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#206474 - 11/10/99 03:33 AM Re: Comics Distribution: An Historical View and Predictive Query
Rory D. Root Offline
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Registered: 09/12/99
Posts: 628
Loc: Berkeley,Ca.,USA
Jim;your closing line maybe the understatement of the year!I second your nominations and beg to add,Ron Turner,Peggy Rita,Fred&Kathy Todd,Russ Ernst,Bill Schanes&Steve S.,was Bud Plant mentioned earlier last but not least Steve Geppi.
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#206475 - 11/10/99 09:14 PM Re: Comics Distribution: An Historical View and Predictive Query
Gary Colabuono Offline
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Registered: 07/23/99
Posts: 32
Loc: Elk Grove Village, IL USA
Jim Friel! Wow, it's great to see you still around and as knowledgeable and insightful as ever. I hope things are well for you. My connection with Big Rapids was through Windy City Circulating, run by Eddie Mandel and Bruce Block. They were BR's (and later New Media's) Chicago arm. I opened the first Moondog's in September of 1978 and bought my new books from Windy City. What a couple of characters! Big, strong, husky types who would not take no for an answer if you wanted to cut back on orders. I was actually put in a headlock by Eddie when I told him I was considering dropping some slow sellers like Archie's and Richie Riches. I cried "uncle" and he let up. The comics went on the shelf.

I met John Davis for the first time when he came to Chicago to alert everyone to the fact that Windy City was out of business and they were "the new guys in town." I had met Milton Griepp a few years before that when he was at the first or second Chicago Comicon passing out flyers for W.I.N.D. He had hair down to his ass. Being 6'6" or so it was quite a sight to see 4 feet of hair (and now he's Mr. Corporate...). That's why I like Chuck Rozanski so much, he never sold out to the corporate types and still has the hippie do...Anyway, John was signing people up at the Chicago Mini-con and gave you any kind of deal you wanted as long as you gave him a decent order. That's when I started getting 55% off. Russ Ernst at Glenwood then matched it and the discount wars really started. Chicago was probably the best place to be a retailer. Everyone was fighting for business. And when Geppi came in after the Shuster's went belly up, it was even better. Great service, terms, and incredible discounts.

Now it's UPS. No service and only one guy to buy from. Doesn't sound fair to me.

Sorry for rambling on so, but I've got a million stories (like everyone else), and they're all coming out at once. I'll be more coherenet later.

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#206476 - 11/11/99 04:43 PM Re: Comics Distribution: An Historical View and Predictive Query
Chris Juricich Offline
Member

Registered: 09/19/99
Posts: 721
Loc: Berkeley, CA USA
Sigh--

It's a sad fact that retailers are the market these days, as much as potential readers, and sadder still that 50 books on cheap paper have no appeal to them. Odd that it doesn't when its ignoring a potential market out there. As a long-time comics fan, the notion of a 50 comic on cheapo paper holds a strong appeal to me, ok!!??? Jeezis, but the retailers...shit. I don't want to get on the retailers collective hindquarters on this because as muchas I understand the market, I'm not completely getting why retailers resist devoting SOME space on their shelves to cheap comics. Yeah, their margin is too small on those books...blah blah blah...great. So, waddayagonnado? Keep selling high-priced prestige formats to that rapidly growing collector market of fans who are diminishing by the year?

I understand the problem with cheap comics--so maybe it's not the publishers' problem, but the retailers.
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#206477 - 11/11/99 08:50 PM Re: Comics Distribution: An Historical View and Predictive Query
Jim Hanley Offline
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Registered: 06/19/99
Posts: 1313
Loc: NYC
Chris:

You just don't seem to get it. Retailers are going out of business because there's no money in this. Publishers are going out of business because there's no money in this. Creator's are leaving the business because there's just no money in this.

Making 25 cents in gross profit per item requires an immensely efficient retail organization. Publishing comics for 25 cents gross revenue requires sales in the millions and retail outlets in the tens (or hundres of thousands.) Writing and drawing comics that generate 50 cents in aggregate revenue per copy requires creators who live in monasteries (or on the street.) There's just no way that this could work in America today.

