Mark Amoroso of Blackthorn Gamecenter in Dickson, Tennessee saw our recent coverage of Free Comic Book Day (see 'FCBD Retailer Survey Results In') and sees a larger issue that's a threat to pop culture stores:


After reading about all of the amazing promotional ideas that so many retailers devised for the FCBD, I felt obliged to inquire as to why specialty shops are forced to do SO MUCH to gain SO LITTLE?


I want to be sure everyone understands that I think the FCBD is a wonderful program and I am not faulting it in any way!  I'm glad that so many retailers acquired a few new customers.  What my comments regard is the growing trend of pushing so much of the specialty market product away from the specialty market.


I imagine everyone reads the info on ICv2.  It seems that it's always like 'newsflash...big mass-market retailers do nothing!  Get special product made just for them!'  Specialty shops have worked hard for years selling (or trying to sell) all the cool stuff the public didn't know they wanted.  We specialty shops have always kept abreast of trends and industry rumblings.  We've kept our ears and eyes open to make sure that we brought goods into our stores that we thought were exciting, or had the potential to be exciting, to our customers.  We took financial risks to get products that had little advertising, or support, to the buying public.  Generally the only links the public had to the awareness of the products were through our specialty stores.


Specialty stores have helped many manufactures/publishers grow.  Without the specialty market many of these 'producers' would have faded instantly or years ago.  In fact, when many of these same companies had money problems and were in financial turmoil they asked the specialty market to help them out.  I am extremely dismayed to see this trend of exclusives, specials, returnables, buy 2 get 1 free, and massive discounts all geared towards mass-market retailers.  This is in full support by the companies producing these products.  I have been losing many sales in our store recently due to the fact that so much of our product is available everywhere else.  What exactly make our stores unique anymore?


Sure, the service and knowledge specialty stores provide are wonderful things, however, at the end of the day we all hope we make some money.  It's starting to seem like more and more customers are coming to the specialty stores to lean on the counter and gain information and then buy their goods while out shopping somewhere else.  Manga and anime are so prevalent now you can buy it at every major bookstore and video/electronics chain, not forgetting places like Wal-Mart.


The illustrated storytelling industry is not the only one at fault.  The gaming industry has been going the same route.  If you've noticed, most of the mass-market video game retailers don't have a 'gaming area', nor do they know much about the non-electric games they sell.  This said, they've managed to pick up a substantial amount of customers that we have educated.  Many of the people that frequent the gaming stores and use the `gaming area' buy plenty of product each weekend from the mall based and mass-market retailers. 


I recently had a group of Magic: The Gathering players tell me that after all their years of playing that they are thinking about quitting.  Their reason, even though it may sound strange, is because Wal-Mart, K-Mart, even Fred's is selling Magic. (In the case of Wal-Mart and K-Mart it's at discounted prices.)  The players told me that they always respected the fact that Magic was a 'better' card game that you bought at specialty stores.  Now they felt Magic had been lowered to a bottom-feeder status.


I'm sure that the manufactures and publishers don't see a problem with this.  The economy is tight and they need to make money.  Sales to the big chains mean greater income for these companies.  However, my belief is that in the long run, this is only a short-term fix.  It still seems that many of the sales going to the mass-market have been cannibalized from the specialty market.  I have never understood why the manufacturers and publisher of games and comics/graphic novels don't make just the core starter of a game or first part of a story arc available to the big guys and stop there.  The games and books could feature a phone number, like the comic shop locater service, that steers the public towards the specialty market.


The big chains could complain that they shouldn't have to be running ads for competitors in the product they sell.  Of course, we could say the same thing.  Have you ever noticed all the ads in the books and magazines we sell invite the public out of our store?  If the big chains were a starting point to hook the public, the specialty market would be the logical choice to keep these people as long-term buyers.  The specialty market understands these products; they're in our blood.  We don't sell groceries and tires.


The big guys will move on when there begins to be a dip in sales and the next big thing comes along.  The specialty guys will still be extolling the virtues of our wonderful industry.  That's if any of us are left.


If the publishers would only understand that we're there to help them, and if they will help us, we both will be stronger in the long run.  There are many consumers to be brought into 'our world'.  With the specialty market retailer's love and knowledge of these products the industry can grow strong and live a long prosperous life.  The publishers and manufactures need to understand that the health of the specialty market insures the long-term health of their businesses as well.