Comic Shops Don’t Want Those Kinds of Manga Customers

ICv2 speculated that Borders’ demise left an opening for comic shops to capture manga buyers. (A supposition I don’t find very plausible, since some direct market retailers don’t carry manga because they don’t like it or don’t know enough about it to stock it sensibly, and Borders’ departure doesn’t address that lack of knowledge or interest, but anyway…) In response, a Florida retailer said he was seeing a small increase, even though he has “a limited selection available as it is a bit overwhelming and I personally don’t have interest in it.” (See?) He wants manga publishers to provide dedicated displays to stores, which he thinks would help.

In response to that, Brigid Alverson asked “Which manga would entice you to do your shopping in a comic shop?” The answers are not encouraging, since based on the comments at time of writing, customers want:

  • Out-of-print manga — not sure where a comic shop is supposed to get this, unless they’re one of those stores that ordered blindly several years ago and still have it gathering dust on their shelves
  • Out-of-print manga at below-market prices — if I can get $40 for it on Amazon, why am I going to sell it to you at $10?
  • “Expensive special editions that might or might not be worth the cost” — while I appreciate the ability to browse being an attractive factor, if you think it’s not worth the cost, why is the retailer going to assume it’s worth stocking?
  • Discounts before they’ll buy — “maybe buy 3 get the 4th free or something”

There are a few good suggestions in the comments, such as the one about the importance of customer service, but the majority of them are unworkable or selfishly cheap. When potential buyers say things like, “if I have to wait [or special order], I’ll get it online,” one understands why retailers may not find this a desirable customer base to chase.


  1. You see, that whole “…or I’ll get it online” threat, that’s the kicker. Because how are bookshops supposed to compete with sites like Amazon and eBay that sell graphic novels, used or new, for a couple of pounds/dollars? Unless they can by some miracle produce out-of-print manga or special editions at dirt-cheap prices? I’m not saying that they should be able to do that, but it’s the kind of trick you would have to pull out of the bag in order to compete, really. I think perhaps in order to rival the service provided by online manga sellers, bookshops would have to invest so wholeheartedly in providing an all-round experience that you can’t get from buying online – a combination of extremely useful customer service complete with recommendations, a wide range of titles available for perusal, some kind of ongoing discount or bargain plus maybe an in-house coffee shop for good measure – that you can see why no-one would want to bother.

    Having said that, these days it’s not just a question of whether or not a few bookshops are able to compete with the online market in selling manga; it’s a question of any shop being able to compete with the online market in selling anything. Books especially, but also DVDs, games, CDs, musical instruments… These are all areas in which physical shops are losing out big-time to virtual alternatives, and it seems like the only way they can possibly compete is by providing some kind of unique all-inclusive experience that can’t be had online. It might seem like customers are making impossible demands of shops in stipulating what it would take for them to buy manga ‘in real life’ rather than online, but why wouldn’t they, when it only takes a couple of clicks for them to go elsewhere?

  2. Oof this is sad! But actually, I’m one of those people. I totally buy old OOP manga at my two favorite shops. Mostly because I want to catch up on stuff I missed ages ago.

    But then again, a huge reason why I usually buy the out of print stuff is because I can’t find my more current series at the shop. And I don’t even want some of the shops to make a huge change! For example, Meltdown Comics stocks a lot of Vertical titles, but not Twin Spica. I would have bought Twin Spica from them if they had stocked it, instead I bought it straight from Vertical’s booth at SDCC.
    Same thing with A Bride’s Story. Seems like it’d generally fit Meltdown’s audience and someone might pick it up if they had a copy on shelves. But I usually buy it elsewhere if they don’t have it.
    And that really makes me sad because I prefer browsing a store to online any day. :<

  3. Well, given all the silly “special” hardback collections I see killing space at comic shops, carrying some hard bound and omnibus edition manga isn’t really asking them to move outside their normal buying patterns that much. Especially, since so some many of those “collectors” editors end up in the 50% off bin. So I say more hardcover manga in comic shops.

