, and moving forward, intends to be just a game storr. There are several comic only speciality shops throughout the valley that are in a better position to weather this storm.

  65. George, It really helps to know what the hell you’re talking about.

    George said: “ They’re going after the 18-34 age group, which Millennials fit into. That’s the young adult group. It’s been the target age group for a long time, at least since the mid-’80s. …”

    Stop being a literalist and accept the term as it is commonly used and HAS been used .
    http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2012/04/what-does-young-adult-mean/329105/

    “When the term first found common usage in the late 1960’s, it referred to realistic fiction that was set in the real (as opposed to imagined), contemporary world and addressed problems, issues, and life circumstances of interest to young readers aged approximately 12-18. Such titles were issued by the children’s book divisions of American publishers and were marketed to institutions – libraries and schools – that served such populations.

    While some of this remains true today, much else has changed. In recent years, for example, the size of this population group has changed dramatically. Between 1990 and 2000 the number of persons between 12 and 19 soared to 32 million, a growth rate of seventeen percent that significantly outpaced the growth of the rest of the population. The size of this population segment has also increased as the conventional definition of “young adult” has expanded to include those as young as ten and, since the late 1990s, as old as twenty-five.”

    Personally, I think the definition has expanded because adulthood was pushed back because it was taking longer for 20-somethings to acquire jobs that paid living wages.

    In my personal experience, “young adults” was a gentrified term for teenagers.

    ” I am thoroughly enjoying the adventures of Ms.Marvel, Jane Foster Thor, Riri Williams, Miles Morales and others. So please don’t lump people like me into some ridiculous fabricated group of “SJWs”.”
    A social justice warrior accuses any person or organization who don’t give into their demands as racist and misogynist,. The only way they can engage with anything is if their group or ideology is being constantly validated. You can’t talk about the merits of writing or art with a sjw–all they care about is representation. They are no different than Christians or Muslims who demand that their beliefs are represented and validated in all areas of society. They are generally people who try to force their views on other people in a very belligerent way.. and if they don’t get their way they cry oppression. Please don’ tell me you don’t think people like that don’t exist. because you’d be a liar or fool.

  66. @Saber Tooth Tiger Mike

    The Millennial generation extends from 1982 to c. 2004, which makes today’s 12-18 tera-olds members of that generation (the Homeland generation is close on their heels, however). Strauss and Howe, who identified the generation cycles in American history (and predicted the character of the Millennials), defined the generation thus; most other reputable sources are in the same neighborhood.

    That said, there is some difference between early and late Millennials (I personally suspect that the dividing line is whether a person can remember the prosperity of the Clinton years), much like the split between the bulk of Generation X and its later members. But even later Millennials aren’t unusually racist or sexist in any large number (as one would expect of teenagers), whichever group of bigots one looks for.

    I have to say, it’s very odd that people who complain about “Social Justice Warriors” seem to spare all indignation for this new conservatism of the left, and rage little against the conservatisms of the right. Why should it matter *who* judges by skin color, or sex, or age? Isn’t it wrong when anyone does?

  67. Too many titles swamping shelf space by corporate publishers. This is the same thing Disney does in toy stores. Comic retailers should charge a stocking fee like grocery stores. More retailers should be pushing the creator owned properties that won’t bite the hand that feeds them.

  68. Hey, “Saber Tooth”: It’s clear that you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.

    I was talking about young adult PEOPLE, not young adult FICTION. You know, people — the kind you might meet someday if you ever leave your parents’ basement.

    And then you go into a rant about “social justice warriors. ” People like you are the reason why I spend less and less time communicating with fanboys.

    People aged 18 to 34 are young adults. Only a person who has little contact with the real world regards a 10-year-old as a “young adult.”

  69. I’m a little late to the party and I confess that I don’t know what will help comic stores in general. I can only say that I really want them to be a thriving business. I can also say that I have almost no interest in digital comics and would definitely prefer a local store to an online ordering model.

    So, I am far away from my heydey of being a comic book buyer. I started collecting in the early 70s and was more or less a Marvel Zombie (do they still call them that?) until I took my first overseas assignment to Italy in late 1998. I went from one of the best markets I have ever experienced in Northern California down to whatever the AAFES bookstore was carrying (not much). I have never really recovered from that. I bought a few books but not the massive amounts I had been buying during the 90s. This was further aggravated when I was stationed in the Little Rock area in the early to mid 2000s. The comic scene there at the time was about as unispiring as I have experienced outside of a small town. This downward trend continued when I moved to Wichita Falls, TX. in 2005.

    I more or less stopped buying comics other than every now and again until I arrived in the Omaha area in 2011. At that point, I made a concerted effort to start again. There were some decent shops in the area. My favorite is attached to a coffee shop. However, I had a hard time. Looking around, nothing seemed to be quite right. I started out collecting a D & D title from IDW (I think) and liked it quite a bit, so I started a pull file. Unfortunately, they cancelled it. I tried other titles but never really was able to get bacl into Marvel stuff. Too many offshoots of characters and teams for starters. The stories are extremely thin in any given book and I am not a fan of a whole hell of a lot of the art styles these days. I don’t know exactly what happened. They look goofy, Sort of Manga influenced or Disneyfied or something. That is a major turn off for me. I have opened a book after seeing a promising cover, only to be highly disappointed at the contents more times than I can count.

    The constant crossover thing is also a turn off. I don’t mind them every so often but it seems to never stop anymore. Variant covers are another thing that I can do without. So anyway, what can be down in my opinion?

    Well, how about trimming down the titles that have the same characters in them. I might buy an Avengers, a Fantastic Four, etc. I don’t want to buy 5 of them, but I will buy 5 others if they are any good. Focus on more story content per issue (i.e more words, not just splash pages or whatever). Tighten up the art style. I don’t expect then all to be John Buscema or John Byrne clones or whatever but for crying out loud I don’t want Mickey Mouse, The First Avenger either. Crossovers should not be an ongoing thing. Secret Wars was awesome because it was something relatively new. Most storylines should not always be so heavily interdependent, though of course, they can be heavily related in less intriusive ways.

    Some specific requests…a good fantasy based comic, I would love to see a World of Greyhawk series run over a long period of time. Also, bring back an Old Republic related Star Wars comic.

    No idea if anyone else would care about any of that or if those ideas would help bring back comic buyers to any significant degree. But, they would get me back, for whatever that is worth.

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