Category Archives: Retailing

The Decade in Comics Publishing, 2005-2015

At the end of August, Heidi MacDonald and Calvin Reid from Publisher’s Weekly asked me to participate in a survey about the decade of growth in comics and graphic novels, and mine and my colleagues’ responses are in an article that just went live on the PW site.

As the introduction says, in 2005 there were no ebooks or iPads, we were firmly in the middle of the graphic novel (and manga) boom, and even then it was clear that things were changing rapidly. For me, I’d been at The Beguiling a few years, we were just holding the second TCAF in Honest Ed’s Parking Lot, and Scott Pilgrim Volume 2 was debuting (I went to the printer and picked up the TCAF copies myself). I also blogged a lot more back then, just making the transition from writing about the way the industry to be, to doing all the work that I felt needed to be done. It was an interesting time.

For my part, in August when I was asked to participate in this survey, I’d spent the summer penning a few essays and participating in some panels that resonated with a lot of folks working in the industry, and really got under the skin of others. Essays about how, essentially, the graphic novel & manga boom really occurred largely outside of the purview of the medium’s then-gatekeepers, in both the superhero and art comics camps. I really feel the growth was almost entirely from new audiences, from work that was either ignored or denegrated, and I still do, so, it helps maybe explain where my head was at in general when answering. I also thought, and still think, that with more money coming into the industry, and more opportunities, it behooves those of us with a voice and a say in how the playing field is shaped to try and address some of the imbalances in the industry.

It’s a pretty good survey article, and the folks participating are generally the folks I’ve seen gain the most out of the growing graphic novel industry. I think I would like to have seen a few answers from the superhero folks and the artcomics folks, but perhaps representatives were invited and declined to participate. Despite 7 different people all answering from their perspectives, I don’t think there’s much in there I disagree with (at least from the perspectives of those answering), and my friend Librarian Eva Volin in particular ends the article with a great mic-drop. If you have the opportunity, go check it out, let me know what you think in the comments.

  • Christopher

Podcasts is a weird word. Is it specifically tied to the iPod? Anyway.

ITEM! I just saw this tumblr post by Kelly Sue Deconnick, someone I’ve known a real long time now, imploring a fan to pre-order one of her upcoming books:

If you’re interested in picking [Pretty Deadly] up, PLEASE PRE-ORDER. After this long of a delay, I guarantee it’ll be under-ordered. That’s on me, but if you want it, I want you to be able to get your hands on it. Pre-order, pleeeeeaaase.  – Kelly Sue

Kelly Sue was right there at the ‘dawn’ of the pre-order movement on the Warren Ellis forum (referenced here), and she knows the importance of that sort of direct customer engagement. I think this is a great example of the importance of pre-ordering, because by all accounts Kelly Sue is a creator who’s “Made It”, who has a dedicated fan base, but is still encouraging fans to take an agressive, forward-looking position when it comes to getting her comics. If Kelly Sue thinks it’s important, then it’s important, and my advice to all creators is to start trying to really mobilize your fanbases.

Also of note? This very elaborate Greg Pak pre-order campaign for his upcoming series from Dark Horse, entitled Kingsway West.

272559-fist-of-the-north-star

ITEM! I was a guest on Robin McConnell’s INKSTUDS podcast alongside the talented David Brothers and Brandon Graham, and it just went live. We talk for nearly 2 hours on this one, and I actually listened to it and I think, you know, I think it’s pretty good. David’s an incredibly smart guy, and I think he’s one of the people that brings out the best in my own commentary on the comics industry; I was super-happy to spend an hour chatting with him (Robin and Brandon were great too, don’t get me wrong). We recorded this about a month ago, and it actually got me thinking, and thinking, and I’ve actually been writing here at the blog since then. Maybe I’ll keep it up? Anyway.

BestWorstMangaPanel_SDCC2015
LtoR: Eva Volin, Brigid Alverson, Chris Butcher, Deb Aoki, David Brothers.

