Archive for the 'retailing' Category


Most of the “shop indie bookstores / fight the big box chains” rhetoric I’ve heard has been rooted in a vague all-purpose anti-corporate sentiment rather than concrete concerns. This recent letter from the American Bookseller Association to the US Department of Justice is useful in spelling things out:

Publishers sell these books to retailers at 45%-50% off the suggested list price. For example, a $35 book, such as Mr. King’s Under the Dome, costs a retailer $17.50 or more. News reports suggest that publishers are not offering special terms to these big box retailers, and that the retailers are, in fact, taking orders for these books at prices far below cost. (In the case of Mr. King’s book, these retailers are losing as much as $8.50 on each unit sold.) We believe that, Wal-Mart, and Target are using these predatory pricing practices to attempt to win control of the market for hardcover bestsellers.

It’s important to note that the book industry is unlike other retail sectors. Clothing, jewelry, appliances, and other commercial goods are typically sold at a net price, leaving the seller free to determine the retail price and the margin these products will earn. Because publishers print list prices indelibly on jacket covers, and because books are sold at a discount off that retail price, there is a ceiling on the amount of margin a book retailer can earn.

The suggested list price set by the publisher reflects manufacturing costs – acquisition, editing, marketing, printing, binding, shipping, etc. – which vary significantly from book to book. By selling each of these titles below the cost these retailers pay to the publishers, and at the same price as each other, and at the same price as all other titles in these pricing schemes,, Wal-Mart, and Target are devaluing the very concept of the book. Authors and publishers, and ultimately consumers, stand to lose a great deal if this practice continues and/or grows.

What’s so troubling in the current situation is that none of the companies involved are engaged primarily in the sale of books. They’re using our most important products– mega bestsellers, which, ironically, are the most expensive books for publishers to bring to market–as a loss leader to attract customers to buy other, more profitable merchandise. The entire book industry is in danger of becoming collateral damage in this war.

More at the link.

It’s a messy situation all around (from a publisher’s perspective, the chains are skimming off the “sure things” rather than supporting the whole line; from an indie store’s perspective, they’re hogging all the books that bring people in the door and making it impossible for small stores to use them; from Wal-Mart’s perspective, they’re just trying to get books to people as affordably as possible, and they only want to carry the items their customers are interested in), but it’s nice to hear facts rather than vague suspicion.

Techno-optimist Clay Shirky offers commentary, calling these “arguments that made some sense twenty years ago, but have long since stopped doing so.” Instead, he proposes that booksellers begin “treating the old side-effects” — i.e. the physical amenities that bookstores uniquely provide in addition to selling books — “as the new core value.”


I guess this isn’t really news to most folks

In case it was unclear: the distribution and retail network for comics is broken like whoa.

I can’t argue with anything this guy says (except his particular taste in comics). Really, it’s a wonder the system hasn’t collapsed already.

In my opinion what needs to be fixed first is the entire market and how comics are ordered. I’ll use myself as why I am absolutely frustrated with comic book stores. I have been going to the same store since I was 15. It is now 10 years later and my once weekly pilgrimages have turned into once a month if lucky. What has caused this you asked? Many things. The first being is that the comics I want to read are always delayed or just due to creator’s laziness canceled, (see. Ultimates 2, Soul Saga, Battle Chasers etc..). So what does that make me do? Second guess whether I should pick up that number 1 or wait for the trade.

Next due to the low runs of some books they are canned faster than the newest Fox drama. I now invested all this time, money and emotional attachment to a story which doesn’t even end properly. Now what does any reasonable man do? Well he sits there and waits for the trade. Also need I also mention that on Amazon trades are usually 30% off the cover price and they ship to your door.

Now that pretty much sums up why I don’t even bother going to my comic book store. There are times when I do want the actual issues just to own a piece of comic history. Like when Buffy S8 came out I did my proper duty. I pre ordered from Previews. Told my comic book lady to make sure you get me all the issues. All of them I will come and pick them up. So when I go what happens, “oh sorry I sold out already.” Oh you did… Okay no biggie when #2 comes out make sure you get me my #1 2nd printing. Time passes, “Oh I got your #1, but sold out of #2.” Well needless to say you can see where this is going.

Another thing because of how screwed up Diamond is, if my comic book store doesn’t have the TPB, which in most cases it doesn’t, the ordering time from Diamond to the store is like one month. If the item is in stock at Amazon we are only looking at 3 or 4 days to get to my door.

I don’t know if I have sworn off comic book stores forever. I do walk every now and then but I rarely find myself buying anything. The thing about comic book stores is that they are supposed to sell comic books. If they can’t even do that properly then transforming them all into Internet cafes won’t even save them.

