I wish this was an April’s Fools story, but it is not.
In Mike Gold’s column here on Monday, Brainiac on Banjo, he talked about how comic shops, like so many other businesses, are struggling during the surreal new reality that the Coronavirus has unleashed. It’s a scary time for these entrepreneurs.
But we need to keep business issues and life-threatening issues in perspective. We’re just a few weeks into it. Public figures are now contracting the virus, and many of us now know real people who have contracted it. I have two friends fighting the good fight against COVID-19 in the hospital right now. One’s outlook is pretty grim, I am afraid.
So my heart aches in so many ways. The prospect of a collapse, or at best a terrible shakeout of Geek Culture is one the scary things of which I am fearful. USA TODAY even noticed. They started a recent article with a look at a fanboy turned retailer in Pennsylvania:
YORK, Pa. – Brian Waltersdorff has been strolling the aisles of Comic Store West in York, Pennsylvania, since 1986. He was the store’s first customer.
Fast forward 22 years, he found himself buying a portion of ownership into the store. This past January, he bought out his partners for sole ownership of his childhood comic book shop.
“First-year businesses always have problems. I didn’t think it would happen (here),” he said. “But here we are.”
Waltersdorff is one of several comic book shop owners across the country who are battling an unprecedented level of uncertainty caused by the coronavirus outbreak.
The restrictions on movement have been catastrophic for him – as they have for most small business owners. However, the comic book industry is navigating a different sea of change: its main supplier has completely shut down its distribution chain.
Comic Shops, have, for the most part, been run and owned by strong-willed entrepreneurs who have financially skated near the edge. Likewise, publishers and companies that create Geek Culture ephemera have done the same.
In that column this past Monday, Mike Gold wrote, “Only a very few publishers are owned by massive mega-corporations such as AT&T, Amazon, and Disney. The rest are owned by very hard working Mom ’n’ Pop cockroach capitalists who depend upon these shops.”
TwoMorrows Publishing wrote candidly about how tough it is to sell magazines when your distributor and retailer outlets are closed. So they are offering a 40% sale to keep the lights on.
As we all lurch towards a lockdown, the fragility of the system has become more and more apparent. There are a few innovators who are stepping forward with some good ideas, however
TKO Comics burst onto the scene last week with an innovative idea to “HELP COMIC BOOK SHOPS FIGHT BACK!” They came up with a new policy to send 50% of consumers’ online purchase dollars back to local comic shops. TKO made this statement:
Black Mask Studios, and Scout Comics, a new publisher, are also following suit, developing plans so that when fans purchase any comics on their site, they will send 50% of the price to the fan’s regular local comic shop.
Want some comics to read but can’t get to your shop? Or maybe your shop is closed? Okay, we got you… AND we got your shop. Order from https://t.co/cZF66eZdU7 and include the name of your LCS in the “Special Instructions” part of checkout: we’ll send half the $ to your shop!
— Black Mask Studios (@blackmaskstudio) March 24, 2020
Plan C Distribution Channel is a brand new private Facebook group that just sprang up. It’s become a virtual incubator/launch pad for news ideas and an exchange of ideas to help retailers, creators and publishers deal the many issues staring them down. Their official statement reads that they want to become a:
Central page to connect creators, publishers and stores that need a way to distribute books and/or promotional material during the Diamond downtime. Business back to usual when they re-open. No anti-Diamond posts will be tolerated. If you are not a retailer, publisher or creator, please remove yourself from the group. Try and post under the topics in the announcement section. All other posts can go in the main feed. Please do not share outside of this group anything posted inside of the group without permission of the original poster.
There are some smart conversations bubbling up there.
It’s a tough world out there, but how encouraging it is to see some folks trying to think their way out of this. Stay tuned; I am afraid we have a long way to go.
Editor’s Note: In the reality that we live in, the comic industry has been tossed into turmoil and crisis. Things change daily. Since Ed submitted his piece a Point of Sale system called ComicHub has come up with some innovative concepts to get money back into the system that fuels the comic industry. In the spirit of cooperation, we will direct you to Comic Book Resources to find out more about that.