ITEM! I just got back from San Diego and had a really good time. I was on a record six (6!) panels this year as a participant or moderator, and it looks like all of the info for one of the panels is now online. I got to join Deb Aoki, Brigid Alverson, David Brothers, and Eva Volin on The Best and Worst Manga 2015 for the fourth year running. I had a great time. 🙂

You can see all of our pics, slides, etc., at Deb Aoki’s Manga Comics Manga: http://mangacomicsmanga.com/sdcc-2015-best-and-worst-manga-of-2015/

…and Jamie Coville has the complete audio of the panel over at his website, TheComicBooks.com: http://www.thecomicbooks.com/audio.html#SanDiego2015

 

And that’s all the news that’s fit to print!

– Christopher

New. Now. Next.

Hey comics fans! Are you excited for 2016 yet? How about this winter? This fall?  Probably, because between today’s Image Expo, this week’s Fall/Winter reveal by Alternative Comics, and Tuesday’s ‘reveal’ of 45 outta 60 new Marvel titles, it’s pretty clear that the discourse is focused squarely on ‘things to come’ in the comics biz–and I think that’s actually a huge, huge problem that no one is talking about.

A little bit of history: Once upon a time, in the late 90s and early aughts, I ran a site called Previews Review, where I would go through the Previews catalogue and pick the stuff that I thought was best, occasionally with my pals James and Scott joining me for it. I did this in the hopes of imploring the reader (you) to think about their buying decisions 2-3 months in advance, so that you (the reader) would go to your local comic book shop and ask them to order those books in. Basically, during this time period and following the Valiant/Image busts of the mid 90s, comic book retailers were even more conservative and hewed even more closely to ordering Marvel & DC exclusively than they do now. Demanding pre-orders wasn’t just a tool in the toolbox for creators and small pubs working outside of the big two, it was a necessity if they wanted their books ordered at all! I became very focused (along with lots of other industry types) on the books that were on the shelves 2, 3, 4 months away. Books, companies, whole careers eventually thrived because they could effectively work this system of direct fan involvement into influencing overall retailer orders, particularly some smart retailers who could see which way the wind was blowing (Tokyopop and Viz had just started blowing up in bookstores, and the audience for comics overall was diversifying).

Of course, if you’re imploring customers to pre-order their purchases months in advance, then the sales component is attached to that advance press, and the system works! The ‘sale’ is made and you just maintain that forward-looking focus. But during my professional comics career I’ve seen that change though, from companies putting their press-weight behind books coming out that week or month, shifting it to the Previews catalogue 2 months ahead, all the way to this week’s Image/Marvel/Alternative Comics type announcements looking 6 months out or more.  I can tell you, the idea of your average fan knowing what was going to happen in their superhero universe after a big event crossover? It didn’t happen, until perhaps the last issue of that crossover was in stores. It’s something that was almost non-existent back in the 90s, and entirely commonplace today.

I think for further proof of this, you can look at comics retailers bitching that the Previews catalogue has gotten less useful as it’s moved from being a retailer tool to a reader tool. I’m on board in some cases–I think Image’s recent decision to pull solicitation text out of the catalogue almost entirely is a problem. Image has pulled solicit text and promotion from the catalogue for most of their titles, and the catalogue is the time at which retailers are actually ordering comic books, in favour of disseminating information online and through fan sites. It’s a bad move, giving retailers with an order form in front of them less information. Marvel and DC are no better, with their solicitations of projects with the ostensible creators of those projects “To Be Determined.” A title announced before there’s a story, a product offered before there’s anyone to make it.

(And I do want to be clear, there were other factors that led to this forward-looking change. First, the comics-related movies shifted focus forward a little, as that industry influenced (and continues to influence) publishing and creative decisions for many projects. Perhaps the largest though is the integration of the comics industry with the book market, which works between 6 months and 18 months in advance. The success of comics outside of traditional comics venues really did cause publishers to need to work and schedule further in advance in many cases. But if I had to pin it to one thing, it would be the discourse around looking at the Previews catalogue and beyond, and the explosion of fan-sites and blogs at that time all toeing the party line regarding preorders really kickstarting the whole thing, in my humble opinion.)

I think where this really became a problem is when the act of moving that ‘comics conversation’ ever-forward was divorced from the act of consumers being aggressively encouraged to pre-order that material. We’re now getting announcements, really BIG announcements with tons of press, for titles and books that we won’t even be able to order for months, let alone actually purchase and put into our hands. Anecdotally, we’re getting customers coming into the store on the reg asking for a book to be added to their pull-list before it’s in the catalogue, thanks to online announcements. We’re happy to try to accommodate those requests, but All-Star Wonder Woman has been sitting on one poor fella’s list for almost two years now, highlighting at least one problem with the advance hype cycle.

