Random Online Search of Comics Shops Shows Opportunities for Exploitation, Dominance

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Ever since Diamond announced their Diamond Digital initiative, allowing comics shops to sell digital comics to customers, I’ve  been wondering about the future of comics retailing, specifically, How well do comics shops market their stores online?

I’ve  been a bookseller since 1994, and I’ve seen how the Internet has affected traditional brick-and-mortar retailing.  Books have a more tactile experience than music, and the demise of bookstores has taken a bit longer than that of music and video stores.  But there are many consumers who appreciate function over form, getting information from whichever source is easiest and/or cheapest.  I still read comics and books, but most of my news is read via Google.

Since 2009 , the comics industry has seen a big growth in digital comics sales.  Comics shops, dependent on the weekly sales of comic books, expressed concern and trepidation as publishers began offering titles online the same day as print copies. Would they see customers shift online, abandoning stores in a similar fashion to the music industry?  Could they compete with online retailers offering both digital comics as well as discounted books and other merchandise?

Publishers were quick to placate the retailers, and both Comixology and Diamond Comics Distributors created initiatives allowing stores to sell digital comics, either in the store, or via a store’s website.  (Comixology began as an information resource for fans, and created retailer tools for store in 2009.)

So, how robust are comic shop websites?  Do shops have a presence online, and to what extent?  Does a store sell store product online, like Amazon?  Do they sell digital comics?

Speculation is that there are about 3,000 comics retailers in the United States.  The exact number will probably never be known, although I’m sure someone could filter Google map results to estimate a number.

Even then, that would take too much time to analyze each site, so I’ve done a random sample.

Methodolgy

The national Zip code system used by the United States Postal Service is geographical, as seen in the map below.ZIP Code zones 300x205 Random Online Search of Comics Shops Shows Opportunities for Exploitation, Dominance

Using a random-number-generator, I generated a selection of five-digit numbers, which I used as zip codes.

I then plugged each number into the Comics Shop Locator Service.  Sometimes, the zip code didn’t officially exist; sometimes it found a site elsewhere on the planet, such as the Canary Islands; or it returned a default result of two mail-order shops, one in Manitoba, one in Indiana.

I generated codes and searched them until I found a valid result for each region, so that examples would be geographically diverse.  It should  be noted that zip codes are created to serve distinct communities, as well as specific locales with a large amount of mail.  There will be a tendency for a random zip code to be located near or in a metropolitan area.  For example, New York City has been assigned all zip codes which fall under the following prefixes: 100, 101, 102, 103, 104, 111, 112, 113, 114.  That’s almost 1% of all possible zip codes, and most likely, more than that, as many numbers remain unassigned nationally, and New York City has many buildings and blocks with specialized zip codes.

Surprisingly, only two of the ten random zip codes resulted in metropolitan cities: New York City and Dallas, with a third suburban zip code overlapping with nearby Denver stores.  The rest were either small cities, like Fresno; or regional areas, like southwestern Michigan.

What I found:

  • The CSLS has a limit of six results.  Results ranged from 1 to 6.  {1,2,2,2,2,6,6,6,6,6}
  • Four zip codes generated listings with duplicate store listings for chains.
  • There were thirty-three distinct stores, with six duplicates which were ignored, as chain stores would all share the same website.
  • Sites ran the gamut from simple webdesign hosted on commercial domains to robust, professional, online retail sites, some of which had a URL different than that of the store’s name.
  • Few stores offer digital comics for sale online.  Those which do use Comixology.  The professional retail websites did not offer digital downloads, although Diamond Digital does offer an API for robust e-commerce websites.
  • Nine of the thirty-three stores had no website.  Twenty-two had profiles on the Comics Shop Locator Service.
  • Three stores (Lone Star, Midtown, Mile High) had excellent e-commerce websites, although none of those three seemed to sell digital comics.

My Conclusions:

toomuchchow 230x300 Random Online Search of Comics Shops Shows Opportunities for Exploitation, Dominance

Reader of “Tales of the Beanworld know what happened to that big pile of Chow. Who, or what, lies in wait in der Stinkle of the Internet?

  • Blockbuster came to prominence in the 1980s by buying up regional video store chains.  A pop-culture store, similar to Newbury comics, could be viable, especially when supported by robust computer systems and a centralized warehouse.  (Local store sold out of a comic?  Transfer a copy from the warehouse, or from a nearby store!)  The warehouse would also power the website.
  • Or, physical stores are minimized, and a highly-visible website is created.
  • People are not afraid of digital comics, or critical of the “rental” model currently used.  Many readers either do not live near a comics shop, or do not want to be bothered with the clutter of back issues.
  • Comics are now mainstream.  There are many lapsed comics readers out there, and many recreational readers who occasionally read a comic or graphic novel.
  • There is no “iTunes” store for comics, at least in the mind of the general consumer.  Both the Kindle and Nook e-readers offer digital comics, as well as sell actual graphic novels and other merchandise.  Digital music sales were not commonplace until Apple opened their iTunes store.  Apple or Amazon could easily create a national comics shop selling paper and digital comics online.  (Amazon already dominates online retailing, and could subsidize the new store.  Comics by mail-order is nothing new, and Amazon is adept at shipping books with strict-on-sale dates so that they arrive on a specific date.)
  • The Diamond Digital API allows stores to sell digital comics via their websites.  A store could easily do what Amazon does with their e-books, selling titles either at a loss, or at a minimal profit.

