The WheelHey Fandom! Thanks for taking the time to read the third installment of “A Shop of Ideas: Ideology.” Last time we wrote about how Free Comic Book Day isn’t always geared toward the entertainment value of reading comics, how MY Free Comic Book Day can get potential new readers to enjoy reading comics any day of the year, and how any comic shop can get involved. This column, we’re going to discuss selling all comics at cover price and promoting the entertainment value of a story over the format it’s held in (i.e.: variant covers, 2nd prints, hardcover, trade paperback, graphic novel).
New comics and graphic novels come out every week, and, as comic shop owners, we always have new books we need to order and sell. Some of these books don’t sell and become “back issues”, books that didn’t sell when they were at their hottest so we pay for a bag AND a board AND tape AND a price tag AND a box to put them in AND space in our shop to store them in AND an employee to do all these tasks. These are totally random books that didn’t sell, so now MORE time, energy, and money are put into them than are put into ordering, promoting, and selling the next batch of new books. Also, if a book didn’t sell for the price on its cover when it was released, why would it sell for more money as a “back issue”? For that matter, if you didn’t sell out of a first print of a comic, why mark-up that comic and buy more copies of a second printing to sell at cover price? Just sell the first print at cover price, and when it sells, order the second print and sell that at cover price too. We need to break away from thinking that format differences should be capitalized on to make more capital. What does selling a first print for more money than a second print teach a customer? That second prints are worth less and first prints should be sought out? What about when you don’t have any first prints and customers turn their nose up at the seconds? Then you can’t get fans hooked on enjoying a series that’s popular enough to demand a second printing because of the conditioning you set in motion.Singles racked with collections... We assert that the format of a comic doesn’t matter. Single issues, latter printings, soft covers, and hard covers all have the same story that will give the reader the same enjoyment. Why should we encourage limitations on a reader’s enjoyment? Does Warner Brother’s only encourage people to see a movie’s first run in a theater and not buy a DVD? Are there many movie fans that won’t buy a DVD because they failed to see the movie in a theater? I’ve heard comic customers say, “I don’t do trade paperbacks”, but I’ve never heard anyone say, “I don’t watch movies on DVD” or “I only watch movies in the theater”. Comics need to relate the entertainment value they have to offer to a potential reader the same way other entertainment mediums do, not smarmy investment value of single issues and first prints. We sell the stories not the format; we even rack the single issues right next to the collections.
Please allow me one digression on the topic of format-- what the hell is a trade paper back? Why the hell do we use this term as comic fans? A trade paper back simply means a bound soft cover book that isn’t distributed to the mass market. Trade is an industry specific term; it has absolutely nothing to do with the contents of the book being sequential art or being a “comic” first. There are far more text trade paper backs than those that happen to reproduce the comic industries periodical output. It’s a term that should only be used with the publishers and distributors because it tells the end user nothing of value. This whole industry has the publishers and distributors marketing the retailers and end customers at the same time with the same terms. Then we wonder why retailers sometimes act like fans with a lease and just repeat verbatim what the publishers say and call that marketing. Here’s an example: the publisher through the distributor’s order catalogue tells the retailer to order multiple copies of a comic book because it’s going to be hot and the retailer will make money. The retailer then tells his customers to buy multiple copies of a comic book because it’s going to be hot and he or she will make money. We as comic book retailers need to market books to customers the way we think will excite them, and that doesn’t mean using industry insider terms. Why should we use the term trade paper back to someone new to comics that walks into our shop, because that’s the term the publisher and distributor use to sell to us? This bound collected format is a graphic novel, that term is easily explained- it uses sequential art to graphically tell a story. Go to Barnes & Noble and see if they have a trade paperback section or a graphic novel section. As an industry, we need to think how we present our product to the potential comic reading world. Trade paper back is a dumb, unexciting, useless term. What’s a hard cover collection called then? There is no universal term used on those. We could say trade hard back or premiere hard cover or a hard cover collection. What if the sequential work was never a comic first? We think bound sequential art should just be called graphic novels. The term is totally elastic, soft cover graphic novel, hard cover graphic novel, original graphic novel.How We Rack So we just sell everything for cover price and then focus on selling more of the stuff we love. We think store owners would be shocked at how much more time and resources they would have to promote, hand sell, and restock comics and graphic novels if they let go of trying to sell marked-up single issues and maintaining back issues. Letting new comics sell out at cover price and moving on to sell second prints, the next issue, and the graphic novel sells more to more people. Marking up what didn’t sell yet is not the best use of time and inarguably doesn’t attract new people to comics. Once the graphic novel of a comic hits our shelves, we take the individual comics that didn’t sell collected in that novel and give them away for free. Here’s how: we put a sticker on the cover with our website and address then leave a few copies at coffee shops, tattoo shops, student unions, etc. People who have never read a comic get to try one while they are waiting around somewhere, and then come in our shop for more of the story. Everything we do is in line with our mantra “Entertainment Trumps All.” It is all about getting more people to enjoy comic books in any format. The only people our “giving free comics all over town” upsets are the current comic collectors (investors) that don’t like seeing comics “defaced” with stickers on their covers left around like they have no monetary value. They believe the proper place for comics is in a back issue box, with a bag and board, with a price sticker where the monetary value is clearly defined (as close to Wizard or