I was speaking with someone the other day about comics. They’ve been a comic reader for a few years and was upset because they couldn’t make it into their local comic shop on Wednesday to get their new comics.

I asked if they have a pull list. No idea what that was. I then suggested they could call and get their new books put aside for them, to which they replied that they don’t know what comics they are coming out. This led me to ask about the Diamond Previews catalogue, which also went nowhere.

Suddenly all my comic shop experience collided with the rest of the retail world, and I realized just how broken the current comics retail market is.

This was a regular consumer of moderate means who enjoys comics as one of their modes of entertainment. They’ve evolved beyond the casual buyer to a regular Wednesday (new comics day) buyer, going to a local comic shop and taking advantage of the immediate gratification of seeing something new and leaving the shop with it. See it, buy it, enjoy it. Like the rest of the first world consumerist society we live in.

That’s exactly how your shopping experience at a local comic shop should be, but the comics industry isn’t built like that.

Let’s take a look at a few of the factors that stymie the process.

First off, the comic shop itself. They have to buy the product from the distributor a few months in advance, often with little detail. So they will order what they think they can sell, and will take fewer chances on new and therefore unproven material. Every new title is a risk, and every unsold copy is eating their profit. With thousands of comics available each month, they can’t afford to stock everything.

To offset this unknown sales quantity the local comic shop most likely offers a pull service. The customer provides a list of titles they want and the local comic shop pulls those comics and puts them aside. This allows the retailer to get an idea of how many comics are needed based on preorders. The pull list sounds like a good idea, but it places two burdens on the customer: coming in regularly to pick up their preordered comics and knowing what comics they want before they’re published.

The first customer burden is the most dire to the retailer. Until the comics are picked up they are unsold inventory. And it’s a common occurrence for customers to put back or not want to buy a comics once it’s in their hand, since they preordered it sight unseen with little to no detail. Or even worse stop going to the local comic shop and let their preordered comics pile up, moving on with no notice or thought given.

On to that second customer burden: knowing what to preorder. A little background: there is one comics distributor, Diamond Comics. They’re the only distributor for the monthly 30 or so page pamphlet colloquially referred to as a comic book. Diamond publishes a catalogue the forth week of every month called Previews and charges $3.99 for it. It lists what will be published in two months: the June 2019 catalogue is for comics released in August 2019.

Give this a minute to sink in. Consumers are given the same information as the retailer, both of whom must buy a catalogue to determine what to preorder. With a two month window. Many retailers will give a copy of Previews to their pull list subscribers, or offer it at a discount. Because getting the advantage of knowing what and how many to order offsets that expense.

Yes, preorders are used by all variety of retailers, from sneakers to Blu-Rays. But I can’t think of another industry that is so reliant on the process. If you follow comic creators on social media you will frequently see them asking their fans to preorder their comics to guarantee the comic gets published. It’s this tight two month cycle of solicit, order, publish that leaves so little room.

So where does that leave the comic reader spoken of earlier? Should they be concerned with any of this? In a perfect world, no. And they probably will never need to concern themselves with it, as long as they faithfully appear every Wednesday and buy from the limited number of comics available on the retailer’s shelves. But miss a week…

Next time we’ll look at how the industry got to this place, what’s changing to combat it and whether the rest of the comics world has it right and North America is all wrong.