The coronavirus pandemic has affected everyone, and put a squeeze on the entire comics industry, causing North American distributor, Diamond, to suspend delivery of all comics for the month of April (and possibly beyond). Newsarama has spoken to several retailers about the effects, and now we speak with one of the biggest: the mail order giant Discount Comic Book Service (DCBS).
Founded back in 1999 by Christina and Cameron Merkler, DCBS is arguably one of Diamond's largest retail clients. The Fort Wayne-based retailer ships an estimated 35-50,000 units each week, and have 4,400 regular monthly customers - and all of their comics come from Diamond.
The Merklers founded DCBS in their basement back in 1999, drawing on their vast personal collection and their own backgrounds in big box store retail and accounting. Within five years, they grew out of that basement and into their first warehouse. By 2008, they expanded to a larger location and launched their sister site, InStockTrades.com. Over the years, DCBS has acquired other retailers such as Mail Order Comics and Tales of Wonder, and now have warehouses in Fort Wayne, Indiana and Memphis, Tennesssee - the Memphis location situated in a 30-mile radius of two of Diamond's three U.S. warehouses. Between the two locations, they employ 42 people.
With all that's going on, Newsarama spoke with Christine Merkler about what she's seeing, what they're doing, and what they expect to happen in the coming months for themselves, their customers, their employees, and the industry at large.
Newsarama: Christine, when did you first realize that what would become the coronavirus pandemic would affect your business, and the comics industry as a whole so significantly?
Christina Merkler: The moment I heard that California had instituted the shelter-in-place order I knew business was about to change drastically.
Nrama: Have you noticed an immediate change in sales these past two weeks, compared to historical norms?
Merkler: At DCBS we have not. We are still receiving requests for adding books that were missed and March pre-orders are on target for last month and last year at this time. InStockTrades had normal sale weeks the last 2 weeks.
Nrama: What shipping companies does DCBS use, and how have they been in this pandemic?
Merkler: We use FedEx primarily and USPS for PO Boxes and non-contiguous U.S. states. All involved have been picking up as normal.
Nrama: What steps has DCBS done to protect its employees and its customers?
Merkler: Because we are a small team environment, we always encourage our employees to stay home when they are not feeling well. We gave the team a Friday off a couple of weeks ago, and wiped down every bin, cubbie, work table and floor surface in the warehouse. Since then, we have instructed the employees to wipe down the scanners and work surfaces after each use and follow the CDC guidelines for washing hands, etc.
Nrama: How do you feel about the communication that publishers, distributors, and shipping companies have had with you as a retailer in this crisis?
Merkler: We believe the communication has been relatively slow and the answers are not necessarily what retailers want to hear.
We understand that the publishers are continuing to work on this, as the environment keeps changing, but it is difficult to be patient. It is important for us to remember that some companies have a handful of employees and can make decisions quickly and without much approval. Other companies have several layers of oversight and approval required before stating anything, which slows communication.
Nrama: DC has been one of the standouts at not addressing retailers or the public during this pandemic. Have you spoken to them individually about this?
Merkler: We have been in communication with DC and they have told us they are working on a plan.
Nrama: What is DCBS' plan for next week, April 1, since Diamond says they're not shipping out comic books?
Merkler: Our current plan is to ship all customers scheduled to ship next week with the current items in their open invoices. We will not be receiving 4/1 releases, so those will not be included. We do know that they have been printed and are in Diamond's warehouse, so we will receive those releases as soon as Diamond goes back to total fulfillment.
Nrama: Let me back up a bit. Diamond is the near-exclusive distributor for most comics and some graphic novels, but other distributors are selling some comic books and graphic novels. Does DCBS have other distributors, and how are they doing in all of this?
Merkler: Diamond is the only distributor we use.
Nrama: What are your personal projections for how this ends up three to six months from now?
Merkler: I believe that three to six months from now the comics industry will look nothing like it did two weeks ago.
My hope is that all of us make it out of this, because without a strong direct market there is not a strong comics industry. I am certain that every part of the supply chain will be re-evaluating their business and will put measures in place to make sure they are prepared for any event of this magnitude going forward. Every small business will re-prioritize and evaluate every level of their business, from suppliers and shipping companies, to product mix and number of employees needed.