“Fewer Books, Better Books, Cheaper Books!” – Florida Retailer Talks Marvel Comics

Posted by February 21, 2017 Comment

Rick Shea of Famous Faces & Funnies in West Melbourne, Florida, writes,

After reading Marvel’s out of touch comments aimed at retailers at ComicsPRO blaming DC for the problems currently facing the comics industry, I felt like I needed to chime in with my store’s experiences over these last few years, and especially these last few months.

My name is Rick Shea and I own a comic store. I have been selling comics for over 23 years at Famous Faces & Funnies in West Melbourne, Florida.  I love my job and 98% of the people that I deal with in this industry. I work about 80 hours a week, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything, as I love almost every second of it. We have evolved into a 11,000 sq ft pop culture headquarters carrying thousands of comics, graphic novels, toys, Pops, statues, shirts, merchandise, games and much more. I couldn’t be more proud of my incredible staff and what we’ve built up over the years. We have over 200,000 comics in back issues and overstock, and over 30,000 graphic novels in our store.  We don’t aim to sell out of most comics, but we try to only have a copy or two left a few months down the road.  That way, we know we didn’t miss a chance to sell 5 or 10 more copies, but we didn’t get stuck with 20 copies either.  Currently, we still have at least a few copies left of 95% of what DC and Marvel have released the last year still on our shelves, and mostly at cover price.  It’s just our business model that works for us, and it’s not uncommon for someone to pick up Batman 1 through 10 or Jessica Jones 1-5 all at once because we have them all still on our shelves at cover price. It’s not a business model that would work for all stores, but it works for us. We’ve been doing this a long time and I think we have a little more room in our budget than most comic stores at this point towards ordering what we think we can sell and not over ordering to chase variants or anything else that’s a short term money grab. Although we sell a lot of toys, Pops, and merchandise, comics and graphic novels are our main business and over 50% of our total sales. For February so far, comics and TPBs make up 63% of our sales. In January, we did over 65% of our sales in comics. I think it’s safe to say we’re a store that specializes in comic books. We don’t touch CGC and we don’t have a lot of key issues for sale, although we do offer a rarely used money back guarantee on every comic or TPB we push. We are a reader’s store more than a collector’s store.

I’ll be the first to admit that DC struck out with Convergence and although they had some critical acclaim with DC You, it wasn’t exactly a sales hit as they attempted to “Batgirl” a large portion of their line.  After almost 5 years, the shine had worn off the New 52, although our sales there were still alright, they were not amazing.  With DC Rebirth, DC listened to fans and retailers (who had some valid complaints) to help bring back the lapsed fans, and to bring some new fans into the industry as well!  I ordered very aggressively on the DC Universe Rebirth one-shot, and sold over 350 copies of it, making it my bestselling super-hero book in years, by a significant margin. We did sell over 400 copies of Paper Girls #1, but other than that, DC Rebirth #1 was my bestselling title in over 5 years!  A big part of this was DC running some TV advertising, running ads in unconventional places, like the middle of the MegaCon booklet.  This got out to the tens of thousands of people that showed up to get Stan Lee or Norman Reedus‘ autograph, but most hadn’t bought a comic in years, until they came to our booth dozens of time asking if we still had any DC Rebirth one shot, as it debuted last year’s MegaCon weekend at the end of May.  We brought a handful and shot through our 20 copies at the show within a day and then had dozens more requests. Needless to say, Rebirth was off to a good start.  We did incredibly well selling several copies of that at our Rebirth Midnight event, and we sold copies to the dozens of people that joined us for our most successful midnight launch in years.

I noticed that one retailer did some quick and incorrect math to tell you that Rebirth was making him LESS money than he was before the relaunch, but that’s the wonder of this industry. Every store does things differently and some are certainly more successful than others. If you look at the correct math on his own numbers, his own argument was incorrect and he’s actually making MORE money with DC Rebirth and their $2.99 and twice monthly titles, which have all shipped on time, which is pretty impressive since we’re now 9 months into Rebirth and I don’t think any issue has been late except for one issue of Suicide Squad which shipped one week later than originally intended.  DC runs a pretty tight ship and it’s made my life easier than explaining why Civil War II ended three months late, although all the books that spun out of it were already on issue 3 or 4 by that point.

Anyway, I am going to offer up my store’s numbers to show how we’re doing with DC Rebirth and how it’s been a huge hit for my store. First DC brought back lapsed readers and even first time readers. Just like they did with the New 52, DC spent advertising dollars outside the industry and even offered up a very generous co-op setup letting it cover 100% of approved promotions from the co-op money DC gives to retailers each month as a percentage of what they spend with DC Comics. No other publisher has a co-op program like this available. Several of my new New 52 customers are still shopping with me over 5 years later, and most of the new and returning customers that came in during DC’s Rebirth advertising push are still shopping with us on a weekly or at least monthly basis.

