Sunday, January 7, 2018

Being a Comic reader without a store...

Lots of chatter about the comic book direct market lately. 1) A lot of it is totally Marvel's fault and I've got some thoughts on that for another time. But anyways... so this week A Timeless Journey - my comic shop in Stamford, CT, which I have been a part of for the past 17 years and have gone to since I can remember - announced we were closing. This is due to the owner getting a new opportunity and the time just being right. A lot of these other shops I see closing are in ridiculously high-rent areas and haven't totally diversified products etc. (painting with a broad brush here). Truth be told, I am looking into opening a new store or continuing the legacy of A Timeless Journey, as has always been an ambition, but I noticed something this week that I always knew was an issue, but really experienced it for the first time.

I've always had access to a comic store... if it wasn't A Timeless Journey, it was Dream Factory/Flamingo Street in Norwalk. In college, it was Comics for Collectors in Ithaca (and for the semester in LA, Meltdown)... whenever I go to any town, I sniff out the comic stores (I used to drive from Lake George all the way down to Greenfield Center to go to the original Comic Depot when visiting my parents on college breaks). Oh, and at my grandparents during summers in middle and high school, I could always ride my bike up to the P&C and they always had the books I needed (yes, grocery stores need comics again).

So, when Paul (A Timeless Journey's owner) understandably canceled the orders, I was left needing to figure out where to get my comics (after all, I don't drink, I don't smoke, I read comics). The two closest options are Heroes in Norwalk (25 mins away) or Aw Yeah! in Harrison, NY (30 mins away). Now, Heroes comes with a little baggage because of a history with A Timeless Journey, so I didn't want to go there just yet, and a regular there told me they were sold out of a couple books I wanted. Aw Yeah! is one of my favorite stores ever and if you don't know Marc, there are few finer people in comics (seriously). But Aw Yeah! would take a not insignificant portion of my day and a lot of time, because I love talking to Marc. I also have to factor in cost in not only comic haul, but time and gas (being part of a store for so long, these were never really factors for me).

So where to get my comics? A first-world, niche problem, sure... but this is also an industry I have some involvement in, so whatever. So here's what I did:

I ended up getting Batman #38 off of eBay because it's sold out. I checked availability with Marc at Aw Yeah! and then had a friend pick up Captain America, Justice League and Iron Fist. Finally, I ordered Green Arrow, Superman and Phoenix: Resurrection from Midtown Comics (which I consider the last resort. If you know comics, you might understand). Many stores were sold out of some or all of these books (Midtown included).

I paid a little more than normal (especially on the Batman issue), but I got my comics for the week (or at least they are on their way). I did find a new store that offered a great discount to fill-in for the time-being to get my books, but more on that momentarily.

I had to go to three different places - two online and one proxy - to get the 7 books I will absolutely read. I say "absolutely read" because I have a massive stack of unreads.

Anyway, this a hyperlocal problem to Stamford not having a store after 35 years - Stamford is city of about 130,000 according to the Census, but the store would serve much of Fairfield County. Also of note, Stamford is a major commuter town for the New York Metro area. Having two stores within 30 minutes may not seem like a big deal - and I've sure been spoiled over the years - but it really highlighted another issue about the comic market... accessibility.

Stamford used to be a big comic town. There were a half dozen stores or more in the 90s, and comics were still available at convenience stores and the grocery store. Nowadays, you're lucky to find them outside a specialty shop. This ultimately hurts readership overall - as is often noted - but it was really wild that I had to go to three different places - two online! - just to get 7 comic books. That - to me - is part of the problem with the direct market. The stock is so limited, and the sales are so mediocre that books like Batman and Superman are hard to track down. In a perfect world, I would have gone to one of the bazillion convenience stores in Stamford - or the grocery store - and boom, there they are.

Part of the problem is return-ability, part of the problem is Marvel's mediocre editorial direction. Also, part of the problem is the general lack of emphasis Marvel - who dominates the most important entertainment market - puts on comics doesn't do anything to push them.

I did find an online outlet that is convenient for my needs and budget, which is great. It's a comic store out-of-state that offered me an easy subscription, a really solid discount and cheap shipping. But I'm a diehard comic reader and a part-time retailer of 17 years, I know how to work my way around the market. Most people don't, and I really wonder how many people, put in the same situation I was, would just drop reading weekly comics completely?

This is one reason I'm exploring finally opening a store of my own. I believe the market has a lot of untapped potential, but I also think it needs to change or else the weekly 20-page comic side of the industry is going to collapse.

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