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

August 3, 2010

Joe Field Of ComicsPRO On A Potential Story For Fall 2010 Being Direct Market Retail Weaknesses


Joe Field
ComicsPRO President
Flying Colors Comics
Concord, CA

I read with interest your "Five Comic Stories You Can Bank On (Sort of)," and wanted to give another perspective on your last point about comics retailers. In San Diego, ComicsPRO's "Retailing in the Digital Age" and "So You Want to be a Comics Retailer?" panels were very well-attended. SRO for both. I was actually concerned prior to the "So You Want...?" panel that attendance might be lower due to a soft economy, all the talk of dollars moving to digital, etc. But attendance was up significantly from last year and enthusiasm for opening new stores was, too. On top of that, our ComicsPRO's Mentoring program is going strong with nearly 50 new and "pre-retailers" (in 19 states!) receiving the benefits of being mentored by more established retailers.

imageI know it's difficult for you to name names... but for the life of me, I couldn't come up with "two huge names" in comics retail that are teetering toward closure. Granted, I'm not privy to the financials from any other retailer in this business, but as tough as the general economy has been over the last few years, the closure of stores here and there can't be wholly unexpected.

On the plus side, there are new stores opening that deserve attention, too. Tuesday August 3, a ComicsPRO mentored retailer, Barry Herring of Southern Fried Comics, opens for business in Hattiesburg MS. Also take a look at the cool things that Leef Smith is doing in San Francisco's Mission district with Mission Comics & Art, another ComicsPRO mentored retailer. These are two new comics retail stores--- among a good number of others that ComicsPRO has been nurturing -- opening in challenging times and doing innovative things. It's not all gloom and doom. Far from it!

As for your "over 55" comment, even I'm not quite there yet and I am usually among the more senior retailers among ComicsPRO members, who tend to be among the most progressive retailers in this industry. The fact is that every small business has its own "life-cycle." Those that continue to evolve can greatly extend their viability and profitability, while those that get buried in debt and fail to adapt to a changing business climate will speed their own demise.

There are lots of issues for us to confront. There are indeed "price increases and continued horrific scheduling strategies" -- but there isn't any evidence that comics specialty is losing any significant ground. In an economy where many businesses are experiencing 20% drops, the fact that comics have been off by just 5% in the last year or two -- even with those continued horrific scheduling strategies, should be construed as good news.

When so much attention is being paid to online strategies -- and that's to be expected when all the journalism in this industry is from online writers -- the fact that storefront comics retail is rock solid should be highlighted and applauded.


PS -- One more thing worth adding: Jamie Coville recorded the "So You want to be a Comics Retailer?" panel in San Diego. It is archived at this location.


Tom Spurgeon
Editor, The Comics Reporter

Hi, Joe. I appreciate you taking the time to read the article, and for taking the additional time to respond.

There's not a lot in terms of our disagreements that can't be summed up as you believe one thing/I believe. Three quick things: I reject the general implication that every time someone is critical about something they should cast around to see if there's anything that can be said that's positive. That's how you teach Sunday school; balance for the sake of balance from the perspective of the criticized is more useful in creating attentive bible students than it is in writing an essay. I'm certain the next time I write positively about comics retail -- like my recent event coverage and a subsequent store profile, both from LA -- you're right there to make sure I tease out something negative. Second, I never said any businesses were teetering; that's an inference on your part. I was careful with my language there on purpose. Third, while it's great that the store is opening up in Hattiesburg this week, Mission and Comics has been open since either late 2008 or very early 2009, and while it seems like a fun store, I'm not sure that its opening has bearing on the state of openings and closures in the second half of 2010. I mean, there are lots of awesome stores out there. So what?

Let me pull one more thing out: your implication that there's a bias against DM stores in favor of coverage of on-line sales mechanisms because many of the writers work on-line is insulting and beneath you.

imageMostly, though, I'm kind of baffled why retailers meet anything I write that's critical of any facet of the Direct Market with such forceful, blanket and frankly not always very convincing rebuttals. Whether it's Brian Hibbs employing his dubious math-fu to suggest that the Direct Market leads in a category the vast majority of its members have never carried and which is now all but dead, or Amanda Emmert proclaiming that women feeling uncomfortable in comic stores isn't as big an issue as some people think because, in part, some women will complain about anything, or you in blanket fashion denying every problem suggested in my post except the one where the Big Publishers screw you over (and thus no retailer is, or retailers collectively, are at blame), it just seems like dug-in, old-fashioned, comics-culture, "I'll argue it until I get at least a draw" contrarianism. At least this time around I didn't get those e-mails warning me off the subject because my "support from retailers" might erode. Whatever that means!

But seriously, what's up with the defensive crouch? How on earth is a critical article tantamount to taking a position of "all doom and gloom?" Do you have a self-critical apparatus? Is ComicsPRO simply a booster organization that does things like impugn others' motives and make empty proclamations that things are "rock solid"? If asked, could you name five specific areas at which the Direct Market should improve, things at which you and your fellow retailers have outright failed, not somebody else? I could do that for this site specifically and comics journalism generally, and have talked about those factors here at the site on multiple occasions. Why can't you guys? It's one thing that outright confuses me about comics 16 years in, retail and elsewhere. What is it about comics people that we're afraid to release real sales or (when it's appropriate) income figures, where publishing moves that seem to under-perform disastrously by the estimates we do have are met with a "that's right what we expected/you don't know anything about the business" harangues, where it's the comics event itself that conspires to keep the journalists from covering it with greater vigor? Why can't we be self-critical?

I'm a big supporter of comics shops, Joe, and by all accounts you run one of the good ones (as do Brian and Amanda). I think if comics shops didn't exist and one were suddenly to appear we'd be freaked out at how awesome it was and folks would fly cross-country to see it. When I think the DM and its members are being unfairly criticized, I've always said so. I may be the only industry commentator with an alt-comics pedigree that's never argued an inventory litmus test for shops. But you have to understand: part of my support has been and will continue to be writing criticism. That's what I have to offer. I hope that in the future those essays and comments can at least be received in the spirit that I write them -- or even thoroughly rebutted with that in mind. Yes, Joe, I do think there are some specific, potential weaknesses in the Direct Market right now, and that there's a very good chance those weaknesses could become a wider issue by year's end. You don't. I could be wrong: but just for content of the argument, not in making it.

PS -- ask your membership for those big names; that's where I got them.

posted 11:45 am PST | Permalink

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