For the first month of DC Rebirth, I ordered some insane numbers on some of the most important titles knowing they were returnable if they didn’t sell.  I went to the DC meeting in Orlando and left with a renewed sense of confidence in DC as Jim Lee and Dan DiDio were very personable, realistic and energized.  I’d been to a few other DC meetings that were fun, but none really caught me like this renewed focus on DC’s meat and potatoes did. I ordered over 250 copies of Batman Rebirth and Batman #1.  I sold over 200 copies each of both issues and decided not to return any. While we have finally marked our last few Batman Rebirth and #1 first prints up to $8, we sold the majority of them at cover price, as we’d rather gain long term customers than make a quick money grab and sell comics that are only a few weeks old at way over cover price, like some dealers were quickly doing.  I sold out of over 125 Wonder Woman Rebirth and 1 first prints, and out of 125 Titans Rebirth and #1 (in month two), and out of 145 copies of Flash Rebirth and #1. Those three have been the hardest to keep in stock as we keep having to find more at other stores. Even the reprints of these are hard to come by.  We didn’t return a single book out of over 1500 ordered in month one.  Thanks for all the extra sales, DC and for taking the risk by offering returnability on the entire line of Rebirth books, with no penalty for sending them back, (except a few dollars postage). This helped us sell a lot extra comics we wouldn’t have taken the chance on if they were not returnable.

For the second month of Rebirth, we kept our numbers really high and only cut them about 10 to 15% on most titles. After a few months, we only returned about 8.5% of what we ordered on mostly issues 2 and 3.  Diamond artificially cuts sales numbers on returnable titles down by 10% to average out what gets returned in their monthly sales charts, so even though I was under the average, I’m sure some stores returned 15 or 20% of what they ordered to even that out. Meanwhile, we were still doing insane numbers (Green Arrow issue 3 (58) is outselling EVERY Marvel book in our store including Civil War II issue 4 (53)) on almost every Rebirth title.

For the third Rebirth month, our returns were a little heavier, but we didn’t want to cut too tight and miss out on potential sales. We still weren’t sure how people would react to the twice monthly schedule, but it managed to keep people coming back for more, and it’s still working now that we’re nine months into Rebirth.  We returned just shy of 12% of our total DC orders with the third batch of returnable books.  That’s a little higher than Diamond’s expectations, but our return average for the first three months is still under 7%, (0, 8.5 and 12% divided by 3 months), so I’m very happy with DC offering the ability for retailers to return unsold product and I wish more of the industry would do this. We are seeing this from more publishers lately, but I don’t think Marvel will ever follow suit, as it just doesn’t work with their business model.

While DC Rebirth has had a few titles that didn’t pop, the majority of our sales are WAY higher on the Rebirth titles than they were a year ago.  We’ll use issue Batman 48 as a point of reference, since it was the example used in the previous chart of whether DC is more profitable for retailers now than they were a few years ago. I will point out that the titles that were already selling blockbuster numbers mostly haven’t past those numbers (or at least stayed past those numbers), and in a few cases, there are some books that have gone down in our store.  Books like Blue Beetle, Cyborg, New Superman, and a few others just haven’t caught on and will probably not be around too much longer.  Supergirl has disappointing sales and I wish it launched closer to the first few months of Rebirth, so that more people may have jumped on board while they were waiting for the second season of the Supergirl TV series to start up. Hellblazer is almost exactly where it was pre-Rebirth.  I’m surprised to be selling more Superwoman than I expected.  Our Justice League sales are about 10% lower without Geoff Johns involved, and Harley Quinn and even Batman are almost at exactly the same numbers they were pre-Rebirth meaning that after the initial bump, the titles that were our top 3 bestsellers before are still selling about the same numbers per issue, even though there are now twice as many issues on these books, so I’m making a lot more money with DC than I was a year ago.  Batman is down a little, but it hasn’t gained near as much momentum as Rebirth’s breakout hits like Detective, Flash, Superman, Titans, Wonder Woman and others. Even second tier titles like Action, Aquaman, Green Arrow, Nightwing and both GL books are selling way better than they have in years. All Star Batman, JLA, Super Sons and Trinity are all doing great numbers for us, even though a few just started out with some incredible first issues.

