Is Digging Dying?

“The greater issue with comic-book stores dying out is that the physicality of the medium is being called into question. Do comic-books require the aesthetic of turning pages? Does this make the stories more tangible? Without such interaction, there isn’t much need for a place to go and buy / read comics, let alone reasons to invest large amounts of operating capital to sell at exorbitant cover prices. So in a sense, Amazon killed the comic-book store. And, you know, that’s not a bad thing.”

Stuart Warren

 

 

Greetings from the soft sands of paradise in So. Cal fellow CBSI members. There has been a lot said and written about in terms of the changes within the comic world the past few years.

Hell the fluidity of this industry literally zigs when you think it will zag. What my intentions here within this article is to bring out some discussion in what we are seeing within our LCSs and the overall effect of the marketplace. I would guess many of us shed a tear over weekend’s final closure of Toys R Us.

This was THE place as kids right? How much birthday money did us as Generation Xers spend within Geoffrey’s playtime palace?

How many times did our pupils become the size of quarters perusing the aisles amazed at all the new Star Wars, Transformers, and GI Joe lines that arrived that week? Ah how about this one, do you remember the Toys R Us video game slips system? How we would take the paper slip up to the register, then go to a protected door where all the games were housed?

Maybe this will jog your memory…

 

 

Those were the best right? I mean it’s the only way to buy games and toys for that matter. Yet those days are gone. Today we download many games directly onto our systems sometimes never seeing a cartridge at all.

What happened? Evolution of gaming sure played a big part. However, we have seen this happen to many chains. Anyone remember Circuit City, Mervyns, or Sam Goody? This trend has picked up in the last few years at an alarming rate.

Here is a look at Millions per Square Foot (MSF) closings over the last decade.

 

 

Alright what does this have to do with comics?

Well just what exactly is keeping our LCSs open and to not follow the same fate? We can get them electronically, they are available online and shipped to our doorstep correct? Ask yourself this question, what kind of LCS do you have in your hometowns?

Here are a few to choose from:

  1. The new model on the field. One in which the savvy LCS owners or employees have their long boxes pulled of anything that was or is hot. These guys follow the spec websites and before you can get down to the store have pulled it and tripled the price. They use EBay as their personal Overstreet guide to pricing. Bottom line is there is nothing to dig because there is nothing there except books to fill complete runs or the occasional 1:10.
  2. LCSs that see their back stock continue to shrink as it is replaced by more Magic the Gathering or whatever hot card games of the month. Sure, they still carry weekly new books, but not really any ratio variants as they don’t want the overstock or see the need in volume. Only thing worth digging for is perhaps an old Zenoscope issue to show your buddies.
  3. The LCSs that are so unorganized you can’t find the DC books thru the sea of Barbie comics blended in with little or no bag and boards. You may find a gem or two, but knowing that you are going to get dirty and with this the need to watch out for the owners pissed off cat trolling around. Maybe, just maybe they may have a 1:25 variant in that week’s new books, but it’s already reserved for the basement dweller down the street.
  4. An up to date store that you are far down the pecking list for new variants your lucky to grab a 1:10. In addition their new book selection is limited to the big three as there is no room for Inde books that potentially will collect dust. You skim some long boxes and one of two things happen – They are overpriced, or not priced at all and when you bring it to the register they check EBay for pricing
  5. A LCS that puts its readers first. They may not necessarily have the greatest variant wall, but you feel as if there is some loyalty with those customers who choose to spend their hard earned money at that location.
  6. A combination of the above stores

 

With all this said, look some of it makes sense. If you were an owner, why would you let people walk with books you can get for double, sometimes triple the amount you are asking? How is that make good business sense?

Does a jewelry store have their older stuff marked at a quarter on the dollar in pricing with near flawless diamonds littered throughout a clearance rack? Of course not.

I had an LCS owner of a large store tell me on occasion. “If I didn’t know what my comic stock is priced at, and potentially updated hourly, then why am I running a business?” He fell into that category #1 of the above types of stores. With complete transparency I would be the same way.

There is no way I am having dudes walk with ASM #4s after the Silk announcement at $5 a pop. Truth be told, there is no real loyalty anymore. You think because someone gives a customer a break on a book they become new regular members of a store? Hell no, it’s the instant gratification which is quickly forgotten.

Here’s some interesting data taken from a survey of 75 LCS owners.

