Sunday, December 19, 2010

The cat is out of the bag.

A consensus seems to be emerging about comics and comic shops; and it isn't pleasant.

Maybe I should say, "The cat has been let out of the bag."

Here's what usually happens. A retailer timidly pipes up and says, "Gosh. You know, I love comics and all, but sales have been a bit down, you know, and, ah, is anyone else feeling that?"

And sometimes there are a few equally timid agreements, "Yeah. We're feeling a bit of that."

And then, almost invariably, a couple retailers will barge in and say, "Why we're having our best year ever! Our sales are ever higher!" (Intimating, you know -- "what wrong with YOU.")

Which stops all discussion, instantly.

Never mind that often those guys proclaiming their greatness are most often newer stores who are still in a growth stage -- all consideration of the financial climate stops cold.

There has been a confluence of news lately that seems to have blown the lid off the kettle.


The announcement that DC was rolling prices on all comics to 2.99; and that Marvel was going to follow suit on "some" of their comics. Which seems to be an acknowledgment that the 3.99 price was a bridge too far.

This announcement was followed by a realization that this change would take place during the slowest part of the year for comics (January and February) and would mean a 25% drop in profit on each comic sold.

A prominent creator and former publisher, Josh Blaylock of Devil's Due, wrote a column that pointed out the dangers and cried, "Watch out below!' It was a bit self-serving and perhaps a tad bitter, but he has a point.


The news that several large and prominent comic shops were having trouble. I've mentioned Comic Relief, and how influential it was to my thinking at Pegasus.


The figures released that showed that for 3 out of the last 4 months, the best-selling comic in the country hadn't topped 100,000 copies. Which ten years ago, would have been inconceivable.


The overall bad news in the book trade as a whole. There were many comic people who had placed great hope that the mass market would do a better job than the direct comic shop market in selling non-superhero comics, but with manga sales dropping like a rock, there is some reassessment going on.


Digital projects announced. The indy creators are now turning to the hope of digital comics for the future. I think this is equally foolish as their hopes for the mass market, but I guess we'll see. Hard to see how the whole comic book structure survives without comic shops...


And probably the real game breaker, was a recent column from an extremely influential and well-known comic retailer, Brian Hibbs of Comic Experience in San Francisco, talking about his concerns for the future of comics. He focuses on the short-term tactics of Marvel and DC to focus on one-shots, mini-series, and especially Mega - Events. (Ironically, Marvel announced only a day or two later that they were through taking a 'breather' on Events, and were planning some big ones.)

I waited for the inevitable backlash to all this downbeat news-- and as far as I can see, it doesn't seem to be happening. There just seems to be an acknowledgment on the part of most in the industry that, yes, we live in 'challenging' times (to use a wimpy term.)

Hibbs admits that his sales have been down 17 out of the last 19 months. And no one seems to think that's unusual.

Anyway, I too have noticed that comic sales are struggling -- and it's nice to have some company. I'm more diversified than most comic shops, so I perhaps haven't been hurt quite as much. It's looking like I'll come out the end of the year with a profit in the bank, all bills paid, and the store fully inventoried -- which is my overall goal.

I, personally, believe the local and national economy are taking more of a toll on my business than comics themselves, but that could be an individual situation.

But I'm not going to be the killjoy who will point out that I'm doing fine, because all the above factors are in play and need to be talked about.


Anonymous said...

Hey Dunc,

One of Jacquie's grandkids is wanting Pokemon cards. She wondering if they are expensive, and do you carry any?

Duncan McGeary said...

We carry packs, which are 3.99 each, and have one starter deck, 15.00.

Anonymous said...

Thanks! I'll let the missus know.