To say nothing of the fact that you'd argue that customers should hold out for the books to be marked down to a nickel.

In the immortal words of Stan the Man, "Sheesh!"
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#206478 - 11/12/99 04:18 PM Re: Comics Distribution: An Historical View and Predictive Query
Jim Friel Offline
Member

Registered: 11/05/99
Posts: 454
Loc: Oakland, CA USA
I love cheap pulp comics, too, but their day is over--at least as a major profit-center for publishers. I could be wrong about this--the 32-page comic was supposed to die in the '70s, but was saved by the direct market--but I don't see anything comparable coming down the road. Everything Hanley just said above about cheap comics applies even more strongly to mail-order single copies, so web-based distribution won't help, either.

The future of comics publishing, if it has one, almost certainly lies in graphic novels, collections, prestige books--whatever you want to call them. It follows therefore that the future of comics retailing will probably be the same as the future of bookselling. Whether comic shops continue to exist is questionable, given the difficulties being experienced by independent book stores.

In over 25 years in this business, one thing I've never been is a shop owner, so I'm not in a position to do more than speculate based on observation from outside, and what I see isn't very hopeful.
There's a niche there for specialty retailers, but it's not large enough to keep publishers in business. Comics in the general marketplace have to supplement the volume of the specialty market in order to make comics worth doing. In order to have a hope of distribution in the general marketplace, comics must carry high prices. Our best hope, then, lies in encouraging our competition--hope like hell that Barnes & Noble and Amazon
carry more and more comics-type-books, both to generate new readers and to keep the publishers alive. It then becomes our job to draw those new readers into our stores by_________________(you fill in the blank).

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#206479 - 11/13/99 01:07 AM Re: Comics Distribution: An Historical View and Predictive Query
Chris Juricich Offline
Member

Registered: 09/19/99
Posts: 721
Loc: Berkeley, CA USA
My net-buddy Jim H said...

Making 25 cents in gross profit per item requires an immensely efficient retail organization. Publishing comics for 25 cents gross revenue requires sales in the millions and retail outlets in the tens (or hundres of thousands.) Writing and drawing comics that generate 50 cents in aggregate revenue per copy requires creators who live in monasteries (or on the street.) There's just no way that this could work in America today.

Ok ok, I get it. I don't like it much, but I get it. Sheeesh!! I'm just making wishes like horses, ok?

And then he bitingly retorted...

To say nothing of the fact that you'd argue that customers should hold out for the books to be marked down to a nickel.

Eeew. Low blow, Jim, but cute. No, I wouldn't argue for folks to hold out till they were a nickel. Sheesh yourself! At 50 I'd be a happy little comics buyer, lemme tell you.

The operative concept here, obviously, is that the industry is experiencing a great deal of change (duh) and that the industry as we know it in a dozen years' time is not going to look like it is today. Now, I won't take any responsibility for the demise of retailers because of my penchant for bargain-priced comics, but it's plain that retailers are going to continue to be here, and those that remain in a generation's time will be the ones most able and willing to swing with the tide. Or maybe just being lucky.
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#206480 - 11/13/99 02:56 AM Re: Comics Distribution: An Historical View and Predictive Query
Jim Hanley Offline
Member

Registered: 06/19/99
Posts: 1313
Loc: NYC
Chris:

Sorry, if I was a bit to cutting there. It was funny, though.

What retailers will be selling in a dozen years or six remains an open question. Luck will certainly play a part in deciding who survives, but remember Branch Rickey's philosophy: "Luck is the residue of design."

By the way, I am probably more in your (and Andy's) corner than you understand. I think DC's decision to upgrade their entire line at the same time that paper prices went through the roof and the whole exclusive situation came on line was spectaculary ill-timed.

While I spent the 1980s arguing that Marvel's prices were too low, I think that the last eight years or so have seen price resistance become a real phenomenon.

