Are Comic Books in Crisis? 5 Publishers That Are Working for a Brighter, Nerdier Future.

 

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.

Comic Shop: The Retail Mavericks Who Gave Us a New Geek Culture

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.

BOOM! Studios

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:

  1. increasing returnability of their comics AND graphic novels
  2. Highly curating their offerings to decrease fatigue.  Quality over quantity
  3. Decreasing variants
  4. 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

Alterna Comics has absolutely exploded in growth.  Why?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.)
  3. 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.

AFTERSHOCK Comics

This Spring, AFTERSHOCK has doubled down on their commitment to retailers by enacting several initiatives including:

  1. Offering returnability on new titles
  2. Increasing store visits to help promote
  3. 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.

Valiant Entertainment

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 Comics 

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.

  1. No-risk number 1’s.  New titles will be available for return if not sold.
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

matt

 

Want to Improve our Community? Make Reading a Priority.

Reading is a vital component of being a productive member of society, but seems to be oft overlooked in favor of other pursuits.  I will spare you from the enormous amount of research available, but I will hit on some of the main points that must be addressed if we want to see our local and national communities thrive.

Take-aways:

  1. 3rd Grade is vital
  2. Stop forcing kids to read “the classics”
  3. 85% of children in juvenile detention are functionally low literate.
  4. Hopes of college can be squashed by 3rd grade.

So why is 3rd grade so important?  It’s important because it has shown to be a crossroad of sorts.  Curriculum tends to switch by the time fourth grade rolls around.  Fourth grade can tend to focus more heavily on math. This means that students that were struggling with developing their reading skills, if they are not confident in them, will really be left behind as math is now the main focus for the next few years.  It is kind of assumed that the child can now read, so let’s leave that subject and move on. The implication is that a child who is not currently at a 3rd grade reading level by the time 3rd grade rolls around, the child will have a significant disadvantage in growing in the ability.

Check out what the Reading Foundation has to say about the importance of 3rd grade literacy:

Reading is the most crucial academic skill because it is the foundation for learning. Through third grade children are learning to read; after third grade students read to learn. … In fact, one of the most important predictors of graduating from high school is reading proficiently by the end of third grade. 

So, if a student is unable to read well by the third grade, imagine how hard it will be to continue to learn new topics as the child gets into upper grades.  The child will be at a perpetual disadvantage with a very strong possibility of dropping out.  Highschool dropouts are 3.5 times more likely to be arrested and 47-63% probability of incarceration.

There is some compelling data that states that most people that are incarcerated have a low 6th grade reading level: some studies site it as possibly even a 3rd grade level. One could conclude that a child’s life course is set by grade 3. This is both frightening and sobering.

What does all this mean?

It means that we need to meet kids where they are and to pursue them with urgency.  It means that maybe we should open up to different types of literary works and stop forcing kids to read as punishment and out of obligations to the classic approach to engaging literature.  Maybe we should ease up on making kids read “classic” novels that have no bearing on their current lives and interests.

There is a ton of research out there that shows the benefits of getting comics into the classroom.  Kids love and need comics.  If you think that kids today are too fast paced and too engaged in there games and phones to care about comics, I challenge you to put a comic in their hands, or better yet sit down and enjoy it with them.

It starts at home.

Find stories that your kids love and then READ to them from an early age.  It helps to develop a love of hearing stories which can then translate in to the love of reading stories.  Fill your home with book and let your kids see you reading.  Share you love of comics and graphic novels with them.  Lay down in the floor and read the newest issue of Batman with them.  As I’ve mentioned before, get a stack of your comics and leave them in your kid’s room.

Don’t force reading and don’t make it an obligation.  We want kids to see reading as fun and something that they want to do! Reward reading! Get creative with the rewards.

As part of our shop’s mission, we hope to improve the lives of kids in our area by helping them develop this vital ability.  Our loyal friends that support us also support our mission because every purchase made at The HIVE helps to put comics in the hands of the kids in our school district as we donate books to schools.

Let’s work with our teachers, schools, and librarians to make some much needed changes and continue to invest in the future of our children.

-matt

sites for more info:

the relationship between incarceration and low literacy

research confirms importance of 3rd grade reading

why is 3rd grade most decisive

 

 

 

Comic Retail: Behind the Scenes Edition Part II

Previously, I gave you guys a VERY brief summary of how the HIVE came to be.  Today I would like to share with you guys a bit of what I have learned in my 2 years of selling comics.  Let’s take a peak at what’s behind the curtain, shall we?

Fair warning: I might come off as rant-y and gripe-y at some points (mostly because I love what I do and want you, our customer to have a better understanding of how our business works!)

