Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

Home > Letters to CR

Joe Ferrara of Atlantis Fantasyworld on Atlantis Fantasyworld
posted January 16, 2005

Joe Ferrara
Atlantis Fantasyworld

Yesterday a story was posted regarding a trip that Rick Kieffel took to my store, Atlantis Fantasyworld. His narrative is fairly accurate but demonstrates a lack of understanding on his part of how a comic store in general and Atlantis in particular operates. There are many aspects of his experience that concern me so I will try to address them one at a time and be as informative as possible from my point of view.

First, Mr. Kieffel states that he arrived too early and "damn it, they hadn't opened yet." I'm sorry this was a problem. Atlantis opens everyday at 10 am, except Sunday when we open at 11. This has been the case for the last 13 years without change. Also, our days and hours of operation are posted on our web site.

If your readers are planning a trip to any store a quick check of that store's web site should yield this information.

Mr. Kieffel then did what I would have done. He shopped elsewhere and returned just as I was opening the door. I extended a cordial greeting and invited him in. Here is his description of what happened next:
"Frankly, I was quickly lost in the place, as I'm just not familiar enough with the genre to know who goes with what."

Mr. Keiffel entered the store and immediately displayed behavior that indicated he wasn't sure where to go for the items he was looking for. This problem has plagued comic retailers for years. I have spent hundreds of hours in discussion with other retailers from all over the country on this one topic. Every comic store I have seen is different; some rack alphabetically, some by genre, some by company, and some by arrival week. In the end, every comic store owner must decide what works best for him or her.

Atlantis racks are arranged by genre, much like a standard bookstore. Each area is clearly marked with large, easy to read signs. Again there are photos of this system on our web site. Many first-time visitors, whether comic fans or casual shoppers, compliment us on our organization and presentation of material.

Our policy at Atlantis is to greet a visitor when they first arrive and then let them have some time to browse the store. If they are in a hurry, they will usually ask for assistance. If not, we follow up in two to three minutes.
"I looked about and eventually just asked the gal working there where I might find the "thin" issues of Neil Gaiman or Richard K. Morgan's 'Black Widow'. Alas, when I went and grabbed the whole sack of Black Widows, the guy refused to sell them to me, since, he told, he ordered for his regular customers and didn’t want to sell them out. In the end, I got one of each. Damn."

Miriam, my sales clerk, politely asked if she could assist him. When he asked for the 'thin' issues of Neil Gaiman or Richard K Morgan she immediately escorted him to the rack where the Black Widow comics were. At the time we had approximately three copies of issue number three and five copies of issue number four. Mr. Keiffel scooped up every copy of both issues. I informed him I could not sell him that many issues and when he asked how many he could purchase I said one of each. It was obvious he was disappointed. Let me explain:

Black Widow is a Marvel comic. For the last few years Marvel has operated on a policy of printing to order. In other words, Marvel comics are not available for reorder. If any other company had published Black Widow there would not have been a problem. I would have sold them all to Mr. Keiffel and simply reordered them. Alas, this was not possible.

There are a few resourceful retailers who exchange quantities of overstocked books via the internet and other sources but none of these options are reliable on a regular basis. The fact is I ordered those issues of Black Widow based on my sales history of the first two issues. I ordered what I thought would sell under normal conditions for a period of six to eight weeks. If I had let Mr. Kieffel buy them all, my customers would have been forced to go to my competitors for their books.

This brings up another problem for retailers; how many Marvel books to order. Comic shops order on a non-returnable basis. If we order too many comics our profit is sitting on our rack in unsold merchandise. If we order too few our customers will go to our competitors. As I write this, I have one copy each of issues three and four of black widow on my rack -- just right. I think.
"But then he told me they had a bunch of Sandman's back in the used section, and I was able to bulk out on them."

When Mr. Keiffel asked for the 'thin' issues of Neil Gaiman we assumed he wasn't looking for graphic novels. I immediately explained to him that the only new comics that Neil had done recently were issues of Marvel 1602 and that while we didn't have any of the single issues we did have the hardcover collection. I then informed him of our back issue bin and Miriam showed him where the Sandman back issues were.

So I go up to the cashier and drop this big pile of comics and she looks at me asks, "Why are you buying all these?"

"Well," I tell her, "it's a promotion for my web site."

"What are you promoting?"




"...Reading?" I ask. "Yeah, reading."

Miriam was attempting to understand the purpose of Mr. Kieffel's purchase as she was trained to do. We have found this usually helps us assist the purchaser in a variety of ways. For reasons of his own choosing Mr. Kieffel was not very cooperative. He ended with the following:
"Money transferred electronically, I took my leave of Atlantis Fantasyworld."

I had no idea that publishers had donated books to Mr. Kieffel to use as prizes for his promotions. If he had engaged me in a discussion about his efforts I'm sure I would have given him something to further the cause of reading comics.

Rick - the offer still stands. Come by, talk to Miriam about what you are doing and let her show you some comics and graphic novels she thinks you will find interesting and entertaining. I'll give you some books and we can all celebrate the wonderful world of comics.