The latest Brian Hibbs TILTING AT WINDMILLS got me thinking about back issues, so here we go!
Ah, the shelf copy graveyard…Say you are even willing to put the time and effort to actively stock, price, and maintain a back issue bin for what really amounts to very little return, I honestly don’t believe it is worth it nowadays. Even freshly bagged, priced fairly, and alphabetized...it isn't worth it. In my experience, these are the grounds on which I do sell back issues anymore…and why it still isn't worth it.
1) You happen to have some odd-and-end issue someone is looking for; predicting this is impossible and no reason at all to have back issues. The benefit of selling some AMAZING SPIDER-MAN once every six months doesn’t really offset the copies of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN you’re not selling, nor SUPERMAN, BATMAN, FANTASTIC FOUR…and those are the ‘live’ books that are continuing. Think about all the crap that has come out in the last year alone that has already disappeared in the collective mind, let alone in the last decade.
2) Unless you have a complete run/story of something, which someone happens to want, at the Right Price, it is going to Sit Forever. People will pass up a run of a series if you are missing one issue out of twenty five, unless you are almost giving it away, because buying it just creates for a more infuriating hunt. And really, anything anyone is looking for was probably bought at the time it came out, or someone else has already beat them to it.
3) Say you start out with a magnificient collection, from lucking out at auction, you brought in your own stuff, some long time regular doesn’t have the space anymore…you have almost no control (worthwhile) in restocking. We live in the world of MyComicShop.com, MileHighComics.com, and lest we forget Ebay. Ebay has kind of rendered back issue hunting dead as the amount of time a customer puts in to hunting down a comic or a run of a comic, from city to city, town to town, isn’t going to be worth it. It is long past time that amount of time put in isn’t worth it for the modern comic shop retaile either. Hell, even the carrot on the stick for customers of maybe finding a ‘sweet deal’ is rare, and stores are following the Overstreet.
Makes a lot more sense to just turn people onto trade paperbacks, and put money into something that you can control restock of, reorder (eliminating space problems and financial overhead), and boy do they look nice! Between Ebay and trade paperbacks, back issue bins are a waste of time. Why are they still around? Nostalgia? Well, like I said at the beginning…it’s a graveyard; a dumping ground. The shit has got to go somewhere, and you shouldn’t be putting it anywhere in your store hoping someone will not only take it away for you, but also Pay For It.
So what do you do with your shelf copies without a dumping ground? I’ve only come up with a few viable solutions from a business standpoint, but I welcome suggestions that I’m overlooking:
1)Order next to no shelf copies. Cross your fingers, and hope for the best that you’re ordering is very spot on, and you aren’t making mistakes, meaning next to no shelf copies to worry about. The problem with this is you are really restricting your growth potential with new customers who don’t know the ins and outs of your position. If you don’t have anything on the shelf, you’re not making going to be making any money. If nobody wants what you do have on offer (which has already been vultured over), consider it yours to insulate your makeshift hut and to burn for fire in the coming apocalypse!
2) If you want to keep your shelf copies, be prepared to clear them out at a ridiculous discount pretty quickly after release (3 months tops?), just to clear up space at cost. In the worst case, 25cents is better than no cents and yet another comic filling up another space in a long box. And believe me, there are comics that you cannot even give away (and yes, even the most experienced veteran comics retailer will find him or herself stuck with this special kind of dark matter).
3) Hey, Ebay can be your friend too! This can be even more of a money loser due to listing fees, but you get your stuff exposed to the most amount of people who might be looking for something you have, but happen not to live even in the same country as your store. This is probably just as much of a time consumer as actually keeping up a back issue bin, but it could be more profitable (and hey, more space in store to actually display stuff that might sell).
Oh yes, there’s also the option of giving them away to a hospital/charity too. Give them away at Free Comic Book Day (see #2). As the suggestions go on, it really is teetering very close to just throwing them into a dumpster being the best solution. Hey, grocery stores do it all the time with their product (with the benefit of writing them as off a tax beneit). Just think about those unsold HALO: UPRISING #3s as milk that’s gone rancid….right down the sink drain it goes!
I am definitely aware and admit that the back issues at the store I work at are a complete disaster...definitely something no one is proud of, and I would love to be able to deliver a selection that was easily accessible, and easy to navigate. I'll take it right on the chin on behalf of myself and the owner that it is not only a time/space/cost thing, but also a lack of ambition to get it done properly. But considering everything I've listed above...well it all seems kind of futile, doesn't it?
When I went to the Calgary Comics Expo in April, I was unsurprised that almost all the vendors had their back issues they brought along in no particular order, all at clearance of 50% or more. For myself, my reader/fan self, there isn't anything I'm looking for that would merit me spending the time to go through literally thousands of long boxes on a convention room floor looking for anything. There's something just dehumanizing at snouting your way through a long box futily, like a pig at the trough in search of some rotten cabbage and carrot ends. Even if it was all organized, I have a feeling I wouldn't find what I'm looking for.*
I wrote this up without reading up on what others have written on the matter, then decided to look on Google to see what else popped up. Mike Sterling wrote an article on this very matter, and pretty well says what I wrote. It is both heartwarming and depressing to discover how almost universal the comic store retailer experience is.
*That would be DC Comics/Piranha Press' FAST FORWARD #1