- Posted by Johanna on March 11, 2008 at 7:35 am
- Category: Comic News
It’s important to remember that, while your comic shop retailer may be a great guy or gal, their financial interests are fundamentally not yours.
I used to think that I could understand the direct market comic retailer mindset. I was considering being one, even. When I decided against that (it was too much work for too little profit, hamstrung by uncontrollable restrictions like a monopoly distributor), I thought learning more about their needs and wants would at least make me a better customer. The problem is, what the retailer wants isn’t necessarily what’s good for the customer.
Let’s look at some examples.
You want good comics for the lowest price. They want to maximize their profits (and stay in business), which means higher cover prices. You want to try (browse) before you buy. Many of them want guaranteed pre-orders, or you won’t find anything on shelves but the usual DC or Marvel.
There’s the case of Fell, Warren Ellis’ $1.99 comic. It attracted attention and sales because of its price point, but some retailers argued that it should have been priced higher to maintain their profit margins. Any readers out there want to pay more for a smaller format?
Do you know why the Marvel Dark Tower comics were $3.99 an issue? Because when Marvel started promoting the idea to retailers, loud voices responded, “these are guaranteed sales to Stephen King fans, you should charge more than the standard $2.99, and we’ll all make more money.”
(These kinds of discussions may be why some retailers have stopped participating in online retailer industry groups, for fear that they could be charged with price fixing:
In general, it is an agreement intended to ultimately push the price of a product as high as possible… The principal feature is any agreement on price, whether express or implied. For the buyer, meanwhile, the practice results in a phenomenon similar to price gouging.)
The rise of weekly comic series are applauded by retailers because they force customers into the store more often, where they have more opportunity to spend. DC’s weekly series have moved from $2.50 an issue to $2.99 because they feel they have a captive audience, a group of customers that “have” to buy the issues to keep up with their universe. That publisher also announced that they’d be delaying the release of any collected paperbacks in order to drive more purchases, a message aimed at pleasing their retailer customers.
I’ve previously talked about how leading retailers argue for longer time periods between issue releases and their eventual collected editions, in order to “encourage the customer base to actually support the serialization”. Translation: make them buy issues instead of letting them wait for the trade, even though the collection is a better product and greater value.
In that same link, another retailer wants to eliminate online discounters; they think minimum price floors should be set and no one allowed to sell at a price under that. Big comic customers often go to online providers with large discounts because they (as good consumers) are trying to maximize what they can buy with the amount they’ve budgeted for their hobby.
Let’s talk about preordering. In return for committing to buy a comic blindly two or more months ahead of time, the customer gets… what? I only preorder if I get an excellent discount, because I’m making things easier for the retailer by giving them a guaranteed sale (and demographic information about what books are of interest to their customers). The risk is that I sometimes have to buy something I no longer want, or something that doesn’t live up to the advertising.
Some retailers want to position subscription services as a convenience. “You’re sure to get what you want” and “your books are held for you”, so they shouldn’t have to give a discount as well. That doesn’t make sense to me, when I can get a third or more off the cover price by preordering online. In many cases, I’m going to have to preorder anyway, or I’ll never see the book, since it’s becoming riskier for stores to stock shelf copies in any kind of depth. If I want to browse indies or manga, I’m going to wind up at a bookstore or a convention, venues that do allow browsing of the books I’m interested in these days.
The more customers know, the better deal they can get. If shops don’t give discounts, and the customer service isn’t excellent, and there aren’t shelf copies of unusual titles to browse, then stores become less appealing (unless they’re one of the top ten percent, which are mostly found in high-population urban areas). In an interview, Robert Scott sums up the disconnect like this:
[T]here are a lot of retailers that don’t understand that if they stopped their 20 percent discounts, they could lose half of their customers and still earn the same dollar profit, yet the first thing every customer will say if you ask them what their shop could do to improve is, “give me a (bigger) discount.”
What the customer wants — better deals — isn’t in keeping with the retailer’s profit needs, and vice versa. It’s a very tough job to be a comic store retailer, and it’s getting tougher all the time. It’s no wonder that they feel pressured, what with increasing bookstore competition and losing customers to online alternatives and ever-increasing amounts of products that have to be carefully evaluated to determine what will sell. I have a lot of sympathy for them… but I still need to watch out for my own customer interests.