Pamphlets vs. TPB/OGNs

By | Tuesday, April 24, 2007 2 comments
I started responding to a Guy LeCharles Gonzalez's latest blog entry regarding switching from the traditional pamphlet/floppy comic periodical to trade paperbacks and graphic novels, and I quickly realized that I had a lot more to say on the matter than a comment in someone else's blog.

Like most folks who enjoy comics, I grew up on the monthly 32-page format. When I was younger and couldn't get to a comic shop with, I'd get subscriptions directly from the publisher. As I got older, and grew a little more concerned with the condition my new comics were in, I began stopping by my Local Comic Shop on a semi-regular basis.

So, here I am, a bona fide comic afficiando, 30-some years old, quickly becoming disenchanted with the content put out in most all of the pamphlet format books. And the ones that I do seem to enjoy are collected later in either TPB or HC formats anyway. The need to be up-to-speed with continuity is less and less important to me, and I'm just looking for good stories in a comic medium.

The problem I find myself facing, however, is that I know a fair amount about the business of comic book retailing. (A fair amount, that is, for someone who isn't in the business of comic book retailing!) And I know that my LCS needs a reasonably steady income to pay their overhead costs such as rent, lighting and heating. If I were to switch entirely to a "wait for the trade" buying habit, that's going to put a reasonably wonky dent in their revenue stream. Sure, year over year, I'm probably going to spend the same amount, but their expenditures come ever month, like everybody else's.

Even in the 7 or 8 months that I've been a regular at my "new" LCS, I've developed enough of a relationship with them that I've felt somewhat guilty dropping some monthly titles in favor of TPBs. I still enjoy the books I'm reading on a monthly basis well enough to warrant the price of admission -- I refuse to buy bad comics out of habit! -- but I could just as easily skip the regular influx in my pull box in favor of the more sporadic waves as I pick up particular story arcs, instead of story chapters. But that would put a strain on the shop economically. Their revenue stream would be inconsistent at best, and they would certainly have trouble predicting when they could expect to pay their utilities.

Most comic book shops are small operations. They often work on a week-to-week schedule and any shop that hasn't been around for ten years has their work cut out for them to be sure. If I regularly hit a big shop like Mile High or Midtown, I might not be as concerned -- they've been in the business long enough and have enough of a cash flow that paying the rent isn't a huge concern. My LCS, though, has only been around for a little over three years and is owned and operated exclusively by a husband and wife team. If they don't make money at their shop, they not only can't pay the rent for the store, they probably can't pay the rent on their home!

For now, I'm going keep getting at least some of the pamphlets on a monthly basis. I don't want to contribute to the demise of my LCS (which has treated me quite well!) -- oh, I'm going to keep buying TPBs and the like (those purchases will likely increase in fact) but I want my LCS to know that they can count on at least some regular revenue from me on a weekly basis.
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I get what you're saying about being concerned for your LCBS' financial well-being -- I'm a big advocate of "Think globally, act locally" -- but there's an industry-wide shift happening that they need to recognize and adjust for if they want to stay in business for the long-term.

TPB/OGNs have outsold periodicals for two years running now, and they're one of the fastest growing segments in mainstream bookstores, so the direct market is facing increased competition.

Last year, Midtown revamped their flagship store's layout to put more emphasis on TPB/OGN shelving, moving most of their back issues to the second floor. Being a big shop, it's actually a lot harder for them to change direction so when change is in the air, they have to be careful about making the shift at the right time. Smaller shops are actually better positioned to adjust on the fly, and with the writing so clearly on the walls these days, there's no excuse for any of them to be caught flat-footed if you and others suddenly decide to shift to TPBs from periodicals.

Interesting about Midtown. I wouldn't have expected that from them for a while longer yet.

My LCS actually has been sliding more towards a TPB/OGN direction, but possibly not as fast as they should/could. You have to walk around a few bookcases of them, in fact, to get to the new comics and their stock has increased even in the short time I've been there. But my previous LCS changed over to focus away from the periodical market about three years ago, and my LCS before that was making efforts as far back as 10 years ago! (That was a particularly well-run shop, and it's a shame that I had to move away from that area.)

So I don't know that my current LCS is going to be caught flat-footed with the change in the market, but I'm also not inclined to "force" down that path. Although I'm certain I'm not their biggest customer, I think I'm in their upper 5% or so and my wallet probably has a bigger impact on their livlihood than most of their customers. Since I'm generally ambivalent on a preferred method of delivering comic stories, I'm content to continue to buy the periodical format for the sake of my LCS' financial stability.