Comic Store In Your Future – Making More on a $3.99 Comic in 2018 Than a $4.18 Magic Card Pack

Rod Lamberti of Rodman Comics writes weekly for Bleeding Cool. Find previous columns here.

When I first opened eight years ago,  I never could have seen what kind of year 2018  would be. Over the years I have learned a lot. In my opinion, I believe I am a much better store owner than I was eight years ago.

That said, I never would have thought Wizards of the Coast would keep raising their prices so only they would get the increase in profits on their Magic the Gathering products and expect gaming stores to eat the difference. When comic publishers increase prices on comics, we store owners get some of the increase. I make more on a $3.99 comic than I do on a $4.15 pack of Magic cards. Costs for stores go up as the years go by. To make things even odder, Wizards of the Coasts wants gaming stores to keep having gaming for their products. Over the years I have cut back on Magic gaming events. As I have often written about die hard gamers, for the most part, buy their cards online for the cheapest amount possible and use stores to hang out in for free or as cheap as possible. They want prizes, but they do not want to spend any more than the bare minimum.  This is not just limited to Magic gamers this attitude is the thought process for a majority of gamers. From Magic the Gathering, Dungeons and Dragons, Star Wars X Wing, Force of Will, board games, and more.  Game stores are expected to let people play in them for free or next to nothing. I have people that complain about the $5 fee to play Commander (a Magic the Gathering format), Three to four hours here and a free Magic promo card is expected. Not appreciated. Who spends the most out of the Magic gamers that play here? The kids. The ones with no jobs. They have been taught to spend next to nothing and just hang out. Why do I still carry Magic products? The casual gamers. Often as if the gaming gods are laughing at me, a person who plays the game at home with their friends will come in drop over $100 while never playing here in store right before a Magic gaming event starts. They are just playing the game for fun. They have not been taught to take a store for everything they can. That butts in seats to play a game is somehow more important. Wizards of the Coast had their own stores with gaming and even with all their money, they couldn't make it work for them. Though they expect gaming stores with far less money to host gaming all the while making it more challenging over the years through policies they set forth. I am still amazed over the years the various game publishers have not done more to encourage gamers to buy their products while in store. Not only does the store make a sales so does the publisher. No, if a gaming store is foolish enough to let themselves get used as a place to hang out and not make any money that for some reason is just fine.

2018 in my humble opinion was another lost year for Marvel. Axel left Marvel in 2017 and I still see no change what so ever. It is like they are not really trying. Their focus is on movies and trying to get the comics to follow. Inhumans was a disaster over the years while the characters kept trying to replace the X-Men in the hearts and minds of comic fans. So many Inhuman titles with hype and talent that could have been used for other books. Even this years "Death" of the Inhumans limited series was a disappointment. Marvel has so many titles that do not sell though for some reason they keep bringing them back. I am thankful at least Solo (the Marvel character from the pages of Spider-Man that had a short-lived series that was cancelled) did not return this year.

For 2018 DC shifted some of their focus from the comic stores to Walmart. I wrote about how Walmart's 100-Page giant exclusives did not bother me. I knew Walmart wasn't going to take care of their comics. I took a picture of a stack of comics at Walmart where it looked like orange soda was spilt on them and the comics were just left as is.  Though I did notice that it seemed that previous issues would all the sudden just disappear even though roughly a week ago after hardly selling any the previous issues were gone. I believe Wal Mart is able to return them. DC focused a lot of their popular talent on the Walmart books. When the Swamp Thing Halloween issue came out it seemed that I was selling most of them through my store for above their cover price than Ankeny's Walmart did at cover price. A Greg Capullo Swamp Thing one shot I believe I could have sold more had it been for the direct market than what Ankeny's Wal Mart did. Brian Bendis writing his first Batman story I would bet money on that comic stores could have sold more than what was sold at the Wal Marts that carried the comic exclusives. Now if Bendis does another ongoing Batman story it will not nearly be as big as a deal. Basically by trying to expand readership DC limited it.

I feel Geoff Johns no longer having his executive roles at DC Entertainment hurt DC this year. DC's direction is starting to feel like it was at the end of their New 52 launch. Just going through the motions with a lack of direction.

In 2018 the "hottest" published item by the comic companies was a comic about Batman letting it hang out, Batman Damned 1. When I first opened I would never have dreamed that would be possible. Fact is stranger than fiction. It is still selling for roughly $50.

Completely dropped carrying the game Cards Against Humanity. Auctioned off the last one here on Rod Deals. For years it was a good selling product even though for whatever reason Cards Against Humanity would not let me buy directly from them. I emailed about it to them wanting to know what was going on and the reply was yes we know you applied. Not very helpful. Now the game is sold directly by Target killing demand of it here in store.

Sounds like a terrible year right? It was at times a painful year, though I made some management decisions that I should have done at that start of the year that helped out a lot. I worked in the store more to get customer service back up along with profits. The plus side is I paid myself more. The down side is I did burn myself out and made some self-inflicted mistakes. We did get more business this year. Though once again because another store closed in the area. Not the way I want to increase sales. Years ago before opening Rodman Comics at my favorite job my group went from twelve people to four over the years. Layoffs each year were happening throughout the whole company. I got another job. They wanted to keep me and offered me different jobs even. I said no, I did not want to play survivor each year for a job. So I left thinking I would have more job security at my next job.  The worst recession in the U.S. hit and I lost my job and had a terrible time finding another one for six months. Though I did find a way better job in all ways, such as pay and benefits.  I do not want to play comic store survivor. I want to see a booming comic market. Not one stuck in its ways hoping for things to change through no effort of the major publishers and/or Diamond. That said just my luck in October I over ordered on DC's foil covers then in November I corrected the orders and then the other comic store completely shut down suddenly and I had unexpected customers and was way short on comics.

