Grotesque Anatomy
Thursday, October 09, 2003
  The Direct Market: Anecdotes From The Field
I ventured out into the realm of brick-and-mortar comic book shops again today.  I was tracking down some comics for a friend and thought I'd use the opportunity to pick up the latest issue of The Comics Journal, if only to read fellow comics blogger J.W. Hastings' review of the first Y: The Last Man trade.  The search for my friend's comics took me to two shops, neither of which had a copy of TCJ #255.  At the first shop, the worker didn't seem to know what I was looking for when I asked if they carried The Comics Journal, so I began describing it ("You know, it's the comics magazine put out by Fantagraphics, the company that hates all superhero comics...")  The clerk still didn't seem to follow me, but he explained that they didn't really carry much in the way of magazines (other than stacks of Wizard, of course).  At the second shop, the staff there knew what I was talking about, but they were already sold out of all their copies.  "Shoot, and I didn't even get a chance to read it yet," lamented one employee.

Speaking of sell-outs, I had to go to the second store because the first shop was missing one of the books I was hunting down for my friend, NEGATION #21.  When I asked the clerk if they might have any extra copies hiding elsewhere, he explained that everything they had was out on the shelves.  "Besides," he added, "CrossGen doesn't really sell for us.  Especially now with all the problems they're having."  While I can understand this—even CrossGen loyalists are beginning to question their purchases or drop books in light of the company's uncertain future—it also seemed to be a strange statement given that NEGATION was sold out back to issue #16, and that I snatched up the last copy of SOJOURN #27. 

I can certainly sympathize with retailers:  It can't be easy to gauge how many copies you should order for each of the hundreds (thousands?) of comics listed each month in Previews.  And as someone who buys his comics through an online shop, I certainly don't think I should expect to be able to waltz into a random comic shop at sporadic intervals and demand specific issues of particular titles.  But I do wonder how comic shops are able to serve casual shoppers (if there are such beasts in comic shops) if they don't have enough stock to satisfy intermittent buys like mine.  Then again, since retailers can't return unsold books, shops probably can't afford to have extra shelf copies of every series.  Which is probably why many shops encourage regulars to preorder their comics.  Which can be problematic on the customer's end, since you're ordering things sight unseen and may end up with some real stinkers in your pull box.  Which leads to many fans giving up on the monthlies and instead "waiting for the trade" since they can browse through the floppies at the shop and find out what others thought about a series before ponying up their own money for the full story in one package.  But if too many people do this, low preorders may cause a series to be canceled before it ever sees print.  "Not enough orders to justify publication.  Sorry." 

The more I think about it, the more fucked up the comics industry seems.  Or perhaps I'm not thinking things through enough.  Maybe Dirk Deppey can explain it all to me.  I know he's given a lot more thought to these issues than I have. 
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