Comics

What’s Wrong With Comic Book Shops?

By Bobby Shortle

A few months ago, I had one of the worst retail experiences of my life at a local comic book shop.  In the weeks following that unpleasant encounter, I stewed on the idea of writing an article where I could air my grievances, but then something sort of miraculous happened. For my birthday a good friend of mine got me a gift certificate to Tor Comics in Holtsville, New York.

As happy as I was with having free money for comics, I couldn’t help but feel a bit crest fallen. You see, by this point, I had decided that I would just buy all my books digitally. However, one does not look a gift horse in the mouth, so the following Wednesday I walked into the little shop intending to spend that money and never come back.

On the outside Tor looks like nothing special. It’s hard to find, small and the parking lot is hard to navigate, but once you are inside you will be glad you came. The people there are knowledgable not snobby, helpful and kind. You will most likely find what you are looking for, but if you don’t they are more than happy to find it for you. It was this welcoming nature that single handedly kept my fingers from furiously clacking away, but unfortunately Tor can’t be open all the time, and so in an act of foolishness, I walked back into the very shop in which I had that horrendous retail experience.

This short, and equally as intolerable, experience reignited the desire to write my column, but with one basic difference. This time I would not be writing to stop people from going into to a certain shop. Instead, I was now going to write it in the hopes of driving people to places like Tor comics. Establishments that deserve your patronage and your support. So, below I have outlined three demands that we should all lay on our local comic shops in order for them to keep our busniess.

Fix Your Ridiculous Pricing Structure: 

Your old products are more expensive than your new ones? What kind of crazy ass business model is that? How will people ever want to buy new comics if it’s cost prohibitive to buy old ones? The idea of making three month old issues of Batman $4.50 is tantamount to Scholastic making paperback editions of The Hunger Games or Harry Potter more expensive than the new hardcover editions. You are effectively discouraging the new or lapsed reader from thinking of your store as a stop on his or her journey to becoming part of the comic book world.

If I see a new comic on the shelf and think to myself, “I’d really like to get into this.” The first thing I do is check for whatever trade paperbacks have been compiled of the series in question. This tact usually gets me within 10 issues of the current run, but then, because of back issues costing so much more, it might cost me another $40 dollars to get up to date. This obviously seems ludicrous to me, so I wait for the next trade, but by then the same problem presents itself.

So, what is the result of all this price hiking?  I simply wait and get the trades – which I get from Amazon because they’re cheaper – I never buy a new issue of that particular comic at your store and you get none of my money.  But now picture if the back issues were less money. Let’s say they were $2 bucks instead of $4 or $5.  I would certainly spend $20 to catch up immediately, rather than wait months for a TP. Then all of a sudden I’m buying new issues of Sweet Tooth every month from you, and maybe I love Jeff Lemire, and start reading Animal Man and so on, and so on…

Well, that is if I can find the back issues of the book which leads me to my next demand….

People Won’t Buy Things If They Can’t Find Them. 

When you walk into a Best Buy, Target, or Wal-Mart you are rarely confused. Say what you will about soulless corporations, but they sure know how to conveniently organize products. When you walk into a comic book shop you are presented with a hodge podge of shelves, racks, boxes and bins that are rarely labeled and even more rarely organized. There is usually a new release area that retains some amount of organization, but then there is the wild west of the comic book shop; the back issues.

These are usually comprised of a poorly labeled, box like shelving unit which is so tightly packed with issues that it’s nearly impossible to pull one out without creating an avalanche of Spider-Mans and Secret Avengers. If you are wading in for the first time you also might make the foolish mistake of not knowing that Amazing Spider-Man is different than Ultimate Spider-Man which wouldn’t really be a problem if there was anyone to help you.  Which leads us the my most pressing demand…

Get Rid of Your Rude and Unhelpful Employees 

Hey comic book shop owners, if I come into your store with hard earned money in my pocket, I deserve just as much respect and attention as the guy wearing the Babylon-5 t-shirt. I don’t care if he is talking to you about what a travesty it was that Star Trek: Enterprise got cancelled before its time. (This is not a stereotype its an actual scenario I encountered.) I also don’t care about your repressed nerd rage or poor social skills because  you run a business in the real world.

You may have some fantasy scenario in your head where you are Rob from High Fidelity or Randall from Clerks, but guess what?  You aren’t.  Every customer who walks into your store, whether they be regulars, newbs, kids, moms or meat heads, should be treated like VIP’s. Because unless you are selling beer coated boobs, nobody is going to return to a store where they feel uncomfortable and unwanted. I want to support my local businesses but if you are going to be a dick then I will just hit up Amazon.com and get it with less hassle for less money.

The truth is that figure, statue or DVD you are used to selling for double the book value isn’t rare anymore. I can get it on this little thing called the internet for less and I won’t have to deal with being treated like an idiot.  Your only advantage is that you are a human being who can use your knowledge of the medium to advise and shape someones reading habits. That is an invaluable skill that peppered with a little kindness will breed loyalty in your customers.

There is a reason the local comic book shop is struggling like it is, and it’s not because of ComiXology on my iPad. Digital comics aren’t killing the local shop. The local comic shop is killing itself. People, especially geeks, want to feel like they have a connection to people through their passions. You should be encouraging that sense of community and instead you squash it.

Thats why I say look to Tor Comics. Are they really organized? No. Are their back issues more expensive? Yes. But they sure as hell know how to treat and customer and that makes all the rest forgivable.  I feel good about spending my money there and,more importantly, when I walk in I feel like I’m among friends.

And that is worth all the money in the world.

Bobby Shortle is founder and Editor in Chief of Talking Comics as well as the host of the weekly Talking Comics Podcast. When he's not writing about comics he's making short films which can be found at http://vimeo.com/bobbyshortle and talking…

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