Sunday, September 24, 2006

10 Commandments For A Strong Comic Industry

So here we go.

For several months now people have told me that I should blog. I wasn’t sure whether they meant it as a compliment or some type of insult. Who knows? Who cares? The only certain thing is...“I gots me some opinions!” Better than that, my opinions are always RIGHT!

Ancient History

I have been in the Comic Book retail business for over 16 years! Believe me, I've seen it all. I was here for the rise and fall of Image (yes, I consider them fallen). I survived Marvel’s attempt to take over comic distribution with their Heroes World debacle (thank God Perlman’s gone). My store barely scraped by when Wizards of The Coast released Fallen Empires (several stores went bankrupt).I even made the huge bucks with the Pokemon craze. Never will there be anything like it again.

Recent History

The past few years have been rough for the comic industry. Many thought that our life support plug had been pulled, and we were beginning a long and painful death. Year after year, comic sales were down. Many of the fans quit reading comics all together. Many woke up and realized that they were raped by the industry in the 90’s.

Many of the comic faithful decided to just start buying trade paperbacks. Why not? You could buy them immediately after a story arc ended. Other readers discovered eBay. You can always find some idiot who is selling stuff for less than he paid for it (even before the fees).

Out of desperation, comic stores began evolving into “gaming stores.” Unfortunately, this only made the comic fan feel less respected. Now they had to wait in a line of Pokemon brats buying ten cent common cards. A few more loyalist quit reading.

Over the past few years games have begun loosing steam. Yu-Gi-Oh and Magic sales are way down. This was due in part to distributors selling product online under fake names. Also, quite a few gamers were switching to online games.

As usual, panic and lack of sales have caused stores to close their doors. The few that remained (mine included), began moving to smaller stores and cutting back quite a bit on gaming space. It is hard to justify paying extra rent when customers are buying their stuff online and want to use you for the free space.

Today

In the middle of the carnage along comes Infinite Crisis and Civil War. Could it be that comics are back? Sales are up, and long lost readers are back. Great art has finally been combined with great WRITING. Things are looking good.

How long will it last? Is this just a fluke? I hope not. And I have a few ideas on how to keep it strong. And by the way, my opinions are always right.

THE TEN COMMANDMENTS

FOR A STRONG COMIC INDUSTRY

1. Publishers: Thou shalt keep the focus on great writing.

With the increase in sales, please don't go crazy with all the alternate cover bullshit. Yeah we’re making extra money, but don’t go to crazy. This resurrects our evil nemesis, SPECULATOR MAN.

I always want to choke the guy who walks in and says, "Oh, I don't read comics, I collect them." Thanks buddy. It's guys like you who screwed up comics in the 90's. How many copies of Death of Superman do you have? Got any early Image stuff?

2. Publishers: Thou shalt limit the gimmick crossovers.

We all love the universe changing events. But let’s keep them to big stories. Once a fan realizes that you are only trying to sell more books they feel screwed. God, didn’t we all feel screwed in the old Infinity Gauntlet days? Or Deathmate….echh!

The awesome thing about Civil War and Crisis is that you don’t have to read every tie in comic. However, if you do choose to read them you get a bigger picture. And you realize that there is a lot of awesome books these days.

3. Writers: Thou shalt remember continuity and keep it holy.

Dammit, if Spider-Man transmogrifying (love that word) into an actual spider in Spectacular; he needs to be an arachnid in Amazing! It drives us crazy! At the very least give us a blurb in regards to timeline.

4. Writers: Thou shalt commit to adults with trees.

Okay, I know the tree thing is lame.

Thank God the publishers have finally realized that only adults read comics. If a kid gets $5.00 for allowance, he is renting a video game (or maybe buying crystal meth).

We as an industry need to duplicate the marketing of video games. America now understands that it is adults who play Xbox and PlayStation.

Side note: Writers, as a personal request, don't get too wordy; I like to finish a comic in one sitting on the toilet. My motto: “One crap…one comic.” Thanks.

5. Readers: Thou shalt honour your local comic shop.

Why in the world are you buying your trade paperback at Borders? It is available in your comic shop on the same day, and for the same price. Technically even cheaper if you count that $5.00 latte.

Worse than the trades—why in hell are you buying Spank-Me Boy #1 at Kroger??? Come on! Your comic shop is barely making money as it is. Not to mention that they just might have a comic called Spank-Me Boy. I remember a few years back when one of my pull guys got a copy of Leather Boy #1. But I digress (oops, that is Peter David’s line).