At the Image Expo today, more than 20 new projects with the publisher were announced–some of them sound neat, some of them do nothing for me, but the earliest any of them starts seems to be late this fall. Meanwhile, at the Image Expo that happened about a year ago today, a great new project was announced that is only just now being offered in the catalogue, for release in September. SO far as I can tell it wasn’t mentioned at Image’s big expo at all today, despite it still effectively being an unreleased book, but one that could certainly use a the strong promotion that event provides, since now is the time for retailers to actually buy it. Don’t you think it’s profoundly weird that the biggest bit of press a book might get is six months, 12 months, or more, before the book is a real thing? I do.  But you look around, and that’s where the discussion, where the conversation in comics is at.

It’s weird.

I also wanna talk about reviews a little. About criticism, and even about those conversations we have about comics. I was chatting with a publishing rep friend a little while back, and he was absolutely despairing a situation I’ve been hearing a lot lately: “I can’t get anyone to talk about the books I publish. ” I empathise, I really do, because I just came out of a marketing job where that was my exact job. I like to think I did a pretty good job of it, but it was also a little bit easier because the video game licenses of the game books and the educational content of the manga classics had built-in audiences to pitch to–pitching an original I.P. is infinitely harder (as I learned). And the thing about this publishing rep friend of mine? He has a lot of good books! Or at least as good as most of the other stuff on the stands, the books that are getting talked about. Tweeted about. Bought. And they feel like they can’t get a shake because the conversation is still about Nth generation superhero universe reboots, and Image comics. And they can’t even be mad at Image, because they fought tooth and nail for their spot at the table. So? Just despair, because they don’t know what to do. I don’t think anyone knows what to do. And I think that the disparity and distance between a project’s hype and a project’s availability, I think it hurts smaller publishers, publishers with more diverse lines, willing to take bigger risks, the most. The lack of good critics actually talking about (and creating a conversation around) good comics that are actually available is having a pretty profound impact on the industry.

These aren’t isolated issues either. I’ve heard significant complaints about the two publishers that I think are doing the absolute best job at promoting their lines of books, from creators unhappy with their promotion and marketing, or their sales, or the attention they’ve been given. I’ve met creators perfectly happy with publishers that I feel do a lousy job of promoting them. I’ve met all sorts of creators in between. There’s no guarantee that, even when you CAN manage to create a hype cycle around a work AND a critical discussion around that works WHILE the books are available for sale, that it’s going to make everybody happy. But I can tell you that in general, it isn’t happening, and no one is quite sure exactly what to do.

I’m not in a position to tell anyone what to do, but I can take a moment to at least point out the fundamental disconnect that I’ve been writing about here today.

There are more comics and graphic novels being released every week, right now, in North America than quite possibly ever before. Certainly within my lifetime. There are rumblings about the stresses that this is putting on the industry, about the low sales of many projects, the even lower wages, the comics (and publishers!) that are nothing more than Hollywood-bait-get-rich-quick schemes, and the aging retail base making it difficult for certain types of comics to make it into stores.  But I think if you step back and look at the situation, it’s not hard to see that the divorce of the hype and publicity cycle from the sales cycle, and the lack of a strong and trusted critical and curatorial voice coinciding with both, are really hurting comics more than they’re helping. Especially good comics, diverse comics, and the kinds of comics I want to read and to find success.

– Christopher

 

A little bit on Villains Month

From the Villains Month FAQ 2.0 that DC sent out yesterday:

5. Why didn’t DC print at least as many copies of each of the 3-D motion cover issues as they do on the regular monthly series?

Orders greatly exceeded DCE’s expectations. We did not anticipate that the demand for these covers would be as large – or larger – than the demand for each monthly series. The 3-D motion covers also required a much longer production time than normal covers, so we had to set print runs on these issues out of cycle. As more retailers saw sample copies, orders continued to build beyond the print runs we had set. There was also a physical limit to how many copies we could print due to availability of the special cover stock.

So there’s a few things in there worth unpacking.