To give you a point of reference for my store, as much as I like DC, Image has my top 3 bestsellers, which all sell 100 copies per month in my store (when they aren’t taking a break).  Saga, Walking Dead and then Paper Girls are our three bestsellers, and the same goes for TPBs on those titles as well. We sold over 100 copies of Saga Volume 1 in our store last year and close to 500 total copies of Saga Volume 1 since it came out 4 years ago. In what’s probably not a coincidence, all three of these titles and most of our other bestsellers are also $2.99.  We’ve never seen price resistance like we’re seeing right now and people refuse to try a new comic or event if it’s $4.99 or $5.99 for the first issue and I can’t blame them.  I’ve even got a handful of customers that won’t even touch $3.99 books!  The $9.99 issues of Deadpool have helped bring Deadpool to a six year sales low, after doing so incredibly well with last year’s Deadpool movie being the first comic movie in a while to really bring in a whole new crowd.  Imagine that, people don’t want to pay $9.99 for a comic, even if it does have 100 pages.

Here are some numbers for DC and then we will follow them up with Marvel numbers comparing what we were selling on these titles in January 2016 and then again in January 2017. I went with the earliest issue shipped in January whenever there were multiple issues. The first number is the January 2016 sales per issue at FFF and the second number is the January 2017 sales per issue.

*All Star Batman 73 vs 44 down ($4.99/against 73 sold Batman #48)

Batman 73 vs 57 down

Deathstroke 21 vs 18 down

Justice League 52 vs 46 down

Red Hood & Outlaws/Arsenal  15 vs 13 down

The rest of these DC Rebirth titles are up in my store:

Action 9 vs 29

Aquaman 14 vs 17

Batgirl 15 vs 17

BG Birds 15 vs 18 (Batgirl)

Batman Beyond 10 vs 18

Detective 20 vs 44

Flash 17 vs 58

Harley Quinn 28 vs 29

Nightwing 21 vs 23

Green Arrow 12 vs 22

Green Lanterns 16 vs 22

Hal Jordan & GLC 16 vs 20

Suicide Squad 20 vs 31

Superman 17 vs 37

Teen Titans 9 vs 27

Titans 22 vs 33

Trinity 15 vs 40 (Sup/WW)

Wonder Woman 17 vs 29

Now let’s look at some Marvel numbers from January 2016 vs January 2017 for my store:

All New Wolverine 39 vs 16

All New X-Men 27 vs 15

Amazing Spider-Man 36 vs 22

Avengers 32 vs 15

Cap Sam 14 vs 7

Cap Steve 14 vs 13

Captain Marvel 31 vs 11

Daredevil 25 vs 17

Deadpool 60 vs 14 (ouch $9.99 issues!)

Dr Strange 42 vs 16

Extraordinary X-Men 38 vs 19

Guardians Galaxy 23 vs 9

Invincible Iron Man 35 vs 14

Mighty Thor 30 vs 21

Moon Girl 6 vs 4

Moon Knight (Apr) 30 vs 19

Ms Marvel 24 vs 10

Nova 13 vs 11

Old Man Logan 57 vs 24

Power Man & Iron Man (Feb) 23 vs 5

Rocket Racoon 31 vs 11

Scarlet Witch 21 vs 8

Silk 14 vs 7

Silver Surfer 25 vs 7

Spider-Gwen 30 vs 18

Spider-Man Miles (Feb #1) 65 vs 30

Spider-Woman 12 vs 5

Squadron Supreme 10 vs 4

Star Lord 14 vs 12

Star Wars 75 vs 35

Totally Awesome Hulk 23 vs 6

Ultimates 22 vs 10

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl 19 vs 13

Uncanny Avengers 30 vs 13

Uncanny Inhumans 18 vs 7

Uncanny X-Men 42 vs 19

Unworthy Thor 30 vs 27 (so close)

Venom 19 vs 15

Sadly, there’s not one single Marvel book that’s higher this year than last year.  Some of these even had first issues in January, like Star-Lord, but they still couldn’t match or beat their numbers for last year’s issue. I thought at least Venom or Unworthy Thor would do it, but literally, not one single Marvel book is selling what it was selling last year at FFF!  Some are selling less than half what they were selling a year ago.  Some books like Slapstick and Solo I am literally selling 2 copies of and that is it.

While it is interesting that I have 5 DC books that are down from their sales totals pre-Rebirth, one is DC’s bestselling title with a writer who isn’t quite as prominent as the previous writer. Scott Snyder himself can’t even touch his last year’s Batman totals in my store, and I wonder if that’s because All-Star Batman is the only $4.99 Rebirth book that DC publishes. I have had several customers pass when they saw that was the price.  I think if DC put out several $4.99 books, they’d really see a lot of price resistance, but this book gets away with it because of the great creative team.

