Comic Retailer References
There’s a lack of good reference information about best practices specific to comic retailing. I’m only aware of two books worth recommending, and one is out of print.
So You Want to Be a Comics Retailer
So You Want to Be a Comics Retailer was first put out in 1995. That’s prior to the distributor collapse, when DC went exclusive with Diamond, knocking off a string of dominoes that left them the only practical distribution choice. That makes some of the reference lists obsolete, but the remaining advice is useful.
The first chapter, “Why You Shouldn’t Open a Comic Book Store”, is the shock of cold water many dreamers need. There’s no longer the glut of stores author Rick Boal describes, but his analysis of types of wannabe owners is right on, and the chapter provides a valuable starting point for eye-opening thinking about running a specialty business instead of living a hobby. Successive chapters cover
- What It Takes to Open a Store (including information on creating a business plan and borrowing money)
- What Kind of Store Do You Want? (stock and customer focus)
- The Empty Frame (location and leasing)
- and store design, stocking, necessary machinery (cash registers, computers, and the like), ordering and budgeting, hiring employees, security, and marketing and promotion.
Certainly, giving the date of the material, other research will be needed, but this book is an essential starting point. The list of publishers, for example, is no longer current, but its inclusion tells the reader to find out which publishers are necessary to carry today. The extensive table of contents makes it easy to find and re-read key sections. Even though the book is only available used, you can get one at a good price. Don’t worry too much about condition, because if you’re serious about this goal, the book will quickly become dog-eared and well-thumbed.
Tilting at Windmills
Tilting at Windmills isn’t as closely focused, but it’s the other important read. Brian Hibbs, proprietor of the San Francisco shop Comix Experience (and leader of the Savage Critics, a group of reviewers I’m part of), has been commenting on the industry for decades. This volume collects his first 100 columns from Comics Retailer magazine (soon to cease publishing, sadly).
It starts in 1991, and runs through year 2000 or so. (The book was published in 2003.) Since the columns were written monthly, they’re a wonderful picture of what was going on in the business just at that moment. Taken together, they sum up the roller coaster ride the industry’s been on since the early 90s. The details don’t matter, but the philosophy is enlightening. The reader will be led to think about the big issues behind the business, as suggested by the book’s subtitle, “A Guide Towards Successful and Ethical Comics Retailing”.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the invitation-only CBIA forum (Comic Book Industry Alliance). Lots of informed retailers hang out there (along with various artists, publishers, and journalists), but it may be difficult to gain admittance if you’re not already associated with a store. Often, the best lessons are learned from experience, which means doing something wrong and living through having opinionated, outspoken, excellent retailers take a virtual chunk out of you (or watching that happen to someone else).
Additionally, Diamond Distribution has some basic information posted in their retailer area. Mel Thompson & Associates claims they’re “the only full-time general management consulting firm to specialize in the North American comics and game industry.” If you’ve got some seed money, it may be worth your while to pay for an experienced professional’s take on your plans.
In my opinion, your best bet is a kind of apprenticeship. Get hired by a good local store and learn everything you can about the actual practice and oddities of the industry (one main supplier, no advance delivery of regular product shipments, the huge number of weekly SKUs, etc.). Many stores may not want to train competition, though, so be discreet.