Bergen Street Comics to go subs only on Big Two monthly comics

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Bergen Street Comics owner Tom Adams made a brief Twitter announcement the other night about changing his business model for Marvel and DC periodicals to a subs-only model. Adams presented it as a business-driven change and not anything to do with politics or a “statement.”

You can read the tweets below, but based on everything I’ve seen in the last year, and especially he last few days, I’ve become more convinced than ever that the way to bring new readers to the comics medium and to broaden it beyond the usual demographics of the superhero universe is via complete graphic novels.

I’ll have a longer post on this when my travels have stopped (I’m flying home Friday, snow gods willing) but I think it is important for everyone reading about Adams’ decision to understand that there is more than one business model for comics, whether it be periodicals, or books or digital. We haven’t reached French percentages of readership yet (the best selling American GNs would sell 3-4 million copies of we did) but we’ve improved and its still growing. The economics remain precarious, but there are more outlets and more revenue streams than ever before.

Bergen Street Comics remains one of my favorite places to shop for comics; kudos to Adams for making a decision based on his own customer base.

Comments

  1. jacob lyon goddard says:

    What a great looking store.

  2. So my take-away from this: his store will have no monthly Big 2 comics on display, and no back issues. Only trades. No monthly comic casual buyers.

    However, monthly comics produced by the other companies will continue to be visible and offered for sale?

  3. The photo suggests strongly that he has very limited shelf space, much of which appears to be GNs now. I’d like to know what he stocks for floppies now.

  4. This makes perfect sense for the shop, where you walk in expecting (and largely getting) a bookstore. Then there’s a wall of out-of-place superhero comics in the back taking up valuable real estate and not looking as enticing as the center table full of beautiful hardcovers from Fantagraphics, D&Q, and everyone else. Even as a superhero reader myself, I skip them at Bergen St. because they make it so easy to discover graphic novels and mini comics I might not otherwise find at Midtown, Forbidden Planet, etc. It’s just the right move for that kind of store in that neighborhood that attracts a general audience.

  5. Heidi, his First twitter as *almost all* Big Two product, not all as your headline says. The question is really what he stocks now.

  6. @Nicolas, it’s hard to make out in the photo, but the two huge bookcases in the back that are kitty corner to each other hold all the T+ floppies, superhero or otherwise, but mostly Marvel and DC. The waist-high shelving in the front under the register holds all the kids’ floppies. There’s another bookcase in the back (not visible) for mini comics. All the other shelves and tables are graphic novels, organized by genre, not publisher.

  7. johnrobiethecat says:

    The comics medium in the US should really get over its inferiority complex to Marvel & DC and those awful movies being pumped out by Hollywood. This would change the stores perception with the public and more creators could make reliable livings, then have breathing space to make better stories.

    Show the other books more prominently and take care of your stores like these guys do. How can anybody take a place seriously that has it’s walls peppered with the Red & Green Lantern Corps and 10 Superior Spider-Man titles…Glad they are making a change. Its pretty clear Marvel & DC have just hit bottom with their creativity and marketing its way from year to year. Consumers and stores don’t have to play along if they are in an area that likes other stuff.

  8. I hope this works for him. While the vast majority of my week-by-week comic purchases are indeed big 2 titles (though really just one DC book and a bunch of Marvel), both companies just have the printing presses running non-stop, pumping out good, bad, and okay books with little regard for what it looks like to try and actually sell those to customers.

  9. As I read this again, I realize that his customers are simply not purchasing Big 2 comics off the shelf. So he is reducing the number of titles that he is displaying. And sending a signal that there are more interesting titles that deserve his customers’ dollars.
    I’m not familiar with the store or its clientele, but from the photo, it is more of a specialty shop, less of a gaming/superhero comic hangout. Thus no big posters or action figures, and no soft drink machine, ha ha.

  10. Looks like a simple matter of knowing your target customer and catering to them. No different from a vintage books dealer or a mystery specialty shop declining to stock bestsellers.

