Dropping The Pamphlets!?!

By | Wednesday, August 22, 2007 7 comments
Dark Star Books' Steve Bennett has been running a column over at ICv2 for a while now (since Bookery Fantasy's Steven Bates took a job with Diamond, in fact) and it's always an interesting read for me personally because I know the store. (Actually, I knew both stores, so it's always been an interesting read.) His latest column talks about how two former Dark Star employees will be opening a new shop -- unconnected with Dark Star -- and because of that, Dark Star will no longer be carrying comics in the weekly pamphlet format, and only carrying graphic novels.

It sounds like a drastic move, potentially indicative of something huge on the comic industry's horizon. And, while it is noteworthy, it's not as big as one might assume. See, Dark Star has been primarily a used book store for as long as I've been aware of it. Oh sure, they got new comics, which were racked towards the front of the store. And they had a back issue selection of 20 or 30 long boxes. But most of the store was lined with bookshelves of used books. Mostly paperback, mostly sci-fi/fantasy stuff. I actually didn't frequent the store more often, in part, precisely because of that -- I was much more interested in comics, and cleared their back issue selection of issues I was looking for in one trip. So, from a business perspective, this works well for Dark Star because it allows them to focus on their primary business.

Dark Star (and the new Super-Fly Comics and Games) is located in the town of Yellow Springs, Ohio. It's a relatively small town, populated primarily by college professors and students. Why? Because the town exists almost exclusively because of Antioch University -- a small, liberal arts college. (And I use "liberal" in every sense of the word.) The school was founded in 1852 and has been a staple institution for students in south-eastern Ohio who wanted a well-rounded education without having to go to a huge, impersonal school. It's an absolutely gorgeous campus and the town itself is incredibly rich with life and diversity as well.

Now, here's where things get interesting, though!

Antioch announced a few weeks ago that they will be closing their doors at the end of the 2007-2008 school year, while the Board of Trustees try to reconfigure things to make the school profitable. They're planning on taking four years to do this, during which time... well, I have no idea what will happen. Certainly, the students won't be around to shop at a comic book store. I suspect many of the professors will have to find jobs elsewhere as well. And, while the school plans to re-open in 2012, many people are skeptical because, frankly, schools that close don't generally open again.

Here's another wrinkle. The city's zoning is geared primarily towards residents. Comparatively little land is designated for retail or industrial use. And the people who live there don't leave, meaning that land prices (housing prices in particular) tend to be considerably higher than surrounding communities. Will the city then consider re-zoning to try to bring more revenue/jobs to the area while Antioch is closed? If so, will that happen soon enough to keep the city alive? Will former Antioch employees move to facilitate new jobs and, if so, will the incoming residents have the same attitudes and ideas to keep the town character relatively in tact? Will land prices drop sufficiently and allow a flood of new residents into the town, whose taxes might keep the city afloat?

In any event, this is, by my reckoning, about the worst time to open a new small business in the community, especially one that often caters to a college-age crowd. Opening a small business is risky under the best of circumstances, and comic book shops tend to be almost as risky as restaurants. I wish these guys all the best luck in the world, but I'd wager that I'll be swinging by their going-out-of-business sale in late 2008/early 2009.
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7 comments:

David the G said...

>> and the new Super-Fly Comics and Games >>

See, I think they have a chance, espeically if their stores sells, you know, video games. Regardless, good luck, fellas!

See, now you've got my interest piqued. Could you elaborate on why you think they'll do well?

(For the record, I don't believe they'll be selling video games. At least, not at first. A recent newspaper article noted, "In addition to new comics, graphic novels and manga, Super-Fly also will sell action figures, role-playing games, anime DVDs, posters and more." While that obviously doesn't exclude video games, I'd think that would've been something mentioned if they were indeed selling them.)

David the G said...

It's a college town. Comics have a low price-point. Now, I haven't been to Ohio in ages, and I don't think I've been to or driven through this town, but ....

Where you have college campuses, you have college students, who typically don't have the budget for a ton of trades. Secondly, never underestimate the power of anime - if the store becomes THE place to buy anime in the town, well ... that's HUGE!

Or, maybe, it's a great place to buy DVDs of things you can't find anywhere other that ebay - again, another awesome selling point.

If Antioch is anything like Goddard College, where I went to school, then I think there is CERTAINLY a market for the sort of counterculture that Super-Fly can provide.

My point was, though, that if Antioch closes for 4 years, does it cease to be a college town during that period? And, if so, can a comic shop sustain itself without the college crowd for that period?

I'm sure that IF Antioch stays open, they'll do fine; I just think that because it's closing its doors just as SuperFly is opening, that's going to make for a serious uphill climb. Theoretically, a decent portion of SuperFly's potential customer base (i.e. college students) will be largely gone before they hit their first anniversary.

David the G said...

>> Theoretically, a decent portion of SuperFly's potential customer base (i.e. college students) will be largely gone before they hit their first anniversary.>>

As I see it, quite a few will stay around because they love the town, and the community and want to make their home there.

Atleast that how it was at Goddard, where folks left the school (after the on campus program went belly up), but they still stayed within a couple miles of it - because of the community and the people.

Anonymous said...

Hi,
I'm one of the owners of Super-Fly Comics. I recognize that I'm late coming to this discussion - and that most likely very few people will read what I have to say at this point. However, I only just discovered your article, and felt a strong need to correct some of your assumptions.

First, the statement that the township of Yellow Springs is populated primarily by professors and students is flat wrong. Given the relative size of the college, the population of town dwarves its poulation by a good 1000%. Further, it is a town with an identity. The town itself has become a tourist destination for a number of reasons (only one of which being the college). Thus we pull in traffic from many parts of Ohio, as well as other states, and quite frequently (and somewhat surprisingly) other countries.

So, really, the assumption that the town lives or dies on Antioch's dollar is a complete misconception. I would recommend that you research the population of the town and the demographics of the shops before you make such bold statements as "In any event, this is, by my reckoning, about the worst time to open a new small business in the community."

Another example that I really wish you had researched before posting something in a public forum like this is the comment "For the record, I don't believe they'll be selling video games. At least, not at first. A recent newspaper article noted, "In addition to new comics, graphic novels and manga, Super-Fly also will sell action figures, role-playing games, anime DVDs, posters and more."" See, the thing is - Super-Fly HAS been selling video games since opening day. Had you made a point to do some research you would know that.

I guess I'm just a little irritated that someone who seems to assume a journalistic slant would call death knolls for a brand-new business without even attempting to contact the business' owners to see why they thought it was a good idea.

An article like this could well become a self-fulfilling prophecy if misstatements such as this are not corrected.

In the future, if you're going to write about a fledgling business, I would strongly recommend you do your homework a little better.

Thanks-
Anthony Barry
Owner, Super-Fly Comics & Games
www.myspace.com/superflycomics

Thanks for stopping by, Anthony, & correcting those errors. I was basing my information of the city on multiple NPR reports about the school & I apologize for not looking deeper into that. I believe, though, that I caveated my response about video games adequately.

I do actually try to do some research here before just spouting off, but I make no claims of this blog being anything more than my opinions. Any 'news' I've ever 'reported' here is at best second-hand. These are just my 'thoughts and ramblings' as it says at the top of the page.

I do hope you guys are doing & continue to do well, as I said in my initial post. I probably could've made myself a little more clear originally but I'm sure your plans were laid down long before Antioch announced their plans. So I don't consider your decision a bad one in & of itself, just one whose timing is somewhat unfortunate due to events beyond your control.