Broadening Horizons

Over at ICV2, Stephen Bennett has a regular column in which he advises retailers on how to improve their stores. While he has some nice thoughts, I wouldn't exactly call it progressive to push retailers to go out on a limb and carry books like Johnny the Homicidal Maniac and Asterix (although to be fair, he doesn't exactly call it progressive either). He speaks directly to stores that operate on a model wherein the majority of comic sales and therefore the financial base come from weekly regulars buying primarily singles from Marvel and DC. Those sales are then supplemented by perennials like JTHM and Asterix. Unfortunately, this leads to a certain level of myopia based solely on what one sees on a day to day basis (of course the same applies to me based on the sales phenomena we see at MacGuffin). We believe it is much healthier for our shop and the industry in general to develop those perennials (including books like Maus, Sandman, Strangers in Paradise, Bone and on and on) as the stores sales base and supplement those sales with new graphic novels and singles. While we may see our weekly regulars more often, we do not make more money from them as a group.

More complicated, though, is his follow-up essay, in which retailers are warned to expect the inevitable Civil War burnout among customers. When a store's health is predicated upon a specific group of repeat customers, it is very easy to see a quick upswing in sales with an event like Civil War, followed shortly by a contraction to the original level of sales (or worse if customers burn out on these events). Yet, to approach this opportunity as at best a zero sum proposition (at least in the long term) ignores the potential to broaden a store's customer base.

What really got me thinking, though, were two lines:

Ordinarily I say it's a closed system, but something like Civil War was designed from inception to draw in new readers.


But these readers aren't no how permanent; they're "drop-ins" stopping by to check out what all the noise is about, and sure, we'll happily take their money, but chances are they won't be around that long.
Not only is that an incredibly pessimistic attitude, it's one that simply reinforces the "closed system" model of diminishing returns. The solution is not simply in helping regulars avoid burnout but in simultaneously cultivating these new faces as comic readers. Sure there are a few who will buy anything with Civil War on the cover and nothing else and after it's over they'll vanish into the ether. But what I've found is that there's not really enough to Civil War yet to satisfy these readers. They can't wait for the next issue, but since they have no choice, odds are they'll settle for a good Wolverine or Spider-man trade (or even maybe Preacher or Sandman) to fill in the back story in the meantime. It's one of the hidden avenues for success built into the singles model, wherein the natural desire for instant gratification does battle with the necessity to wait for the new issue. It's just a matter of helping the customer find a book to satisfy the immediate impulse.

The point of all of this is that there have been several recent releases with wide appeal and the potential to bring in new readers. Civil War is one and the media attention will likely make the new Batwoman another. Just on the horizon is the Halo Graphic Novel, which is our most pre-ordered graphic novel or trade to date, most of those coming from customers new to the store (and many completely new or returning to comics). Then there's Fun Home, which David Welsh points out has hit a certain media saturation level so that non-comic readers may search it out. Our job, of course, is to find what's next for these" "drop-ins" so that we're not just taking their money but instead converting them into repeat customers, whether it's buying two graphic novels a year or returning every week to check out the new releases.


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