I want to support the comic industry as much as anyone. But you can’t ask people to put up with this aggravation purely out of a sense of duty. It’s frustrating that the market hasn’t already been forced to grow in a more customer-friendly direction.

[edit: I should add that I think adding cafés to comic shops is a good idea. The problems afflicting the system can’t be fixed that easily, but anything that makes a shop more welcoming can’t hurt.]

thinking caps on! comics and oikoumenikos

In response to this post by Christopher Butcher, excerpted below:

I totally love comics, and the schizophrenic state of my bookshelves will explain that it is not a certain genre, style, or delivery format that I love, but comics as a medium.

This all-encompassing love of comics is not universally shared; I’ve known this for a very long time. I try not to let the clique-ism and self-consciousness bother me when it comes to people dismissing work out of hand, but honestly? I think about the same of someone who writes off manga as a whole as someone who writes off comics as a whole: not much. And it’s not just manga, but any genre/format/style/country’s work. It seems so completely limited in scope, and more often than not those words seem spoken from a position of ignorance rather than any considered or researched position.

My initial reaction is, I’m with Chris. I’m up for anything, in any style, on any topic, by anyone. Those of you who’ve tracked our institutional purchasing patterns over the last two years can testify to that. (Interestingly, I imagine a lot of that comes from my self-image as purchaser for a diverse group of readers and the possibility that I’ve subsumed my own interests as a reader to the simple question “will someone like it?” But that’s a different topic.)

I often wonder at the disparity between the kind of comics reader I am (a fan of comics as a medium, interested in its possibilities of form and content, in every genre and style) and the kind of attitude I try to cultivate in others. I don’t expect anyone else to be as all-inclusive as I am, and I don’t mind when someone lacks interest in any particular title — I just hope everyone finds things that they like. I try to cultivate the attitude that comics is a medium of art and entertainment, on par with any other medium, and that casual fans are normal and welcome.

The idea of all-or-nothing comics fandom, the idea that there are two kinds of people in the world: comic fans and everyone else, is false and counterproductive (and I’m not accusing Chris of it, I’m just saying it’s common). For one thing, it’s intimidating for newcomers to imagine that they need to read everything in order to appreciate anything. For another, someone who reads one comic and dislikes it is consequently discouraged from trying another one. I’d much prefer that people feel that it’s acceptable to only pick up what appeals to them and bugger the rest. Video stores stock both Requiem for a Dream and You’ve Got Mail; you wouldn’t insist that fans of one should try the other, although there are certainly people who would enjoy both.

Most of the most interesting people writing about comics — Chris and Tom and Dirk and everyone else — are like me; we love everything. But sometimes I feel like that very universalism — this (dare I say it) “team comics” mentality — is contrary to some of our goals about mainstream penetration, at the same time that it’s essential to it.

Chris is right, of course, in pointing out that people’s preconceptions about what they like are often built on shaky ground, and that a trained critic can suggest connections that cut across conventional boundaries and help people fall in love with books they would never have thought to read. Like, say, pointing out that Achewood fans would enjoy the hell out of Cromartie High School, or that Sleeper might cross-pollinate with Death Note, or that We3 is interesting for many of the same reasons as the work of Chris Ware and David Mack.

the ideal comic shop

A post on Jason Richards’ RIOT shop blog asked about the “ultimate comic book shop” where space and money is no object. My response, which turned out a little more generally-applicable:

ultimate comic shop:
-many comfortable chairs, some with tables
-coffee bar
-bar bar (for after hours :D)
-come to think of it, i really like the idea of barstool seating with a counter… just imagine a line of people sitting there reading comics…
-people are welcome to stay as long as they like
-visually awesome (LOTS of art on the walls… but really classy stuff… if possible get Chris Ware to turn one wall into a giant comic strip)
barcode point-of-sale technology
-a high-quality web site
-don’t carry any comic unless there is at least one store employee who absolutely loves it
-knowledgeable, smart, and charming staff
-staff are pro-active in recommending books to people who would like them
-shelving by theme
-hold events like comic-making workshops, and the crazy promotions that the Isotope runs
-have a “bring a friend day.” If a regular customer brings in a friend who’s never been in your store before, they both get 10% off. or a free comic, or whatever.
-carry every title on the Comics Journal top 100, and label them as such
-label Harvey/Eisner/Ignatz winners and nominees
-label staff favorites, with a little hand-written paragraph from the staff member, a la independent bookstores & video stores
-hang up posters around the store; little reading guides like “a guide to Grant Morrison” or “the best Batman stories” or “black-and-white hipster autobiography comics”, and list a dozen items with a little pitch for each one. be sure to stock everything on the list.
-either commit to a broad and full coverage of the comics field, throughout the 20th century and across the world, or else narrow your focus to one thing and do it REALLY well
-be a hip and attractive destination every day of the week, not just Wednesday. be a cool place to bring somebody on a date. be a logical response to the question “let’s go hang out somewhere… but where?”
-have equal numbers of male and female customers
-encourage customers to come to special events to meet each other and build community. comics is too solitary a habit sometimes.
-host reading groups kind of like Oprah’s book club. get people coming in on a regular basis to talk about their favorite comic. Female readers especially, in my experience, tend to form REALLY strong attachments to books, and they LOVE to talk about them with other people. Do one volume of SANDMAN or PREACHER or TRANSMET or FABLES a month.
-understand that goodwill, positive associations, and loyalty are worth their weight in gold. Letting somebody read four books for free, find one that they absolutely love, and come back every month to get it, is better than letting them read no books for free and never come back because nothing sparked their interest.
sell books to your local library. like a ton of them.
-sell books to local college students. another ton. Get permission from the school to visit the campus and market comics. set up a table with several sample books (proven college-kid favorites) and get people interested. Get some contacts on campus. talk to the school anime/manga club. get word of mouth going.
-have your primary goal be providing a service to the community, not making big bucks. If your community is not better because of you, you’re doing something wrong.