6. Readers: Thou shalt not covet discounts.

Support the store that gives you the best service and has the most choices. People aren’t in the comic business for the money. We are in it because we love comics! Most of us would make more money if we managed a Blockbuster or asked you if you wanted fries with that instead of boards.

Let’s say you’re someone who reads 20 comics a month and you go to a shop that gives you 10% off. Based on the now standard $2.99 a copy, you’re saving $6.oo. That’s only $1.50 a week. Not that big a deal. But multiply that by 1oo customers and your comic shop owner may not have to eat Alpo.

7. Wannabe Fan Boys: Thou shalt not bear false witness against other creators.

In other words, Quit bitching! I am sick of hearing how you would have done it better. If you can “do it better,” then do it for Christ’s sake! Maybe you are not being kept down by the Man. Maybe you just suck! Self publish, put your stuff online or do something! That being said, be sure to check my blog every few days where I will break this rule repeatedly.

8. Store Owners: Thou shalt not kill thyself.

QUIT BEGGING FOR BUSINESS. You are committing suicide if you are giving heavy discounts! You will never sell as much as Wal-Mart. You will never make your money in volume.

Let me try to hit this home. First, let’s assume you have mastered the art of ordering. You sell out of everything you order perfectly. Second, let’s assume your comic discount is 50%.

Next, figure out what percentage of your operating income is spent on rent, payroll, taxes, utilities, and all the other crap. If you have all that under control, it is almost impossible that it would be less than 40%. So if you’re perfect, you got 10% left!

What discount do you offer your customers,10%, 20%? Do you give free boards with your comics? You’re losing money! I would love to discuss this further. If you’re interested, let me know?

9. Store Owners: Thou shalt have no other loves above your first.

Did you really get into this business to babysit Yu-Gi-Oh kids? Do you like spending all that money on disinfecting your game room from the gamer funk? If you love gaming, great! If not, stop the madness.

10. All of Us: We shalt allow others besides Diamond.

Diamond Comics Distributor is a monopoly, plain and simple. This is NEVER good. Much of the chaos in our industry is a direct result of Darth Geppi’s Empire. Let's unite the rebel alliance!



There... problems solved. Obey these commandments and the comic industry will last forever!

Let me hear from you. I welcome all discussion. Feel free to comment or ask questions. I will try not to be so verbose in the future.

Do you own a comic book store? Do you want to? Drop some comments or questions.

Later!

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16 Comments:

Blogger Jim said...

Nice opening blog. I owned a comic store in the early ninties in New Jersey and agree with a large portion of what you have said. Also kudos for recognizing Diamond as a problem at this point.

One thing you failed to mention is that we need new readers.

A question for you as a store owner - Is the direct market helping, hurting or a neutral in the comic market place.

Final point/comment. One of my big gripes with selling comics was the publishers and fans griping about not carrying the smaller titles. I always thought the publishers should have made some titles have some limited returnability so I could stock and take a chance on a samller title without eating all the risk.

I've also added a link for your blog in mine. Good luck

7:00 PM, September 24, 2006  
Blogger Lisa said...

Good stuff. I especially like your comments about those that discount themselves out of business, and the gamer funk. We stopped in-store gaming for that reason and saw sales go up.

8:46 AM, September 25, 2006  
Blogger 1 Right Opinion Comics said...

Jim,

You are right about the new readers. I was more preaching to the faithful.

I don't know what we can do to get new blood. As I said in the post, I feel we need to market comics the way they do video games. There is a huge misconception that comic books are for kids and weirdos.

I don't think the direct market is hurting to bad. I am not to crazy about marvel putting entire issues online.

Also, at Best Buy, if you preorder X3 they give you a free CD with the first 70 or so issues of Ultimate X-Men for free. Not cool. My trade sales dropped.

I 100% agree with the returnability issue. Recently Alias Comics, who begged us to give them a shot, decided to offer the rest of their mini-series online. So we are stuck with books that won't sell.

I love indy books but I have cut them back quite a bit.

11:08 AM, September 25, 2006  
Blogger 1 Right Opinion Comics said...

Lisa,

It is great that the two comments so far are from people in the business. I would like nothing more than this to be a forum for comic retalers.

It is great to hear that cutting back the games helped. I think alot of our fellow store owners are scared to try it out.

Games were 20% of my sales but 80% of my headaches.

11:12 AM, September 25, 2006  
Blogger Jim said...

1-right - I'm a former retailer.

The returnability issue to me is a big deal. Look at what DC allowed with the first 12 issues of 52. This showed that the publisher was behind the book. When I go to a store or when I had a store - some titles you order just to the number of subscribers (maybe one more). If DC or Marvel want to push a title like Manhunter or the Thing allow for 10/15 books to be returnable. That way I can order some for the shelf and not take such a beating.

