Where do you buy YOUR comics?

There is and always has been a fair bit of debate about where to buy comics. Should you always get your fix only from your LCS (local comics shop) to support a market sector that could always use the help, or should you spread it around and help the entire industry as evenly as possible? Realistically, I don’t think there is much of a debate on this topic, at least not one worth the time. Any comic purchase is a good one. Any way that you can support the industry is better than nothing. The original way of getting your books is all but gone. Newsstand delivery has gone the way of the vinyl record and the telegraph. Up until the rise of the direct market, the huge majority of readers got their fix from the local newsstand/gas station/convenience store. These retailers got their product on a returnable basis, like most monthly mass market magazines. Anything that didn’t sell, they would rip off the cover and return for credit and throw away the rest of the book. This was an awful business model for most of its history. Publishers would just base print runs of a book on sales of earlier/similar titles and hope. It would not be until months later that they would discover the actual sales of a book. Seems laughable now, given the almost instantaneous info flow now, but this was the way of things back in the day. In the Golden Age the sales were so high on some books and the profit so great, that this was actually the most viable model. As soon as the sales started to drop and the profit margins began to shrink things started to get dicey. The retailers were confronted with a product that was not selling very well and was a lower profit per each square inch of rack space compared to regular magazines.  Publishers realized that the model was bleeding cash. They began to push home delivery subscriptions and for a while, that really helped. I recall getting my Fantastic Four, X-Men and the Avengers in the mail covered in those stupid brown paper bag covers for a couple of years as my local newsstand was not bothering to carry them any longer. But that really only served to show more flaws in the model. A “good” selling book by the 1980’s would be in the range of 150 to 200 THOUSAND copies a month. This at the time was not taking into account the returnable books, but they really couldn’t at this point. A book on the bubble of cancellation was, at least at Marvel, selling 100k or lower. For most of the Claremont/Byrne run of X-Men, the book was always skirting that edge. That was one of the reasons they were allowed to get away with what they were doing. It was not until after Byrne left that the sales were up high enough to call the book a real hit. Hard to imagine now, but it’s true. Today if you include every form of distribution available, a book selling 40k plus is likely to be considered a reasonable hit.

The cancellation point for most books now is 20k or lower and some creator owned books, because of the payment structure to the folks doing them, manage to survive at around the 10 thousand copy mark. Once the publishers shifted to the Direct Market things looked bright, for a while. Then the flaw in that model started to show up. Comics were no longer available everywhere, and as a result, long term sales continued to slide as the casual reader either became a serious one or got out of the market entirely. Publishers were now able to print more accurate numbers of the titles thanks to a pre order system, but at the cost of total revenue. This showed they were really not doing very well as a business and things started to get worse.

Now with the Direct Market, Bookstores, comic shops and digital distribution, comics are limping along. 100k+ books like the DC relaunch are the exception rather than the rule. Digital books are higher profit for the publishers once they are able to amortize the infrastructure costs out, much like any other cost of doing business, and the retailers pay a higher percentage for what they buy. The books are also not returnable now, for the most part. Comic shops feel the pain and some are rebelling against digital distribution, but really they need to embrace it. Comics are a medium that is on the verge of failing if digital does not save it. The print model is expensive and wasteful. Any way you buy your books is good. You are making it viable for publishers to continue making the product we love (or love to hate).

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1 Comment

Filed under Comics

One response to “Where do you buy YOUR comics?

  1. Bailey

    Great article! Do you think barnes and noble throws away their magazines too (after ripping off the cover)? I always see these 15 dollar 3ds max and imagine fx magazines that I am too poor to afford and they will sit on the rack for a month (I live in a rural area).

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