My brother’s additions, with which I mostly agree:

Sell subscriptions to the store “archive,” which is everything that’s not for sale, including 1 of every major graphic novel ever published in English (including a bunch of foreign stuff). Let subscribers come in and read whatever they want in the archive, but it’s not a lending library, so they can’t take stuff home. Sell “day/week passes” as well as monthly subscriptions, in case someone just walks in and is dying to read as much Promethea or old Prince Valiant as they can possibly consume in a single sitting. Or if they’re trying to do research. Encourage people to value the experience of reading comics more than the value of owning them.Get knowledgable folks to give lectures on comics in your store and invite local students and professors to attend. Provide free food and drinks.

Aside from the cool bar-stool idea, have an area where people can just sit or lay around on the floor or on an unending sea of couches, relaxing with comics or in a pile of their friends. Have a place where you can have Story Time and read books aloud to a gathered audience.

Retailing done right

Yes, that is a comic shop, and yes, those are kids.

James Sime seems like a bit of a pretentious ass, but honestly, he’s the best thing to happen to comics retailing since… ever.

His essay at Millarworld Magazine #2 lays out his whole deal. He tends to do this a lot, but as he wrote somewhere else, the greatest lesson he learned from Stan Lee is “every issue is somebody’s first.” So props to Sime.

Sitting here behind the counter of my new ultra-moderne storefront isn’t just the realization of a dream, it’s the next step in the evolution of comics retailing as I see it. For the last four years my staff and I broke every rule in the old boys club handbook in the service of a better place for comic readers like you and me to enjoy the books we love. My mission was to drive a wrecking ball through the wall that stood between what was happening and what was possible in the world of comic retail by proving there were more options in the way comics could be marketed and sold in the direct market. And no doubt that mission has been a success. Business at the Isotope is hopping, and the next generation of retailers coming up behind me are adopting the model and tailoring it to their specific cities and personal tastes. The times, as they say, are a-changin’ and I couldn’t be happier to be part of it.

Edited to add: why I need to work in a comic shop [from Nora Lally-Graves, one of the “guest retailers” who ran the Isotope while James was at the San Diego Comic Con]:

It’s funny, working retail at a comic store, especially one with as nice a vibe to upkeep as the Isotope, I find that talking about comics all day isn’t anything like a strain for me. I’ve never been too much of a rabid fangirl (Ellis and Harmon notwithstanding), but I always loved chewing the fat about my favorite titles. And now, it’s like someone’s paying me (well, in spiritual capital) to talk about my favorite stories all day long. As if they were saying, “Tell me why you love your favorite band. And then go tell that guy over there. And then that girl. And feel that rush when they’re just as excited about it as you are. Spread your particular brand of insanity.” It’s a great way to spend the day. You meet so many different kinds of people, all into comics for different reasons, and you start to realize what you look like from behind the counter. You see yourself as one of those people, pulled into comics by a specific gravity that is particular to you. They usually fall under the heading of “I love reading them” or “I love looking at the art” or “I can’t wait to see where my favorite character is going”– but people who come into the shop seem to see you as the gatekeeper to all of these worlds, and if you appreciate them as well, if you can talk to them about those worlds… it’s fabulous.

Leigh Walton talks comics and maybe other arts. (RSS)
He also works for the very excellent publisher Top Shelf Productions (which does not necessarily endorse the views and opinions, etc, herein).


Header by me. Contains an interpolation of the final panel from All-Star Superman #1 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. Speaking of which.