  4. And yet ironically, where I’m at (Halifax, NS), it was all the comic shops that carried shelf after shelf, spinner after spinner, of manga; and only after the manga bubble was busting did they start to give it up, and the box stores — well, Chapters really, the others never did carry more than the most popular series — pick up the slack.

    Yay for regionalism?

  5. Setting aside unrealistic audience expectations for a moment (they wouldn’t expect B&N to stock heavily discounted out of print books, would they?) to me the *real* core of the matter is this:

    “…and I personally don’t have interest in it.”

    Is there any other retail industry where “interest” is an issue? Sporting goods stores don’t not carry hockey equipment because the owner isn’t interested in that sport. Clothing stories wouldn’t ever consider not stocking capri pants, just because the owner didn’t really like them.

    Only in comic books can you find a “retail business” that feels free to ignore entire segments of their potential customers, because y’know, they really just don’t care about that stuff.

    If I ever run a retail store, I will be very interested in every single possible sale I could make…even if I wasn’t interested in that particular book.



  6. These are all great points. I buy physically when I want something right then (which requires the store being well-stocked) or when I come across something I wasn’t familiar with that looks good (which requires the store have a point of view and a willingness to carry lesser-known material). These are hard things.

  7. Golf Galaxy – “America’s Pro Shop” – is a major retailer of Sporting Goods, but they don’t sell Hockey items. You can buy Tennis equipment at the PGA Tour Superstore as well as Golf, but still no Hockey. Cabela’s will sell me whatever I need for the Sports of Hunting, Fishing, and Shooting, but again, no Hockey. (They do have an item described as “like a hockey mask”, but that is actually for high speed boating.)

    And these are all chain stores where the Manager’s personal tastes don’t enter into stocking decisions at all. (Though even there I bet they still make decisions based on the “needs” of “their” store.) There are plenty of Boutique clothing stores that are stocked entirely on the owner’s whims, intentionally following their personal “style”. And there are Boutique Book stores, such as “the Poisoned Pen”, which specializes in Crime Fiction. Heck, there are even “Book Stores” which exist to only sell a specific text!

    Every retailer everywhere makes choices about what to carry and what not to carry. Because no one can carry everything. Insisting that a “Comics” shop should carry the Manga you want just because it is also “Words and Pictures printed on Paper” is like insisting that they have to carry “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” books too. Sure, some of their demographic may want it, but is it really their market?

  8. I don’t really own a comics store, but the idea of having a diverse selection of titles, whether those are comics or manga or whatever, is directly at odds with how the direct market allows you to obtain inventory. Owners would rather not risk stocking items that will take a while to turn over particularly because this results in tying up funds that could be used for future activity. Being able to stock a lot of items means that the owner can float a lot of his money into retaining stock, but small comics stores might not have that luxury. This probably better explains why you see all the superhero stuff in the normal stores, since those have a tendency to sell better.

    There’s probably a need for more in-depth market research by shops if they want to carve out a better portion of their sales for the manga audience, as the business model for stores seems to have changed such that you really need to specialize nowadays, to be able to cater to your clients in a way that will maximize the potential buyers in your area, as well as to entice them to return for future purchases.

  9. I normally don’t frequent comic book shops.. since I purchase a majority of my manga online, cons or at Japanese bookstores in NYC. Still what I noticed from this type of American “unrealistic” expectation is something that Japanese bookstores shows in glass cases. In Japan, they would be having the oop or limited edition books being offered for sale. That is Japan though.. so unless you can read it.. then it shouldn’t be the norm. English Manga industry is a pretty young industry, and mostly unless comic stores can prove a draw that goes beyond the super hero, action story.. then I’ll probably be interested.

  10. Oh I also see the Buy 3 and get the 4th book free at Forbidden Planet.

  11. […] just saw this on Johanna’s website who in turn got it from ICV2, and decided to elaborate more on my thoughts of it over here.. based […]

  12. […] we talk about ICv2′s speculation on manga in comic stores being a growing market, and how it relates to bookstores. I go on a bit of a rant about the direct […]

  13. […] an all-round experience that you can't get from buying online – a combination of …Read More… [Source: buy manga online – Google Blog Search] Posts Related to Comic Shops Don't Want […]

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