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Comic book shops could use a caped hero to boost sales, stability

Hit movies don't help as much as observers think
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Posted at 12:00 PM, Nov 10, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-10 12:00:07-05

CINCINNATI -- Sandwiched between a superhero movie release last weekend, “Doctor Strange,” and a superhero theme night at the Cyclones game, you’d think there wouldn’t be a better time to own a comic book shop, right?

Maybe.

"Movies don’t help nearly as much as people think," said Rick Brooks, co-owner of Rockin Rooster on Glenway Avenue. “If moviemakers relied solely on comic book fans to go, they wouldn’t make any money."

Indeed, Steve Struharik, the owner of Arcadian Comics and Games in Newport, said that although the number of books has increased in recent years, that’s not translating into success for shop owners.

"What we’re seeing is that publishers balloon their products, but don’t take sales into account," he said. "Someone who spends $20 a week on comics isn’t going to spend $40 a week just because the companies are putting out 10 new titles."

One problem in the economics of comic book stores: Publishers such as DC and Marvel are accelerating the pace of their releases, yet consumers don’t necessarily increase their spending. (Photo provided)

"The biggest problem we’re having is, we used to have one big week per month for orders. Now, DC is doing books every other week. Marvel is doing the same with toys, with multiple releases every year," he said. "I’m getting all this stuff, and it’s not moving."

On Oct. 13, Struharik posted the following message on Facebook:

This was following comic book expos in September in both Covington and Cincinnati. The competing shows were not what could be deemed a success for the shop, and they left it with an excess of product -- a large quantity of new titles coming out and needing shelf space every week.

Arcadian’s S.O.S. was seen by Gail Simone, who has worked on such notable comics as Deadpool, Wonder Woman and Action Comics. She shared the info on her Twitter feed, leading to the best Wednesday, or new release day, Arcadian has had in some time.

Still, the industry is in such a state that Struharik said he’s not sure what to expect from one week to the next.

"This industry is ever-changing -- you can’t sleep on it, you can’t predict it," he said. "There are so many titles now, we don’t know what we’re going to sell. It’s like the stock market -- you make decisions based on the information you have, then make guesses."

Indeed, even standby heroes who used to sell books have changed in recent years -- and may be changing again.

"It used to be Wolverine with Marvel and Batman with DC as the most popular characters," said Brooks. "Harley Quinn and Deadpool have been two very popular characters, but people aren’t picking up as many titles for those characters as they used to."

There are different approaches to how to drum up more business and compete with the ever-growing digital comic presence.

"Marvel, in part, has been going to digital releases, and that’s digging into retail sales a bit," Brooks said.

Struharik is offering a grab bag of comics for readers, where a customer can give an amount they wants to spend and the name of a couple titles they have enjoyed in the past, and the Arcadian staff will pick out books for them. They will also have a shop-exclusive cover for Jim Henson’s Storyteller Giants, to be released on Dec. 7.

"We run our store like a record shop," he said. "We want people to come in and engage us."

“If you come in, we get to know you, and we can make recommendations,” said Katie Penn, who works at Arcadian. That’s actually how she got back into collecting books, and then into working at the store. “If you have a favorite TV show, we can probably find a comic you’d like.”

"For a lot of people, they’re intimidated, especially with Marvel, where they do big crossovers, because people don’t want to have to buy every book," she said. "But there are so many good independent titles out there. Image Comics is all creator-owned, with original stories and characters. Vertigo Comics have finite runs, so you don’t have to buy 100 issues."

All three mentioned SAGA, which depicts the struggles of two members of warring extraterrestrial races attempting to raise their newborn daughter.

Brooks said at his location a significant percentage of his business comes from game sales – he estimated it to be an equal amount of his business as the comics.

"All the games we sell are games you can play when the power is out and the batteries are dead," he said. “We sell a lot of family-friendly games that are quick to play and easy to learn."

Indeed, Rockin Rooster has two game rooms that host tabletop and card games up to four days a week and are open to casual games when not otherwise booked.

"It has to be better for kids’ eyes than video games," Brooks said.