The comic store I manage is located in the same lot as a really nice independent movie rental place. It’s also beaver corner to an independent movie theatre. It makes for a nice little triangle of pop culture, not so far away from a major university – and so we get all types walking through. Some are interested in sampling the various wares we all have to offer. And others… well, not so much.
A few weeks ago (maybe even a few months ago?) we had a guy walk through, eyes alight with amusement as he browsed through the racks. After I asked him if he was looking for anything in particular he laughed and said, “Oh no, don’t mind me. I’m just looking at all the relics.”
The relics. When pressed to elaborate on this, he replied that he was merely taking a tour, much like one would in a foreign country. He was visiting “a society on the brink of collapse”, I believe were his specific words. Print media, DVDs, physical anything.
“I’m not going to buy anything, I just want to see,” he said.
In that moment, I was beset by twin urges. Part of me wanted to pat the guy on the head and tell him how cute he was. The other part wanted to clench down on his windpipe and see the light go out of his eyes. I mean, I get the idea that he would think we’d be having a tough time because… well, all the signs point to times being tough for a store like ours. Print media doesn’t shift the way it used to, and you’d be silly to think that a store like this would be making dollars hand over fist. That said, what kind of asshole do you have to be to walk up to someone, and say to their face, “Oh, I’m just here to watch your slow and grizzly demise, because it amuses me.” That is straight up bullshit. Because for one, you’re looking at a guy who’s next meal depends on those so called relics, and as backwards as the idea seems to you, that doesn’t give you the right to be a dick to me. And for two (shut up, that is too proper English), we’re going awesome. Our numbers are up year to year by astronomical amounts, and we’re closing in on our best sales year ever, out of 15 years of data.
Because yes, print media as we know it is dead. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a new world of opportunity opening up right before our eyes.
You unbelievable asshole.
“RIDES A DARK HORSE”
01. Over the weekend, the comic retail internet blew the fuck up over a bit of info contained (or exrapolated from) the recent Dark Horse day-and-date digital announcement. As the “news” began to trickle out, it seemed as though Dark Horse would be one of the first companies to offer same-day print content for cheaper in their digital format than what could be found on the stands. Naturally, they experienced some kick back against this idea. Specifically,
racist asshole comics proprietor Larry Doherty and a few other retailers pitched a fit and claimed they would only order enough Dark Horse titles to cover their pre-orders for titles shipping in February. Initial orders for the books would be due at the end of this month, thus giving their customers enough time to place orders before Larry placed his.
Well, as things turn out, the pricing scheme that was “announced” was not what Dark Horse had ever intended. A cursory reading of the Newsarama article that set the internet aflame reveals the pricing scheme to be nothing more than an extrapolation on what the company currently offered the public – or rather, up until this point their non day-and-date digital had been released at a cheaper price point than physical releases. Just like every other comic book publisher.
But the damage, as they say, was done, and everyone lost their collective shit. Many businesses and business owners threw their hats in the ring alongside Larry, offended by this move. The main refrain seemed to be along the lines of “how could Dark Horse do that to us, their retailing partners? Don’t they know that they owe us?” Putting aside the fact that Dark Horse never was going to go through with that so-called pricing plan to begin with, the simple reality is this:
Publishers owe retailers shit. Zilch, zero, nothing, nada. And if you’re looking for someone to blame for that? You have to start with the retailers themselves.
02. The facts are these: a retail shop is a business, plain and simple. When you run a business, you have a couple of jobs to do. The first: provide a service that people want. The second: provide that service at a price people want. Everything extra done should be done to service those two motives. If those two motives are being serviced, you will make money!
Now years ago, when the direct comic book market was formed, retailers were satisfying those two criteria. Providing people with a service they wanted, for a price they were willing to pay. They were the mainline, the delivery system, and because they were fulfilling both criteria, the market as it existed then, flourished.
Fast forward to today, and the market has changed. The same (if not merely similar) products are being offered, but people no longer want the services comic stores provide. Not for the prices being charged. There’s quite a few reasons for this, digital being a small piece of the pie. But again, the underlying cause is quite simple. Brick and mortar stores are simply not providing a service that people need. Not like they used to.
The specific reasons for this are wide and varied, and almost definitely up for debate. Personally, I see the current market attrition as the results of broken system finally breaking under the weight of its own bullshit. A brick and mortar store is a relic, in a way. It’s an old idea, much like the idea of print being a widely accepted means of communication – and much like we have done away with the hand-written letter as our primary means of communication in deference to the telephone, or e-mail, or Facebook, or Twitter, so will publishers, in terms of getting their product out to the audience that wants it.
Much like everyone shrugged off the postal system for faster and cheaper means of communication, the comic book industry is doing the same. It is taking its service, and putting it in front of the customers. They are being told to provide it for a price that those customers will buy. They are attempting to satisfy the two bits of criteria that will see them thrive and flourish. And the fact that you might not be part of that equation is not their failing. It’s yours.