– They printed FEWER total of the special issues than of their standard issues, which means, assuming that everyone who wanted Green Arrow #23 also wanted Green Arrow #23.1, there were always going to be cuts or allocations. This strikes me as exceptionally poor planning.
– This was their two year anniversary month for the new 52.
– This means that for their two year anniversary month, they deliberately planned to sell fewer copies than they normally would be able to sell, on their anniversary.
– And didn’t tell anybody beforehand.

Who goes into their anniversary month saying “Hey, I’ve got a great idea, lets sell fewer comics this month, guaranteed, than we did the month previous!” ? It strikes me as an exceptionally poor business practice from inception through execution, even with the higher unit-price on these books (Villains Month books were about a buck more than usual). If there were “physical limits to how many copies [they] could print due to availability of the special cover stock,” then they could have taken any number of steps to compensate, including fewer overall titles.

I tried to stay out of this because it seems like a pretty standard problem–retailers under-order on books all the time, and in this case, a publisher under-ordered. Fuck-ups happen, you take responsibility, and make it right. But what galls me is the complete lack of contrition, or of someone at DC stepping up to say “Hey, this was me, my fault.” is… it’s upsetting.

I respect people who make mistakes and admit to them. I make mistakes all the time, because I go out there and I try to do different stuff and sometimes it fails. That’s life, but more importantly, that’s business. Ventures fail, or are only partially successful (I guess). But this? Closing ranks and corporate speak? It’s disrespectful, it’s not what I want from a publishing partner.

– Chris

P.S.: If you don’t know what any of this is about, I apologize for not taking the time to create the proper context but you can Google this situation pretty easily. Also, I think the covers look super neat, and it’s a shame that everyone who wants them won’t be able to get them.

My first Japanese Language Interview

While I was in Japan two weeks back, I have an interview to the Yukari Shiina from AnimeAnime. I was having a lovely dinner with Deb Aoki (Manga.About.com) and Yukari, and we decided to turn it into an interview (hopefully) offering some insight into the North American manga market. I dared to criticize scanlation, so I’m sure it will go over well.

Check out both parts of the interview if you read Japanese, or if you trust Google Translate. 😉

http://www.animeanime.biz/all/133251/
http://www.animeanime.biz/all/133271/

– Chris

Two events in Toronto: Adventure Time Wednesday, Underwater Welder Saturday

I’ve got a billion things to write about having just gotten back from vacation, but the two most time-sensitive are events I’m running in conjunction with The Beguiling and Little Island comics on Wednesday and Saturday…!

Adventure Time Signing Spectacular! w/ Meredith Gran, Ryan North, and Michael DeForge
Wednesday July 25th, 2012
@ Little Island Comics, 742 Bathurst Street, 1pm-3pm
@ The Beguiling, 601 Markham Street, 6pm-9pm

Hey everyone! The Beguiling and Little Island Comics are teaming up to throw a kick-butt ADVENTURE TIME event on Wednesday, July 25th, and you’re all invited! There will be signings by the creators of the ADVENTURE TIME comics, costume contests, presentations and more! It’s gonna be mathematical… TO THE MATH! Check out all the details at:

http://thebeguilingat.blogspot.ca/2012/07/wednesday-adventure-time-awesomeness.html

http://www.facebook.com/events/496652623693914/

The Underwater Welder: Book Launch & Discussion
Featuring author Jeff Lemire
Saturday, July 28th, @ 7pm (Doors @ 6:30pm)
at Innis Town Hall, 2 Sussex Ave (at St. George, one block south of Bloor St.)
$5 admission or free with book purchase

The Underwater Welder Book Launch and Discussion will take place on Saturday, July 25th at Innis College Town Hall, and will feature a presentation by Lemire from the new work, an on-stage interview with Q&A, and a signing. Admission to this event is $5 for two persons, however, anyone purchasing The Underwater Welder in-store at The Beguiling will receive a free ticket good for two admissions and guaranteed seating. Tickets and The Underwater Welder advance copies on sale now. More info at:

http://thebeguilingat.blogspot.ca/2012/06/announcing-underwater-welder-book.html

http://www.facebook.com/events/288602321238139/

– Chris

The Comic Book Shop

Yesterday a kid came into the store, maybe 6 years old, for the first time. He asked if we had any MAD Magazines and I showed him the newest one, and he looked a little disappointed and said “But… do you have any more?”. I told him we did, we had hundreds of them, and showed him the bins. His eyes got real wide, he freaked out a little “All… of these?” Yup. He ran downstairs to tell his mom, then ran back upstairs to go through every MAD we had, pulling out his favourites and laughing.

