Sunday, August 05, 2007

Stores Closing Down in NC - A Sign of Things To Come?

It seems like the comic book industry might be on the cusp of another consolidation. That seems almost strange considering the fact that we appear to be in a boom in this industry, mainly due to comic book movies helping increase the popularity of comics in American pop culture.

However, there are stores closing down. Meaning that an industry that already didn't have enough stores is getting a bit smaller.

One example is Silver Bullet Comics in NC. They decided to close up their retail stores and go on-line exclusively. Click here to read their web-site posting on this. They had a couple of stores and were great retailers.

In this area: The other store here in Waukesha is supposedly completely closed down now. I've heard he closed it up about 3 months ago, but is finally clearing out and notifying customers now. A month or so ago a customer told me they were out in Cedarburg and met a comic book store owner (I have no idea what store) out there at Maxwell Street Days who said that he was clearing out his stock to close up his store. So that's one, possibly 2 stores in the immediate area that are closed or closing.

There are other retailers discussing decreasing their size or closing down. Some discussing ways to cut costs and improve an ever decreasing cash-flow. It seems like the outlook on comics retailing these days is becoming a bit pessimistic.

It's one thing when a grungy, poorly run store closes. But it's different when good stores go down. But, they say the book market isn't doing well (after all, now sells groceries) and the movie viewership is supposedly down too. Here at Neptune we continue to see our sales numbers grow, which is a good thing. But, sometimes Wisconsin is behind the curve. So, is it a sign that the comic book market is consolidating when stores begin to close? Or, is it a sign that only the best will survive and maybe the comic book store won't be thought of as a dark and dingy place full of porn and dirt and rude people? Maybe a signal that it's time for a national chain? Or just the opposite - a sign that there is no profit to be made selling comics and therefore no chance a chain would emerge and be successful?

I don't know the answers. I wish I did. I have speculated that the industry is changing and that the grungy stores would either have to look more like modern retail or fail. And that the time was ripe for a national comic book store chain to emerge. Of course, that's what I'd like to see, and not necessarily what will happen.

For those of you who shop at comic book stores, remember that our margins are thin and we do have a lot of items that sit, not making us any money at all. This is why most stores offering discounts, especially discounts over 10% that include both older and brand new items and give them to anyone regardless of how much or often they buy, are having real cash-flow issues. When you continue to shop at a store that gives you 25% or more off of everything you buy, keep in mind that you are potentially putting that store out of business. A responsible comic book store owner will tell you that we simply cannot afford to offer those kind of discounts and continue to be profitable with all of the overhead we have.

We had a man stop in a couple of weeks ago saying that he shopped at a store in Thiensville, and the guy was his "Buddie," but he didn't like driving out there all of the time. He then went on to say that he was feeling guilty because he only went out to pick up comics every 2-3 months because he didn't like the drive. (It's probably a decent 45 - 60 minute drive from Waukesha to Thiensville) Next he asked what kind of discounts we offer. We said, none. We have shopper incentives and coupons and occasional sales, that's it. He said he's getting 35% off of his comics from his "Buddie," so he guessed he'd have to keep going out there. Well - I told him, "That's great for you, but you're putting your friend out of business." He kind of chuckled awkwardly, saying he'd gotten that discount for 10 years, since he closed up his own comic book store he ran in the 1990's. I kind of shook my head, knowing how the industry was back then, and said simply, stores can't afford to give up that much money and survive anymore. If that's the discount you want you'll eventually have to go on-line because your friend will go out of business. He stepped away from the counter to look around more before he left.

I know people want to save money. I know people want to get discounts. But, if you value the opportunity to shop in an actual store for your comics rather than having to have them shipped to you from an on-line order house, then realize that we simply cannot afford to give discounts to everyone on everything everyday. If the industry is changing and our customers are decreasing, then who knows how much longer you'll have the chance to walk into a comic book store.


James Meeley said...

Hey, Lisa, you should have hit that guy with this bit of wisdom: "You know, that 35% your pal gives, you are burning that up, if not more, on gas to get to the store. So, you really aren't saving much of anything AND putting you friend out of business."

Given his responses to you, I doubt it would have made much difference, but it would have made an interesting comeback, when he knew he wouldn't get that "deal" at your shop.

As I read more and more from "fans" online and hearing stories like this from people like you, I'm beginning to wonder if anyone even really cares about comics at all anymore, outside of a few well-meaning folks like you and me.

There's currently a big debate going at the Pink Raygun site (of which, I'm embroiled), about the reprocussions some folks are paying for others online rage. How creators and industry insiders are getting hesitant to talk to fans, who reveal they write for online sites (especially ones which deal in feminist/female related interestes and concerns). Here's a link to the piece:

It seems if it involves more than screaming at people and insitiutions, or is more involving than picking up your weekly stash (at a hefty discount) more and more fans just aren't interested in getting involved. At the rate things seem to be looking, in some cases, POWER might have been a bit premature, because they may not be much of an industry left for women and minorities to be a part of.

I hope I'm wrong, I really do, but fans seem to only let my hopes down more and more these days.

Swinebread said...

Interesting conundrum. What is going on? I would think it’s not the same factors that caused the comic book store meltdown in the 90s, but as I’m not a business owner it would be pure speculation on my part.

In Portland we have both the chain type of store and comics focused store as well as dingy holes and porny shops.