  1. Ordering 2 months BEFORE this issue comes out is a challenge.
    1. We order 2 months in advance and can adjust most of our orders 3 weeks prior to the issue releasing.
  2. Seeing a customer take your suggestion on a book and then fall in love with it, is super satisfying and exciting.
  3. Over ordering can kill your shop, be O.K. with the sell-out.
  4. Pull-lists are vital
    1. It tells you what people are reading and WANT to read
  5. BUT, customers need to pick up their books
    1. Having a pull list and not picking them up can kill a store faster than anything else
    2. The shop has already paid for the books
    3. When I reach out to you about your pulls, it’s not to be mean, its to keep a comic shop open in our area.
  6. Don’t try and compete with the online big boys at their game, beat them with customer service and knowing your market and customers.
  7. Adapt and change with the market
  8. Always try and improve in some way
  9. Keep product moving and fresh
  10. Cut losses on product that has sat and become stagnant
  11. Promoting indie and small print books are a challenge compared to the “Big Two” but is necessary for the growth and health of the comic industry.
  12. Children and young readers and the vital to the continuation of the industry and it is great to see more and more product offered for our “littles”.
    1. i’m getting old and so are you, kids are the future
  13. Having customers feel that they can take “ownership” of the shop is priority.
    1. When they refer to the HIVE as “my shop”
    2. We have great customers that are always spreading info via word of mouth in our area.grand opening
  14. Support those that support you and keep your doors open.

We love you guys that come in and support our shop and we hope to continually grow and change and improve to serve y’all.

Thank you all for a great first year and here’s to many more!

-matt

 

 

 

Comic Retail: Behind the Scenes Edition Part 1

I love the extras that come on my blu rays and DVDs (sometimes more than the actual movie.)  I love seeing and learning about how the movie came together and the thought processes and paths that brought about the finished project.

As we approach our 1 YEAR ANNIVERSARY from opening our doors, I want to let you guys in on how I got into selling comics and a bit of info on how the retail side of the comic industry works.

the hive smart cosplay
Opening Day at the original location June 2017

In late 2011 / 2012, i started to have this desire to open a comic shop in my home town.  I was currently living in Austin, TX and was a frequent visitor of Austin Books and Comics and I wanted to offer MY home town that same, quality experience.

Odessa has been without a true comic shop in approximately 20 years.  When I was a kid, we had at least 4 shops in Odessa.  My favorite was Cody’s Comics and Cards on Grandview, just down from Daylight Donuts. It was a true “mom and pop” shop and it was owned by a sweet older couple.

My mom would drop me off and run errands while i dug through every back issue bin, usually looking for X-Men or Spider-Man books.  The couple that owned the shop knew me and were kind enough to let me spend HOURS in there pouring over everything.

Sadly, Cody’s closed in the late 90’s or early 2000’s and Odessa was left to pass time in the comic void of our own Negative Zone.

Sure, we had Hastings at one point, and a card shop tried taking on selling our favorite periodicals, but a “true” comic shop experience was no where to be seen.

In late spring of 2016, I had a conversation about my desire to open my own shop and that i had toyed with the idea for years.  I was convicted in that conversation that I needed to start taking steps to see what would happen.

The HIVE officially started June 1, 2016 out of my house. I had, maybe, 500 comics in my collection and I was determined to do something with them.  I spent the summer organizing, pricing, and also buying more comics.

I did nothing but read ab

out the industry and the “do’s and don’t’s” of selling comics and opening your own shop.  I think I read everything available on google.  I was a sponge.  One of the most valuable resources came from the Mile High Comics database where their founder gives his advice for jumping into the business.  It is a little outdated, but still tons of great info.

mile high database

I learned so much from my research and it drove me to push and grow and work to make this dream a reality.

In August of 2016 I had my first comic con.  It was the Permian Basin Anime Expo at the Ector County Coliseum’s Barn G.

I was scared.

What if I didn’t have enough to show? What if people in the area weren’t in to comics anymore?  Does anyone really want a comic shop in Odessa? So many thoughts in my little noggin.

early hive booh
First Show!

From my modest collection, with nothing new mind you, I made $567 dollars that weekend. Boy howdy, I was on my way.

I used that money to buy more collections and grow.  I had a hiatus for about six months as my family got into foster care, but i never let the dream die.

Fast forward to March of 2017 and I had a booth at the Permian Basin Comic Con X in Midland.  I had a bigger booth and more inventory. That was a great show. People really seemed excited for a shop in our area and I was determined to do my best to make it happen.

I started doing little online sales via Facebook, just to keep interest going and keep revenue flowing. I had people coming to my house, which was kinda weird having someone look through comics in your bedroom.  My wife was not amused, especially since my collection had overtake our master.

I needed an actual store front.

It was in early May of 2017 that I was put in contact with a guy named Melvin Herron. Melvin wanted to open a gaming store and thought we could partner up since he already had a lease. We started moving in around Memorial Day and geared up for a soft opening on June 10th.

Melvin brought lots of experience and energy and was almost giddy.  I remember him saying to me “This is your dream, let’s make it happen.”stormy and jo

An actual comic shop had returned to Odessa.

Many of you that came on that first Saturday are still coming by every week to get your fix.  We have grown and changed quiet a bit since that opening and we’ve seen our customers grow with us. It seems like every week we have new faces coming in and becoming friends. We’ve come to know your families as you let us into your lives as you come in and let us share our passions with you. I can’t even express how much the support that my community has shown my shop has meant to me.

