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

November 15, 2006

Questions on ComicsPRO Revisited

In a short posting Monday about DC Comics giving $5000 to the retailer group ComicsPRO, I wondered out loud about what I considered a smallish membership figure of 80 retailers with 120 storefronts. I asked for commentary. Eight retailers were nice enough to write me, but only three for attribution. Christopher Butcher's comment can be found in the original link. Below are the other two, including Joe Field's, which I guess counts as sort of an official response. Thanks to everyone who wrote in to hash out the issues with me.


Kenny Penman, Director Internet Sales, Forbidden Planet International

I think i share many of the issues that were expressed by Chris Butcher regarding what it means to non-US based retailers in that the things that look like they would have real value - Health insurance and Credit Card processing assistance and discounting simply won't apply to overseas based business. I'd also point out that I don't think we have ever actually been approached to join - which makes one feel that the organisers of CPRO themselves haven't yet seen a big advantage for those not in the US. I read most of the comics mags and trade publications, perhaps i'm blinkered to them but I don't remember seeing that much advertsing presence.

As you yourself mention - mentoring is I suspect considered a pretty flawed concept for all the reasons you state. We have had many ex-employees leave and set up stores over the years - I have no real problem with that - it's the way the world works - but do you want to put all the tools of your business in their hands? Where is the gain? A stronger retail market for mainstream comics with more stable players? Perhaps, but if the mainstream comics pie is finite - and given artifically produced fluctutations it surely is -- aren't you just potentially cutting of your own potential customer base? Oh, and those who have left us to set up on their own - some went on to run excellent shops, some failed.

I also find the CPRO website opaque and a little draconian in it's rules and regs. I understand that you can't run an organisation without rules but i'd rather be sold on the concept by a listing of the retailers who had joined up (something i can't find easily anywhere on the site) and their endorsements, than the fact you can be drummed out for all sorts of reasons and lots of talk of making your payments. Given that many comics store owners will be non-joiners by nature I doubt this sounds attractive. It takes a certain maturity, I think, to read articles and bylaws and see past them being the trappings of 'the man' to the fact that the goals of the organisation would be worthwhile.

I also think that there is a definite slant towards mainstream comics - which is all well and proper, as that is where the sales are, but shouldn't the organisation be looking to provide services where it would really count, in growing the non-mainstream market. I think anyone can be a retailer of mainstream comics, I think it is a lot harder to see a route through indy and small press comics but that may be where the future of the business lies. Given the aging demographic for mainstream superhero comics and the success of stores like the Beguiling and Meltdown who appear, to me at least, to walk a path unfamilar to many of the CPRO directors that seems a possible shortcoming. Of course everything in time could be covered by a focoused organisation.

I think if I was a US retailer I would have joined up, if for no other reason than the directors of CPRO include Joe Field and Brian Hibbs - who with Free Comic Book Day and the Marvel late ship settlement have done as much for the US retail comics community as the rest of us put together - are people who deserve your support. They have pulled rabbits out of hats before - they may well do again.

Of course the problems come when the directors no longer stay at the Holiday Inn when they go to San Diego but use the Four Seasons (i'm not sure if either are in SD actually but you get my point) as representatives of CPRO. Then there will be many worrying that an organisation set up for the benefit of all, gives perks to the few. My position on that being is if they brought us all 1/2% increase to our discounts they could stay at the Four Seasons everywhere.


Joe Field ComicsPRO President, Flying Colors Comics, Concord CA

Thanks for posting the link to the ComicsPRO press release. Now to address your concerns and questions:

"... the organization has at the approximate one-year point "more than 80 member retailers comprising nearly 120 storefront locations." That seems kind of low to me, especially given the unique status of the organization."

First, and I'll take the heat for it, ComicsPRO has not done a good enough job asking retailers to join. Board members have made phone calls and talked with other retailers at cons and trade shows, but we haven't had nearly enough sign-ups yet. On the other hand, ComicsPRO already is largest ever comics' trade group, including previous efforts by the Direct Line Group, Comic Book Retailers International and PACER (Professional Association of Comic Entertainment Retailers, if I'm recalling correctly).

"Is it the mentoring program that keeps people away?"

I really doubt it. Part of our mentoring program was the panel we did in San Diego, "So You Want to Be a Comics' Retailer?". We had standing room only at that panel, and at least with the prospective retailers I talked with one on one, none of them were currently comic shop employees wanting to strike out on their own.

The ComicsPRO mentoring program is all about trying to grow the number of "good" stores, to give prospective retailers the info to make solid business decisions about opening a comics' specialty store.

"Is it the $300 per year dues?"

The dues could be an issue, but our benefits definitely make the dues an investment, not an expense. ComicsPRO retailers taking advantage of our preferential credit card processing deal report saving their dues in as little as the first month alone. Some are saving in the low four figures per year on the credit card plan.

"Do people think they'll join later when the organization is bigger and more effective in a kind of monkey's-paw logic?"

There will always be fence-sitters, those who wait for something to become big before they jump in. There are those who will also create new reasons not to join. Others are simply not joiners. And, as Chris Butcher did point out, our benefits are primarily for U.S. retailers at this point. Not by design, but most industries (credit card processing, health plans, etc) don't have one-size-fits-all programs for all of North America.

"Why wouldn't a store want to join up?"
Whatever reasons you may hear from retailers, there are a few primary reasons why retailers wouldn't join:

1) They haven't been asked. If anyone wants to be asked, just send an e-mail to, and we'll be happy to give you a call to get in the group, OK?
2) There's a "What's in it for me?" mentality. Many retailers still don't realize that unless we start working together in substantial ways, our specialty market will not move ahead the way it should. We need to do a lot of work now to secure the future of the specialty market for all retailers.
3) ComicsPRO is very much a grass-roots' effort. We really want members who actively want to work for progress in the specialty retail sector. Maybe the prospect of being asked to do something active with their membership does scare off some retailers.
4) Retailers are by nature control freaks. In our stores, we're all chiefs and none of us is an indian. It's tough for many control-freak retailers to trust an organization to represent their interests. I have to tell you, though, in the formative stages of ComicsPRO, the board has been all about doing selfless work for the service of fellow retailers, in the hopes we can make a difference for all specialty market comics' retailers.


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