As I start this article, let me first provide a very quick back story on how the retail side of the comic book industry has operated for the past 30-40 years. For a more in-depth look, Dan Gearino has an awesome book about the history of the comic shop as we know it today and you should definitely check it out.
Pre- Direct Market
Prior to the 70’s, if you wanted to purchase comic books, you rode your bike to the closest drug store or news stand and bought whatever they might have in stock in the spinner rack. You might find that next issue of Fantastic Four, or they might all be gone, or didn’t even come in; it was really a luck of the draw.
The drugs stores and news stands would then “return” covers or proof showing that the comics did not sell and would then receive credit from the publishers. Just like with all things, some people are unscrupulous and were essentially robbing the publishers by selling the “unsold” copies under the table and getting the credit on top.
Birth of the “Direct Market”
The advent of the specialty comic shop came right along with the direct market. Basically, a distributor would become the middle man and these burgeoning shops would now buy their comics from said distributor on a non-returnable basis. This, obviously, seemed like the best route for publishers because now, once the product has been purchased by the comic shop, the shop is now the one responsible for the loss if it doesn’t sell.
And things have continued like this for many moons…but today, there seems to be a shift occurring.
Are we in a Sales Crisis??
There are those like Brian Hibbs from Comix Experience, Chuck Rozanksi of Mile High Comics, and Phil Boyle of Coliseum Comics in Florida that would all scream, YES! These are not young’uns that recently opened shops. These are guys that have been in this industry for nearly a CENTURY of combined experience.
We can also see the national organization for retailers, ComicsPRO, speaking out that something is not right in this industry.
There are practices that are being performed in the market today that are detrimental to the well being and long lasting health of the industry. Publishers are slamming the customer with variant after variant and major cross-over after major cross-over (just to be retconned in a year or so). The idea of more is better is far from the reality of what many shops are dealing with.
In the January catalogue of new products, over half of the new releases were actually just variant covers. Let that sink in.
Shops are being placed between a rock and a hard place because publishers are making the reader / collector feel that they must have it all. The customer is being milked like an ATM.
I’ve had customers in my shop tell me, “I don’t even want to get (insert issue that has a tie in to the current history-changing, cross-over event) but I guess I have to so I can get the whole story.” I told that customer, “No, you don’t. Get what you WANT to read, and leave the rest.”
So, is it all DOOM and GLOOM?
Not at all.
I will not dive into the practices the biggest publishers use. There is plenty of negativity out there on the subject. This is a celebration of the publishers that are making progress!
These are 5 companies who care about, not only, the longevity of the industry, but the customer as well.
If you’ve followed us on social media for any length of time, you will see my unabashed love of BOOM! Studios, and there’s lots to love.
This company gets it. Their plans and actions for 2019 include the following:
- increasing returnability of their comics AND graphic novels
- Highly curating their offerings to decrease fatigue. Quality over quantity
- Decreasing variants
- Sending FREE issues to retailers to sell or give away.
There’s a reason that BOOM! was chosen by ComicsPRO as their retailer of the year!
Alterna Comics has absolutely exploded in growth. Why?
- Price. At $1.50 for most of their single issues, you can literally buy every title they release in a week and spend less than $7.
- Retailer ordering. I can order directly from their company (no middle man), get free shipping, and a steeper discount than if I order via the sole comic distributor (Diamond Comics.)
- Buy back programs. It didn’t sell, they’ll buy it back or offer trade credit.
Do not let the price make you think that this is bargain basement stuff. These are quality comics at a sane price. The reason they can get buy with lower prices is that they use old-school news print for the interior pages!
Do comics really need to cost $7.99 and up for a single issue??? Using the inflation calculator, a 12 cent comic from 1965 would cost 97 cents today.
This Spring, AFTERSHOCK has doubled down on their commitment to retailers by enacting several initiatives including:
- Offering returnability on new titles
- Increasing store visits to help promote
- Aftershock Army to become a resource for retailers across the country
AFTERSHOCK offers something for everyone. The publisher offers self-contained stories that have a WIDE variety of genres from fantasy to the coming end of the world.
If you lean more toward the superhero genre, but are suffering from cross-over fatigue or the status quo that the genre seems to hold dear, you need to look into Valiant.
Like, the previously mentioned, publishers, Valiant has expanded into offering returnability on products that have not sold. They have a very curated selection. They know what they do well and focus on that.
Image is probably the most well-known of these publishers and, in terms of sales, are sitting at 3rd behind Marvel and DC. So to see a premier publisher make strides to support the retailer and customer is SUPER exciting.
- No-risk number 1’s. New titles will be available for return if not sold.
- Curation. While some companies are trying their dang-est to take over the market share (Dynamite): Image is like “We only want to put out great products and stories.”
- Double down discounts on issues after the series premier. Hey, let’s not just focus on selling issue 1, let’s see if we can keep selling at issue 3, 5 or so on.
- Increased discounts on graphic novels. Graphic novels are becoming a more popular source for comics than single issues. Image is at the forefront of that wave.
I can totally see Image replacing one of the kings of the mountain very soon if they keep this up. Total Game of Thrones style, but with less sibling love.
This is the beginning.
It seems that every month since January, more and more publishers are taking the state of the comic industry seriously and are offering plans to keep us all healthy.
As you can see, most of these initiatives revolve around returnability.
What does mean for you, the reader? It means that I can offer YOU the ability to exchange the comic. If you’ve been following us the past month or so, you’ve seen us feature books that are exchangeable. If the publisher believes in the book and when I know, as a retailer, I can return it to them if copies go unsold, it gives me confidence to promote it! Nothing is better than easing a customer’s fears and helping them see that there is no risk on their end.
It means that you’ll see us promoting the companies more and more. They have great stories they support the retailer and the customer. They deserve your patronage because they are earning it. They are working their butts off to publish the best stories and are willing to humble themselves and woo you.
Your money is a vote. You work hard for it. Am I saying to stop reading your favorite titles from Marvel and DC? Not at all. You read what you want, remember? All I am asking that you give a bit more attention to some of these publishers that value the customer and the retailer and show it by their actions.