I returned home at 1 AM yesterday morning, weary from attending a small comics show in Tyson's Corner, Virginia. At that little one-day convention I was approached by several fans and dealers, all of whom thanked me for the insights into the world of comics retailing that I have provided in this column over the years. Whether they had already made the leap into buying and selling comics, or had come to realize that they were perhaps really not temperamentally suited to the rigors of this life, they universally felt that I had provided them with reasoned guidance. While I certainly appreciated all of those kind comments, and was quite grateful that my writings have been received in the very positive spirit in which they were originally intended, it also occurred to me that I needed to add a few postscripts to my original columns.
To begin, if you have the slightest interest in becoming a retailer of back issue comics today, tread very lightly when considering the purchase of comics printed between 1988-1999. While those issues are frequently available at prices ranging from $20-$40 per long box, we've found that prices for comics published during this time period have really hit bottom. While we generate an average sale price of about $4 per back issue for issues published during the past three years, comics published prior to that time, all the way back to the end of the Bronze Age (+/- 1982), generate only an average of about $1.75 each. While that may still seem like a decent rate of return, the labor inputs for retailing higher ticket items are pretty much the same as bulk issues, so why waste valuable working capital on books that provide minimal sales? I've noted that several canny convention dealers have recently shifted their marketing efforts entirely to the comics published during the past 36 months (almost al of which have very low print runs...), and their booths are always bustling with eager buyers...
Another factor that might lead to your success, as a back issue dealer is to seek out wholesale deals at one-day shows. It only stands to reason that if you walk into a three-day comics convention with a $3,000 buying budget that you will have only moderate bargaining power, as the dealers set up at the show will typically have not only a bevy of potential private collectors seeking comics from them, but also more than a couple of online dealers. The exact opposite is frequently true at small shows, however, which can frequently be hit-or-miss for the attending dealers. When their expectation going into the show is to only gross $500 for the entire day, and you offer them more than that much in a single sale, the odds are pretty darn good that you'll be able to negotiate a mutually beneficial arrangement.
While those two factors are cogent facts for you to know, the real key to today's column is the theme of "mutually beneficial arrangements." I have now attended well over 200 conventions, as a wholesale buyer of comics, and it has become increasingly easy for me to work out deals with folks. Oftentimes, in fact, I will have tens of thousands of comics waiting for me when I walk into the door of a show, simply because I called my best suppliers in advance and let them know to bring me boxes. Quite frankly, however, no one would go out of their way for me if they didn't know that I was going to make it worth their while. I know that seems obvious, but I am astounded by the number of people that I know in business who forget that they are an integral part of a mutually reliant social interaction. That leads them to take a "slash and burn" approach to business, seeking only to maximize their own profits on any given deal, regardless of the harm their aggressive negotiating might cause to their supplier.
Of all the idiotic things that you can do in business, I think that not leaving some money on the table for the person with whom you're negotiating with is just about the dumbest. Regardless of whether you will ever do business again with that particular person, or not, every transaction in which you are involved has a word-of-mouth factor attached. If you get a reputation for being a brutal negotiator, why would anyone ever want to deal with you, except out of the most abject desperation? Now I know, because I've personally met many of them, that there are sociopaths out there who like nothing better than to get someone else in a position of great weakness, and then beat the tar out of them. As a general rule, however, these jerks only stick around in the comics world for a little while, and then they move on to victimize people in other fields of endeavor. Being tarred with that brush of negotiating too hard can be fatal to your business aspirations, however, so I think that it is important beyond all words that you treat everyone with whom you deal as fairly as you possibly can. Particularly in a small social world like comics retailing, where your every perceived ill action can be magnified by the comics dealer gossip line within a matter of moments. Simply put, if you always seek to treat others as you would have them treat you, you will greatly enhance the probability that you will succeed.
Now comes the hard part. While everyone wants to be loved by others, and seeks their approval, you also have to be able to gauge very carefully just how far you can go when negotiating a comics deal, and still make money. I wouldn't want to imply with what I've written above that I'm an easy negotiator when buying bulk lots of comics. I do work hard to try and respond to the needs of all of our wholesale suppliers, but with 60 salaries to cover each week at milehighcomics.com, I also have to make darn sure that any deals that I conclude leave enough room for us to cover our operating overhead. That means that there are any number of potential bulk comics purchases that I'm forced to walk away from at conventions, either because the cost is too high, or the viability of the product doesn't justify the investment of our precious working capital. In many regards, that's the very hardest part of my job, as I genuinely do want to bring to fruition every single deal that I'm offered at a comics show. Learning to be disciplined, however, and only conclude those deals that promise the greatest rate of return, can be agonizing. Especially when you are aware that the working capital that you would provide a seller from a deal that you have to reject would make a very big difference to their financial stability. There are times, however, when you have to admit that you can't help everyone, and just walk away. You may feel (as I frequently do) very guilty for not helping everyone, but enlightened pragmatism is the key to survival in business...
In conclusion, if you want to really succeed in business, start off by rejecting the Donald Trump (just to cite one particularly onerous example...) "Me, me, me" view of the world, and instead focus on building positive relationships. Unless you are incredibly lucky (or astoundingly devious), there is simply no way that you can make it in this world without the willing help of others in your same field of endeavor. Always strive to do good, and I think that you will find that the positive energy that you put out will ultimately rebound to you, with interest. Then you will not only be successful, but you'll sleep really well, too.
Please send your e-mails to
your letters to:
Mile High Comics, Inc.
Attn: Chuck Rozanski
2151 W. 56th Ave.
Denver, CO 80221