Comic Store In Your Future – When Sonic Outsells Marvel

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

I just got done with ordering for November. I was quite surprised how low I ordered. The good news is not a lot of money spent on new comics. The bad news is not much money to make on new comic inventory when it is so low.

Some people were surprised that a comic store would drop their online store when they read this article.

I know many people say online is the way of the future. I do not want to speak for Forbidden Planet International since they have their own reasons for moving away from selling online. I know that our online website doesn't make up much of our sales. I keep it going mostly as a way to show what we sell and have. Which works well. Someone could discover we carry something that is of interest to them in store. Like Dungeons & Dragon games or graded comics. I at first was all fired up and put a lot of work into the online marketplace. Then reality settled in. Online often times product is dumped. Meaning a store buys too much of something and then dumps it online below what they paid for it. Which devalues a product. I am not in business just to waste time dumping products online to get rid of them. Magic single cards I had to remove from our online marketplace because the prices changed so quickly. Posting new products was time-consuming. As they say, time is money.   A new online site has to try to break through, advertise to be noticed. That costs money. It became far easier for us to sell on established online platforms such as eBay. Amazon and eBay are huge and have a lot of traffic. eBay became the go-to for us to sell online. Currently we are researching as a possible way to sell magic cards online.

Years ago I met Brad Owens, owner of Georgia's Rock Shop, at the Las Vegas Diamond Summit. I think at first he thought I was trying to put one over on him. We both opened our stores on the same exact day, October 1st in the same year. I was stunned, what were the odds of me running into someone in the comic retail world that opened when I did? I have recently found out he is closing his store's physical location to focus on online sales. That was quite the surprise. Bleeding Cool also reported on it.

Why would a person get out of owning their own comic store?

Over the years I have been surprised how much tougher things have gotten for comic and gaming stores. In the nearly eight years we have been open the biggest positive change for us has been we receive comics on Tuesdays instead of Wednesday even though after all these years Diamond still charges an extra $4 to do it. It does not sound like much though it is every week so it is 208 dollars a year spent just to get our shipment on Tuesdays. Take that times my guess of two thousand other stores that Diamond ships to on Tuesdays and that would be $416,000 in Diamond's pocket a year while out of comic book retailers pockets. That is just part of the price we pay for Diamond being the only company we can buy comics through.

Some stores do not have the best relationship with Diamond. I believe we have an "okay" relationship with Diamond. Did get threatened once with having my Diamond account reviewed when having a dispute with their sister company Alliance which carries HeroClix and other games, though no comics. Long story short, that did get resolved. It was not a payment issue. Though I will always remember wondering why the threat was made. It was the closest the store ever came to closing because my response in an email was, why would I want to do business with someone who treats me like this? It is like going to Wal Mart and being told they are banning me from the store for treating me poorly. People were worried that Diamond would stop selling comics to us and I would have to limp to the end of our lease and it would be history for the store. That was years ago.

Part of the reason I opened up the store was to be more in control of my own destiny so to speak. Not work for a soulless company that might drop me at a moment's notice, so the board of directors could make even more money. I learned I was still not totally in control of my own destiny. There are still factors beyond my control. Such as the economy, peoples' buying habits, vendors that could drop me with a moment's notice.

I compare comic retail with the movie business. A blockbuster movie being a blockbuster has little to do with the actual movie theater showing it. Such is the way of comics. A lot of the sales are out of my control. I enjoy Legion of Superheroes, I tried pushing the last title featuring the Legion as much as possible and it still was cancelled.

Magic the Gathering is a big seller. I discovered the benefits of adding it to the store early on. Though over the years margins on Magic have shrunk, recently Wizards of the Coast announced reducing the margins on Magic the Gathering for a second time, rather than raise prices so people that buy their product would have to pay more. Where comics keep raising the costs of a comic and we get the same percentage Wizards of the Coast has tried to increase profits for themselves while telling us small retailers to eat the difference. After eight years in business, I do not believe that Magic would die or even be hurt if they increased their prices so both themselves and the people selling their product would see benefits. To add insult to injury after the latest increase by Wizards of the Coast, Hasbro who owns Wizards of the Coast, will offer exclusive Magic product available only through their website. At the start of this year, I almost dropped Magic gaming here in store because it was becoming less worth having. Magic had a drop for us towards the end of last year and with all their changes hosting Magic was being less worth it and more of a headache. The start of the year has seen much improved Magic sales thanks to their product being offered this year being much more popular. Though if Magic wants shops to keep hosting Magic gaming along with supporting their cards they are currently going in the wrong direction.

