Comic Retailer Economics

Brian Hibbs has a great column on cleaning out backstock that isn’t selling. But I don’t want to talk about that main subject — read the column for that — I want to point out some of the interesting statements he makes about the current economics of selling comic books. All quotes from him:

I’d suggest that [Final Order Cutoff] is one of the reasons that Marvel and DC are currently at or near 80% of the market in orders, because there’s “less risk” in ordering their material in a FOC environment.

80%? I can believe it. I’m just curious how that figure was arrived at, and whether it’s generally accepted.

It used to be fairly normal behavior to order extra copies over and above your predicted rack sales to be able to put in back issue boxes. … the math used to say that if you had a 75 cent comic book, and you could price that as a dollar as a back issue, that “extra” 25 cents (a third of the initial cover price) made up for the costs associated with stocking and storing those back issues.

Does that suggest that the floor price for back issues these days should be $4? No wonder I don’t see quarter boxes much any more!

I still remember a time when a customer would come in with $10 to spend, and they’d buy all of the new this week books they wanted, and they’d have change left over, so back issue diving was common customer behavior.

I wish! That would be nice. To buy all the new books my household wants each week is more like $45 (that’s only 15 comics), and that doesn’t include graphic novels or manga! (We get those elsewhere, though, these days. While prices have gone up, so have types and numbers of outlets to get comics.)

Go read the rest of the column for more on “stock creep”, sensible inventory management, and why some perennial format books needed to be treated like periodicals.

10 Responses to “Comic Retailer Economics”

  1. Nat Gertler Says:

    Diamond releases their market share data every month. Admittedly, this does not include other forms of distribution to the direct market (Haven, direct-from-publisher sales), which would benefit the non-big-two paths of distribution… but not by that much. As you’ll see in this recent month – -their unit share combine to around 78%, although their dollar share is only around 71%

  2. Jarrett Says:

    I didn’t really object to the 80%, more that FOC is the reason for this. Our store has never actually taken advantage of the system, and I’d say we’re easily selling 70-80% Marvel/DC. I think it is because of that high volume that Marvel and DC are able to offer FOC, and not the other way around.

  3. Johanna Says:

    Nat, thanks for the data — but I think you’ve left out the most significant other form of distribution, especially when it comes to non-DC/Marvel work, bookstore/returnable distribution. I appreciate seeing another source for that figure, thanks.

  4. Nat Gertler Says:

    When Brian is talking about “The Market”, he seems clearly to be talking about the Direct Market, which is the market where Marvel and DC have FOCs.

  5. Johanna Says:

    Yes, but Brian has also talked about how more direct market retailers are taking advantage of distributors other than Diamond, such as Ingram. Those are the distributors I’m referring to, the ones used by progressive comic shops.

  6. Alan Coil Says:

    Marvel is putting out around 100 comics each month, plus all the trades, hardcovers, etc. That’s why they dominate the market. More product = more exposure = more sales.

    My LCS usually prices recent back issues at 25 or 50 cents above cover.

  7. Alan Coil Says:


    Ooops. Forgot FOC. Final Order Cutoff is a great tool for saving money every week, or for making more money every week.

    Let’s say you order 15 Robin comics every month. You forget that Robin is crossing over with Batman RIP. You have to re-order 5 more copies. Just a week or two later, the FOC date will let you order the addition 5 copies before the book is printed.

    The same is true if you forget to lower that order back to 15. You then have the chance to lower it for the following issue.

    If you just wait until the next Previews order is due to go in, you may have lost sales by not having enough copies, or lost profit by having too many extra copies.

  8. Jer Says:

    why some perennial format books needed to be treated like periodicals.

    Yup. The move towards “collecting everything” into trade pushed story decompression. And story decompression pushed a large group of us to stop bothering with monthly periodicals and towards “waiting for the trade”. It makes perfect sense to me that the books would begin to have sales patterns closer to periodicals than to older-style books because older collections were mainly things that you knew you wanted to keep on the shelf and re-read over and over again. Nowadays I can often find collections at the local Half-Price Books 1-2 weeks after the collection hits the shelves – meaning that people are buying them to read once and then dumping them.

    This is mainly superhero stuff, though. I wonder if non-superhero stuff from the Big Two has a different pattern than the superhero stuff. I guess mainly I mean Vertigo here – Marvel doesn’t really have enough “non-superhero stuff” to gauge any kind of significance these days.

  9. Johanna Says:

    We were talking about that just the other night — the question of whether everything should be collected, or whether it should be more a measure of what deserves to be collected.

    I wish I had a good used bookstore around here… it would be nice to see that kind of secondary market. Just for selfish reasons. :)

  10. Tim Bird Says:

    There’s a good used bookstore near me who’s graphic novel/trade paperback section has grown, over the past three or so years, from about 5-6 shelves on one 8 shelf bookcase to overflowing four entire bookcases.

    It also went from being mostly DC/Marvel (Batman, Superman, Spiderman) and Newspaper collections (Garfield, Peanuts, Far Side, etc.) along with some Manga to having just about a little of everything, including lots from small press and independent publishers. Japanese and European stuff too.

    It’s nice to be able to pick up something cheap, give it a read, then turn it back in for store credit and grab something else. Especially on my budget!




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