The results:

(Random zip code, actual location of zip code, results)

—-

06081  Tariffville, CT  6 stores


MOST EXCELLENT COMICS
920 Enfield St
Enfield, CT, 06082
(860) 253-9277
MATT’S SPORTSCARDS & COMICS
169 Elm Street
Enfield, CT, 06082
(860) 741-2522
The store URL directs to the “Camp Anime 2013” page.  Cool idea, but no link to the store info.
NEWBURY COMICS
194 Buckland Hills Dr
Manchester, CT, 06040
(860) 648-2411
Chain with 28 locations in New England.
Strong retail site, does not sell comics or books online, presence in stores is minimal.
EYE OPENER
15 Center Court
Newington, CT, 06111
(860) 666-5862
A very basic webdesign, hosted on a free website, with pop-up ads.
“Copyright © 2002 The Eye Opener Cards and Comics
Last modified: September 29, 2004”
OMNI COMICS & CARDS
681 Silas Deane Highway
Wethersfield, CT, 06109
(860) 571-0138
NO WEBSITE
BOB’S HOBBIES & COLLECTIBLES
659 Dickinson Street
Springfield, MA, 01108
(413) 781-2627
NO WEBSITE

10199  New York, NY  6 stores (1 duplicate)

(general post office, Penn Station)
JIM HANLEY’S UNIVERSE
4 West 33Rd Street
Opposite The Empire State Building
New York, NY, 10001
(212) 268-7088
Digital comics available via Comixology.
No online retail, but mail order is offered.
MIDTOWN COMICS TIMES SQUARE
200 West 40Th Street
Corner Of 7Th Ave, 2Nd Floor
New York, NY, 10018
(212) 302-8192
VERY STRONG RETAIL WEBSITE
iPhone app
Everything but digital comics?
MANHATTAN COMICS & MORE
10 East 23rd Street
2nd Floor
New York, NY, 10010
(212) 460-5322
Uses Comixology pulllist to feature comics.
Digital store powered by Comixology.
FORBIDDEN PLANET
832 Broadway
New York, NY, 10003
(212) 473-1576
http://www.comicshoplocator.com/StoreProfile/1931
VERY STRONG RETAIL WEBSITE
No digital comics?
ST. MARK’S COMICS
11 St. Mark’s Place
New York, NY, 10003
(212) 598-9439
“Under construction! More content coming soon! ”

25920  Slab Fork, WV  2 stores (1 duplicate)

LOST LEGION GAMES & COMICS / THE CASTLE
406 2nd Street
Beckley, WV, 25801
(304) 253-1974
Chain of four stores in West Virginia.
Basic website.  Has a customer survey!

37642  Church Hill, TN 37642  6 stores (2 duplicates)

DEWAYNE’S WORLD COMICS & GAMES
459 E. Sullivan Street
Kingsport, TN, 37660
(423) 247-8997
Website hosted by Comixology
No retail component.
G2K GAMES 007
2633 East Stone Drive
Suite C
Kingsport, TN, 37660
(423) 230-4263
10 store chain
No retail component.
GREENEVILLE COMICS AND COLLECTIBLES
360 East Andrew Johnson Hwy
Greeneville, TN, 37745
(423) 638-6332
NO WEBSITE   Facebook
MEC COMICS III
1210 N Roan Street
Johnson City, TN, 37601
(423) 929-8245

Website blocked at work.

This site seems to have lapsed, and been acquired by another business, as the links on the front page direct to random online retailers.  The WhoIs data shows it located in Australia.

49066  Leonidas, MI  2 stores

DISCOUNT HOBBY
5700 Beckley Road Suite E20c
Battle Creek, MI, 49015
(269) 979-2262
Lapsed website acquired by another company?
FANFARE SPORTS & ENTERTAINMENT, INC.
4415 S Westnedge Ave.
Kalamazoo, MI, 49008
(269) 349-8866
Original art for sale!
Retail website powered by TheRetailerPlace.com]
Online digital comics sales powered via Comixology.

55060  Owatonna, MN  1 Store

LEGACY COMICS AND GAMES
1301 18th Ave NW
Austin, MN, 55912
(502) 320-4263
NO WEBSITE

61337  Malden, IL  2 stores

METROPOLIS COMICS
821 First Street
La Salle, IL, 61301
(815) 223-9433
NO WEBSITE
PAPER ESCAPE
205 West 1St Street
Dixon, IL, 61021
(815) 284-7567
No retail component.

