Everything is About Price, Price, Price

About a decade ago, long before I began taking medication for my bi-polar condition, I let Capital City Distributing co-founder John Davis read a scathing editorial I wrote. John read through my column with his bushy eyebrows arched the entire time, then turned to me, and said "Gee Chuck, have you ever considered switching to decaf?" John woke me up with that very honest comment to the fact that sometimes (just sometimes...) that I might consider being a little more diplomatic in expressing my opinions. John was, of course, quite right. If I remember correctly, that particular column was directed against the Perelman management team at Marvel. While I take pride in the fact that I was subsequently banned from the Marvel offices for a couple of years by Terry Stewart (Marvel staffers were not even allowed to speak with me during that time without his direct permission...), in retrospect I have to wonder if perhaps I might not have accomplished more to mitigate the idiocies inflicted upon the comics industry by that pernicious group if I would have worked harder to criticize them in a manner that still would have allowed me to stay a part of the process.

I mention that particular incident because I am fully cognizant that my last column arched more than a few eyebrows. In publicly stating that I believe that I have the ability to start an industry wide price war in back issue comics, and that the resulting consequences might have severe negative impacts on the future value of back issues, I took the velvet glove off for just a minute, and expressed a not-so-pleasant possibility. I'm sure that my comments generated more than a few skeptical thoughts, and my doubters might well be correct. Maybe my ten million comics, and access to 250,000 consumers, isn't really enough to impact a market that is currently estimated to be $250 million+ per year. On the other hand, is there anyone out there that really wants me to test my hypothesis?

What this all goes back to is the old saw of "Be careful about what you ask for...". Maybe, just maybe, it's not such a bad thing to have a company in the comics industry that provides great service and selection, but charges higher prices as a result. It certainly makes us an easy target for scathing criticism from those who want to exhibit their sparkling wit with the old (very old...) "Mile High Prices!" cliché. In the end, however, those clever witticisms mean nothing at all as long as I don't react to them, and alter our basic operating strategy. That is something I have no intention of doing.

As far as I'm concerned, the key element in this entire discussion of pricing is the underlying personal philosophy of each individual who buys back issue comics. I am well aware that there are huge numbers of people in America who give not a whit whether the institutions around them survive their own lifetime. For them "Lowest Prices, Always!" is the perfect come-on. They either don't know, or don't care, that their personal purchasing decisions might lead to lower wages not only for the staff of the retailer they choose to support, but also lower wages for those who actually manufacture the goods that they purchase. Nor do they consider the relative environmental impact of their purchasing, or the potential social implications of having only a very limited number of large retailers left surviving in the marketplace. For these people, everything is about price, price, price, and me, me, me.

That having been said, I personally love to get a bargain. I shop assiduously, and my wife and four daughters are the terrors of the bargains racks. We're not going to piddle our hard-earned money away if we don't have to. On the other side of the equation, we make it a point to support as many local merchants as we can, and we avoid like the plague multi-nationals whom we consider to be poor citizens. We also produce tons of organic food each year from the immense quantities of tree leaves that we compost on our farm, and support both charitable and environmental causes. I mention this not to try and aggrandize our own behavior, but simply to point out that there is life beyond only hunting for bargains. As an example, while we grow an astounding amount of produce on our farm (and charge pretty darn high prices at the Farmer's Market), we've lost money farming almost every year. That really doesn't matter, however, as the real reward to us comes from knowing that we're providing the people of Boulder, many of whom have become personal friends, with very high-quality locally grown produce, with no chemical inputs. What I'm saying is that it is possible (at least for us) to gain a great reward for positive actions with absolutely no financial compensation involved. While having enough income to live comfortably is a critical goal that I would hope that everyone could achieve, once you surpass your basic needs, not everything in life has to be about money, money, and more money. Sometimes it can be quite rewarding just to do the right thing.

The net result of this long, and totally preachy, discussion is that I am not going to cut my staff's wages, nor browbeat our suppliers into accepting lower prices, just so that I can in turn lower the prices of the back issue comics that we list on our website. I am an ardent believer in capitalism, but I will not take the application of that economic system to what I feel are ugly extremes. When I have the opportunity, I will have prices on our site that are as low, or lower, than any other retailer in the back issue comics marketplace, but that is not my foremost goal. As I mentioned in a column about a year ago, I think that there are ways to practice enlightened capitalism, carefully balancing of the needs of all the participants in the process, so no one group's needs end up denying to the rest the benefits they deserve. There are more than enough other back issue comics suppliers in the marketplace who are very willing to underpay their staff (or themselves...), and prey upon their suppliers. After giving the subject a great deal of thought, I think I'll leave the market for "Lowest Prices, Always!" to them.

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

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