  11. Bill Cunningham says:

    As digital takes on more and more of the market, then we will have these “bookstores” which will cater to the comic book audience (just as we have specialty bookstores that cater to mystery, horror, and Scifi audiences). Floppies will go bye-bye.

    It’s not a big stretch, and it’s one of the reasons why we publish “collections” at Pulp 2.0. People want to get something big for their money.

  12. the majority of WEDNESDAY comic book readers still come in to pick up books off shelves, from what i’ve seen. i guess he doesn’t see that in his store, but i would hope all stores wouldn’t do this.

  13. If we assume that preorders account for at least half of sales (which I think is generally a safe bet), there are a *lot* of titles that appear to sell between 1-5 copies for the “average” comics store — I know that is certainly true for me…. and 1-5 rack copies is extremely difficult to be more-than-break-even with.

    I’ve toyed with the idea of making this kind of switch on those kinds of books, but my fear is that that will have a cascade effect on the titles that DO sell significantly — if a reader can’t get the “obscure”/low-selling book that they want without preordering, they may well decide to take ALL of their business elsewhere — and I think this is just as true of, dunno, BATWING as it is of, say, MINIMUM WAGE.

    I do know that at my main store we already don’t really rack the bottom 10% or so of “mainstream” comics, and we could easily drop the bottom 1/3 and *probably* not have it impact our bottom line negatively. Because, y’know, the audience has spoken as to what they want us to stock.

    I’m super-curious as to what “most” means — is he still racking, say, his top 100 best-sellers? I can’t imagine the *point* of “News Comics Day” without at least, say, 20-25 comics on the rack? And NCD is still the major driver of destination-based traffic. Casual traffic is GREAT, but it is tricksy to *depend* on.

    I suspect Tom & co will do well with whatever direction they take, however! Stores are better when they reflect a vision, IMO.

    -B

  14. Love hearing from Hibbs. Is there a new Tilting at Windmills coming?

  15. Torsten Adair says:

    I wonder if they will sell digital downloads as a way to offer readers a sample?

    I’m not surprised by this. The back issue market doesn’t really exist anymore. With inventory taxes, the manpower necessary to process and wrangle backstock, and the slim margins, it’s better to use that real estate for something more lucrative.

    Comics shops have to decide: Are they a hobby shop, offering pop culture merchandise; or a specialty bookstore selling graphic novels and related books?

    We are seeing a new breed of comics retailer. They are fans, but are savvy marketeers. They sell the usual comics and related merch, but the stores are welcoming, stylish, and successful. Isotope in San Francisco, Legends in Omaha, JHU and Bergen Street in NYC, Tates in Florida… They are retailers, not dealers.

  16. john smith says:

    ‘ if a reader can’t get the “obscure”/low-selling book that they want without preordering, they may well decide to take ALL of their business elsewhere’

    That would certainly be true in my case.

  17. Jerry Smith says:

    I think this accurately reflects the creative bankruptcy of the big two, but can the direct market, and comic shops, survive without regularly stocking Marvel and DC on their shelves? Kudos to the experiment, Tom. Please keep us informed.

  18. Torsten Adair says:

    The subscription option is a good idea.
    (When I lived in DC, and trekked to Big Planet Comics in Bethesda, I had a subscription service. But I also supplemented that with a monthly, double-spaced list of extras from Diamond Previews.)

    Here’s another idea:
    Print out the catalog pages for each monthly comic. Slide them into a plastic sleeve and display them in the store. Offer to sell a digital download (at cost, to encourage the sale and undercut the Internet) to anyone who asks.

    (Too much work, then post a sign:
    “We will download any digital comic from the past two months for you, and sell it to you at (store’s wholesale discount)!”)

    No back issue inventory. No wasted employee hours processing shipments, racking the comics, bagging and boarding unsold copies. Instant backstock. Possible paper customer when the collection is published, or they subscribe to the single issues.

