Why Are Comics Shops Closing as Superheroes Make a Mint?

From The Guardian:

With Avengers: Endgame set to break box-office records – it is predicted to make $1bn in its first week – it seems that the superhero business really is the one to be in. In Hollywood, at least.

But what of the medium in which the superhero originated – the comic book – and the purveyors of the hundreds of comics that are released every month? The high street is not as bulletproof as multiplexes, and comic shops are having a tough time of it.

Dozens of closures have been reported across the UK and US over the last few months – including, in January, the end of St Mark’s Comics, once one of New York’s most venerable institutions. (It even appeared in Sex and the City.) Last year, comics website Bleeding Cool documented how 50 comic shops had closed in the previous year, in both the US and UK. And since June 2018, at least 21 shops in the US and 11 in the UK – including shops in Nottingham, Ramsgate and Tooting – have closed, with others likely going unreported.

While superheroes have never had a higher profile, the gap between cinema and comics has never been wider. The days when you could pick the latest issue of Spider-Man or Batman from the newsagent’s shelves are long gone.

. . . .

So why are so many going out of business? Like other retailers on the high street, comic shops must factor in rents, business rates, staff wages, insurance – but the profit margins on comics are so narrow as to make this a very delicate balancing act.

“There isn’t a huge profit in comics and graphic novels,” says Jared Myland of OK Comics in Leeds. “Nobody gets into comic retail to be a millionaire. We do it because we love comics. Unfortunately, closures are a more and more common topic on both sides of the pond. Most comic shops make enough to get by if they make cuts, but some retailers depend on the generosity of family and friends to help support the shop.”

One of the unique challenges in comics is the monthly gamble on what will sell. Comics released every few weeks, as opposed to the collected editions available in bookshops or on Amazon, aren’t returnable; with 600 to 1,000 such items published every month, stores must make educated guesses or be stuck with their mistakes. At OK Comics, 90% of what Myland gets in are pre-orders, with the rest put on shelves for casual customers. “Smart retailers would rather under- than over-order,” he says.

. . . .

[Lisa Wood] says being unable to return comics leads to less risk-taking on unknown names: “Marvel and DC stuff will always do well but for a retailer, when money is tight, taking a risk on new work by unknown creators can end up being very costly.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

11 thoughts on “Why Are Comics Shops Closing as Superheroes Make a Mint?”

  1. Yeah, that doesn’t explain a few things. Prices have gone up, the stories have gotten boring (to some, not all). I stopped buying comics in the 90s for that reason. I’m not at all interested in picking them up again.

    It was always a tough business. Returns aren’t the issue. Getting new fans is the issue. Print runs for even the major superhero brands are WAY down over what they used to be.

    I won’t even get into the way they’ve injected politics into comics. They always had some, starting around the 70s. Google Neil Adams and Denny O’Neil’s run on Green Lantern/Green Arrow for the most cringeworthy of the time period next to the time that Superman turned Lois Lane black (at her request)so she could find out what it was like to be a woman of color. (Yes, really.)

    As I was quite young at the time, I thought they were really cool and with-it and damned powerful comics. Not so much anymore.

    I hate being preached to outside of a house of worship, and comics have apparently gotten even more preachy today. So yeah, I’ll keep passing and just enjoy the movies and TV shows.

    • Prices have gone up, the stories have gotten boring

      Yes, exactly. When customers are expected to pay $5 plus taxes for 20-24 pages of story (and badly written/drawn at that) — no thanks. Add in how comics have become even more “woke,” there isn’t much left for even the die-hard fans.

      In terms of nostalgia, DC has published black & white “showcase” volumes of some of their classic inventory over the past 15 years: $20 or less for 500pgs of entertainment is a much better deal.

      Add to the fact that “kids” comics which many of us remember (Little Dot, Richie Rich, Disney, etc) are non-existent — there’s nothing for the kids, so no real avenue to growing the market. Even in the 90s I cringed when parents came into the shop looking for comics for their kids. The superheroes that kids see in the movies haven’t existed in the actual comics since the 80s; the current versions are extremely toxic.

  2. A ticket to Endgame will run you about $10-$15, depending upon where and when you go, and for that money you’ll get 3 hours of entertainment. A top new video game’ll cost you about $60 and will give you around 60-80 hours of entertainment. A comic book will cost you $4 and assuming it’s really good will provide about 15 minutes of entertainment. It’s simply not a good investment for most people, sadly.

  3. Comics have also gone digital like every other form of paper media. For a reasonable fee, you can access many years of comics. With all the duplication of storylines within the comics and their repetition in the movies, why bother unless you are a serious comics geek? Plus, those comics geeks are willing to ramble on forever to tell you all about it when and where ever the movies and tv shows are discussed. So, again, why bother?

    • Both Marvel and DC have strong online libraries ala Kindle Unlimited. DC’s has over 20,000 comics and a lot of video including two really good new exclusives. Marvel’s is $10 month for essentially everything they have or had, DC’s can be had for as little as $5 a month. That is barely the cost of two comics a month. DC has a one year window but Marvel doesn’t.

      Both are phasing out weekly print (the floppies) in favor of digital and trade paperback compilations. DC even dropped “comics” from the corporate name.

      One thing to keep in mind: they Guardian is talking UK comics and the comics scene there has always been different. It’s a smaller market and some of the best sellers are anthologies rather than character specific.

  4. I personally have picked up the odd comic here or there and found them to be on the whole a very low-bandwidth medium.

  5. As the owner of a bookstore/comic bookstore for 35 years, I can tell you that graphic novels are selling better than ever, and young adult graphic novels are the fastest growing category. I live in a small town, so I never had the luxury of just selling monthly comics, so I’ve diversified into one third games/one third new books/one third comics and graphic novels.

    But yeah, monthly comics are in a decline. Price, endless-crossovers and restart #1’s, talent drain, constant fanboy mining by Marvel and DC, and so on. But comics have always been cyclical, and I predict they’ll come back for another round.

  6. Not to mention, there is only one distributor, Diamond. You play with their ball or you don’t play.

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