 

 

Alright, that’s some great data to think about from their perspective. Let’s take it a step further.

Here is what the consensus from additional shop owners and what they believe are the problems:

  • DC’s prices are too low
  • Customers disappearing
  • Customers are switching to TPB/book format
  • Customers don’t like Marvel’s output
  • Rising cost of doing business
  • Diamond credit crackdown

The customers switching to TPB is a big problem. How big?

Here is a direct quote from an anonymous store owner:

The challenges here, and these are DEADLY SERIOUS challenges to retailers. When a regular customer decides to switch to tpbs, there’s a gap before the new material can be collected in book format.  And it can be over six months. In the case of DC’s Rebirth, first volumes start in… March? Let’s just say if I was one of those shop owners who wasn’t sure if he was going to make it to January, I wouldn’t be real happy with DC not having those Rebirth tpbs ready for holiday shoppers when I could use the money to survive.”

 

Thats some scary, cold reality right there. Furthermore, look at it from this angle. Our online sources of entertainment have changed our consuming habits.

As an example many people would rather binge a favorite show for a season then wait episode to episode. They can condense six months into one weekend. Now, can’t the same be said about comics?

Many people would rather read a TPB for six issues, then wait and take six months to read over monthly’s. It’s cheaper too! A TPB can cost anywhere from $10-$20 in many cases. A six issue arch would run you roughly $24 plus tax using individual issues.

Oh and where do we go for our TPBs? Online if course as they are the cheapest. Not only do you potentially take a customer out of your store for six months, you can lose them all together to the internet. That’s alarming IMO.

We as consumers never thought we would see the day where video or music stores would go away. Customers wanted that tangible feel of looking at the back of a VHS tape or DVD to read for the title information .

Blockbusters and Hollywood Video were on store corners throughout many cities across the US. Now Netflix leads the next generation of TV viewing technology. Interesting data here, in every age group, at least 56% of that particular population has a subscription.

 

 

So in general people are using new technology to VIEW their news/entertainment. How about those who READ their news/entertainment? Well, we are seeing the same trend here as well. Print is down nearly at 50% in print from newspapers and over 50% in the case of magazines.

 

 

Now this is more of a generalization, not necessarily strictly for comics, but when you look at the almighty dollar and how publishers get paid, its advantageous for them to go the Ebook route. Why? Well they win on both ends, they can charge less and profit more.

 

 

Alright so let’s get out of Stats class and regroup. What exactly does all this mean in terms of comics. There is a shift in both viewing and reading habits. They have gone to the “quick fix” mentality. Jeez many of us can’t watch TV without the ability to fast forward.

This is occurring too with print, and at a smaller level comics. Wake up, go to the LCS and hope your books are there if you don’t have a pull. Or just click 3 buttons with you credit card or PayPal on your iPad and the latest Saga issue appears on screen. You probably see this in your area too as more schools are moving away from books and using Apps.

I sat in on an Optometry school class not too long ago for work. All the students education, case studies, tests, etc were all on an iPad provided by that medical university. What’s that great song, “The times are A-changin”. Watchmen anyone?

We are enamored with hobby for many different reasons. First and foremost it begins with the art and story itself. That’s why started down this journey. Whether it was when we were kids, or as we got older something drew all of us to comic books. We found our heroes, favorite genres and titles.

Finally, we became accustomed to purchases in a specific way. However, as with many other industries, change occurs. Now we are seeing this negative domino effect of the very lifeline in which we get our stories every week.

 

 

Had to sneak in the above cover after that statement. That’s some great cover art right there. Now, here is a question I ask to each and every one of you. Is there a reason you get your books from an LCS?

And if your consumption came from other sources would it affect your purchasing habits? I asked someone within CBSI why they are so loyal to their LCS?  The person stated “it’s the relationship built and it goes both ways.” You see this connection has led to friendships.

Those friendships have built a base of trust and comradery that can’t be found online. It can’t be duplicated for a cheaper price from an Ebook. It can’t be bought from a $1 Bin. I am writing this today, and you are reading this because we found a site that all of us share a commonality.

Why did UD start their podcast? All of them have said it in some form or fashion. “So we can bullsh*t and talk comics with friends”. Then we all tune in and become a part of that group as well.

Technology has done plenty of harm in the business world. It’s driven great companies out of business if they could not keep up, or chose not to conform on a model that potentially would fundamentally change their interactions with customers.

