On Business: Comic Bento

By | Monday, October 31, 2016 2 comments
For the past six months or so, I've been a subscriber to Comic Bento which sends people around $50 worth of comics/graphic novels every month for less than half that price. The catch is that you can't choose which books they send you; every month you just get a box of books. You might like them, you might not. But the hook is that you'll get a surprise every month, and what you get is considerably cheaper than if you'd purchased it at a retail outlet.

They do indeed deliver well on their promise. Every month, I got a box with four trade paperbacks in it, most of which retailed at around $10/$15 each. Each month they had a theme of some sort, which they would announce in advance, and they also sent a notice when each box shipped with the tracking information. I never had any problems where I might need to call and talk to someone in person, but their basic service at least provided clear and regular communications, which was great. Things were always packed well in a custom box, which means that even if the box itself got a little banged up on the trip, the books always came out in great condition. Some of the books were even specially printed for Comic Bento, and some of those seem to be unique collections not available anywhere else in TPB form. In short, it's an impressive set-up and seems to be run very well. Ryan Sohmer can sometimes come off as crass or abrasive when it comes to his comics, but he's set up a really great shop here. Really professional.

I was pleasantly surprised that over the six months, the boxes did include a reasonably diverse (as far as genres and publishers) set of books. A good amount of stuff I'd never heard of. I was also pleasantly surprised that I only received one book I already had. (I was concerned I might get stuff I already had with every box.) By and large, the books were all good too. Not great, mind you, but not terrible either. Everything was enjoyable enough for the five dollars and change I basically paid for any one book.

So why did I cancel my subscription?

I suppose the broad and least useful answer is, "Well, it's just not for me."

But in trying to pinpoint exactly why it's not for me, there's not really a single thing I could nail down as THE reason. Some of it is a value issue. Just over $5.00 per book is indeed a good deal, but I have stacks of books that I'm excited to read and I scarcely have time to read those. Many of the Comic Bento books aren't "top of the pile" for me, so they'll sit on the shelf for some time before I might get to them. I've read most of the ones I got, but mostly because I "forced" myself to in order to get a sense of the types of books I was getting. There was nothing I was eager to dive into. With as much as I have on my reading backlog, it didn't exactly make sense to regularly add to it knowing all of those books would get put at the bottom of the proverbial stack.

There's also the issue of storage. When we bought our house a few years ago, my wife graciously encouraged me to set up one of the spare bedrooms as my comics library. I set it up with what I thought was plenty of room to grow my collection. But then Dad generously gifted me his collection of graphic novels. And a year later, I literally found around 20 long boxes of comics on the curb. All that 'extra' space I thought I had filled up very quickly. Coupled with the new books that I'm actively excited about getting, again, I don't need to feed my bookshelves with a monthly stream of books that have little/no historical importance and aren't terribly interesting to me.

One of the aspects of Comic Bento that appealed to me was seeing new works that I might not be aware of otherwise. And while they did do that pretty regularly, the voices they represented ultimately were still ones I'd felt I'd heard before. My interests for the past several years have revolved around reading comics from people with notably different perspectives than my own. I've read plenty on the cishetero white guy in America experience; I want to see what else is out there. And while there was a bit of that in the books Comic Bento were sending, it was still overwhelmingly from the same perspective. Nothing wrong with those stories per se, but it's not what I'm looking for these days.

They've got a good model and they're doing a solid job, but it's just not for me. I have too many other priorities right now to justify the time/resources of keeping up that subscription. I'm not sure if 16-year-old me would have had the money to afford this, but he would've been excited and thrilled with the service. 44-year-old me sees the appeal, but can't generate the enthusiasm.
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Matt K said...

"then Dad generously gifted me his collection of graphic novels. And a year later, I literally found around 20 long boxes of comics on the curb."

This sequence of events is still absolutely wild.

If you build it, they will come.

The graphic novel collection wasn't totally unexpected. He'd given me all of the long boxes of pamphlet books he had maybe 5-8 years earlier, so the graphic novels were mostly a matter of when he got around to cleaning that part of the house. I think by getting my library set up, it did actually prompt him to remember that he had a couple bookshelves worth of graphic novels he hasn't looked at in years.

The long boxes that I found on the curb, though? That still boggles my mind that that happened.