The Sad Truth

Despite the recent explosion in interest caused by movie studios noticing the great potential for franchises in comics, the stores that sell them are disappearing. In the past, there was a comic book store for every town, some sold toys, some were small, but they were proud to proclaim that comics, the strange love child of literature and art, were the backbone of their business. However, in these times, it seems that the closest comic book store is always in the next town over, and then tomorrow it becomes even farther.

Maybe you’re a lucky reader who not only has a comic carrier in your town but also never fears for the store going under.  If that is you, great, but for many readers, they do not share your fortune. One cannot help but get a little depressed when a staple of cherished hobby decays slowly for the entire world to see.

How did we get here…?

To understand the current state of the comic book, a brief history lesson is necessary.  At the dawn of their debut into culture, and right before the superhero boom, comics were a commodity that one could buy at the local grocery store. In the 1930s, they were on display right before the check-out alongside the assorted candies, where all the celebrity magazines are now. Comic companies did this deliberately so that children would see them before heading out of the store with their parents. However, with the success of romance comics, or otherwise known as sex comics, crime comics, and horror comics amongst readers of all ages, many moral crusaders came out of the wood work to protest the sale of comics, blaming them for the corruption of the youth at the time. Not wanting to lose sales, groceries across America slowly started to cave in, removing titles off the counter shelves until one day there were none left to buy. The moral panic of the 1940s is still in retrospect the biggest hit in the history of the industry because the movement denied companies the opportunity to gain a tremendous amount of new readers. From the band in stores came the birth of the standard comic book store, which probably does not exist anymore

Have you noticed that a comic book store isn’t exactly a comic book store anymore?

In order to stay afloat and to keep from closing, many modern comic book stores made the decision to market themselves as more than just a comic book store, putting focus on other products over comics.

Most modern comic book stores are also:

  • Fantasy Shops
  • Video Game Arcades
  • Video Game Sellers
  • Movie Vendors
  • Collectibles/Toy Carriers
  • Manga Shops
  • Etc.
Photo from Second Chance Books

The Digital Double-Edge Sword

Another contribution towards the death of comic book stores is the digital comic market. Although it provides another outlet for readers to discover and enjoy comics—which is all well and good—the digital comics market does take a sizable amount of revenue away from the stores. It really is a double-edge sword situation with digital comics. It would be easy to pin the failure of the stores solely on their inability to adapt to the current state of the economy, but also—at of the time of this post—the big companies no longer do anything to help the situation with their most loyal customers, the comic book stores. The big two companies use to run a practice where a reader could buy a copy of a comic online and then go into the store and purchase a physical copy for only a dollar. The plan was more economical for the average comic book reader and it threw some business towards the store at very little expense of the big two. Now, comic book stores swim in the deep end with only their thrashes and frantic movements to keep their heads above water.

The Trade Effect

For those who are new to the comic scene, a trade paperback is the collection of issues, usually of a full story, made to fit in one book. A trade usually collects six to twelve issues of a title, and, roughly, it is a more agreeable option for the thrifty reader. However, much like the digital market, trade paperbacks have their draws backs as well which can create a downward spiral effect for stores.

  1. If a reader does not buy issues by their scheduled release
  2. then the comic book stores still lose profit
  3. which leads to them carrying less titles
  4. that then leads to them having a smaller audience
  5. manifesting into a decline in sales

See the course?

Why Should We Care?

Because as comic book readers we are losing another community where we can express our appreciation for comics in a welcoming environment, and the most saddening fact is that they were the first. Although it is great that the con scene erupted with popularity in the last two decades—or so—and that technology and social media allows comic book fans to connect sufficiently enough to have communities online, the death of comic book stores should be a sad day for all readers. A cornerstone of our subculture will no longer exist in twenty or thirty years.

Remember the milkman? For an entire generation, the milkman was a staple of life. He brought a friendly face to the neighborhood, regardless if it needed it or not. Some appreciated his services; others just took him for granted.  Modern comic book stores are the milkman in the making; soon they will just be the marker of a by-gone age, tragically.

Flying Colors Comics, CA

Tips for the Comic Store Owner (please take them into consideration):

  • Do not be cramped. Use space wisely or else it be the death of your store.
  • Do not be mean.  Do not scold potential customers for leafing through a comic.
  • Have sales—besides on free comic book day. Halloween could work very nicely. Movie releases are fine too.
  • Provide assistance for new readers. New readers become old readers very quickly. Be patient.
  • Have events or start book club.
  • If you can, make a sitting area and serve refreshments (sodas will do).