A Comic Shop Fails a Customer by Avoiding Non-Superhero Titles

J. Caleb Mozzocco was excited to try six new titles yesterday, on new comic book day. However, his store only bothered stocking one of them, the DC superhero one.

Comic shops are in trouble, and this is a big reason. Why should customers have to commit to purchasing in order to sample new titles? Shouldn’t retailers take risks in stocking new products? The answer to that, in many cases, I guess, is that the retailers are creating the kinds of stores they want by restricting their product lines, but the end result is too many potential purchasers are left with shops that serve as DC/Marvel superhero boutiques. If they want to read more widely, their choice is to go outside the direct market.

The store gave him some story about not wanting to risk shelf space on “independent publishers”, but two of the books he was looking for were from Vertigo and Image. Worse, one of the books was an issue that the shop said they’d order for him after they messed up his preorder. They forgot. No wonder so many people are going online to purchase — physical retail locations need to compete on service and providing immediate access to products. If you don’t care about keeping your customers happy, then why should they shop with you? As Mozzocco says,

A lot of us online blowhard types rarely if ever single out shop owners and employees, save for the most vile examples, and focus our venom instead on the big corporate publishes. It makes sense, really — the shop owners are small business men, most of whom got into their small business because of their great love for the same thing we love so much. But it should be said that some of them just aren’t very good at selling comic books to people, and they can be a force pushing people away from comics, if not Comics comics, than certainly comic book comics.

End result is that the store loses $25 worth of business, the publisher loses a customer who might have come back month after month, and the customer gets closer to being fed up with the whole process. Mozzocco did the smart thing; he began shopping elsewhere. At least he had a store choice.


10 Responses to “A Comic Shop Fails a Customer by Avoiding Non-Superhero Titles”

  1. Blake M. Petit Says:

    I can understand — if not approve of — a retailer wanting to hedge his bets on a comic that may not sell. I CAN’T understand one refusing to order a book specifically requested by a trustworthy customer.

  2. Johanna Says:

    I feel sorry for publishers, though, if a book by one of the best-respected current comic writers, one who’s also known for working on a popular TV show, a book that (I think) got coverage in mainstream outlets (not just comic press), is considered a risky book to stock for browsing.

  3. James Schee Says:

    Gosh, 5 to 6 years ago, and this was me. Heck just a couple of years ago I went to a shop looking for the newest Batgirl issue (with Stephanie) and was told they didn’t stock it.

  4. Ralf Haring Says:

    Any store that treats a new Brian Vaughan comic from the premier direct-market creator-owned publisher as something that needs to be special ordered … it’s hard not to be blunt … they don’t deserve sane people’s business, for any product. This particular one was on the cover of Previews, fully returnable, and even in USA Today. Ordering it is not taking a chance. It’s almost a sure bet. Then again, if no one at his store preordered it, I presume the owner has already whittled down his clientele to the types of readers he wants (and only those readers).

  5. Lee Childs Says:

    It is unreasonable to lament about the comic book stores. Mainstream comic book stores cannot stock indie fare because their customers won’t support it. As the audience for super heroes shrinks, so go the comic book stores. Unless a comic book store has an existing customer base for indie titles, though, it is suicide to risk precious resources trying to expand into this area.

    Sometimes, a title gets a good write-up on this website and Comics Factory in Pasadena – an indie comics oasis – has it, so I buy it. Otherwise, it goes on my Amazon list.

    Every once in a while, there is a DC or Marvel that is good and non-super hero. I enjoy being able to go into Golden Apple in Hollywood or House of Secrets in Burbank and buy something. The people there are really nice.

    I will miss them when they are gone but I won’t lament their passing.

  6. Kat Kan Says:

    One of my LCS’s makes an effort to order less mainstream titles and to promote them with his customers. I have found, more often than not, if I don’t want to pre-order a title (especially if it’s from Image or Oni Press) but want to check it out, I can ask this LCS if he’s planning to order it. When it comes to other, smaller presses, I do have to pre-order so my LCS knows he’s got at least one sure sale. Wherever I’ve lived (since I left Hawaii and the great Jelly’s), I have had to pre-order if I wanted anything besides DC and Marvel, because I’ve lived in smaller towns with small comics shops that simply can’t take chances with stuff.

    However, I agree that Saga is NOT a risky title, not with all the publicity it received, and there’s no excuse for not ordering at least a few copies of the first issue.

  7. Johanna Says:

    Saying “customers won’t support it” is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If the store simply buys what customers pre-orders, then they’re not a shop, they’re a catalog showroom, and I object to the idea that the customers should be the ones taking all the risk.