Overstreet’s guides) to validate the investor’s life choices. One way has comics enjoyed by anyone who comes across it in their daily life, the other keeps it in the comic shop as part of the owner’s personal collection until the right comic fan, who didn’t buy the book new, seeks it out. The Wheel, the Bullhorn, the Party The only thing we hit a snag on with pricing all our comics at cover price and format neutral stand was variant covers! We personally dislike variant covers; we will always prefer a customer to buy two different titles than two covers of the same issue. We’d prefer to sell Ultimatum #1 and the new issue of Daredevil at cover price than a 1:100 $100 Ultimatum #1 and an Ultimatum #1 at cover price. An individual will get more enjoyment out of reading more comics and probably not experience buyer’s remorse when purchasing two different titles. Would you want to spend a hundred bucks on a single new comic, then see it dive in value? It’s my experience that the people who get into comics and need every cover of a single issue burn twice as strong and then burnout completely. They need to have all the variants of any title they buy, but as soon as they hit a life change (temporary job loss, marriage, divorce, new baby) they leave comics altogether. A comic reader that really only buys what he or she truly enjoys is far more likely to just cut their list some when faced with the same life event. We first started selling variants for cover price first come, first served. That didn’t work because we got the most annoying people banging on our windows before we opened to buy a variant at cover price only to drive to the next comic shop and sell it at a profit. Then we bought a prize wheel and let everyone who came to the register with the regular cover of a comic spin the wheel to have the option of buying the variant version for cover price. Some people really liked the wheel and thought it was fun, for others it produced a negative feeling when they didn’t win. We didn’t like some customers feeling like losers and the whole thing put too much attention on variants, so we stopped it. Now we mark variants at a small mark up, but give the money to comic related charities like Heroes Initiative and our own Operation Sequential Art. This way we still sell all comics for cover price, and collect the money given to us in exchange for variants as donations to charities. This works for our shop’s ideology. We’ve found just marking these up slightly prevents people from being able to sell them to other shops at a profit, so if these variants are “worth” so much then go try to sell them back to the shop you bought them from. Really, if a store consistently tells you that these variant covers are worth multiple times the monetary value of the standard covers, call their bluff and try to sell them back. As a rule of thumb a store pays about half the cover price of a comic they sell new on the stands, so if a variant was really worth the $50 they priced it at then they should be willing to buy it back at half that price. They won’t because they’re trying to make back the money they spent on all the extra regular copies of the issue to get more variants. Also, if you watch Wizard’s price guide, when a hot title is new, the variants are worth tons of money and are listed as top “investments”. When those same event books are over, or the creative teams moves on or the book gets cancelled, the monetary value of those variants tank. How can we as a retailer have any credibility with a customer when we tell them that Y the Last Man is an amazing book they should read when we also told them to buy that House of M sketch variant for big bucks that is now “worth” so much less? Donations collected for Operation Sequential Art I’ll close with a stunt we pulled at a local convention, Megacon, last year. We know that tons of dealers at these conventions try to sell variant covers of comics at a high mark up every year, and that’s their right. The free market is the free market, but we don’t have to play along. We are free to do our own thing. We have just as much right to say we don’t agree with that especially if we put our money where our mouth is! We brought our prize wheel and our infamous megaphone! The first day of the convention we signed people up to win variant comics for free, we got their email and they got to come back for a free variant. We had the comics on display with colored stickers on them corresponding to colors on the prize wheel. I actually told people not to buy any variant covers from anyone that day, but to wait until 2pm the next day to win them from us. Everyone was a winner, the color the wheel landed on decided the “rareness” of the variant they could choose. This was the only way we thought we could make variants fun, and entertaining people who came out to the convention made us stand out. It was also a plus to destabilize the variant market, even if just for a day. I feel I showed comic collector’s that even as a retailer I’d rather sell more single issues and graphic novels than focus my time trying to make money off of variants. Maybe some of them got the message that they should spend more of their time on money enjoying more comics, and not tracking down expensive variants. Either way the stunt was a success; we had a line wrapped around our booth, down an aisle, stretching to the creator tables. I was asked several times what creator the line was for. We had fun, the fans had fun, and we assembled a huge list of people to contact about our future store signings.
Endeavoring to promote comics as entertainment has led us to never sell a comic over cover price and to sell the stories not the format. This is part of our ideology. We sell the single issues of a new comic and when the graphic novel collection comes out we sell that, but we also rack the current issues next to the graphic novel to encourage people to get current. What do you guys think, should format matter? Most shops rack single issues of new comics on different shelves from the same titles’ graphic novels. Is that the best way to get new readers into a title? Would titles have a better chance at survival if the format wasn’t an issue and the collections were mainly used to help people get current? What about printings, do you really need a first print to enjoy a comic? With variants, are you going to sell them, have you consistently made more money than you spend selling them? If you’ve bought variants in the past, do you think you would have had more enjoyment from spending that money on other comics or graphic novels? Next week we’ll discuss using creativity to sell creative products. Thanks for reading. I’m enjoying the interaction so I’ll respond to everyone who leaves a firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
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A Shop of Ideas: Ideology Part 1, NO MORE BACK ISSUES