Monday, December 17, 2007

Is 2007 a "bad" Year for Comics?

The end of the year is approaching and one of the things many business owners do is look over the climate of their industry to see how their own store performance fits into that. Making that examination easier were two recent columns I read discussing performance in the comic book industry in 2007.

First, let me point out that I did several bits on stores closing this year. Here is one in March and in August and in November.

I also posted about Marvel's falling profits in the second quarter of this year. But the profits did rebound in the third quarter, thanks, they say, to Spider-Man 3 toy revenues.

Today in his Lying in the Gutters column on CBR, Rich Johnston discusses the financial trouble at Wizard: "I'm told from current Wizard sources that the entire Wizard operation was $200,000 in the red for August, and they've taken moves to cut easy short-term financial liabilities as quickly as possible. Which now also includes staff writer Brian Warmoth giving his two weeks notice." For those of you unfamiliar with them, Wizard is one of the most requested comic book magazines at my store and they host several comic book conventions across the US every year, plus they have a web site where they sell comic books, toys and other comic book related items.

Today on ICv2 News they gave the November 2007 numbers and for the first time since 2005 the year over year numbers for comic book sales were down. Comics were down 12% according to the report, but graphic novels were up 29%, yet the total combined dollar sales were down 5%. But October's year over year sales were up, they reported. In September they reported that August 2007's growth was a slow 5% overall, and even in the summer months they showed very slow to almost no growth, and those are usually the best months in the comic book business.

Broadening the picture a bit more... If you have been paying attention to the retail stocks in the stock market you would know that many stores in the retail sector experienced slow, if no growth, and even some losses, in the first three quarters of 2007. Anyone who turns on the TV or radio or looks at a newspaper has to have seen or heard about the "housing crisis" of 2007 as well. The stock market's Dow Jones Average is up for the year, but it looks like it's down since October 07.

In my store we've experience year-over-year growth every month of 2007, but not as much as we have in years past. But part of this is expected as a retail store starts to become "established" in a community in year 3, so the growth does slow down. November had the lowest growth of all of the months so far. So, while our growth continues, it has slowed while overall expenses continue to grow.

A number of comic book retailers have been complaining since August about their sales slowing. Some have said sales remain constant while expenses continue to rise. Others have seen little growth at all. And still others have gotten into a bad financial situation and have had to close down.

2001 started what seemed like a new boom for comic books. Movies were being made again and sales were steadily rising. Graphic novels and maga were rapidly increasing in popularity as well, boosting the industry overall.

So, based on the information, I wonder: Have we just started to see an inevitable slowdown in the comic book industry? Or, is this just the beginning of a downturn? Is the nation experiencing an economic crunch that all businesses are feeling, or is it more specific to brick-and-mortar retail? Will we continue to see brick-and-mortar comic book stores closing down in 2008? Will someone or something start a resurgence in the comic book industry next year, bringing growth back up?

I know we're still in business, so we are doing better than some fellow comic book comrades did this year. But I'd be lying if I didn't say that the finances here are pretty tight, much tighter than they should be during the holiday shopping season. I am not sure if the slowdown will turn into a full-fledged downturn. I hope it won't! But if we're seeing negative numbers in November it worries me. I'll be even more concerned if December's numbers are also down. I am sure there will be more closings in 2008 - because someone always closes for one reason or another. Hopefully good stores will not be forced to close because they can't afford the overhead costs of being a good store. In order to increase the popularity of comic books I think we actually need MORE comic book stores, not less. Look at Starbucks, there was a time when people didn't even know what they were and now that there's at least one one in every city on the map just about everyone has gone into one, or at least knows who they are. But a chain like Starbucks is not in the near future for the comic book industry, from what I can tell. Maybe we just need another installment of Dark Tower comics or some good, solid comic book stories that will increase sales and we'll all be back on track. The big comic book movies won't hit until early summer, so we won't see any spikes from that as 2008 starts.

My crystal ball is in the shop, so I can't predict how things will look at this time next year. But I hope this downward slip that's been reported and that a number of comic book retailers have said they've been witness to, is a temporary thing. I hope that 2007's slump passes and that 2008 brings us all better things! I hope fans, new and old, find new stories and characters that excite them and bring them in week after week and get them to bring their friends into comic book stores too. I hope comic book stores learn how to cut costs and make good business decisions rather than having to close down. I hope Marvel and DC and Dark Horse and the other publishers continue to try to diversify into non-superhero genres so that we can continue to see more new people coming in to read those stories. I hope that without any new TV during the writer's strike people get into comics and back into comics (for those that left in years past) because they now have more time for reading. Let's not let 2007 get us down, but focus on doing what we can to make 2008 better!

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