I just read the latest installment of Brian Hibbs "Tilting at Windmills" column. In this edition, he takes a look at the bookstore and direct market sales numbers for 2006, and provides some interesting analysis.
Even if you're not interested in the numbers themselves, though (either because it's a fairly dry subject or because, as Hibbs admit, the numbers are "loose" at best) I suggest you read some of Hibbs' columns. He's been a retailer for close to two decades, and his thought process is worth examining because he's been a successful retailer for close to two decades.
The comic book industry, as you probably know, is fairly insular. Most of the folks writing and drawing comics were fans of the medium when they were kids. Most of the retailers selling comics were fans when they were kids. Many of the fans today who are kids want to grow up to be working in comics. The medium is driven, almost unilaterally, by a love of the medium and I don't think there are many people in the business who don't really like what they're doing.
And that, believe it or not, can be a problem. Running a comic book shop is a business. It requires that you not only know your stock inside and out, but it also requires that you know something about business. Marketing, finances, building codes... the works! And far too many retailers out there operate their shop as if they were looking at The Android's Dungeon as the epitome of a well-run business.
There are, however, a handful of retailers out there who actually seem to know a thing or two about business. Their shops run well, make money, and (generally) have expanded considerably since they first opened their doors. The best examples I can point to of good retailers are Chuck Rozanski (Mile High Comics), Joe Field (Flying Colors Comics) and Brian Hibbs (Comix Experience). Not necessarily because they're the BEST comic book retailers (but they all are very good), but because they're the most vocal about being good comic retailers. They have, over the years, shared their collective experience and wisdom with the comic book community, in large part to help other retailers (and future retailers) be successful themselves. Chuck is probably the most well-known, thanks to his longevity in the industry, but has, I think, lost a lot of what comic fans enjoy in the medium. Brian, by contrast, still seems to enjoy the comic book world despite some of the hoops he's had to jump through as a good businessman. (Brian, you might recall, led a class-action lawsuit against Marvel a few years ago to recover what could have been a significant financial write-off.)
So, even if you find some of the material less than exciting, their overall thought-process and business savvy is worth taking a look at and trying to absorb. Not every comic shop has to be a hole in the wall that looks more like a bachelor's basement than an actual business.