03. If you are a retailer, you should fucking well know how this goes. When the internet and e-mail and Facebook and Twitter came along, you didn’t tell them to fuck off because you owed shit all to the postal system. You took one look at that new means of doing business, that new means of communicating with your customers, and you took it. You put yourself in front of more eyes, for a fraction of the cost. You did this because you are a god damn business and that is your job. You owe the postal service fuck all beyond being a customer when you require their services, and are happy with the pricing they provide. Similarly, publishers owe retailers fuck all beyond what they need to get the product to the people who want it. The fact that a larger audience exists out there, that requires a similar product for a cheaper price is tough shit for you. Send an e-mail, tweet about it, boo hoo. You want to survive, you pay attention to where the world is going and shift your focus so you can continue to provide a service people are willing to shell out money for. Or in other words: do some fucking work and find out what that service and product is.
04. Personal experience tells me this: in this economy, as a comic book retailer, you can not rely on the old way of doing things. You can’t just do what you used to do and expect business to be the same as it always was. The industry has changed, and will continue to do so – and while Dark Horse may not have pulled the trigger on cheaper day-and-date content, mark my words: the day is coming when someone will. That every company will. The future is coming, and you can piss and moan and fight it all you want, but that’s not going to change things.
Probably the most hilarious part about all of this was how certain retailers thought they would fight against this change. As noted above, several retailers figured they would fight against Dark Horse by cutting their orders right down to the bone, filling only pre-orders for incoming product. Or to put it in other words, they were attempting to show a publisher that they should be considered a viable, primary means of distribution, by not distributing their products. Some would call it a stand based on principles. I would call it a self-fulfilling prophecy – one in which the publisher sees the direct market become more unstable as their numbers drop, while retailers buy into digital destroying their business, because they aren’t selling as many comic books. The worst case scenario is a mutually assured destruction. The retailer goes out of business, the publisher goes out of business, and look! No more comics.
But if we’re being honest with ourselves, the more likely scenario would be this: the publisher would survive, because the market is telling them that customers are willing to purchase content digitally, and the retailer would die because they would not hold up their end of the bargain in terms of providing a fucking service to customers. It’s as simple as that.
05. At the end of the day, the facts are these: retailers are going to die if they don’t smarten up and roll with the changing industry. The current system, is going to die. Now there are ways to avoid death. A comic book retailer can do this by not shunning the digital moves, but embracing them and pushing outwards to a greater audience. Take a page from where the publishers are going, and do something different. Will you have to price your shit cheaper? Maybe. Will you have to order less single issue comics? Probably. Eventually. But that doesn’t mean you’re fucked - it just means you have to become something different. You can’t count on this system to coddle you much longer. Hell, you can barely count on it to protect you now. Could you imagine what you could do with a system that didn’t rely on the abysmal distribution system that is Diamond Comics? Those guys are the absolute worst, and you complain about them every week, I bet. And I bet that if you were offered a better option, you would jump ship immediately. Because that’s business, yeah?
You owe Diamond fuck all, and when a better option comes along, an option that will allow you easier access to product, in a more efficient, more cost effective manner, you will jump at the chance to tell Diamond to go fuck themselves. Similarly, publishers owe you the same courtesy. It takes time for them to publish singles, and get them out to you, and even now, you’re not selling their shit like you used to. You’re not the distribution system you once were, and quite frankly, you’re terrible at selling the books they give you to sell. Everything trends downwards, and when new arcs or creative teams start, when new exciting books are offered, you don’t sell them to more readers. You don’t build an audience, because you are doing nothing to seek it out. You are relying on what you have done all along and that is not working. If you continue to do this, and if you continue to bristle at change, you will be well and truly fucked in the future. You will be gone.
But again. There are ways around this. While singles will probably go the way of the dodo, there will definitely always be a market for collections and graphic novels – for things people love so much, they want to hold them. Shit, people still want things so badly, vinyl records have made a bit of a comeback. Not because it is the best, or easiest means to get a product, but because fuck you, you think you’re the best I have this shit on vinyl you pretender, you hack. You are not the best at loving something I am, you shit turds! ME!
And that impulse will never disappear. If a person has enough love for something, they will fill their life with it. They will want it to take up space in their lives – and with the increased audience access digital provides, it will bring in people who will be searching for objects, searching for collections. To survive, you become the place that provides that service, for the price people are willing to pay. This is how you survive.
06. But look, I know my place in things. I can whine and scream all I want, but I’m not going to change anyone’s mind. Some retailers will fight and piss and moan until they fuck themselves out of a business. That’s just a thing that’s going to happen. But those of us who are willing to act like a real business? We’re going to be just fine.
You’ve been reading Me vs. The Angry Mob – Issue 2011.17