In this Talk Back, Chuck Rozanski, owner of Mile High Comics in Denver, Colorado, comments on the current state of the Direct Market and what might be done to keep it from dying (see "World According to Griepp: Can Comics Be Saved?" and "Brian Hibbs of Comix Experience on 'Can Comics Be Saved?'").

After 53 years in the comics business, I feel that I have a pretty good handle on the evolution of the of the Direct Market.  Sadly, what I am witnessing today is an inexorable disintegration of the highly-efficient non-returnable comic book distribution system that I helped (in no small measure) to create so many wonderful decades ago.

In some regards, I believe that this trend of declining periodical comic books interest is irreversible, merely reflecting the slow death of our core constituency (males born 1940-1970) from the ravages of time.  As secondary market reseller, I cannot begin to relate just how many large collections of prior periodical releases that I have been offered over the past three years from either the widows and orphans of lifelong comics fans, or from those aging fans themselves as they come to the bitter realization that their days of indulging their four color passions have finally come to an end.  To be specific, I have personally turned down offers to purchase back issues collections that (in total) exceeded one million individual issues during each of the past three years.  Given that we are (at most) 1% of the national market for back issues, that statistic, alone, should provide significant insight into the current and ongoing comic book malaise.

The obvious solution to this aging out dilemma is that we need to have a new generation of reader/collectors to emerge.  In my opinion, however, that is highly unlikely to occur.  The economics of this inexorable decline are relatively simple to understand.  As our Baby Boomer generation steadily leaves us, and our replacement population of new collectors is much smaller, print runs are in steady decline.  For the creation of comics to then make economic sense for the publishers, cover prices must rise.  With each cover price increase, however, another stratum of potential new customers are priced out of the new comics market.  That being the case, I see no rational conclusion but to believe that the Direct Market periodical business is in a death spiral right now, one for which I see no obvious remedy.

As regards the survival of our beloved network of Direct Market comics shops, a great deal depends upon the willingness (and adroitness) of retailers to embrace other genres.  Original graphic novel releases are certainly one means of satisfying the hunger of those who still truly love graphic-storytelling, and maintaining a large backlist of classic past graphic novels and trade paperback releases is also clearly critical.  I have even heard that some savvy retailers who are adding board gaming into their product mix, with considerable success.  Hey, whatever works…

At the same time, however, I fervently believe that retailers who have fallen into the trap of only stocking those comics-related products which are offered by Diamond Comic Distributors, Lunar Distribution, and Penguin/Random House need to quickly begin to diversify their stocked product lines of reading material.  Young adult publications and popular Manga lines are obvious additions, but for us that was only the beginning.

To explain, capitalizing on the overabundance of high-quality back issues that are currently flooding the market, one of our biggest revenue gains during this past year in our Jason St. Mega-Store was adding a row of bins filled with our excess high quality back issues that we premium-priced at $3.95 each, 6/$20, 20/$50.  Those higher price points absolutely require that those closeout bins be filled with desirable issues (as opposed to typical $1 bin crapola), but the payoff can be immediate, and can also be quite rewarding.  I ran the numbers after the end of our first year, and was delighted to discover that we grossed well over $50,000 from those newly-stocked closeout bins during just our initial foray.  Fans love them, especially since we vigorously cull them once a month, repackaging less-desirable issues into bulk boxes at 36/$39.95.  Those bargain bulk boxes are selling really well for us, too…

Expanding upon this diversification thought, I have been beating the drum for nearly a decade now, passionately imploring my fellow comics retailers to stop thinking of themselves as primarily periodical outlets, and to instead think of themselves as Pop Culture resellers.  By morphing into an enterprise that provides their entire local community of fans (of every ilk) with a means/mechanism to convert their individual passions back into cash, Direct Market retailers can greatly enhance their potential consumer base, while simultaneously freeing themselves from the involuntary servitude forced upon them through the crushing weekly misery of having to cover their distributor bills.  I can speak with significant authority in that regard, as over a decade ago, I owed Diamond nearly a million dollars in back debt, while I now owe them nothing.  Escaping the distributor debt trap is hard, and oftentimes the learning curve while trying to extricate oneself is quite painful, but I am proof positive that it can be done.

I will conclude today's observations on an intentionally upbeat note.  While the overall U.S. economy has been buffeted by all kinds of economic headwinds this year, and conditions faced by Direct Market retailers have been especially fraught, I actually see many positive omens for the future.  To be specific, the current generation of Direct Market retailers leave me in awe at their adaptability in the face of rapidly-shifting consumer demand.  Yes, it is highly likely that we are approaching the end days of our beloved periodic comic books, but as I see it, that merely opens the doors for all kinds of reinventions and innovations.

As regards our own diversification efforts here at Mile High Comics, changes in our focus (that in great measure almost entirely divorced us from new comics retailing) have resulted in 2023 currently being on track to be our highest-grossing, and most profitable year ever, in our Jason St. Mega-Store's history.  That having been said, while I truly do love new comic books, living without them in the relatively near future now seems both inevitable to me, and also quite doable.  Times change, and like it, or not, we all have no choice but to adapt to whatever new realities evolve if we wish our enterprises to survive.  Above all else, I want to wish all of my fellow comics retailers the very best in good fortune during the challenging days to come.  I have great faith in you, and also in our shared futures.

The opinions expressed in this Talk Back are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of

Got something to say?  Send your Talk Back to