However, look what the Google + platform gave us here within CBSI, a way to communicate with one another because we can’t physically hang out. Who here wouldn’t want to have a beer with Dan Piercy, or sit down and pick Topher’s brain on the latest and greatest?

Spend a Wednesday morning at Midtown with Mel V. Learn how press from Trey and Shaun. Talk Comic Collateral with Scott Robertson. Find out just who the hell Dick O is in the flesh. Chat Pre-Code Horror with Ben C and Jon Z. Learn the finer arts of bread and sweater vests with Khoi.

You get the point. I could go on and on and so could many of you within the CBSI family.

This aforementioned goes back to what that member told me – “It’s about the relationships and it goes both ways”. In part we keep that very spirit alive here within our group daily. This is shown in many transactions of information on books, Including speculative firsts both past and present.

If there was one huge LCS tent we could all be under and talk our language, it would be a hell of a fun time. Come to think of it, isn’t that what Baltimore Comic Con has become for many with the time in their respective lives and the liver to churn thru the days and nights? An annual meeting of CBSI members under one roof.

Is there a secret sauce to make LCSs flourish and truly relevant again? Not sure, but let’s not forget how important human interaction is in our world. If you buy you TPBs from Amazon because they are cheaper, fine. If it’s in your vicinity, start a small pull list in a local LCS if you haven’t already.

You never know what that will lead to – the worse is probably a cool place to hang with guys like you and I. It’s a sad thought to think of our shops turning into abandoned buildings like what I started this piece with in terms of Toys R Us. The ghosts of Blockbuster and Borders still rattle their chains every once and a while so they are not forgotten.

So truly is digging dying?

I will leave that question up to you. Let’s all try and keep our lifeline – THE LOCAL COMIC SHOP alive and breathing as much as possible.

 

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin”

 

– Bob Dylan

 

Please leave any thoughts around this subject in the comments box. As always, thank you for reading.

Talk soon,

 

 

 

 

 

 

9 comments

  • fastballspecial

    Nice article well thought out. People have been predicting the death of comics for decades. I live in a 200K area.(25 mile radius) We have 3 shops and are adding one more soon. Each has comics in one form or another and then each is diversified. 2 carry video games kids can play and huge Magic and other card tournament style games. One does Fortnite tournaments along with other online gaming and the last shop which is the farthest behind does books, cds, video games sales and such.

    Each does well in their own niche. Variants aren’t that big of a deal at any of these shops, but they understand it only caters to a small market of big pie. One shop has really expanded into trades and I think that is good move for them. Another makes a lot of their money from $1 books because they only pay $.10-20 per book when they get them in that’s great profit if you can sell enough of them.

    The trick is they are all diversified. The true comic shop is the one that will struggle. You have to offer more variety to bring in a larger customer base. Or at least utilize online selling to increase your profit like Madcomix does using Facebook auctions. Comic shops have lagged behind using the internet just from pure laziness in my opinion. The shops I make the least amount of money from are the ones that are run like a true business. Really is Econcomic Darwinism at this point. The lazy shops needed to be gone along time ago. I will miss them truly though because their laziness help put me thru college and guaranteed that both my kids college tuitions are already paid for.

  • My 3 LCS’s are doing incredibly well and sell well under ratio for variants. On the 4th, there was a crazy line just to get into the store as if it was free comic book day, but I was still able to get all my Donny Cates variants. I suppose loyalty and great deals can keep a LCS alive. Also, comic condition is always poor when I buy from ebay or Amazon so I tend to avoid them.

  • Mike Morello

    I agree with fastball, above. Diversity really helps. I’m in the Nashville area and, as I have mentioned in various issues of cover tunes, we have 9 shops that all do something a little different. I have a pull list at 4 of them in order to spread the love, but it is also selfish. Because I frequent all of the shops and support them, individually, I have garnered great relationships with the owners and the regulars. There are different crowds at each and they each speak a slightly different version of my language. As such, I can learn and grow with each of them. Additionally, because I have fostered the relationships with the owners and employees, they do me favors. I in turn do them favors. You can’t create that culture with an Amazon account. As such (and I’m not completely sure of this), Clint is referencing me with the quote, above, “It’s all about relationships and it goes both ways.”

