Post-ComicsPRO Thoughts Part 3 - The Retailers

Now for the real meat of the ComicsPRO meeting - the people who own and run the stores!

For those who aren’t aware, one of the unique things about the ComicsPRO meeting is that it is the only meeting of its kind in the business put on entirely by retailers. The only other event that comparable is the Diamond Retailer Summit, and while that event certainly has value, at the end of the day, Diamond’s interests are at the top of the agenda for the meeting. This plays a large part in what makes the ComicsPRO meeting so valuable to those involved. Retailers decide the overall narrative, we talk with publishers, distributors, and each other about what matters most to us.

That’s why this year’s meeting ended up such a success by the vast majority of accounts of people that have discussed it so far.

“I believe that the Direct Market is one of the greatest creations in the history of the intersection of Art & Commerce!” - From Brian Hibbs’ ComicsPRO speech

There’s a lot more to Brian’s speech that is worth a read if you’re so inclined, but that line early on really stood out to me. When I first got into retailing, I used to talk about how comics were one of the best ways for a creator to speak to their audience with as few barriers as possible. Relatively speaking, it is easy to get a comic published and into the hands of customers. While that’s not exactly true any longer with the rise of the web and comics on newer platforms, the comic specialty store network remains one of the most unique creations in the history of commerce. We’re a loose network of independent thinkers, frequently idealists, who committed ourselves to the idea of putting stories in people’s hands. We’re rambunctious, sometimes obnoxious, a little bit crazy, and freewheeling. As a group, to be honest, we’re kind of a pain to handle in comparison to calling up the purchaser at a 2,000 store chain and convincing that one person to buy in a book. We’re a rambling mess, and it’s a weak point of our market.

It is also our greatest strength.

We survive the weak times in ways that a lumbering behemoth cannot. We can pivot to new formats and markets quickly. When we put out weight behind something we enjoy as a group, we can push it higher than the creators dreamed. One of the benefits of getting more involved in non-comic book merchandise over the years is getting to see the perspective others have on comic specialty stores. People who aren’t up to their nose in this business would actually be surprised by the impression we have on companies that sell us items outside of the monthly comic book. They see us as energetic and engaged, as real partners helping them discover new products and new markets. The stereotypes that are floating out there about what a comic store and their owners are a thing of the past, but it takes a long time to shake such perceptions.

That energy and enthusiasm was present at all times during the meeting, and the publishers who embraced it saw the most productive outcomes. One of the issues we’re encountering as an industry is the fact that some of the most critical business entities we deal with have become the lumbering, slow-moving behemoths that don’t react quickly to market conditions. As little as ten years ago, a trailer for Watchmen shows up and DC had already seen it and thrown the switch on a massive print run on the Watchmen graphic novel facilitating a sales boom that was unprecedented. That level of planning and coordination to jump on a hit is not as evident these days at all publishers.

The retailers get this, though. That’s why we’re all looking for new things to move into the future. New suppliers, new items, new books, and new comics that will connect with the audience of the present and the future.

Want to do something for your friendly local store to help them navigate these waters? Go in and ask for your favorite thing! There’s so many incredible stories and experiences out there across a myriad of platforms that it is basically impossible for an individual to keep these days and also get some sleep. So don’t hesitate when visiting your local store to ask them about the cool thing you love that you don’t see in the store.

ComicsPRO had lots of ideas this year for retailers to move forward, both in terms of new products, but in terms of ideas on how to manage the businesses going forward. I’m confident retailers will rise to the challenge…because that is what we have always done.

Tim Stoltzfus