It’s an amazing thing when you discover a comic store for the first time, that there are all these comics you never knew existed. It reminded me of my first time in the comic book store. I just posted that story to Twitter, and I thought I would share it here as well.

I believe I’ve mentioned this before, but my first comic book was Transformers #3, which had Spider-man on the cover. I loved Transformers, and didn’t realize that there were comics. I knew that there WERE such things as comics, I’d see them in the Beckers’ convenience store across the street from my house, but I wasn’t really interested.

I was 8 at the time. I’d just changed schools and it was a bit shocking. Class went from ridiculously easy to challenging, all of my childhood friends had disappeared… I just became obsessed with Transformers. I asked (probably demanded) that my mom get it for me, that there are TRANSFORMERS ADVENTURES NOT ON TV AND LOOK IT ALSO HAS SPIDER-MAN IN IT THAT’S CRAZY. She relented.

(I did know Spider-Man from the old cartoon though, it aired at lunch time, and so I’d see it any time we spent the week at my grandmother’s house–cheap babysitting in the summertime. Spider-man and Transformers crossing over probably added a bit more unreality to the whole situation, made the comic seem more… mythical.)

Of course, of course, it ended on a cliffhanger. We went back to the store the same day I think, and asked the man behind the counter when the next one would come out. Transformers was on TV every day at 3, and I’d gotten used to that sort of schedule. He said “probably 1 month…” Insanity. I was beside myself for three days waiting for it, then promptly forgot, then my mom reminded me it’d been about a month and we should check the store to see if my comic book was in.

We got to the store, and found… Transformers #5.

We’d somehow missed #4 completely, AND I was holding #5 “of a 4 issue limited series”. Lessons learned?

  1. You won’t get every issue.
  2. Comic books fucking lie all the time.
  3. So do clerks at the convenience store.

Needless to say we bought #5, which had the most amazingly bad-ass cover, and the story inside was even crazier. Issue #4 haunted me… I didn’t know what the cover looked like, I didn’t know what had happened (all of the Autobots had been beheaded!?). I would try to get the issues every month, and I’d miss three or four over the next few years, and it was incredibly frustrating.

(My mom would try to ease the pain by getting me started on another series, “Planet Terry” from Marvel’s STAR line… and I liked it, at the time, but it was just as problematic in its way because I’d miss issues of that as well! I never did find out how that ended until Marvel reprinted it a few years back. It was a terrible non-ending, I should have guessed.)

When we moved to another suburb a few years later, my biggest concern was where I was going to get my Transformers comics. Not my friends (I learned the hard way about making friends that when you move, you lose them) not my meighbours, who were moving as well a few months before us. Just where to get Transformers every month.

Apparently, comic books were available at every convenience store, not just the Beckers by my old house. Who knew?

Then, for Christmas that year, when I was maybe 10 years old? Best Christmas ever.

My parents got me every single issue of Transformers I was missing, including issue #4. Including issue #1. It was magic. That cover to issue #1 is amazing too. I still remember that #4 ends with “Definitely NOT the end…!” and it goes into a letter column explaining it became an ongoing series. Amazing.

I asked my parents how… where they could find older issues of comics? And they said that they had found a store that sold nothing but comic books. A comic book shop. My mind was completely blown. I asked that they take me. Immediately. They explained it was closed Christmas Day, like everything else.

I contented myself with reading all of my comics for the first time, in order. 21 of them! IN a row! It was unbelievable to me. #21 even introduced the Arielbots, and I had gotten the toys that year for Christmas, and they formed Superion which held together WAAAAY better than my brother’s Devestator! Hah!

The next day, we went to the comic book store, and it was amazing.  It was called “Your Friendly Neighbourhood Comic Shop”, in Brampton, about 15 mins drive from my house. We’d been living there 6 months and I had no idea that there were comic stores that close, or even comic stores at all.