But, there's also the fact that the vast increase in titles has diluted sales across the board. I'd love to see some real numbers comparing total yearly unit sales for the last 15 years. I wouldn't be surprised if units were flat while titles have mushroomed.

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"I love him like a brother. David Greenglas." -- Woody Allen - Crimes & Misdemeanors
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#206481 - 11/13/99 08:56 AM Re: Comics Distribution: An Historical View and Predictive Query
Rick Veitch Administrator Offline
Member

Registered: 11/23/98
Posts: 3531
Loc: Vermont, USA
I'm really enjoying (and learning a lot from) this thread. I think you guys are going to want to pick up the latest issue (#6) of COMIC BOOK ARTIST, which contains a great article by Robert Beerbohm on the "SECRET ORIGINS OF THE DIRECT MARKET", aparently based on a book he is writing on the subject.

This article, while containing a consise explanation of the Direct Sales Market's early evolution, focuses on corruption that was raging in the old newstand system, especially return numbers that impacted the final sales figures of many great books (Kirby's FOURTH WORLD, Adams' GL/GA, Kaluta's SHADOW).

Apparently the early comic book dealers were able to go to the newstand distributors and buy large quantities of fan favorite books for cash, which the distributors listed as 'destroyed'. The scheme was both the death knell of newstand distribution and the foundation upon which the Direct sales market was built!
Anyone read this article? Have an opinion?

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#206482 - 11/13/99 07:31 PM Re: Comics Distribution: An Historical View and Predictive Query
Jim Hanley Offline
Member

Registered: 06/19/99
Posts: 1313
Loc: NYC
Rick:

I agree. Bob's article is filled with interesting quotes and is surprisingly readable when compared with earlier drafts I have seen. I meant to mention it here yesterday, but it slipped my mind.

I'm not sure that the logical leap he makes (i.e. that books sold to comics collectors were all reported as desroyed) is nearly as certain as he reports. While I have no reason to doubt the dishonesty of the IDs of the time, they were, after all, a widely disparate group. Bob's explanation sure sounds good, though, for the failure of all those fan-favorite books of the '70s.

I am also curious about the statements about DC's sell-through. Throughout the '70s, I recall that 30% was bandied about as the level that publishers sought. While that always seemed incredibly low, it was repeated often enough that it came to be regarded as gospel among fans.

To hear Carmine Infantino speak of 98% sell-through on one book was surprising to say the least. Mark Evanier should join in, as I recall him discussing the Tarzan books shocking DC with their sales, even though they were much less that Western had experienced before DC got the license.

One interesting phenomenon that followed in Tarzan's wake at DC was the "1st DC Issue" bullet that popped up on first issues after Tarzan's success. It seems clear that DC believed that Tarzan sold so well because of the bullet. They even started First Issue Special so the could publish a book with that bullet every month.

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"I love him like a brother. David Greenglas." -- Woody Allen - Crimes & Misdemeanors
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#206483 - 11/13/99 08:41 PM Re: Comics Distribution: An Historical View and Predictive Query
Chris Juricich Offline
Member

Registered: 09/19/99
Posts: 721
Loc: Berkeley, CA USA
Jim H said.

>What retailers will be selling in a dozen >>>years or six remains an open question. Luck will certainly play a part in deciding who survives, but remember Branch Rickey's philosophy: "Luck is the residue of design."

No arguments, there. I'll be very curious as to the what the comics retail environment will appear in a dozen years' time, particularly as they'll be in greater competition with some of Jeff Zugale's general adherents who hope and claim that the publisher and the ultimate consumer will have closer ties than before, sidestepping both distributor and retailer. Eep. A scary thought, but possible. It all depends as much on technology developments as it does how the comics public embraces it.

Jim H said, too...
But, there's also the fact that the vast increase in titles has diluted sales across the board. I'd love to see some real numbers comparing total yearly unit sales for the last 15 years. I wouldn't be surprised if units were flat while titles have mushroomed.

Ah, data! That would be nice. I'd suspect that your suspicions are true.
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