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|6||07/17/10||Why Comics Need to Change, Part 3: Death of the Local Comic Shop||(Blog) (Forum)||Gen. Discussion||(Back) (Next)|
In Parts One and Two, I've basically talked about the trade paperback - how it has changed the industry, and how it could change it further. All of that was saying basically one thing: the comic company needs to stop seeing itself as a magazine publisher, and start seeing itself as a book publisher. What would that mean to the local comic shop (or LCS) though?
There may have been some here and there before, but the LCS really started to become what it is today in the 1980's. Almost as soon as "comic shop" became a known phrase to me, comic companies - particularly DC - started printing series on Baxter paper instead of newsprint, and made them exclusively available to comic shops. It was a short wait for the "direct market edition," which was usually exactly the same as the newsstand edition, only the direct market version had a little picture in a corner box, where the barcode was on the newsstand version. This soon turned into the direct market version having an entirely different cover from the newsstand version. That later turned into the direct market version having more than one cover, which was known as the "retailer incentive cover," which eventually became known as the "variant cover" or "variant edition." Along the way, other things were enabled by the existence of the comic shop, like the ability to find back-issues, the various types of gimmick cover (die-cut, foil, hologram, glow-in-the-dark, etc.), the comic related trading cards, statues, apparel, and whatever other merchandise you can think of. In the course of all that, the newsstand edition pretty well died.
With the emergence of the trade paperback, comics slowly crept back into the retail bookstore, until today, your national book chain probably has a header that says "Graphic Novels" hanging from the ceiling, just as well as "Mystery," "Science Fiction," or whatever else they sell. They might have a spinner rack that holds several titles, but nowhere near what the industry has to offer, so it's clear that graphic novels are their principle means of selling comics. How long will it be before the comic companies realize that? If the graphic novel is what they're going to sell to the retail stores, they can make an eighty percent cut in costs (see Part 2) and still be selling to the national chains. Why are they going to worry about the comic shop?
If the LCS is left with only collected editions to sell new, where does that leave them? They've got back issues, comic related merchandise (statues, figures, apparel, etc.) and whatever gaming items they might sell (things like Magic the Gathering or World of Warcraft). For the five or six shops in my area, that would be their death knell, because the monthly issues keep them alive. So what happens? Do they branch out into other things to stay alive, or do they become extinct? Would it matter? Other than the convenience of walking in and putting your hands on the product, what can the LCS offer that the Internet doesn't? Most collectors I have run across who buy things like statues and figures are online getting the latest news about those items, and know what's coming out at the same time the LCS owner does, if not before. In my area, the LCS barely carries back-issues, because they consider them as something that's taking up valuable floor space for new product. For most shops in my area, the back issues they have are just the issues they were unable to sell when they were new. The only other back issues they buy are rare ones, usually from the 1960's on back, and they don't see those particularly often.
So has it become a Catch-22? The comic companies could make an approximate eighty percent cut in their costs by going to just graphic novels, but it could mean the end of the local comic shop. Would that mean the end of comics, or would they stay afloat simply with the national book chains, movie rights, and by pushing their comic merchandise through places like Wal-Mart and Target? That's all they had to work with before the LCS, and today, it might be an appealing thought to the corporate owned Big Two, because the death of the LCS might also mean the death of their competitors. Many smaller companies depend on that monthly issue, because the sales of the monthly issue determine whether or not they publish a trade paperback, and their often eratic publishing schedules makes the LCS the only thing that keeps them alive. When looking at the numbers, might the Big Two be interested in putting everyone else out of business? Could they do it, with the Internet out there to help the smaller companies?
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