It was a clean, organized, well-lit store. The owners were kinda grumpy but it had everything you could want and more. Hundreds of comics, racking lots of indies, black and white comics, Marvel and DC, stuff I’d seen on the spinner and magazine racks at stores, but also so many more I’d never even heard of. It had statues and posters too, and boxes to store your comics in! (I used to keep mine on my book shelf, standing up). It had specially sized bags to put your comics in, and cardboard to put into the backs to keep them straight. You could never miss a comic again because they had every issue! It had everything.

Except…

Except it didn’t have any more Transformers comics. I asked at the counter and they said #21 was the newest, and #22 would be out in about a month.

That Christmas I had achieved my goal, I now had every issue of The Transformers that had been published, which meant as magical as the shop was,  it wasn’t magical enough.

I’d gotten everything I wanted and I was still disappointed.

And on that day, I truly became a comic book fan.

THE END.

Our Digital Comics Strategy is an Evolutionary Dead-end

Our Digital Comics Strategy is an Evolutionary Dead-end
Why the current digital comics paradigm is no good for comics companies, retailers, or consumers.

Hi, my name is Christopher Butcher, and I’m the manager of The Beguiling Books & Art in Toronto, Canada. We’ll be celebrating our 25th year in business in 2012, and I personally am in the midst of my 17th year working in comic stores. I started out buying my comics from the corner store—Transformers and G.I. Joe before discovering comic book stores, X-Men, Vertigo, and eventually the wide world of art comix afterwards. Comic book stores opened my eyes to the wide variety of material available in comics, and because of that I’d always thought that the point of them, really, was to carry a diversity of material… and, when budget allows, the widest possible diversity of material.

When I started working in stores Diamond did not have a monopoly on the comics market, we ordered new comic books from a bunch of distributors for a bunch of years… Andromeda, Multibook, Grosner, then Capital, Diamond, and Heroes World. While all of those distributors (save Diamond) and many more have subsequently gone the way of the dodo, in my day-to-day at The Beguiling we deal with dozens of distributors in a given month. Comics, books, art, and more. Most retailers are also dealing with toy distributors, t-shirt distributors, supplies distributors, and all kinds of niche and specialty product distributors.

(Can I drop in a shout-out to Last Gasp here? They’re phenomenal at stocking a wider variety of art and alt-culture books. Investigate opening an account with Last Gasp post-haste. )

Anyway, the point of all of this (other than to introduce myself) is to say that as comic retailers, we have options and we have responsibilities. More responsibilities than we often want, not as many options as we’d like, but we’ve got some elbow room and it’s our job to use it. We’ve all suffered under a series of poor distribution decisions that have made things difficult for us, but if we’re willing to put the leg work in we can have the kind of store we want, carry the products we want, and have the kind of industry we want, and on something resembling a level playing field as well.

The problems come in when we are excluded from certain areas of what should be our business, by forces beyond our direct control… and that’s my biggest issue with the current crop of digital comics and distributors of same.

Currently, there is only one digital comics purveyor that has an ‘open’ affiliate program for comics retailers to participate financially in the sale of digital comics, Comixology. I will go on record as saying that the terms are horrible for retailer participation in Comixology’s program in almost every way; in terms of the percentage of the sale we make, in the information that we need to give up to Comixology, in providing that company with access to our customers, and most aggravatingly of all that we receive no information about the customers who are buying from us through Comixology. Compared to an affiliates program like Amazon’s the terms are kind of awful; compared to even a consignment agreement in a brick-and-mortar establishment it is gross.

And that’s even if you can participate—the program is only currently open to American retailers. While I as a Canadian retailer can sell all manner of physical comic books, I am completely excluded from selling digital versions of the same… and to reiterate, none amongst their competition doesn’t seem to have an accessible affiliate program at all.

As far as I’m concerned, that’s not a level playing field. Excluded economically, through bad terms and bad finances; excluded regionally; excluded completely; digital comics don’t have much (if anything) to offer brick and mortar retailers. Just recently, when brick and mortar book retailers Books a Million and Barnes and Noble were excluded from DC’s digital offerings, they boycotted the publisher by removing from store shelves every single book that was digitally exclusive with another publisher. I don’t mention this to incite comic retailers to do the same, I mention it merely to point out that this is Serious Business, and something every retailer should be aware of.

