Books are cultural objects that take fifteen hours to read. Fifteen hours of another person's voice inside your head. And so the commonality between two people who've read the same book is a... profound and deep intervention.(The full video is below and runs about a half hour. That particular quote above comes about a third of the way in, but the whole thing is worth watching.)
Today, I caught this post from Soror Nishi discussing culture as it relates to digital avatars, such as those seen in Second Life. In that post, she borrows a loose definition from Lalo Telling...
So, what do I mean by culture? Commonality: shared experience; shared symbology and language; shared worldview; shared purpose; shared philosophies of what is "right behavior", and why, and how to coax it from people... in the case of Second Life, I'll even borrow from archaeology and include a shared "tool kit". The operative word, obviously, is shared.
"That's all well and good, Sean, but you promised us you'd get back to comics blogging."
In my book, I wrote at length about how these groups form around different cultural touchstones like Spider-Man and Batman. Even less popular characters like Squirrel Girl and Sun Boy have their fans, and small sub-cultures are formed around them. These fans often then show their support with fanfic, filk, cosplay, etc.
What I neglected to mention, though, is that similar groupings can develop around other shared experiences. Such as going to the same comic book shop every week. Although sometimes somewhat derogatorily referred to as "the Wednesday crowd", a comic book shop that has a regular customer base will almost inevitably lead to some sense of community. If you go to the same shop at about the same time every week, you're likely to see many of the same people. Over time, you'll discover things about each other. "Hey, you're reading that book, too?" That will foster a sense of a shared community. Of culture.
I've posted fairly recently about making comic shops about MORE than buying comics. Isotope just overhauled their website and it now provides a much better look at how they've really made it more of a lounge, described thus...
More than just a comic book store, the Isotope proudly represents the bleeding edge of comic retailing modernism. Recognized throughout the comics industry and beyond as the first of its kind, combining a comic store, an original comic art gallery, an active workshop/meeting place for creative individuals, and a relaxing get-away from the pressures of life. With a swank lounge atmosphere usually reserved for the most expensive of night spots, guests at the Isotope chill out in high style with a graphic novel in hand on custom leather sofas and kick back for a quiet read on ample seating.
You want to find nice people and a gorgeous environment to discover sequential art newness that makes you fall in love with comics all over again. We want that too.
Where I'm going with this is that benefit of making a comic book shop into an experience over just a location is that you end up helping to develop a customer's sense of self. They begin to identify not as just a comic book fan, but as a comic book fan who goes to your shop! Not only do they patronize your store, but they also upsell it to other people! That's what selling t-shirts and buttons with your store logo is, isn't it? They're promoting their values -- a part of the culture they subscribe to -- by saying, "I share the mores that are exemplified by this store."
If you get everyone who comes into your store to hang out for an hour a week -- through friendly conversation or comfy sofas or whatever -- that's an hour a week they share together. And that shared experience is culture. And that culture helps to shape their very identity. And that identity is one of the most potent and powerful marketing tools you can get!