An Alternative Source for Comics

The negative tone of my last column may have come as a bit of a surprise to those of you who have become accustomed to my more positive perspective on the world of comics retailing. Calling comics retailers who refuse to insist that their customers actually pay them for the new comics that they order "cowardly" may seem extreme, and somewhat out of character for me, but it is actually quite consistent with my overall passion for the continuing survival of our world. I strongly believe that comics retailers who allow their customers to renege on their purchase obligations are severely eroding their own profitability, and their underlying capital base. That puts them in danger of going out of business, which serves no one's best interests. That is precisely why I think that it is so important that all comics retailers require either prepayment deposits (especially on more expensive items, such as statues), or at the very least a permanent credit card guarantee backing up ALL of their subscribers. It is quite understandable that individual consumer's desires may change, and/or that unexpected financial obligations may put them in a position where purchasing their new comics becomes difficult. The fact remains, however, that when consumers order new items from any comics retailer, that retailer places that order for them with Diamond Comic Distributors. If the consumer then fails to pay, the cost burden falls entirely on the retailer, as Diamond accepts no returns. I see this happening to a greater and greater degree during these difficult economic times, and I view this trend as very dangerous to the future of comics retailing. Simply put, comics retailers should not be a credit source for their customers. It's just too problematic as to whether they will ever be paid...

Moving on to a more positive topic, I have recently been witness to an evolutionary trend in comics retailing which may well act as an offset to the difficulties of being paid for advance new comics orders. In this instance we have a set of circumstances evolving that mirror what I saw happening in Germany about 12 years ago. Specifically, German comics retailers have a problem in that most retail stores are still required to close early in the afternoon on Saturdays, and remain closed all day on Sundays. This led to the growth of a nationwide series of Sunday comics conventions, with the shows rotating through various regions on a regular basis. What this allows for is that German comics retailers can pack up either their best, or worst, merchandise on any given Saturday evening, and then drive to a one-day show in a not-so-distant city. Germany is, after all, a fairly small country, so a retailer can reach most regional conventions in under 3 hours. In many instances this means not even having to purchase a hotel room, as the retailer who took me to the one German regional that I attended simply rose at 5 AM, and then drove the couple of hours needed to be at the show on time for set up. With only fuel and table costs to cover, it was almost a certainty that the show would be a profitable endeavor.

The reason I am telling you about the German shows, is that the same trend is starting to happen here in the USA. American comics retailers are increasingly finding themselves with masses of unsold product, either as a result of more collections of back issues being sold to them than what they can retail through their own stores, or as a result of unpaid customer orders. The advent of eBay ten years ago seemed to provide an escape mechanism for disposing of these overages, but as the number of sellers on eBay has increased exponentially, online prices have become so low that most comics are not even worth the time to list. This is the point at which having a regional mini-con as an alternative sales outlet becomes incredibly important. By selling large quantities of comics and/or toys, cards, statues, etc. at any price that they can at these regional one-day shows, retailers inject much-needed working capital into their businesses, without harming their underlying businesses.

A critical aspect to this new trend is that the regional shows have to be far enough apart. They otherwise actually harm the business of the local retailers in that one area. In my recent experience, however, that is not the case. What I see happening is that retailers from Maryland and Virginia frequently attend shows in Pennsylvania, while the Pennsylvania guys set up at the shows in both Virginia and Maryland, but also in Ohio and Michigan. This constant shifting of comics from one market to another has created a fantastic dynamic in which comics fans in any given region are provided with occasional days filled with incredible deals, where even a $50 bill will conceivably allow them to fill an entire long box (300+) full of comics. And the comics offered at bargain prices at these one-day these shows are not only the usual 1990's dead titles that you would expect, but also an incredible plethora of mainstream titles. Comics retailers attending these shows quickly learn that they have, at best, five or six hours in which to cover their expenses, so they wheel and deal with an abandon which leads to unbelievable bargains!

I'm telling you about these regional one-day shows for a couple of different reasons. First, if you're a comics fan, I think that you really need to be aware that this alternative source for comics exists. As much as I think that it is important for comics fans to support their regular retailer, I also strongly believe that it is critical that we do everything that we can to keep comics collecting an affordable hobby. With new comics now regularly costing $3 - $4 for a mere 17- 20 pages of story, I believe that the entertainment cost ratio is seriously out of whack. That having been said, however, when fans can also purchase huge numbers of well-written back issues at bargain prices, the blended cost of being a serious comics collector and/or reader seems far more reasonable. My opinion has always been that happy fans will eventually purchase from everyone, so we need to do everything that we can to lower the cost of collecting for them.

My second reason for telling you about the growth in these one-day regional shows is that I think that more comics retailers need to avail themselves of this opportunity to raise cash outside of their own individual markets. I fully realize that it is a hassle to load the van, drive a couple of hours, and then only have a few hours in which to make money. That having been said, however, I see a rapidly increasing number of astute comics retailers generating large amounts of working capital at these shows from overstock that would otherwise be clogging up their back rooms. This is capitalism at it's best, with each show being a full-contact battleground where each retailer is forced to quickly adapt their prices to the current market conditions. The net result, however, is an active and vibrant marketplace in which there is great turnover of merchandise, and in which fans obtain wonderful bargains. Smart retailers also utilize these shows to restock items from their brethren that they need to service their customers in their home markets, providing yet another source of much-needed cash flow. Done right, setting up at these conventions can be a complete bonanza for smart comics retailers.

My final point about these one-day shows, is that I am showing up at an increasing number of them intending to buy back issues and overstock new comics at wholesale prices. I used to buy primarily at the big three-day and four-day shows, but I am finding that I can actually have a far greater positive impact by purchasing at smaller conventions on succeeding weekends, and then spending the week in between the shows buying from individual retailers at their stores. Not only do I avoid the high hotel costs of the big shows, but I also create long-term relationships that allow me to return to any given region over and over. During just the past 90 days I have spent about a quarter of a million dollars at these one-day shows, and my purchasing budget is growing steadily. Retailers not attending these shows are missing out on selling to me, and fans not attending these shows are missing out on deals so attractive that I can even afford them as a reseller. How much plainer could I be? These one-day shows are an incredible potential boon for you, no matter what your role is within the comics world, if you just get off your duff and take the time to attend a few of them. At the last show that I attended (Columbus, Ohio), I was simply amazed at how many smiles I saw on the faces of both fans and dealers! This is as close to the "good old days..." of comics collecting as you will ever experience.

To find a regional comics show near you, I highly recommend the calendar section of comicbookconventions.com. That's the source that most folks in the comics business use these days to set up their own schedules. Pick out a show to attend, and please visit with me there. I guarantee that you will have fun!

Please send your e-mails to chuck@milehighcomics.com, and your letters to:

Mile High Comics, Inc.
Attn: Chuck Rozanski
2151 W. 56th Ave.
Denver, CO 80221



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