I remember when I thought what I’d like to be most in life was a comics store owner. After all, I could sit around all day reading and talking comics! No boring work like bagging and boarding weekly books – I could hire someone else to do all that!

But these days in particular, ordering comics is quite the challenge! It used to be that stores could afford to gamble with things like action figures. For example, I’m a big Batman fan. Knowing this, my regular store would often order things I hadn’t indicated I wanted, like a Batmobile toy or odd and unusual books I wasn’t aware of in the hope that I would be unable to resist them when they were put on display at the store. (I was told by one store employee that I was NOT the biggest Batman fan there because someone else actually bought a lot more Bat-items than I did.)

Often, that worked back in the days when I had a lot of money to throw around. I used to joke that when I’d walk in the door of the comics store, the cash register would automatically open and call out, “Feed me!” But I don’t have that much money any longer, so I have to be much more careful.

Stores are also having to make safer calls when it comes to product these days. Even the bigger chain stores tend to buy just enough copies of books so they can sell out in a few days after they arrive.

This year – 2015 – is turning into a bigger challenge than most when it comes to ordering product. I fear that we’ll see a number of stores close their doors as a result of poor ordering strategies. But we’ll see.

RUNNING A STORE

Marvel, DC, 2016,2015, comics shops, Batman, Batmobile, Dynamite, BOOM! Studios, IDW Publishing, Image, Secret Wars, Convergence,As much as I’d like to think that stores exist simply because they love comics, they’re a shining example of what I often call “show business.” As much as many store owners and employees love comics (some even as much as we do here at MajorSpoilers.com), they have to earn money in order to buy books, action figures and statues and pay employees.

I remember one store up in northeastern Pennsylvania that went totally wild on ordering New Teen Titans from Marv Wolfman and George Perez. (That should give you some idea just how long ago this happened.) They literally had boxes of them and expected to move it all. But in the coal mining country I hail from, there’s not nearly as much demand for comics, even the “hot” ones other areas clamor for. One day, a big truck pulled up to the front door, then several guys took all the boxes, leaving an empty store front behind.

The trick to running a store is to make a profit (take in more than you spend) so you can attract more customers and continue this upward spiral.

This is why I’ve never opened a store. I’d have a building full of things *I* love, but then wouldn’t want to sell. I’d go broke in a month or two.

DC’S CONVERGENCE

When DC’s offices move from New York to the West Coast, there will be a transition period in which the current books won’t be produced. Instead, there will be some of the pre-New 52 heroes and villains appearing for a couple of months to give people time to tear down, move and set up again in the new location.

The hard part night now is figuring out what will be good and worth the money as opposed to what will end up in the infamous “Quarter Box” where books that have no value at all go and are sold for 25 cents in an attempt to get at least something out of them.

I’ve spoken with several store owners about Convergence, and they’re as uncertain as I am regarding what will be worth getting and what won’t. Not only that, but we’re not at all sure what DC Comics offerings will look like once Convergence ends. Will the New 52 return, the previous comics lines or a combination of the two? Nobody knows. If they do, they’re not telling … at least, not yet.

MARVEL’S SECRET WARS

Marvel, DC, 2016,2015, comics shops, Batman, Batmobile, Dynamite, BOOM! Studios, IDW Publishing, Image, Secret Wars, Convergence,I’ve often read where Marvel says that everything they do is completely original and in no way is influenced by what DC has done before them, but come on … what’s going to take place with Secret Wars really resembles the New 52 in many ways, seems to me.

And one of the things that really worries those of us in the comics press as well as in the comics industry is that, like DC, we don’t have a firm idea what Marvel offerings will be like after Secret Wars. For instance, is this when the Ultimate Universe croaks? Or not?

Not only that, there are several “rivers” down which Secret Wars will flow. Will be really good while others stink up the joint? We don’t know!

I FEEL SORRY FOR STORE OWNERS

Normally, Marvel and DC are the parts of the industry comics stores are certain they can count on. They make up the majority of sales in most of the stores I’ve ever visited.