Comic Store In Your Future – When Sonic Outsells Marvel

Comics. After so long of waiting for Marvel to get their act together and improve sales I am starting to give up on them. C.B. Cebulski replaced Axel Alonso as Marvel's E.I.C. and I feel by now some changes would be happening. So far though I feel nothing has changed. More titles being offered that will sell in the single digits for most comic stores? Why? Sonic the Hedgehog from IDW for us sells in the double digits beating out a lot of Marvel titles. I understand publishers such as IDW, Valiant, Dynamite, and more have fewer resources and popularity to draw from than Marvel does. so I do not expect seeing higher sales with their titles. Sonic does well for us with kids. With the Simpsons comics going away we will push Sonic more as a gateway comic for kids to get into comics. Marvel has so much popularity behind their characters with the movies and their publishing history, yet not much comic sales wise to show for it.  Marvel wants the movie crossover traffic and often seem to think by making their characters more like their movie counterparts that will do the trick. Over the years it hasn't worked. Marvel needs to make their comic characters cool in the eyes of the public. Something people want to read about. How Hawkeye looks and is in the movies does not work as well as in comics. Meaning get him back into his classic costume that comic fans like. When the X Men comics went to black leather outfits due to the X-Men movie at the time it didn't work. Focus on the works for the comics.

Uncanny X-Men #1 for $7.99 is not a well-priced comic for long term sales. Fantastic Four #1 at $6.99 was a barrier for some people to buy. I had people flat out tell me that they wanted to get the new Fantastic Four though it was too high priced. Here in store, $3.99 is what people are mostly comfortable with spending for a comic. Go higher than that and I start seeing people pass on a comic. 

DC seems fine with being in second place and following Marvel. Marvel isn't setting the bar high. Marvel often puts out more product than DC, regardless DC seems alright waiting for Marvel to do something big and then trying to follow it up. Another surprise to me is DC seems to be going the opposite direction of what it was when Rebirth 1 came out. The return of the grim and gritty, the dark times, shock value by "killing" characters. The return of the big event where we must kill characters! DC's last event, Dark Nights Metal was not a body count event.  I am worried about DC's Heroes in Crisis event because Marvel's current Infinity Wars event is selling very lacklustre for us. Readership may very well be numb and tired of comic events this year. Also, I typed that up hours before reading Rich's column about wondering about the changes also.

Right now it may seem I am not too keen on the future. Which I am not. How can my mood improve along with many retailers? Increase in sales. More people coming in wanting to read comics.

I would love to open a second store along with making our current store bigger and more comic themed. Right now I am not seeing a future bright enough to do that.  The workforce is slim picking right now so that is also a factor. I have been working more hours in store and improving sales and productivity. There will be a new employee come November. Someone I know. Someone I feel will be a good fit for the store.

As far as comics I hope to see new talent that the next generation can call their own. I do not know if the comic industry is too cheap to invest in new talent or what is happening. Marvel seems trapped with the mindset of they are unable to do anything different than what they are doing now. I do know I want to see some changes. Some positive changes.

If I had a choice of opening a new comic and or gaming store I would not do it this year. We are not losing money. I sometimes joke I wish we were losing money so then I would just close.  Currently, to me, the comic industry is just going through the motions thinking things will change on their own while the gaming industry is caring less and less about small storefronts and more and more about big chain stores. Which is of no help to store owners. It sure doesn't make people want to open up new stores and it doesn't help many current comic store owners want to stay open.

Marvel and DC need fewer titles that average sales in the single digits in the typical comic store. Less renumbering. Confidence in their storylines. Less "nothing will ever be the same!" Less someone dies this issue! The shock value has diminished because the renumbering and how many times nothing will ever be the same along with shock value deaths have been done. Let us see a comic industry with long-term goals.

About Rich Johnston

Head writer and founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world. Living in London, father of two. Political cartoonist.

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