Here’s the most important part though: The whole system is utterly broken anyhow, and we should be demanding not only better access to digital comics sales, but better sales methods for digital comics.

Let me break this down for you as simply as possible: No one who is “buying” digital comics is actually buying digital comics. What they are doing is renting them for an indeterminate period of time, and they’re renting them in an extremely inconvenient format. If you buy a comic book from a comic book retailer, you own it; you can read in whenever you want, however you want, for as long as you physically possess it. If you want to ‘purchase’ a digital comic, you’re merely gaining access to that content on a specific device and in a way that can’t generally be transferred between devices, that may or may not be available without a live internet connection, and your permission to read that comic book might be revoked at any time, with no recourse.

It’s a closed system, it’s full of hoops you have to jump through, and ultimately the content provider is in charge of what the consumer has purchased: the consumer is cut entirely out of the loop. Digital downloads, at least in this instance, aren’t ownership, they’re rental, and that’s not our business model.

We as comic book retailers should be pushing for a new system, and a forefront-inclusion in that new system: A standard-format digital comic that can be read on every device and on any format, a download that exists independently of the store that sold it, and that can be sold by us (rather than just marketing someone else who’s selling it, and being paid a pittance to do so).

There are dozens of arguments against a ubiquitous, copyright-free, non-locked file format, most having to do with the spectre of digital piracy, but it’s my contention that locking down this content so tightly, and so expensively, with “DRM” or “Digital Restrictions Management” ultimately drives more consumers to piracy than not. Even Apple’s iTunes eventually caved and let you download music that you could freely copy and share amongst any device you owned; and while an app store is an attractive option for content providers, it is a needlessly restrictive, censorious, and anti-equality system. A closed system is never a fair system, and as independent business owners it’s not in any of our best interests to support such a system.

In the end what I’m saying is that if a digital comics distributor comes along offering consumers actual purchases, and is willing to work with the Direct Maket—which has direct access to hundreds of thousands of comic fans—and that person offers to treat me fairly and with respect? That’s someone I will happily work with, and an enterprise I will recommend supporting. But I don’t see anything resembling that in the current marketplace and that’s a damned shame and a missed opportunity.

– Christopher Butcher

This article was written in October 2011, and ran in the fall issue of C&G Monthly Magazine

Edit: I’ve been contacted by a representative of Comixology, to let me know that the reporting of Comixology to retailers about sales has been significantly improved. Unfortunately I didn’t have access to this info at the time, and I am interested to read the new contract terms. 

 

Glad Day in Toronto – New Owners, Now Hiring

Glad Day Bookshop in Toronto now has the honour of being the longest-lived gay bookstore in the world, and there was news last year that the owner was looking to get out of the business–which has normally meant the end of such endeavours. Luckily a coalition of 20-or-so Torontonians have stepped up to the plate and purchased the business, which means that a new board of directors will oversee the bookstore going forward. Included amongst them is my good friend Scott Robins, who, amongst myriad other responsibilities, also works with me on TCAF. Fun times!

The board of directors is looking for a full-time store manager for the location, to help in revitalizing the business and the space, and they’ve posted the job in various spots. I thought that the least I could do was post it up here, so those of you who might be looking for a great, challenging, rewarding job in the book field might apply.

– Chris

POSITION AVAILABLE
Glad Day Bookshop Store Manager

Glad Day Bookshop is now the oldest LGBTQ bookstore in the world and is under new ownership. We are seeking an individual who meets challenges with a creative mind and a fierce heart – someone who can balance imagination and concrete results.

This position will be a phenomenal amount of work but training will be available and you will have a skilled Board of Directors who are able to support you in every aspect of the job.