    Also, there is the hunt aspect. A lot of this hobby is hunting. I need a physical place(s) to do that. I can be a little satisfied by hunting ebay, but it isn’t the same. Yesterday, I pulled 2 great pieces right in front of a fellow regular collector. The camaraderie that followed was worth way more than the treasure. Additionally, we both met a guy at the LCS who has comics we both really want. We got his number and shot the bull for a while. Also, at that shop, the employee handed me my box pulls. In it was a copy of the Hans Ms. Marvel variant from last week. They had gotten a late shipment, knew I wanted it on Wednesday and did me the favor of getting one to me.

    What I’m getting at with all of this is that you can’t create that culture without the physical LCS and a community of like-minded people. The relationships are key (no pun intended). If we let the LCS disappear, we let our culture disappear, too. I really hope that does not happen.

  • I love this article!

    I LOVE to dig in long and short boxes. The thrill of finding a new place and digging for gold is just the best. I also love to chat up store owners about this very topic whenever I travel and/or find a new store. The perspectives of owners are as varied as the types of stores listed in the article. It also depends, of course, on their market.

    For example, I live in the Inland Empire of Southern California. There are several LCS stores I frequent. The more healthy ones have a rich pool of pull-list customers that actually pick up their pull lists on a weekly basis. One store in particular also has a good trade paperback income as well as gaming and statues. They survive on loyalty and a rich customer base. More importantly, the owner is a number cruncher and orders wisely. I have built a very good relationship with him and often share my speculation knowledge with him when he orders. In turn, I often get picks and special pricing/ordering when I buy. This give him a guaranteed sale and eliminates my stress of having to be a Wednesday warrior and beating the crowd (note- I also have a healthy pull list that I pick up on the weekly as well, so that helps). This mutual relationship is a win-win for both him and I. He also does not dig through back issues and raise prices on hot books because he feels he doesn’t have to and believes, as do I, that it would only piss off his customers.

    On the contrary, many markets I have visited have a very different vibe. One market, for example is the Phoenix/Glendale area of Arizona (sorry AZ. I love you, but I gotta speak truth). Every time I visit friends there, I always find a new store. The vast majority of stores I have visited have dozens, if not hundreds, of long boxes full of comics, but nothing to buy. They are literally picked so clean of potential “finds”, that it becomes almost useless to dig. Those same stores do not have any shortage of “new hot wall books” displaying whatever spec books have become hot (and priced accordingly). As a customer that likes to dig, this is frustrating and I never return to those stores twice.

    It is my humble belief that if you are an owner and want to play the “spec market” as your primary business model, then I believe you are an idiot for having a brick and mortar store. Why pay rent, utilities, payroll, etc if you just want to deal in “spec-books”? That makes no financial sense. If you want to pull books, monitor spec sites on the hourly, and order books that you NEVER put on the shelves for your physical customers to buy (you know who you are), then get rid of your store and go virtual. This, I believe, is the future of this type of comic retail.

    On the other hand, if you want to own an actual physical store, then order wisely, build relationships, and put your customers first. Have special events at your store. Do Free Comic Book Day right and maybe even have a midnight premiere of a hot book now and again. Make it fun for your customers. They will return and buy!

    Just one man’s opinion.

  • KravenHuntsAgain

    I also love the thrill of the hunt scrounging around $1 bins. I frequent a few places, but one main shop. It took me years to warm up the owner as he can be a bit grouchy, but now that I have gotten to know him, he is a great guy.
    He has taught me a lot about comics too. He has $1 bins, $2 bins, and moderate priced key issues. I go there once or twice a week and always find something new!

  • As long as comics have value and the potential to grow in value comics will never die.

    The day trades start having value is the day it becomes the beginning of the end of the single issue comic.

    As long as you adapt and follow the market you should survive. If you only sell comics or pops or cards you might suffer.

    All 3 LCS’s here sell everything. Game cards, comics, trades, wall books, bins, pops, toys, action figures, statues, you name it.

    Just make sure you know your clientele and cater to the demand without over ordering and you should be fine.

  • This is a great article. Well presented stats and unbiased. As for me – will love comics as long as there are shops out there taking on books faster than they can price them, allowing for those “magic” scores. If you have had one you will never forget it. Also, I have never read a digital comic nor do I intend to. Reading hard print is very relaxing (dare I say therapeutic for me), and for my older issues that familiar smell of slightly biodegrading paper tickles my neurons and unlocks memories otherwise inaccessible. Again, great article.

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