    Kat sounds like you have reached a good compromise with your store, not exactly preordering but expressing interest. Personally, if I’m going to be asked to commit to a comic before seeing it, I’ll just order directly from the creator, since that way, they get more of my money and I’m not rewarding a system that’s failing me. Although postage costs keep me from doing that as often as I’d like.

  8. FuzzMcG Says:

    I went in to my local comic shop Wednesday and all they had was superhero stuff. No Saga (that I specifically went in to buy), no Fatale, none of the new Vertigo books.

    I’ve tried pre-ordering with them before and it’s hit and miss. Frankly, it’s a bit embarrassing having to repeatedly go up to the counter and ask if the new issue of something is out when we both know it is and they either a) haven’t bothered to order it or b) sold the copies they did order and were supposed to keep for people who asked.

    The whole Direct Market thing is collapsing anyway. Moving away from newsstands was a mistake and the cliquey/superhero-dominant nature of a lot of comic shops don’t really make me sympathize with the fact there are an increasing amount of closures because I completely understand why that’s happening. And they refuse to fix it.

    Actually they’re just like Marvel and DC!

  9. Thad Says:

    I feel for the retailers, and for the dilemma they face. I can understand not giving shelf space to, say, Elric or Buckaroo Banzai or something else with a limited audience.

    But @Lee: there is no RISK in ordering Saga. It’s by an acclaimed creator, it is selling out like crazy (though my LCS had several copies sitting comfortably on the shelf), and, as Ralf notes, it was RETURNABLE. (If for some reason you wanted to return your extra copies instead of flipping them on eBay for triple the cover price.) It is the very definition of a no-risk proposition.

    Orc Stain? Well, it’s not returnable, and furthermore it doesn’t really have what you would call a “release schedule”. So there’s a bit more risk there. But it also happens to be a truly gorgeous, absolutely crazy book that does not resemble anything else on the shelves. (Mmmmmaybe the new Prophet. But Orc Stain was first.) You order a few copies and put them where people can see them and I am willing to bet that they’ll sell.

    I consider myself incredibly lucky to have an LCS where they not only stick Orc Stain up at the counter for people to thumb through as an impulse buy, but where they stuck it in my sub box and said “You have got to check this out; you’ll love it.” Granted, it’s in walking distance from ASU, so it’s in a better position to sell both comics in general and indie titles in particular.

    But proximity’s not enough. This shop’s stood for…well, I’ve been going since I was in junior high school, so more than 15 years. And more than 10 under its current ownership. It’s stuck around while others — most notably Atomic — have gone under. And I think having a selection that’s not just capes-and-tights is part of that, and I think customer service is the BIGGEST part of that.

    I didn’t go to ASU myself. I went to NAU — that’s about a three-hour drive north.

    There’s no good comic shop in Flagstaff. There’s Hastings, which had DC and Marvel books and a little bit of Image and Bongo. (I hear they’ve broadened their selection since.) And there’s Bookman’s right nextdoor, which has a respectable selection of used trades. Those are pretty much your options, aside from Barnes and Noble.

    So I kept a box down here, the whole time I went to school up there. Maybe once a month I’d come to town, visit family and friends, and pick up my comics.

    Now, I grant that’s a bit of an edge case. But the point is, the owner’s treated me right and, as a result, I’ve gone out of my way to continue giving him my business. And at this point I think I AM probably a representative customer: specialty stores may not attract a lot of new customers in off the street, but the customers they can rely on are people who respond well to, for example, recommending books they haven’t heard of, stocking books that are outside the usual milieu, and for God’s sake remembering when they ask you to order something.

    …and given the praise I’ve lavished on my LCS at this point I should probably namedrop it, though if anybody in the neighborhood is reading this they probably already know which one I’m talking about. That’d be Ash Avenue Comics, owned by Drew Sullivan. (There’s a guy named Bill who works there too. He’s cool too.)

  10. David Oakes Says:

    I went to my shop this week, and they didn’t have SAGA.

    They had ordered it. They had ordered even more than usual, since they just had a huge influx of subscribers due to the closure of a nearby store. And they ordered shelf copies, also more than “usual”. And still they sold out.

    And this is a dyed-in-the-wool Superhero shop, owned by a fan of Monster Movies, with Action Figures stapled to every wall, and a Wednesday Crowd hanging out until 9pm.

    The store that closed? Carried tons of Manga, had a staff that pimped Indies, and was always engaging the mainstream community with movie and TV events and even opened a store inside a shopping (not strip) mall.

    Me, I am just thankful that I have access to more than two stores, so I can even compare them.

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