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Welcome to the #ComicShopList- a simple little idea that might just save the retail comic market from oblivion.
Because comic shops have had it rough lately. I mean, the ones still clinging to life have it rough- it's already too late for many stores.
Headlines usually depict neighborhood fixtures closing forever- nowadays most local shops sell games, with comics as a receding afterthought.
But how can this be?
Comics have never been stronger. Just look at what the medium is finally surmounting.
For decades, comics were locked depicting juvenilia because of the morality-enforcing Comics Code. Japanese comics roared past America in terms of content and scope. But after nearly half a century, the medium is recovering from this censorship- comics are being taken seriously again, by libraries, and by culture at large. Look at the exploding popularity of events like Comic-Con, and the glimmering multiverse of original new webcomics.
With the gatekeepers gone, anyone can make anything- comics are becoming lucrative, on Kickstarter, on Patreon- it's a rebirth, a renaissance!
Except in comic shops.
All this new shimmering content, this rising generation of readers, is locked outside.
Because the comic market still has a gatekeeper. A big one.
To understand the comic shop death spiral, you need to understand... Diamond.
Music hit- Dun Dun DUUUNNNN
First of all- Diamond Distribution is NOT an illegal monopoly. Because they were under investigation by the Justice Department to look into whether “Illegal trade restraints exist in comic book distribution.”
“…this arrangement gives the big two leverage over the marketplace that other publishers simply cannot match; the cash available to retailers is finite, which means that if either Marvel or DC decide to publish more titles on a given month, correspondingly less capital will be available to retailers when ordering other titles, allowing the big two to literally flood their competitors off the shelves.” (Dirk Deppey)
In 1997, the Justice Department declared that, because Jane Austen's novels could be sold in bookstores, Diamond therefore couldn't possibly have a monopoly on the comic market.
You can't get much more official than that- Justice Department, no illegal monopoly, nothing to see here folks.
However, Diamond's uncontested grip on power was attained because Marvel WAS, in fact, trying to set up a monopoly.
“Near monopolistic control by one omnipotent company… Has occurred because of the 1990’s attempted industrial coup by Marvel.” (McAllister 2001)
After being acquired by the 'Junk Bond King' Ron Perelman, Marvel went for the jugular- purchasing 'Heroes World' distribution as a beachhead for a vertical integration scheme designed to destroy DC's access to comic shops.
This power play went down in flames, as DC retaliated by locking into exclusivity with Diamond distribution. Hero's World collapsed, and every other distributor on the field was annihilated by the fallout of this trade war.
Icahn argued, "[Perelman] Was like a plumber you loan money to get him started in business; then he comes in, wrecks your house, then tells you he wants the house for nothing."
When the dust settled, Diamond made peace by offering the Big 4- Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, and Image- special insider arrangements.
The Big 4 have exclusive bargains giving them preferential placement in Diamond's catalog, and superior price rates. Diamond charges all other publishers more.
So, the comic retail market went from dozens of distributors to one- Diamond.
With insider advantages and monopolistic access, Marvel and DC were able to literally flood the competition off the shelves by cranking out more titles.
Retailers, with fewer distributors and fewer titles to choose from, found their options suddenly narrowed. A finite budget meant they had to go for the more affordable titles- titles from publishers with Diamond exclusivity deals.
Meanwhile, Diamond raised it's minimum profit benchmarks from $1,500 to $2,500.
"What this signals to me is that in defiance of the trends of the culture towards smaller, more creator-owned work, Diamond is just interested in propping up already popular works. They’ve given up fostering the next Dash Shaw or Yokoyama — they’re essentially cutting off the potential for growth or surprise."
Dan Nadel- SLG Publishing
Without the ability to cultivate variety on their shelves, stores found themselves capable of servicing only one subsection of consumers- superhero readers.
Over the years, anyone interested in more has learned they can't find it in comic shops. The withering contingent of superhero readers has become the IV-drip keeping the last comic shops alive. Even those shops who would like to invest in new readers lack the money to gamble on fresh product lines, and taking shelf space away from Universe Retcon #75 risks clogging that IV.
So here we are. While a galaxy of crowdfunded new comics are taking off online, comic shops are locked in the shadow of a monopolistic Star Destroyer, starving on their rations.
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But what if there was a way for crowdfunders to get their X-wings past the blockade?
What if we could connect those stores with an unlimited galaxy of online content- with no financial risk, and without sacrificing shelf space?
A new hope for retailers, and a new market for creators.
One long-shot idea might just do the trick.
It's one three ring binder on the store counter. Inside the binder are standardized order sheets for independent comics. For every comic, one simple sheet- with spaces for store customers to sign up if they're interested. The world's most flexible ordering catalogue.
The store owner decides how many pre-orders are necessary to make it worth their while- and when enough customers sign up on the sheet, boom!
Just like that, comic shops can offer their customers everything- with zero dollars at risk, and without sacrificing any shelf space.
Now, this whole idea might seem a little simple. It's just a freaking binder. How will that make any real difference?
Well imagine if the #ComicShopList caught on.
Customers could walk into their shop, and be the first to submit a listing for their latest Kickstarter discovery. The store owner could engage with his regulars, and show them what everyone else is signing up for. Readers who want a particular title would have an incentive to bring their friends in, to reach that order threshold. Store customers would be transformed into an army of talent scouts, with a stake in the performance of their local shop.
Face to face contact, incentivized outreach, engagement between the clerks and customers- it is precisely this kind of local interaction that a phsyical location can do better than a website. The #ComicShopList amplifies the inherent strengths of a brick-and-mortar storefront.
Giving customers the ability to participate in the process, that feeling of control and relevance, has the power to make comic shops a vibrant community hub again.
Comic shops can offer more. Customers can have more. And creators can sell more- all with this decentralized, radically simple system in place.
But there's one missing piece between the idea, and the reality:
For this to work, we need a critical mass of creators, readers, and store owners willing to give it a try.
So, please- share this video with someone. A favorite creator, your friends, a local comic shop. Spread the word- and then look for creators posting in the #ComicShopList hashtag with links to their printable list. Then, grab a binder, grab your list- and let's see what happens!
I'd love to hear firsthand accounts- please share video and photos from your efforts, and I can assemble a follow-up video featuring the stories of participating retailers and authors.
Check the video description for links to a #ComicShopList template, so anybody can make one with minimal effort.
Because this new generation of creators deserves to be in stores, and stores deserve to tap into this new wave of customers.
From the early newspapers, to the Comics Code, through the Monopoly Age, to now-
Let's write the next chapter in the story of comics.