And also carry stacks and stacks of All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder.

§ June 29th, 2022 § Filed under publishing, question time, retailing § 13 Comments

Twitter pal jd asks the following not-easy-to-answer question:

“…Why do some comic shops succeed and some fail? What are the major factors that go into longevity?”

Egads. Where do I start? Where do I end? Where do I go in-between?

The barest minimum answer I can give to “why some succeed and some fail” is “the businesses that make enough money to pay expenses and provide a living for the owner/employees succeed, and the ones that don’t fail” which, of course, applies to pretty much any retail business you can think of. But what is it specific to comics that feeds the rise and/or falls of those stores?

In slightly less general terms, I think a long-standing store should have

1. Knowledgeable, friendly employees

2. A wide and relatively deep range of stock

3. Some measure of cleanliness

…which again isn’t exactly comic-specific, but I think these are the positive qualities for a comic store to be around more than a year or two.

Those are just the things within the control of the store itself. That doesn’t take into account things like your potential customer base, the quality and proximity of competition, the overall health of the comics business, etc.

This is immensely simplified. Factors such as “expanding too much just as the market downturns” can take out a shop. “Being in a bad location,” or “being a good store but being outcompeted,” or “having the building you’re in get bought by a new owner who promptly prices you out by raising the rent too high,” “the partners who own the store got into a fistfight and now that store’s shut down,” “owner dropped dead” — could be anything, really.

I know during the ’90s boom a lot of shops opened up and I’m sure many of the proprietors smelled some easy funnybook money and dealt heavily in “hot” books. Once the fad died and the market crashed, all those “hot” comic customers dried up and without any longterm committed clientele, many of those shops vanished.

And this isn’t even touching really on distributors suddenly going under, taking retailer money and product with them, leaving stores in the lurch. Which is what has me wondering if we’ll see a return of that particular problem in this new no-longer-beholden-to-Diamond-Comics direct market world.

Ultimately, all I can do is control my store and do what I can to keep it vital. I’m not the biggest store around, or the fanciest, or the most monied, but it’s operating at a level I’m comfortable with, one that pays the bills and affords me a living and the occasional eye injection, and is (usually) stress-free, despite my distributors’ best efforts. But I try to be helpful and friendly, try to stock what I can (and am willing to reorder what I don’t have), and have fair pricing on my back issues.

Now if someone were to open a big ol’ comics emporium right across the street from me, I might take a hit, but I’d like to think I’d engendered enough loyalty to keep at least some of my customer base. I mean, I’ve been doing comics retail for three and a half decades now…it’s too late to go find a real job.

Oh oh oh, I forgot one…a store should have some kind of internet presence. Without going into too much detail, there was a shop I knew about that, when I went to look ’em up online, the only thing I found was a mention of their shop on someone else’s Instagram. Anyway, that shop wasn’t around too long.

• • •

As long as I’m taking Twitter queries, here’s one from a couple of weeks back from Joseph Z:

“What is the most reprinted comics story of all time? Story, not issue. My guess would be Spidey’s first appearance from [Amazing Fantasy] #15.”

That’s certainly a contender, and I’m presuming we’re not talking print runs but rather “most individual reprints of the same story in different comics or trade paperbacks.” I feel like the first Batman from Detective Comics #27 may be a small contender, though the look of the story hasn’t aged well and likely wouldn’t appeal to most modern audiences.

Now a while back I listed off the various House of Secrets #92s I had. I admittedly had too many and have more on the way. Thus, that was 8 reprints of the original Swamp Thing story…with more acquired since this, and more about to arrive. So…a dozen or so now, 15 maybe?

I’m hard pressed to think of an individual story that comes close (and also it’s super past my bedtime right now)..if you’ve got an idea, throw it into the comments and we can do a little digging. It’s probably going to end up being something at Disney or Dell, isn’t it.

13 Responses to “And also carry stacks and stacks of All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder.”

  • Thelonious_Nick says:

    “it’s too late to go find a real job”

    Mike, I know you’re just making a joke here, but I think you’re really underestimating the skills you’ve developed that would be applicable to any small retail business–stock management, cash flow, customer interaction, store layout, etc. You’ve thought about these things in a comic-centric way, but I bet you could easily transfer your insights to say, sunglasses, or kitchenware, or whatever.

  • Thom H. says:

    I remember a time when #s 1 and 3 on your list were not necessary for a shop to stick around. So many dark, dusty, unfriendly comic book stores in existence for decades, at least in Chicago and the surrounding ‘burbs.

    Of course, most (all?) of those are gone now. They’ve definitely been supplanted by a new breed of comic shop that is clean, well-lit, and friendly. But I think there’s at least some generational difference there, not just “if you’re unwelcoming, you’ll go under quickly.”

    Or maybe those older shops started out clean and friendly in the 70s (80s?), but aged into their decayed state by the time I got to them. Either way, I’m surprised some of them were still open in the 2000s given their air of indifference.

    On another note: A lot of the local shops make the rounds at comic conventions, which I assume props up their business. Do you think that’s a fairly common business model across the country?

  • Daniel T says:

    According to comics.org, the AF #15 Spiday story has been reprinted 38 times–JUST IN THE US.

    HoS #92 clocks in at 25 worldwide.

    ‘Tec #27 at 30 worldwide.

    (Incidentally, does anyone know how comics.org chooses the representative cover for a series? The Detective one is…not one I would have expected.)

  • Daniel T says:

    “Spidey” not Spiday. This is going to bother me for the rest of my life.

  • Daniel T says:

    Okay, I’ve spent the rest of my lunch racking my brain and I can’t come up with anything that beats Spidey. I don’t think there is, but I’d love to be proven wrong.

  • BobH says:

    Daniel, if you mean the cover on the series summary page (https://www.comics.org/series/87/ for Detective), that’s random, changes every time you load the page. It used to be it was always the first/earliest cover. I’m curious which one you got for that reaction. Was it one of those early racist ones?

  • Daniel T says:

    It was 584, just a relatively bland cover. I didn’t know it was random and thought it would be an iconic cover.

  • Paul Di Filippo says:

    I applaud Daniel T’s urge to check the GCD, which was my own impulse. I just went, and found 50+ reprints for FF #1, Now, I’m not sure if this counts as a “single story” or not.

    https://www.comics.org/issue/16556/

  • Daniel T says:

    If you want to talk ALL reprints, then GCD has Spidey from AF #15 at 81 and the first story in FF #1 at 67.

    So Spidey out-reprints the FF by 20%.

  • Cassandra Miller says:

    What about Adventure Comics #247?

  • Daniel T says:

    #247 has only been reprinted 16 times.

  • Randal says:

    I was genuinely surprised to see Showcase #4 way way way behind.

  • Marcus says:

    The most reprinted comics story all time has to be one of the Hostess Fruit Pies save the day ones, I’m sure.

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