POSITION OBJECTIVES
Sales
-Increase revenues and profitability
-Actively market and merchandise to meet sales targets
-Create positive relationships with vendors and suppliers
-Manage online sales including inventory, shipping, etc.
-Track revenues and expenditures and report these to the Board
-Improve daily processes and systems to maximize profitability
-Work to ensure fiscal stability and longevity of the business

Direction
-Revitalize Glad Day as a cultural institution in Toronto and Canada and
as the world’s oldest bookstore dedicated to the LGBTQ community
-Provide the highest level of customer service to the public
-Procure and replenish the most robust selection of queer books and media in Toronto
-Know what’s current in LGBTQ print and media, and respond to trends and market demands
-Develop a roster of event programming and promotions that engages the community and that generates short- and long-term sales
-Embrace new technological opportunities as they become available
-Manage website and social media
-Develop positive relationships with queer authors/artists and organizations
-Foster a sex-positive, anti-racist and anti-oppressive environment
– Other duties as assigned

People
-Recruit, develop and sustain a team capable of doing the work
-Hire, train, and manage the performance of part-time employees
-Work with the Board of Directors to meet organizational priorities
-Work with the Board and staff to facilitate special projects & events
-Meet with the Board and staff regularly

QUALIFICATIONS
– Retail management experience or related experience that prioritizes multi-tasking, delegation and flexibility
– Experience in book retail, or another facet of the book industry
– Demonstrable knowledge of LGBTQ literature
– Microsoft Word, Excel
– Familiarity with internet and internet applications including social media and database-driven applications
– Excellent spoken and written communication skills in English
– Understanding and connection to the LGBTQ community
– Professional or volunteer experience within the LGBTQ community is an asset

CONDITIONS
– Full-Time Salaried Position
– Evening and Weekend Shifts Required
– Salary, Benefits and Bonus options will be discussed with successful applicants

Please reply with a resume and cover letter by 9pm on Wednesday February 15th.

Send resumes and inquiries to: gladdayhiring@gmail.com

What I think about non-superhero comics

Ref: http://www.comicbookdaily.com/championing_comics/retailer-q/retailer-q-5-non-superhero-market/

So my answer there was a sort of a glib place-holder, intended to be expanded upon after a few people had had their say on the topic because, frankly, The Beguiling has probably the best reputation in the industry for stocking and supporting “non-superhero” comics. And then I got caught up in heading to Japan and I didn’t have time to respond and everyone ended up looking more eloquent and nuanced than me. My fault for trying to be funny.

So, briefly: The “non-superhero market” is alive and well from my perspective, yes. At any given time there are 10-15 ongoing monthly or nearly-monthly series that I could recommend to readers that don’t fit the ‘superhero’ mold, but are clearly genre-based or genre-inspired works. I think Image is going through something of a renascence right now in terms of the creator-owned work they’re publishing, and Icon, IDW, SLG, Dynamite, Boom, and Oni have all usually got at least one monthly comic worth following, and sometimes two or three. We even got a new issue of Optic Nerve this year!

And that’s before you get into the graphic novels. On a given week, we’re getting 40+ new graphic novels in, and only 25-33% of that is superhero related. Classic comic strips, art-comix collections, mainstream-bookstore stuff. It’s good. One side-effect of Marvel and DC’s “Throw it at the wall to see what sticks, and make sure everything gets collected in trade” business model is that their sales are so diffused among so many products that it’s next to impossible for them to have a ‘hit’ on any title. No one comes in asking for a specific “Green Lantern” or “Avengers” trade, because there are dozens and dozens of books featuring those characters, and it’s impossible to market them or promote them individually… but if someone comes in asking for Buffy, The Walking Dead, Scott Pilgrim, Skullkickers, Criminal, Chew, Locke & Key, etc.? We start them at v1, they read til there’s no more to read in that line, and we start making recommendations from there.  That definitely affects how we order.

And hell, manga. MANGA.

Realistically, the superhero material we stock at The Beguiling (and make no mistake, we stock all of the superhero material, every comic and ever trade) makes up a minority of our comics sales. We like some of it, we’re glad people like it, and we like its dependability, bringing customers into the shop every week that will buy a variety of stuff. While the last couple months have been very strong for superhero material, thanks to the DC relaunch and some high-profile Marvel books, realistically “non-superhero” works are still our bread and butter and I don’t really see that changing any time soon.

I have thought and continue to think, though, that defining the comics industry between superhero and non-superhero works is false and bizarre. Even asking that question and having me respond with a phrase like “actually, non-superhero works as a grouping do better for us,” is exactly the sort of statement that gets die-hard cape fans’ dander up, and I don’t think it’s either necessary or helpful for anyone. So, just to reassure the superhero fans reading this: I don’t and we don’t hate superheroes, it’s okay, and we’re happy to serve you regardless of the types of comics you like to read. 🙂

– Christopher