Right from the beginning of this week's column, I want to state for the record that the Internet has
totally changed my life. In late 1996, Mile High Comics, the company that I founded as a young teen
in 1969, was facing a severe cash crunch. Sales at our retail stores were stagnant, while our back
issue comics mail order catalog business was slowly eroding away. This was not surprising,
considering that the entire comics industry lost over 50% of its total sales volume during those
dreadful years between 1993-1997. While we had beaten the industry numbers by quite a bit, and
managed to keep our sales levels at over 80% of the boom years of 1992 and 1993, our operating
costs had risen steadily. As a result, we were hemorrhaging cash during 1996 at the rate of nearly
$1,000 per day. By the end of the year, it was clear that our cash reserves were just about depleted.
Without a doubt, if Mile High Comics was going to survive, a radical restructuring of the business
I began by meeting with our commercial bankers, and explaining my plans to them. I promised them that
I would begin by cutting costs dramatically. This included eliminating 18 staff positions, one of the
most painful experiences of my life. This move was an absolute necessity, however, if I was going to
have enough working capital to be able to implement the second part of my plan, which was transforming
Mile High Comics into an online retailer. While this sounds like a fairly mundane proposition today,
it was quite radical in the winter of 1996. At that time, Amazon.com had only been pioneering online
sales for a couple of years, and there were many naysayers who believed that the Internet was just a
temporary fad. I had some doubts about the Internet's long-term survival, too, but with only an
estimated 45 days of cash left, I simply had no choice. Either I took the risk of becoming an online
company, or I faced the certainty of oblivion.
I am being very candid about this time in the history of Mile High Comics because I see some very
clear parallels with the current state of the new comics business. As I mentioned in
TFTDB #54 (three
weeks ago), most new comics publishers are currently seeing unit sales declines in their new issues,
and are being forced to continually raise cover prices in order to justify smaller and smaller print
runs. These higher cover prices are then aggravating the problem by alienating even more of their
fan base, thus leading to even fewer sales. I see this spiral of decline as being very similar to
what I faced in 1996.
My answer to this dilemma was transform Mile High Comics into
www.milehighcomics.com. That part of
the story is pretty obvious for anyone who's seen our ads, or browsed our site. What is not obvious
is that in late 1997, after experimenting for a year and constructing part of our website, I
completely altered our corporate mission. Up to that time, we considered ourselves to be a retail
comic book company with physical stores, a mail order subscription company, and a back issue mail
order division. What I asked from my staff at that time was a reorientation of all of our internal
perceptions of Mile High Comics. I wanted Mile High Comics to be first and foremost an online company,
with our other operations to be considered to be peripheral to that online core.
I don't think that most of my staff really understood the seriousness of what I was proposing,
until the spring of 1998. It was at that time that I made the decision to completely eliminate
our mail order catalogs. This was an exceptionally radical move at the time, as we were still
receiving 60% of our back issue gross revenues from our printed catalogs. The fact remained, however,
that every catalog we printed was losing money. So, in spite of many internal doubts, and some very
bitter denunciations on the part of some of our longtime mail orders customers who didn't have online
access, we began the era of relying completely on online sales. At that same time we also started
answering the phones milehighcomics.com. These changes, coupled with endless proselytizing on my
part, gradually changed us into an online company.
To be continued...
Please send your e-mails to
your letters to:
Mile High Comics, Inc.
Attn: Chuck Rozanski
2151 W. 56th Ave.
Denver, CO 80221