Now we find out that those pillars are going to become wobbly at best. As much as I love the other companies as well, like Image, Dynamite, IDW, BOOM! Studios and Oni Press, will their product be enough to keep stores going? I’m not at all sure that’s true.

What most owners have told me they’re going to do is ask their customers just what they want to buy and order beyond that sparingly. That makes sense because even something new with a “name” talent or two on it might fall on its face spectacularly.

Also, it’s good to remember that every “jumping on” point is also a good “jumping off” place. What if fans decide to save their shekels and buy a lot less after these events have ended? Stores could be in real trouble if that happens.

Granted, there’s likely to be return policies that will help stores send back what they haven’t been able to sell. However, that’s not going to save some folks who order by what they like or want to support instead of what they can sell.

STAND BY YOUR STORE

What I recommend we do moving forward is to let the owners and others running the store or stores you frequent know what you want. Then stick with them through 2015.

What destroys many shops is when people come in, see a big event like Secret Wars, then place orders for EVERY book related to that event only to disappear, leaving that store with boxes of material that they can’t sell. Having a lot of that happen will make the industry a vastly different place in 2016.

I beg of you, don’t do that! Carefully review what’s coming out and select what you REALLY want instead of what you MIGHT want. If you order something, be sure to buy it promptly after it’s released. If you’re faithful to your word, store clerks and owners are often willing to work with you if you truly despise something you ordered.

Most comics shops will do what they need to in order to survive. If the store you shop at most doesn’t get something you want, I’d say go digital or call other stores in the area and see if they have what you’re looking for. I have always found it good policy to have a back-up location or two just in case I don’t get to “my” store in time. And keeping the store you buy from in business will help you get what you want now and in the coming years.

As far as what things will look like in 2016, I can only say that there’s been no better time to stick with us here at MajorSpoilers.com than during 2015. We’ll let you know what’s happening and tell you what we think is worth your time and money and what is not. After all, as we like to say, “We know you love comics. We do, too!”

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The Author

Wayne Hall

Wayne Hall

Wayne Hall creates the Wayne's Comics Podcast. He’s interviewed Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, John Layman, Kyle Higgins, Phil Hester, Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray, David Petersen, Christos Gage, Mike Grell, and Matt Kindt. Each episode also includes reviews, news and previews. On this site each week, he writes his "Comics Portal" column (general comics comments and previews) and reviews comics.

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4 Comments

  1. Chris
    January 26, 2015 at 11:38 am — Reply

    I agree with a lot in this article but lots of ordering problems lie in unpredictable reader habits. Sales always drop by about 50% after issue 1 and a steady 40% or more issues 2 to 3 (that’s being conservative with numbers). But then there are sudden spikes in issue sales for one issue. For example, we lowered numbers on Batman Eternal and around the 30’s only had about 5 on the rack for sale. The next issue completely sells out. Figuring out what to do is a bit of a challenge. Why the spike, there was no signigant change or apperance? Do you order higher thinking sales with be the same or drop back to normal. You then have to consider ordering enough for club members, who may drop books after the FOC. It always seems what you choose ends up being wrong :) But I agree, ordering based on what you like is a horrible idea.

  2. Alisha
    January 26, 2015 at 11:39 am — Reply

    The only comic shop in my immediate area that hasn’t completely closed down has still felt some of the pressure. Where in the 80’s and 90’s they had not one, not two but FIVE locations across two cities, they now have one. Where they used to be housed in respectable sized buildings (like old Wal-Marts or within a former site of a mall department store), they now have one small building not much larger than a McDonalds.

    It breaks my heart, but I also admire their persistence. More importantly, I admire their loyalty to their customers. I can’t say I’m a regular since it is such a distant location (over 2+ hours on a good day, closer to 4 hours on a bad one), so I only get in there on the rare occasion that my appointments with specialists or other doctors in that city fall on one of the 4 days they are open, which averages to about twice a year. But they remember me, they remember what I like and, more often than not, they actually let me walk out of the store with more than I should have for the mere few dollars I spend.

