In Reality, Most Comics Retailers Barely Get By

I left off last week's column with a distasteful paraphrased quote from a major comics retailer of the 1980's and 1990's who cared so little for the long term survival of the world of comics, that he was willing to advocate a major policy change on the part of Marvel Comics in 1996 (restarting all their titles with #1) that he knew would have severe negative long-term implications on the comics industry. All this sad little man cared about was making a quick buck, regardless of how it would hurt our mutual world. Six years later, despite repeated million-dollar working capital infusions from his wealthy family, this retailer was finally forced out of the comics biz, and hopefully will never be in our world again.

The reason I mention this retailer is because I believe that he epitomized all that was wrong with the comics boom of the 1980's and 1990's. He entered the world of comics with an agenda, and it was completely self-serving. Sadly, he was a representative example of the majority of retailers who were lured into selling comics during that period of very rapid growth. During that time, the word got around that you could get started in comics retailing with almost no working capital, and that there were potentially obscene profits to be made speculating in new issues. With that thought in mind, all manner of folks came flocking to the comics "gold rush." By 1992, it seemed that there was a comics and/or baseball card store in almost every strip shopping center in America.

One person who recognized the very weak nature of the comics retailing community was Carol Kalish, the head of the Direct Market department at Marvel Comics. Carol and I frequently didn't get along, but I always respected her passion for comics, and her remarkable intellect. Before she passed away, quite suddenly in 1989, Carol did much to solidify the distribution and retailing of comics throughout America. The one quote of hers that still sticks in my head is "Most comics retailers today (about 1985) have no greater goal in running their store than to ultimately be able to afford a wide-screen TV." While that paraphrased quote is both caustic and cynical, it did accurately depict the sad state of comics retailing. None of us had much working capital in those early days, but it was an even fewer number of us who possessed any measure of vision or concern about the future of the comics industry.

I mention all this not-so-pleasant past history because all indications are that the comics industry is back on the upswing. Bill Rosemann from Marvel is reporting steady double-digit gains in advance orders for upcoming new comics, and trade paperback sales are apparently rising even more rapidly. My concern is that some of you might hear of this revival, and decide that now is the time to leave your dead-end job, and instead follow the path of riches into becoming a comics retailer. If you do consider that career change, I would strongly urge you to first question your motivations. In reality, most comics retailers barely get by. They sell comics for love, not money. If you think that selling comics is a path to riches, think again. There is money to be made selling comics, but it's a long, slow haul to gradually build up a steady clientele, and to learn how to avoid the numerous financial pitfalls which caused over 6,000 comics retailers to go out of business between 1990-1998. Personal bankruptcy is not fun.

Returning to the central concept upon which my past couple of columns have been based, your best chance of survival in comics retailing (or any other kind of business for that matter...) is to be constantly aware of the total interdependence between you and your context. If you chose to enter the world of comics as a retailer, be sure that you always keep in the forefront of your mind that you are taking on a responsibility to help safeguard the continued publishing of comics. That means promoting all comics (not just the ones you like), and always recognizing that you are a representative of the industry to all the fans whom you serve.

Recognize, too, that your success is predicated upon the trust and faith that your customers and your suppliers place in you. Work hard to be sure that you create value for them, and that you take their concerns into account before taking any action. This is not to say that you shouldn't also strive to achieve the greatest measure of personal success, but rather that you should endeavor to also help others succeed in reaching their goals whenever possible. Make yourself as valuable as you can to those around you, and you will never want for opportunities. Even when things are not going all that well.

That's it for my columns on my personal philosophy of Counter Culture capitalism. Maybe my beliefs won't work for everyone, or in every context, but I believe they are the number one reason why I've been successful in business. Yes, I did score the most valuable comics collection of all time, but as our erstwhile fellow retailer clearly showed us, simply having millions in working capital cannot guarantee success. Speaking as an immigrant to America, I can guarantee you that the American Dream is alive and well. It takes a willingness to perform hard work, however, and a positive attitude. Follow that path, and your dreams may yet come true.

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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