The State of Retail

By | Wednesday, January 06, 2021 Leave a Comment
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The other night, Dan Shahin hosted an online roundtable with Steve Geppi (Diamond Comics), Cliff Biggers (Dr. No's Comics & Games), Jim Mortensen (Comix Revolution), Regan Clem (Summit Comics & Games), and Timmy Heague (Arsenal Comics & Games) to talk about how the comics direct market is doing. The full video is around two and a half hours...

The very short version is that two out of the four retailers actually reported doing better in 2020 than they did in 2019. In some commentary by Heidi MacDonald, she suggested the reason for this was "great product, increased interest in collectibles from shut-ins, and retailers learning how to be better at doing what they do and diversifying." Although personally, I would discount 'great product' -- not because there wasn't any, but I don't know that there was that much more of it than in previous recent years. There's been a TON of great material in comics the past several years, so I don't know that whatever great material came out in 2020 would be appreciably more than 2019. But she does have some excellent points in the greater interest in collectibles and retailers being forced into learning how to be better retailers. (I talked about the need to do this last March.)

A couple more thoughts got shared on Twitter. One responder suggested the stimulus checks may have helped, although Heidi noted the timing makes that unlikely since shops were largely still closed when the checks came in. Also, I suspect many people needed to use them for necessities like food and shelter. As another data point, Doug O'Loughlin (Comic Cave) later added that they were down about 10% overall, although it could have been worse if they hadn't pushed hard on back issue sales via eBay.

A late December piece in The Hollywood Reporter quotes Rob Liefeld with perhaps a more poignant insight*: with movie theaters closed for much of the year -- and 2020 was the first year without a Marvel Studios release in over a decade -- fans took at least some of that money that would've gone to movies and funneled it back into comics. So despite many shops being forced to close for several weeks, they were able to recoup some of those lost sales in the latter part of the year as people continued to look for new stories they weren't able to get through other outlets.

While admittedly, we're only looking at a small fraction of possible examples, the overall impression I've gotten here is 2020 was close to a wash for the comics industry as a whole, maybe coming out a little under 2019 numbers but not by the potentially devastating amount many feared back in in the middle of last year. Not exactly a record-setting year, to be sure, but anything short of a complete implosion would have exceeded most people's expectations, I think.

* I know I've said more than a few times before that I think Liefeld is an objectively bad artist, but I think he still has a possible point here. I don't hate the guy; I just don't think he's talented enough to draw comic books.
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