    It isn’t like there is a shortage of customers, since they expanded from being a mere comic shop to being a bit of a pop culture everything shop. There are always plenty of people in there when I go in, people browsing the used DVDs (or the rare collectors VHS), people browsing a select few imported items (best place to go offline if you want some Japanese toys without insane markup) and so on. It isn’t packed, but it is apparently enough to keep them afloat. So it amazes me that out of all those people that are probably more regular customers than I am that they know who I am.

    But I still miss the old days. Even not so long ago when the space in their small store that now holds DVDs and such used to be filled with more comics or comic related merchandise, when they would stack the boxes in the back room so that people could play impromptu Magic: The Gathering tournaments and so on.

  3. January 26, 2015 at 12:30 pm — Reply

    Good article. It is becoming more and more difficult to manage brick & mortar store of any kind, be that shoes, clothes, furniture or comics. People often just stop by to check/try things and go get them online because its cheaper. I live in small European country and I dont even have specialized comic book store, never had. There are only few in whole country and nearest one is 100 miles away, so thats out of question for weekly visits.

    Closest thing to a comic store is one used books seller at my town and they stock quite a lot of comic books too because manager likes them. I try to visit there at least once a month and get at least something to support him because those kind of stores are slowly disappearing too and I’d like to have one place to visit and pick up some comics every now and then. It brings me back to simpler times, when only place I could get comics were department or book stores.

  4. Oldcomicfan
    January 26, 2015 at 8:39 pm — Reply

    Up until the early 80s, you could buy comic books in grocery stores, books stores, drug stores, newsstands, candy stores, department stores, etc. and the print runs of each issue were at levels that DC and Marvel can only imagine in their best wet dreams these days. It amazes me that they’ve never tried to go back to a sales model that had been so successful for nearly sixty years before they went to a Comic Book Store model only. The best time for buying comics was during the transition period between the two eras. Specialty comic book store were cropping up like mushrooms, and you could still find comics down at the Rexall store. In fact, the first time I went into a comic specialty store it was to fill holes in my SpiderMan series caused by not being able to find consecutive issues down at the grocery store. Now days the nearest comic book store is 75 miles away (one way) on the other side of the second highest mountain range in the continental United States, so I can’t afford to patronize the place. On the rare occasion I do buy a comic, I usually end up having to get it from Amazon. If the comic book industry wants to sell more comics, they need to find a better way of getting comics into the hands of potential readers, even if it means going back to selling them at regular retail stores and newsstands like in the old days. I’d rather see them do that than to continue to churn out Event Comics in the hope of generating sales.

    I am curious about DC’s move to the West Coast. I wonder if it has anything to do with the tax laws? Back in the 70s and 80s, publishers kept series books (such as Issac Asimov’s Foundation Series) perpetually in print. Now days it is next to impossible to find older books in a series. I asked C. J. Cherryth why is was so difficult to find any of her older books and she posted a reply on her web site. She stated that New York, where most of the publishers are located, passed some new tax laws in the 80s whereby they taxed the publishers every year for any stock remaining in their warehouses. So if a particular publisher had 40,000 copies of “The Stainless Steel Rat’s Rusty Codpiece” in their warehouse, they’d have to pay taxes on all 40,000 copies. If they only sold 5,000 copies the following year, they’d have to pay taxes on the 35,000 remaining copies they had already paid taxes on the year before. The upshot of this was that publishers reduced print runs to only what they thought they might sell in a single year, and no longer kept older titles in print. And the consumer was the ultimate loser in the deal. So I wonder if this might be part of the reason DC is moving West? Or is it simply a matter of Warner trying to reduce costs by consolidating all their operations? And could this mean that Marvel may eventually be moved out to California also, if Disney decides they want to cut costs also?

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