Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Back in the early to mid '90's, just as comics were reaching the apogee of their boom, we got our very own trade publication: THE COMICS RETAILER. It was jam packed with ads and useful and useless articles (spare me the promotion article, please.) It was sent only to retailers, free, and probably the most interesting parts of it were the 'market reports' where stores reported what was selling and what wasn't.

When the comic bubble burst, many shops made a transition over to games, and the comic trade publication officially became: THE COMIC AND GAME RETAILER.

Over the years, the magazine got thinner and thinner, and the ads diminished and all but disappeared. The focus seemed to be on gaming, because what little ads where there were from gaming entities. Comics are pretty much a distribution monopoly these days, so the catalog from Diamond is really the only place comic entities will advertise.

Surprising no one, the magazine is folding.

At the same time, it looks as though the only competition that Diamond had, Cold Cut, is also going away.

Gaming had a good run, from 1995 to 2005 or so, but has been in the doldrums the last few years. Comics have had a really good run since 2000, especially over the last 3 years, but suddenly -- from reports from up to now thriving shops -- comics have hit a plateau. Over on my retailer forums, stores are starting to close up.

But the downturn hasn't really happened yet, just a slowing down. Yet just a slow down seems to be enough to fold up the weak sisters. I've noticed the same thing in Bend: stores that made it through the slow times, and who one would think would've benefited from the last few years, are quitting.

Why? You'd think that after going through a major traumatic set-back, and then having a nice solid recovery, that they'd be good to go.

I can think of a couple of reasons. One is that the recovery was really like a remission, that is, it kept them alive but the first real shock sent them into a tailspin. The strength of the business climate over the last few years just hid the fundamental weakness of the businesses, and they had an accumulation of mistakes from the slow times that they could hide but not correct.

The second reason is, that having been through one down cycle, they recognize the dangers and are getting out while they still can.

All the comic shops who transitioned in games are now facing both a game and comic slowdown at the same time.

I've been through many more of these up and down cycles than most of my compatriots. The granddaddy was sports cards (whose trade publication is a wisp of a thing that obviously doesn't have a future -- and card shops, who almost all went into the game business along with comic shops, are going to have an even deeper reckoning....) But I've seen pogs, and beanie babies, and non-sport cards come and go, as well. I spend almost every period of remission preparing for the next slowdown.

It doesn't mean it doesn't hurt. Like knowing that someone is going to smack you in the face doesn't make it hurt less. But I can have bandages set aside, ready, and the quick dial to the doctor. I can prepare as best I can.

I long ago decided that diversifying into other product lines is the answer, but not just one or two like most of my competitors. I didn't stop at games, but added books, and anime and toys, and I never even gave up on non-sport and sport cards. (I even have a jar of pogs -- no beanie babies, though.)

So, that's my explanation why new stores could be opening everywhere, while old, veteran stores are folding.

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