Some bright spots for 2018. One was Venom, the movie may not have been liked by the critics, though it actually helped sell issues of Venom.  New people were confused by the previous Venom series. Meaning people would buy issue one or other issues of Venom out of our back issue bin from a previous series thinking they were part of the current run. The nonstop launches really can be confusing to new customers. Currently, Venom sales are cooling off.

Amazing Spider-Man, I was worried about the last run of Dan Slott's Amazing Spider-Man selling extremely well that a relaunch with a new creative team would kill the momentum. Nick Spencer's Secret Empire may not even sell in our dollar bin but I am pleasantly pleased with how well his Amazing is currently selling.

Doomsday Clock is still a sales freight train that shows no signs of slowing down. I keep having to order whatever printing of past issues are available because even after all this time new people are getting into it.

Stranger Things has replaced Walking Dead here as the gateway comic for getting new people into comics. Always glad to see a comic title getting new people into comics.

Sonic the Hedgehog is getting kids into comics. With the Simpsons being no more, I am glad to see Sonic being a gateway comic for kids. Hopefully the upcoming Sonic the Hedgehog movie will grow the sales of the comic.

Still surprising the heck out of me, we have the exact same amount of pull customers for My Little Pony as we have had for quite a while. If My Little Pony is on someone's pull list that pull box always gets picked up. I think with every other title ever published that more than one person gets has seen some if not a lot of fluctuation on sales over time. It is just the nature of the business.

Called four times to the Iowa Department of Revenue and have gotten four different answers about the check for overpaying the store's sales tax. At this point, I would have been better off using it for credit for the end of this quarter. I only had two options which were, have a check mailed or use it for credit on next quarter's sales tax. Just emailed them hoping for an answer. Great way to finish out the year with thousands in limbo. Thank goodness the store had cash on hand to handle it.

Gaming wise Dungeons and Dragon sales still are great. People still come in wanting us to host free Dungeons & Dragon gaming for them and seem surprised I say no. I should ask can I come over to your place and use your utilities for free? Why not? Why should a gaming store by a free babysitting service?  We are able to sell. Hosting free gaming is a distraction from us doing that. When I last went to the Gamma Trade show other store owners brought up that having free gaming events put butts and seats but no one bought anything.

Our Heroclix players may not always have schedules that enable them to all get together to play here, though when they do they are a great group. They also buy here in store even on weeks when they do not play. Heroclixs are not as popular as Magic the Gathering and that very well may be for the best because these guys buy all their heroclixs through us while often Magic players will buy from Wal Mart instead of us because Wal Mart broke street date selling early and we did not. Meaning for Magic products they are not to be sold until Fridays and often Wal Mart will sell days before that.  Our Heroclix players even thank us for hosting gaming for them while at times while some Magic players look at them like why are you thanking them?

2019 looks like it will be more of the same if my orders are any clue for the first few months. Hopefully that will change. Would love to see new up and coming talent that could be embraced by readership.

I still enjoy comics. We have some great people that we deal with. Still proud to say I collect comics. Stunned on how the comic industry has gone so long now without seemingly trying to improve sales. I am also stunned how Wizards of the Coasts seems less and less interested in gaming stores selling their product. It is like they did a market study and decided Amazon and big chain stores are the way to go and gaming stores are a thing of the past even though people are unable to game at Amazon or Walmart.

I never dreamed eight years ago when I opened I would be facing a comic industry so sluggish to try to improve. I did not carry Wizard of the Coast products such as Magic when I first opened though when I did start it made me far more money years ago with far less headaches than the company gives me now. OH BOY! Wizards of the Coast will give me advice on how to put butts in seats for hosting games for their products. I do not care about that. I care about selling the product. There are stores that focus on mostly gaming though we can sell and that is what businesses are supposed to do. Sell and make money. If Rodman Comics is unable to do that then it would need to close. Hoping for a 2019 where the comic publishers try some initiatives to improve readership numbers. Hoping Wizards of the Coast reverses their 'we are slowly breaking up with you' attitude with gaming stores. Would love to see less exclusive deals with vendors. Meaning, as games go exclusive with a certain vendor or vendors, customer service goes down while prices for us go up, though we are still getting the same product.

A comic industry not so addicted to variant covers for 2019 would be nice though that is not happening anytime soon. I would rather have a large readership base for customers than a smaller group of people buying multiple copies of the same issue.

Over the years for some weird reason thing have gotten more challenging thanks to the companies that we buy from. Weird right? When I opened I believed the more I could sell meant more money for who I was buying from. Pretty simple. To simple apparently.

2019 hopefully will be better. Less reprinting of cards from past Magic sets by Wizards of the Coast and more original ideas for Magic the Gathering along with better products. Wizards of the Coasts for Magic the Gathering had a Jace Spellbook in 2018 which was one pack of cards in a bigger box. Usually one pack of Magic cards is roughly around $4.00. It was $20.00. That was exclusive for the game stores that ran events for them. Hard to believe it was not a hit. Wizards also had exclusive Magic material available only through Hasbro's website. Those were a hit. Which was great for Hasbro though it means nothing for the stores that host gaming for their product.

2019 I hope will be the return of great storylines and great art to comics. So great that sales actually rise over the previous two years. It is not by any means a tough goal.

I would like to write about positive changes in the industry. Hard to believe, right? Though the start of 2019 looks to be more of the same I am hopeful for some good news.

Next week more of what I would like to see for 2019. From 2019's Free Comic Book Day to hopefully a better, brighter, future for comics and gaming.

Comic Store In Your Future – Making More on a $3.99 Comic in 2018 Than a $4.18 Magic Card Pack

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About Rod Lamberti

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