From the outset, my mission for the shop was to be more than just a place to come buy comics and games.  I want the shop to reflect and support the community that supports us.  That is why we are working with school in our area.  That’s why we host family workshops.  That is why we do toy drives for High Sky Children’s Ranch.  That’s why we host fundraisers for families in need.  That’s why we love having events, because it pulls people together!

In Part II, I’ll share with you what I have learned about the retail aspect comic industry.

Stay tuned

-matt

Doubling Down

ghosts

Recently, I have made some fairly sweeping changes to the books that will be ordered and sold in our shop in the coming months.  Oh, you haven’t heard?  Well, from, essentially, May on, we will no longer be ordering books that are rated at M, or MATURE, for our shop.

Here’s a link for a list, based on pulls

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1W-Fgddcws26yxtduY1KxBUIA4sr8YAL9tFTj_xetUps/edit?usp=sharing

Thing is, many of said books are super popular and sell very well.  Books like The Walking Dead, Saga, Redneck and many others are big sellers and we have many customers that currently have them on their pull-lists via our subscription service.

There is frustration and customers are upset.  I can totally understand and I also am aware that some of you have already begun to cancel your pull-lists and will possibly start getting comics elsewhere.

Let me state, that this was, in no way, an easy decision.  I knew that people who have been coming to my shop for almost a year now, might get upset.  It was not my intention, whatsoever, to  make customers mad.  If you’ll keep reading, I’d like to take you on a journey to shed light on the recent changes and some of the reasoning behind them.

Let’s go back to the early days, no not of The HIVE, but, the 1920s.

Comics had been a round for a while by this point.  They were seen as cheap entertainment and covered the gamut of themes. There was something for everyone at the time and it was great; “The Roaring 20’s”.

But, then the economy collapsed and there was no work, no food, no money for a pamphlet with silly stories.  It sucked.  Getting supper on the table was a feat in and of itself.  Domestic and violent crimes rose.  Kids saw their moms and dads fighting, sometimes violently.  This was a time when it was ok to smack your wife and your kids.

Nearly 10 years later, the country starts to pull itself out of the collapse and people start to have jobs again, America was back on the rise and people began to have a little more expendable income.

It’s 1938 and, in Cleveland, Ohio, two guys sat down and created one of the most important character of all time, Superman.

This begins what collectors call the “Golden Age” of comics.  Comics were cheap and affordable again. Most kids could afford 10 cents for adventure that they could read themselves into.

Soon after, many new faces started to show up.  Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, you name it.  These heroes fought the bullies and made sure that everything was as it should be.  They stood up for the little man.  Kids that had lived through the depression and were now 5 to 10 years old saw hope in these heroes.  They saw what it was like to fight for the greater good and to avenge wrongs.  Robin, while not technically the first sidekick, gave young readers someone they could relate with.

Then came the 1980s.

Those same kids were now getting older and were phasing out of reading comics.  They were too light-hearted and didn’t mesh with the problems of being an adult.

Publishers caught on and soon it was “Hey, we’re not just for kids anymore!”  Comics got darker, more violent, and dealt with heavier issues.  Now, before you raise up your copies of Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns and threaten to beat me with them, I think some of the best writing was done in this time.  Comics were taken to a new level or art and literature in this time.

But, in doing so, they swung the pendulum a bit too far.  Since then, and really up until recent years, there have been lots of great reads for adults and not a whole lot for kids. Remember, kids were the main devourers  of funny books, and now, they aren’t so funny.

The main points of contention in many of the books rated M would be the overt sex / and or language.  Call me a prude if you will, but i would argue that most of the time, the sex and language really add nothing to the story.

Take a certain Texas boy that writes several of the titles that we will no longer be carrying;  he also writes Thanos, Doctor Strange, and soon VENOM for Marvel.  All three of these titles are selling out and going for multiple reprints across the country.  They are great stories.  He’s the guy responsible for that Thanos 13 costing 40 bucks on Amazon.  These stories are rated T or T+, basically PG-13.

What does that tell me? That it is possible write AWESOME stories, that will sell like crazy, and they can be enjoyed by more people and without the content better suited for other media.

East of West is one of Image’s most praised titles and it is rated T+.  You should check it east of westout.

Point being; I want to make my shop as young reader and family friendly as possible.  It may alienate customers, and for that, I am sorry for the inconvenience and I hope that we can still be friends.  It is not a slight against anyone and what they choose to read.

My goal moving forward is for my shop to be an extension of me, my family, and my heart. I want kids filling my shop on Fridays and Saturdays because they feel safe and welcomed, not just by our staff, but also by the product we sell.  I won’t have to worry about what books they might come across (and no, I will not simply keep them in a separate area.)  You will be seeing a large amount of young reader books coming into the shop, a lot of which you will find listed at the top of many best seller lists.

Books that are young reader friendly do not have to be dry, dull, and pointless. Many of them teach great lessons on some pretty heavy topics, but are done in age appropriate ways.

You may say that I am prude and possibly anti-progressive.  I would challenge that and say that I am trying to build up those that will be taking us into the future and doubling down on that investment.

C.S. Lewis, one of my favorite authors, has stated:

“When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

also

“A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”

matt