I also agree with you about supporting your local store. Even when I can save a couple bucks I order through my store. Sometimes he can't get the book, yet I was able to order it from the publisher (Evil Twins book).

I think that was a Diamond issue.

1:23 PM, September 25, 2006  
Anonymous Matt said...

I totally agree with everything you said, Man you sure know your stuff.

1:31 PM, September 25, 2006  
Blogger 1 Right Opinion Comics said...

Amen again Jim!

The publisers only have to sell to the retailers. If we buy it they have their money. They can print only enough to fullfill the initial orders.

In the end, if their comics suck, we are the only ones who get screwed.

1:39 PM, September 25, 2006  
Blogger 1 Right Opinion Comics said...

Thanks Matt!

1:45 PM, September 25, 2006  
Anonymous Ross said...

Some great reading, even from a customer standpoint. I know, in some ways I am a rarity being someone who preferes to support my local comic dealer, rather than save $2 elsewhere.

The biggest thing to me, as a customer, is service. So many comic shops lack in customer service, it's laughable. They act like I should be paying admission just to walk in the door. They practically push business out the door. That's why when I find a good store, with a friendly staff, I go out of my way to get my comics and figures there.

I do see the monopoly of Diamond as a terrible thing. From what I have witnessed, their distribution is spotty at best, and they are far from timely in the delivery of the product, especially when it comes to re-stocking and re-orders. The industry is ripe for someone else to come along, and kick Diamond in the ass.

I really think it would help Marvel and DC keep the quality of their product up if they did have returns. Hell, most magazines offer retailers returns, and I don't see why comics should be exempt either. At least give the comic dealers partial refunds to stop the bleeding. If there is nobody there to distribute your product, how the hell are you going to sell it? It seems to me, as a consumer, that the comic companies really take the dealers for granted, and treat them pretty poorly. In my opinion, there are so many titles, and it's so hard to actually keep up with storylines, you NEED knowledgeable dealers. Buying them on the magazine rack at the convienance store just doesn't cut it anymore.

10:57 AM, September 26, 2006  
Blogger 1 Right Opinion Comics said...

Good points Ross.

3:21 PM, September 26, 2006  
Anonymous Robert Venditti said...

Great Points. Regarding Commandment #5: While I'm not opposed to the book trade, I will point out that large book chains often get their stock on new TPBs a week or two AFTER comics shops, so if immediacy is your thing, then buying from a comics retailer is your best bet.

5:58 AM, September 27, 2006  
Blogger 1 Right Opinion Comics said...

Thanks for the comment Rob. You do give a unique perspective since you actually worked at a large book store chain.

2:20 PM, September 27, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

U Da Man Richie Rich!
Ps.The toilet sceanrio had 2 be a jackass moment or better yet Al Bundy LoL

2:42 PM, September 30, 2006  
Blogger Shannon Smith said...

Hey Richard.
This is Shannon Smith.
Right on about the gaming stuff. I mean its great to have kids in the store but if they don't buy anything then you can't afford the overhead. You are not the community after-school program. (Now if there was a comic shop related non-profit after-school program that would be kind of cool but that's for another blog.) I remember having tables and selling comics and toys at conventions in the 90's and seeing all the kids waste all their money cards instead of comics. I was thining, "You came to a comic book convention to buy cards?!?" Worst of all, Marvel and DC did it to themselves (and to the industry and fans) by including that crap in poly bagged comics. It was like crack.
Good luck with the bloggity blog.
I blog at www.shannonsmith.net

6:15 AM, October 01, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting points. I used to buy my comics from a store in Marietta, a while back, and the welcome, nuturing atmosphere was absent. No one wanted to cultivate a customer base. I've seen kingrichard in action, and I must compliment the jacko, but bad employees can often be worse to a store when the owner isn't around than a gamer. Theft and shrinkage in general is often caused by disgruntled staff, not customers. The ten points are valid, but where is the commandment to the storeowner about hiring quality staff?

3:57 AM, October 06, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Richard,

Great opening blog . . . the rules are right on . . . variant covers, endless cross-overs, and pointless, long-winded story arcs are deadly. One other thing . . . baseball has suffered b/c the talent has been diluted with too many teams. . . similarly, too many titles (particularly the clearly weak/needless titles) only detract from the overall "core universe" that a fan is otherwise attracted to. Just my thoughts . . . and keep up the great insights.

3:11 PM, October 10, 2006  

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