75355  Dallas, TX  6 stores

AWESOME COMICS
8420 Abrams Rd Ste 202
Dallas, TX, 75243
(214) 341-7033
No retail component.
Website hosts web comics!
LONE STAR COMICS – GAMES – GIFTS
6780 Abrams Rd Suite 109
Dallas, TX, 75231
(214) 553-2555

 

http://www.comicshoplocator.com/StoreProfile/2086

 

A robust retail website.
Five store chain
No digital comics sold online.
THE COMIC ASYLUM
905 N Jupiter Rd Suite 170
Richardson, TX, 75081
(972) 231-8939
The website sells Magic cards.
COMIC BOOK CRAZE
1456 Belt Line Road Suite #121
Garland, TX, 75044
(972) 414-8100

 

http://www.comicshoplocator.com/StoreProfile/2734

 

Lot of news!
No retail component.
C-BAM!
1425 W. Buckingham Rd.
Garland, TX, 75040
(972) 495-4400
Website URL did not work.  WhoIs data confirms store.
KEITH’S COMICS
5400 E. Mockingbird Ln. #120
Dallas, TX, 75206
(214) 827-3060
Digital comics powered by Comixology.
Online retail store powered by TheRetailerPlace.com.]

80041  Aurora, CO 6 stores (2 duplicates)

ALL C’S COLLECTIBLES INC
1250 S. Abilene St.
Aurora, CO, 80012
(303) 751-6882
Site contains a link to eBay store.
Business is a collectibles store.
MILE HIGH COMICS – GLENDALE
760 S Colorado Blvd
Unit J
Glendale, CO, 80222
(303) 691-2212
ROBUST website
No digital comics for sale
ALL IN A DREAM
2901 East Colfax
Denver, CO, 80206
(303) 333-8616
NO WEBSITE
Yikes… Yelp and Google reviews!
BARTERTOWN COMICS
800 Englewood Pkwy
Ste C-106
Englewood, CO, 80110
(303) 761-1440
Store address from the CSLS did not return a Google search hit.
There is an online store, however, the latest DC issue for sale is #8.  No “new comics” lists since August 22, 2012

93772  Fresno, CA  2 stores

COLLECTIBLES ZONE
3602 N Blackstone Avenue
Suite 130
Fresno, CA, 93726
(559) 222-4799

 

http://www.comicshoplocator.com/StoreProfile/2682

 

NO WEBSITE    Facebook [which lists NINE competing businesses!]
HEROES COMICS
110 E.Shaw
Fresno, CA, 93710
(559) 229-4376
No retail
Sparse webdesign

Comments

  1. Craig Duster says:

    This is a really interesting article. I was surprised to see my local comic shop on this list too (I live in SE Denver, next door to Aurora). One comment though, Mile Comics sucks and the two best stores in and around Denver include I Want More Comics in Westminster or Time Warp in Boulder. Both are worth the drive!

  2. Nice. I’m sure some enterprising person will write a program to search the CSLS for all active zip-codes and do a more comprehensive report. Hopefully he won’t be working for a company like the one proposed.

    Typo alert: in the Beanworld caption it should be “ReaderS” instead of “Reader,” unless I’m the only one left.

  3. Perhaps a larger established chain could adopt a comics shop element to their model, like Toys R Us. They have the real estate to do so and could adopt a “20-something man-child” sub-vibe to their stores sort of like the re branding McDonalds has enacted recently. They have been having a tough time with online and incorporating a digital distribution model into its site would be a way for it to distinguish its self from the competition.

  4. Torsten Adair says:

    I wonder why more comics shops don’t sell digital comics online.
    Or use Comixology’s (or Diamond’s) data for new release pages.
    Or use Comixology’s webtools for retailers. ($80 a month, max.)

    Or why Diamond doesn’t act as an online fulfillment center for store websites.
    A store places a custom facade on the online store. Diamond processes all of the data, inventory, processing, shipping. Stores set the prices they charge, the titles they wish to sell (or not sell).
    Customers could have an item shipped to a store, or delivered to an address.
    A store could even run a subscription service (although stores would prefer customers visit the shop). Maybe they offer a discount or special incentive for customers to pick up the comics at the store…

    Diamond moves more product.
    Stores sell more product with minimal risk.
    Stores compete online with everyone else.
    Minimal cost and maintenance for the comics shop. (Automated website.)
    Stores discover new product lines to sell in store.
    Stores can use their website as a customer service tool, just like the big box stores! (“Here… let me check if we can order that for you…”)

    Geez… this could have been done fifteen years ago! 1997, to be exact.

  5. The comic shops in my region are not known for pushing the envelope, or thinking outside the (long) box. They are catalogue centres, with a few sad copies of the top ten comics on the shelf. I would not expect more of them. Frankly, I am usually ahead of them in knowing what’s coming out.

    Sad indeed, when a customer is your advisor but walks away unappreciated for his donations.

    Stores run by managers with vision will find a way to make a living from comics and other products, whether they are bought or rented.

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