  19. Dan Ahn says:

    I can definitely agree with and understand Hibbs’ idea of not stocking the bottom 5-10% of Big Two titles and making them sub-only. It just isn’t worth the headache and at a certain point it’s like you’re just buying a copy to say that the store has it, when it will just sit there unsold.

    And I can also sympathize with Bergen Street’s criticism of how often Marvel switches artists. Aside from like 3-4 titles, there is absolutely no consistency there whatsoever in the art departments. It’s a free-for-all, which makes it incredibly tough to know how sales on various titles will be affected once there’s a sudden art change every 4-6 months.

    But I can’t see this across-the-board “No Big Two comics on the shelf!” policy being a good idea. When a big new series like Superman Unchained or Uncanny Avengers comes out — what, you’re relying on anyone who might want the series from the get-go to do the extra work of telling you to order a copy for them 3 months beforehand? In my experience, a large amount of new series are purchased on a whim; the reader thinks about it and then sporadically decides to buy a copy once s/he sees it on the shelf. If I had to commit in advance to buying new Big Two titles, I never would have jumped on Hawkeye, Soule’s Swamp Thing, Remender’s X-Force, or much of anything else, really.

    By going sub-only you also pretty much ensure that all the copies you sell will be committed to in the first week. What if someone was unsure about Superior Foes of Spider-Man but kept hearing good things about it and by the time the third issue is out they’re up for buying #1-3 all off the shelf? Critical hit titles like that rely on purchases like that to sustain themselves. It’s exactly why Hawkeye succeeded.

    Maybe for certain shops the Big Two sub-only model could work, but I think it’d mainly be a case of management not wanting to go through the work of estimating orders. There’s no doubt that DC and especially Marvel have made that process more of a guessing game in recent years, but I still think that a retailer is shooting themselves in the foot if they don’t have shelf copies of #1 and #2 issues.

  20. Jerric says:

    I would trust a business owner to know his own customers and base his decisions on their perceived desires.

    However, I find it odd to exclude any example of an art form from a retail store where your very name leads to a perception of inclusion. Retail space has a way of compromising this, of course, but to not have the very best of all aspects of the advertised form seems silly.

  21. >> Retail space has a way of compromising this, of course, but to not have the very best of all aspects of the advertised form seems silly.>>

    Buying non-returnable copies that don’t sell is also silly, and more directly measurable than the idea that most Marvel and DC copies are the very best that the form has to offer.

    I’d assume from his statements that most of the people buying Marvel and DC books from him buy them through pull lists, but of the copies that actually get put out on the shelf, few of them sell and he winds up eating a bunch of unsold copies. The stuff he’ll continue to rack will be the stuff that sells off the shelves, be it Marvel, DC, Image, Dark Horse, Boom, whatever.

    Nobody blinks if a retailer doesn’t carry everything Image or Dark Horse put out — they just carry what works for their customers, as figure out through trial, error and experience. Used to be, a comics store would be assumed to carry at least one copy of every periodical from Marvel and DC, but that was at a time that Marvel and DC sold at a much higher level than any other company.

    Times are changing. If low-level Marvel books aren’t moving, why should they get treatment that low-level Image books don’t? If his Marvel/DC customers know what they want, to the point that they’re adding it to their pull lists, then he’s serving the market for those books. Ordering extras that don’t sell isn’t good business. [On the flip side, not having copies that would sell isn't either, so that's where the trial and error comes in. But it applies to Marvel and DC as surely as it applies to other publishers.]

    kdb

  22. My shop in Boston, Comicopia, is run by a guy who has a mathematics degree from MIT. When he has attempted to explain to me how the Marvel and DC variant incentives and discounts and whatnot work, it gives me such a headache– it sounds like you would HAVE to have a math degree from MIT in order to turn a profit on their books sometimes. I don’t blame any shop wanting to cut out that nonsense from their business model.

    And I’ve been to Bergen Street a couple of times, and this makes perfect sense for them. It’s not even like they’re the only mostly-indie shop in Brooklyn, lest we forget Desert Island.

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