Currently, I’m buying my comics at Things From Another World due to convenience. It’s a sister company of Dark Horse Comics as both are owed by Mike Richardson. Besides comics, it’s crammed full of toys, games, cards, models, and trinkets. It gets old tripping over action figures on the way to the new comics shelf, but they have a good selection of trade paperbacks. They are an actual chain with three stores in the greater Portland Metro area and two shops in California. Their main store and world headquarters is actually across the street from Dark Horse Comics headquarters. So when I lived in that part of town I jokingly called them “things from across the street” They give me some sort of discount based on how much (dollar amount) I buy, I don’t remember how it works.

The store where I had my box for a few years before I moved is a great place called Excalibur Books and Comics. These folks are the hardcore comics authority types. They have a large selection back issues and are almost totally devoid of toys and games. They’re all about the comics. They actually order copies of independent works and have sections devoted to Top Shelf and Oni. This is the store that Greg Rucka, David Hahn, Craig Thompson, and Brian Bendis (just to name a few creators) get their comics from. If you want an honest opinion about buying and selling comics, this is the place to go. I actually saw Air Pirates #1 on sale here! I wanted it, but being a student at the time, it wasn’t in the cards. They do the 10% and then 15% or more depending on the amount of comic titles you subscribe to per month. Plus you’re more likely to run into the cool goth chicks here.

We’ve got a lot of comic stores, but I think Portland is kinda unique. We’ve got three comic companies here (Dark Horse, Oni, Top Shelf) plus smaller operations so I’m sure that helps. Books are also going strong as well with Powell’s Books which carries a huge selection of used books (were do you think is getting all it used books from), as well as new. We even have a Zine store, Reading Frenzy. So it a great place to be if you’re a reader, writer, or creator. It seems to work for us here.

For rest of the US, I dunno, maybe a national chain in the strip mall might work, but it seems fraught with peril… …maybe a franchise of Things From Another World? ☺

Elf_Girl said...

I can see it happening, in Mad Town there were three shops, now there's really just two. I think part of it is the cost of comics to the customers gets too high, they can't afford to buy as much as they'd like any more than a store can afford to dish out regular discounts. I know I'd be buying only half the comics I am now if I wasn't actually working for a store. I hope the industry doesn't hit a pitfall again, it would be sad for more stores to go. I lost the store I went to when I was growing up twice. It's traumatic!!

Anonymous said...

I fins it somewhat amusing (not in a good way) how smug people get online about DEMANDING discounts from their LCS. I just read a message board post today that said something to the effect of, if you MUST support your LCS, go in and demand a discount on trades, showing them how much you can save by going online and ask them to match it - if they don't, go elsewhere.

Most retail estabishments work the same: the vast majority of product is at retail/sticker price, while a small percentage will be discounted or clearance items. It never ceases to amaze me that customers will pay full retail price at Target, Wal-Mart, the local grocery store without blinking an eye... hell, even Barnes & Noble doesn't give a standard discount unless you're part of their members club! Yet, these same customers will give their LCS grief about a discount.

Of course, could it be just a small, vocal minority making all the noise? Conventional wisdom says that there's a certain amount of people who will bicker about discounts anyway - and that it's generally not worth the financial hit to give them the discount just to get their business. Those people will end up going online regardless.

But, I am concerned as to where the future is gradually going as far as comics. Look at record stores - how many dedicated ones exist overall, these days? Comic sales are higher than ever with DC, Marvel and indies all benefiting - but is this from higher LCS sales, or just from mainstream bookstore penetration that didn't exist a few years ago? My gut feeling is that DC and Marvel are looking to gradually gravitate towards a mix of primarily bookstore and online sales models for their future. Sure, in public, they make a lot of noise about being dedicated to the direct market, but in private I would wager they probably see it as a dying industry. The main advantage to the direct market for them now is the higher profits that come from non-returnable sales. Yet, profits they make from comic sales don't even hold a candle to licensing and film profits. However, in order to keep the machines running (movies and TPBs) they need the monthly comics. So, it's an interesting situation to put it mildly. My feeling is that within the next 5 years we'll really know where the industry is heading.

- Rick

Anonymous said...

Hi Lisa-

Very good blog. I just wanted to comment on it a bit and, hopefully, offer a bit of positivity.

One of the things that needs to be considered is that while comic shops do close down every month, what is the rate that new shops open?

Like Swinebread, I live in Portland, OR and my wife and I just opened our shop (Bridge City Comics) about two years ago. We offer a bright, clean and well-stocked shop and have seen good growth these past two years. I know of several other shops that have opened in Portland in the past year, plus a lot of good shops across the country.

I do agree with your assertion that hopefully it's the "stereotypical" comic shops that are closing as the comics industry shifts into a new model. While I don't really want any shop to close, I'm looking more to the future with better shops opening at a decent rate.

I guess we really can only do the best we can. With retailers such as yourself, us and the fine folks on the CBIA, I think that if we as an industry can hold on for a bit longer, we'll actually be in a good, solid position.

Michael Ring
Bridge City Comics

Lisa said...

Excellent points made by everyone! Thanks for the input. It's an interesting time in the comic book industry and like with most comics, I can't wait to see what happens next.

Michael - are you listed on P.O.W.E.R. in Comics? You should be!