It seems that there is one debate that never goes away with comics. No it isn’t who is the best Superhero. That is a debate for another day. The debate I am talking about is the Comic Book Shop.
People are passionate about their comic book shop. Some shops are clean and bright that are well stocked with friendly and helpful staff. Other shops are dark and dingy holes in the wall, where the staff act like tyrannical overlords and customers are intimidated to enter their domain. These descriptions aren’t 100% accurate. I am just describing some of the stereotypes associated with comic book shops. In actuality many comic shops differ from those extremes because each shop is run differently by their respective owners.
Recently on Comic Book Daily, Leigh and Anthony both had columns that dealt with comic book shops. Both columns featured heavy debate from our readers and this got me thinking about comic shops. The first question that popped in my head was “Why isn’t there a huge chain of comic book stores”?
I do realize there are several comic book shops owned by one owner (or a group of owners). But I was thinking specifically about a huge multi-national chain of comic book shops that would be a huge corporation. Kind of like the Disney Store, but for comics and geek chic merchandise. Wait a minute… kind of like a Disney Store but with comics. Well, Disney owns Marvel. Disney also knows how to market and retail products. Why doesn’t Disney open a huge chain of comic book shops that could be in every mall in North America?
Before you get out the pitch forks and torches to come after me, let me explain a little bit further. I am not slagging the local comic book shop. That isn’t my intention with this article. My local comic book shop is one of my favourite places to go. It is what a comic book shop should strive to be. But it doesn’t matter what your business is called, or where your location is, there are some customers who will never, ever darken your door. As much as we fight against it, there is still a stigma and stereotype attached to the comic shop. Some people will not enter one, no matter what.
The other issue is a comic shop is scary. Sure you may feel comfortable there, but some people are scared to enter. It doesn’t matter if they are men, women or kids. It can be intimidating. A comic book shop is like a clubhouse. A bunch of people hang out there with similar interests. If you are new to the hobby, you don’t want to look foolish to the people who are already part of the “club”, no matter how inviting they are.
That is why a large chain of comic shops in every mall in North America would succeed. Since customers are in the mall already, it is less intimidating to enter the store to just browse. A comic shop at a separate location takes effort to get there. Either you have to drive or take transit to get there. This can be a hassle if you just want to go in and take a look around. In a mall it is much easier, since you are there already.
Another benefit of having a chain of stores is the layout of the store would be standard for the chain. The stores would also carry the same product in every store. The employees at the store would also have a standard they would have to follow for behaviour and appearance (much like the Disney Store. They look uniform and are always very polite and friendly).
The Disney Store already retails a lot of Marvel merchandise. You can buy Marvel action figures, clothing and books there. It wouldn’t take much for them to add a comic rack to sell each months offerings. But obviously they would only sell Marvel. I doubt DC would let their comics be sold at “the house of mouse”. So who could sell everything?
Most retailers buy their inventory from Diamond. If Diamond wanted to, they could distribute the product themselves in their own chain of stores. Selling direct to the customer would mean more profit, which would offset the cost of having the retail chain. They could still sell to the local comic shop market too. I think it would be the best way to distribute comics to every type of consumer profile.
I don’t see this happening anytime soon, but with the popularity of comics and geek culture right now, it could happen in the future.