Monday, February 18, 2008

Another one of those arguments has erupted online between the retailers and publishers: Who sells more 'art' comics and graphic novels, comic book stores or mainstream bookstores?

As usual, the publishers seem to blame the comic retailers for not selling enough of their material, and assert that mainstream bookstores do a better job. Comic retailers feel hurt because we aren't getting respect. Publishers are angry because their material doesn't sell in the average comic shop. To hell with the Comic Book Guy! Bookstores are the answer!

O.K. I'll believe them. If nothing else, they would seem to have no reason to antagonize an entire segment of the market. So it must be true.

I carry lots of art comics.

Way more than I should. I make it work only with great difficulty. I like the challenge, but can understand why less experienced owners might be holding back.

Because, well, while I agree that a good comic store should carry more than just superhero comics, and in fact, carry all kinds of books from mainstream fiction to kid's books, to comics, to art books, I also have to admit that the independent comics just don't sell all that great.

There are always a few exceptions, and it wouldn't be all that hard for the 'comic book guy' kinds of stores to carry Fun Home, Maus, The Arrival, Blankets, and so on. But once that top list is covered, the rest are more problematic.

One comment really caught my eye. Fantagraphics, publisher of Eightball and Acme Novelty Library among other great titles, was saying that at any one month, perhaps only 25% of the stores are ordering their product.

Well, there are months when I fall into that camp. At the same time, I have an inventory of hundreds of their books in stock.

What is says, sadly, is that the Fantagraphics I have in stock haven't sold yet, so I'm a little leery of buying more mid-list product from them. The new Love and Rockets, but of course, but titles I'm not familiar with and haven't been asked for? I'll usually try one or two per month, and they just add to the other books on the Fantagraphics shelf. For me, it works best to wait and see which titles gain traction with the critics, and eventually with the customers.

I have a several thousand independent graphic novels, minimum, that turn over less than once a year, or never sell at all. So blaming comic shops for not carrying their material seems a little backward.

I want to make it clear. I promote this material. I dedicate as large a section to this material as I do to all the mainstream comics, I probably give them more faceout space, I eagerly show people. any one time, among my 100 or so regular shelves, I'll have maybe one customer who actively buys independent comics to any depth.

I have a tourist clientele, so can carry product I wouldn't ordinarily sell. I have a high tolerance for low turnover rates and I believe in the long tail theory of retail. I think independent comics add a certain class to the store, and I suspect I sell more regular type stuff because some customers insist that a store have a wide variety (even if they don't buy the odder stuff.)

I like the material. And I was canny enough to buy them on a steady basis, adding each month, until I have an admirable selection. I think the stores that don't carry this stuff are missing a bet -- if they are willing to do the long haul, and to look for bargains at every opportunity. (Bargains are often to be had with independent titles....wonder why.)

And yet, I can understand why some stores aren't willing to make that commitment. I understand that the 'art' comics sell poorly for them. Even as I think they are short-sighted not to try. But the argument is anything but clear cut. More like 60/40 in favor.

So...while I understand why comic books stores don't carry independent comics, but think they're wrong, I also understand why the publishers are frustrated, but think they're wrong to blame us, also.

I'm not sure what the answer is. If it's true that only a few comic stores actually support the independent comics, then subverting them, mocking them, seems kind of counter-productive. I believe that only a few of these independent publishers would survive strictly in the mainstream bookstore market.

They still need us Comic Book Guys.

***This is the most muddled blog entry I've ever made, but it just reflects the ambivelence I feel toward the whole subject. Kind of pissed at the publishers for being so disdainful, when I try so hard. And exasperated with my compatriots for not also trying hard.***

1 comment:

Duncan McGeary said...

Fantagraphics has always been an angry company; contemptuous of superhero comics, period.

But they are pretty much saying, we're selling more of our stuff in the mainstream, so who needs you. Nahnhanhanhha,......!

It reminds me of the year or so I was selling so many sportcards to out of towners that I didn't even need the locals who were becoming disgruntled because of cutthroat competition.

But...that those out of town buyers were the first to disappear, and I learned to never dismiss any group of customers.

(Why do all my lessons come from cards? Probably because those were my formative business years, and everything that could go wrong, did go wrong.)