Panelology: Comic Shop of Horror

by Brandon
In what is becoming a trend of sorts, here is yet another one of those regular-irregular columns here at BG. I’ll be talking about the ins and outs of collecting and reading comic books in this column. This week, I offer some humble suggestions to comic shop owners for winning the hearts and minds of fans. Want to get more foot traffic through the LCS front door?

I want you to close your eyes for a moment. I want you to close your eyes and think about your local-yokel comic shop. Yes, even you, the too-cool-for-school reader who thinks that they don’t need to do this. Believe me - you need to do this like Obama needs to be rid of Reverend Wright! Close your eyes and let your imagination take you away to your local comic shop…

What’s right with this picture? What’s wrong with this picture? Do you see areas for improvement? Do you think you could do a better job of creating a more welcoming environment for the shop? Did you notice the guy standing behind you with a knife? He’s getting closer, run! RUN!

Now open your eyes. What did you come up with, faithful reader? Chances are you came up with more negative impressions than positive ones. Maybe you didn’t; you are one of the lucky ones. Outside of Shangri-La, most of us experience a less than aesthetically pleasing comic shop experience. Far from it. Of the four comic shops in my area, only one could be described as inviting to the common man (or the occasional common woman), and even then this shop is the only one that caters to the comic book aficionado. The rest of the shops in the area are dingy places that cater to prepubescent Pokemon whores and pock-marked teenagers looking to throw down on their d20’s. Oh, and comic books in these stores? You will have to pick the pizza boxes and Cheetos bags off the long boxes to even have a prayer of finding a book. Mind the layer of grease and hormones on the top, though.

What’s a comic fan to do with these conditions? Here are three small things comic shop owners could do to spruce it for their long time, yet long suffering, comic book fans.

1. Comic Shops Should Place an Emphasis on Comic Books. Having comic books at the center of your comic shop is a key ingredient in getting people back into the hobby. Duh, right? It’s probably a foolish economic move to just have comics as your only avenue of business. Diversification of products and services provided by any store, not only just comic shops, is Business 101 common sense. However, never forget that if you have “comic shop” on the moniker out front, you really should be focusing on comics.

How many shops have we all been into where baseball cards, collectible card/miniature games, video games, and/or toys far outweigh shelf space for comic books? You can put your hands down now because we all can see you. If your comic shops are like the shops I frequent, then comic books are pushed to the far extremes while other items take their place. Comic shops should be a place where comic books thrive. They are not places where comics should be given second-class citizenship.

2. Sponsor Comic Book Related Events. Many of the local shops around my area have several events at their store. Whenever they have these events, tons of people crowd in to participate and buy goodies. It’s too bad 99.9% of these events deal with things other than comic books. Pokemon, Yu Gi Oh, role playing games, and even video game tournaments are common in this area, and they all draw in a crowd of people. Why can’t shop owners do this for comic books? One easy-cheesy way is to sponsor a trivia contest.

Why not? I mean, most comic book fans are the holders of so much arcane and useless knowledge about fictional realities that it is almost embarrassing the amount of storage space this ineffectual minutia takes up. Put that wasted potential to good use! Grab that socially awkward guy who still wears his “Fire Bill Jemas” shirt to the shop every week and get him to write some questions for you. Don’t be afraid to delegate this out to others! I know many stores in large cities do this and are able to pull it off with great success, but I think it could work in suburban and rural settings too. Sponsoring a tournament is a cheap and easy way to get people off of their duffs and into a comic shop!

3. Reevaluate Pricing Techniques. I must admit that I don’t go to shops regularly now. I use mail order services because I know that if I order a book I’ll more often than not get it. The discounts speak to the el cheapo inside of me too. However, there are times when I will forget to order something and need to swing by a shop to pick up that odd random issue. The downside is that I know I will be faced with sticker shop almost immediately upon entering the door.

There is a local shop that is truly deplorable when it comes to current issue pricing. A new issue will hit the streets and the owner will immediately slap a sticker on the issue proclaiming the price to be well above cover price. I know that owners should charge what they feel like they can charge, but I know high prices can turn people away in the short and long term. No, I don’t want to pay $12 for X-Force #1 just two hours after its nationwide release because the book is going to be “hot.” This type of price gouging smacks of 1990’s collectivism and that was truly a dark time. People will walk away from a store to find a cheaper alternative online or elsewhere, or they will just wait for the trade. I am not suggesting that stores should not make a profit, but some owners don’t have to make us out to be chumps either with their hefty pricing. Unlike the early 90’s, the sometimes cheaper alternative of the internet is widely available.

Of course, these are only suggestions. And there are bound to be shops that are far and away exceptions to the rule. But I think we fans should demand better attention from our comic shops. I am an optimist. I think things could get better. They could also get worse. If comic book shops don’t do more to keep us in the stores, the business model could definitely be on its way towards extinction, if not the comic book medium as it currently exists.

Homework: What are your thoughts on improvements?


The General said...

And here I thought that price-gouging would have been more of a Capitalist activity. ;P

Liana said...

I've lived all over the country and had many, many comic shops and none of them are as you described. Maybe you should switch shops? Comics have been the main feature of all, I've never had to dig through garbage to get to the comics and I've never had to pay more than cover price on the day my comic came out. The thing that makes or breaks a comic shop for me is the attitudes of the people behind the counter. If the people are friendly and helpful, I'm a happily returning customer. If the people behind the counter are elitist snobs who think everyone else's taste is crap--and this happens far too frequently for a struggling industry--then they won't see me again.

Brandon said...

Liana, I'm definitely speaking from experience, and as I said, not all shops are offensive. Categorically, many of the comic shops in this area are terrible! Heroes is the lone exception, but that's a drive I don't like making just to get my fix. Plus, no discount. Ugh. When I travel around the US, I usually seek out the shops. More often than not it's the same experience.

It was because of this pervasive lackadaisical approach to comic shops that made me retreat to online shops. I love the concept of the comic shop, though. I want to be sold on a comic shop, but alas, they have to convince me, not the other way around.

I think you are right in that the staff's attitude is a big determining factor in the success of a shop. Some of the worst looking shithole comic shops I've visited have been staffed by some of the nicest people on this plane of existence. Nice can trump aesthetically pleasing, but only if the clerks are handing drugs or sexual favors out back. Why can't we have both? Outside of the "big" shops, I honestly feel many could be doing a much better job of keeping people in the medium and attracting new readers to it.

Matt said...

The only comic shop that I had around here turned more into a gaming shop. Now I have nothing against gaming but it attracts a different kind of crowd. They lost a lot of comic business and now they are out of business. I do everything now through mailordercomics.com

Brandon said...

Mail Order Comics is great!

I went to a shop this weekend for FCBD. They had some lame local hardcore bands and a slew of gamers rotting up the place. There were no big sales. It was kind of a non-event.