Mark Amoroso lumps together Free Comic Book Day and the proliferation of mass-market venues for comic book publications, comparing and contrasting the sweat-and-tears efforts of comics retailers to promote the industry to the high finance approach of chains like Barnes & Noble and Wal-Mart. While I find the competition from these 'monster' retailers to be challenging, I don't blame them or the publishers for pursuing new venues to expand their markets and increase their profits. That's business. I may not like it, but I can't change it. However, I don't have to roll over and die.
With my customers being enticed by 'big box' retailers for my products, I have to be smarter about how I do business. One thing I am doing is cutting my orders on Marvel Masterworks hard covers. At $49.99, these beautiful reprint books would still be a bargain, offering long out-of-print classic series in a prestigious format. Unfortunately, my customers can get the same product at Barnes & Noble in a softcover edition for $12.95 (with an additional discount to club members). So why should I support Marvel's hard cover editions? If they won't offer us the same books as Barnes & Noble, at a competitive price, I can't justify racking their more expensive versions in my shop (though I will special order copies at customers' request, of course).
Another frustrating promotion by Barnes & Noble offered CrossGen trade paperbacks 'buy two get one free.' Whether this was sanctioned by CrossGen, I don't know; perhaps they were simply overstocked or wanted to create new customers. Whatever the case, it has made me examine my ordering on CrossGen books, and rethink my philosophy of supporting CGE. In the past, I have ordered heavily on CGE comics, wanting to always have back issues in stock and available for customers. But CrossGen's aggressive trade paperback (and very attractive Traveler edition) program points out that CrossGen (like Marvel, DC, and Dark Horse) sees the long-term market not for serial products, but graphic novels and reprint editions. Intelligent or not, I will continue to buy and promote CrossGen as a company, simply because the quality is so high, but my emphasis will be on the trades and Travelers, not the monthly series. Orders are already being adjusted closer to subscription-only levels, and my sell-through is increasing on the monthly books as my desire to have 'one of everything' decreases. A coupon on my Website for half off all CrossGen back issues says enough.
A few years ago, Wal-Mart cut deals with Marvel for reprints of the first issues of Ultimate Spider-Man and Ultimate X-Men. Retailers were outraged, and cried 'Foul!' The result of this was an increased demand for back issues of both series. While I am no fan of Wal-Mart, at least in this instance the 'back room dealings' between publishers and a major retailer helped my business. Wal-Mart (and Target, K-Mart, and similar chains) will undercut us on product like Magic: The Gathering, HeroClix, Yu-Gi-Oh!, and the like, so we must be smart enough to know how to compete. As far as I know, Wal-Mart doesn't run in-store tournaments for these products (which we do). By providing a venue, a 'gathering place,' for these customers, we're creating an environment Wal-Mart can't replicate, no matter how deep they discount. To beat Goliath, David only needs a better slingshot. One final thought on Wal-Mart: back when the chain almost universally boycotted Spawn toys, our sales jumped on the product, even though we were dollars higher in price. By watching Wal-Mart's often 'conservative' business practices, we were able to capitalize on their policies. McFarlane's extremely graphic Clive Barker-inspired Tortured Souls line, virtually nonexistent in the mass market, were another big seller for us.