That also means I have 18 DC Rebirth books that are up, and in some cases, WAY UP! 12 of these 18 are shipping twice a month, so that means I’m making more money per book, especially since I’m selling 2 different issues of these twice a month.  Here’s an example:  Action Comics, I was sadly only selling 9 copies in January 2016.  At $3.99, that’s $35.91 or a profit of $17.96 on Action Comics.  Now that I’m selling 29 copies of each Action Comics, I’m making a total of $173.42, or a profit of $86.71 just on Action Comics each month. That’s almost 5 times the amount of profit I was making on that book before!  Flash is probably my most improved book and one of the biggest hits of Rebirth. It used to make me $67.83 or a profit of $33.92, whereas now with 2 issues a month, I’m selling $346.84 or a profit of $173.42!  I think that beats having a second Flash title focusing on the Mirror Master.  Even looking at a down title like Batman, where I would have sold $291.27 worth of Batman #48 at $3.99, with two issues at $2.99 and 57 copies each, that’s still a total of $340.86 and a slightly higher profit, even with the lower cover price. Besides, Batman, like Walking Dead and Saga is a title with “a long tail”, where it will sell for months and months, and not just the first few weeks. We usually sell another 9-12 copies past the 4 weeks after the initial shipment window, but I didn’t want to edit the numbers for Batman without doing that for other titles with a long tail as well. I’m just trying to keep this consistent and fair.

We also did exceptionally well with Justice League Suicide Squad.  I was a little worried when DC announced it was going to be a weekly six issue event that was originally planned to be at $4.99 per issue. I think they made the right choice to adjust it to $3.99 each, as that helped me sell a lot more copies.  I sold a total of 387 copies of that six issue mini and it helped make our December and January our best December and January yet, even with our Marvel sales being way down! Matching up our numbers for JLSS against Civil War II, we sold more of the last five JLSS than we did of the last 5 CW!

The bad news is that EVERY single Marvel title is down from a year ago in my store.  Several customers dropped Marvel entirely as they put more faith (and money) into Rebirth, and others just stopped collecting comics as the Marvel Universe that’s around now isn’t aimed at them, but seems to be aimed at the Tumblr or Twitter crowd that never comes into any store that I’m aware of.  I’m all for diversity, but not every replacement or legacy character can be as well received (or as well written) as Ms Marvel, Jane Foster or Squirrel Girl.  I would really like to sell more Marvel Comics, as comics is the most important and biggest part of our sales, but right now, between overpriced comics at $4.99, $5.99 or even $9.99, Marvel has never been more out of touch with what fans and retailers would like to see from them.

We do everything we can to cross promote the comic industry to a new crowd as much as possible, including a weekly geek trivia contest focusing on something different (last week was 1980’s Cartoons, Big Monster Movie Trivia is in two weeks) at a local restaurant and bar, Nerf Battles at local library, team up with teachers and libraries, give out free comics at every comic movie premiere, and even an Easter Picnic/Sports Day every year. We even do Free Comic Book MAY, with 10 free comics every Saturday in May. We go above and beyond to promote reading in our local community and we’re always getting new people into comics. But right now, between the higher prices and the lack of recognizable characters, we’re just not selling much Marvel right now.  We loved and sold over 50 copies each of God Country #1 and Curse Words #1 and we’re looking forward to some other Image and independent books that we’re also giving a big push to.

I wish I wasn’t seeing the lowest Marvel sales we’ve seen in 15 or even 20 years on some household name characters.  My main advice to Marvel is stop making $4.99 first issues and scaring people away.  A lot of people passed on Champions #1 because of the high price tag, and even with all the critical acclaim, it’s hard to chose Marvel’s $4.99 books when most of my bestselling books are $2.99.  I would pay $10 per issue for Saga if it came to it, because it’s my favorite book and each issue is a masterpiece, but luckily no one involved with that book is greedy enough to overprice it into cancellation, when $2.99 is the perfect price for it.  I’d rather see more $2.99 comics and then still have a comic industry around in ten years, rather than all the short term money grabs that are currently going on, where they’re not thinking it through and I’m not sure Marvel will have enough of their comic fanbase left to support even the main titles anymore.

My key bit of advice to Marvel is this: “Fewer books, better books, cheaper books!”  When Marvel was publishing 35 titles in the early 2000’s as they were coming out of their 1990’s coma, more than half of them were excellent. Alias, Supreme Power, JMS’ Amazing, so many great books!  I’d rather sell a lot of 30 or 40 great books than a few each of a bunch of crappy ones that no one wants to read. When you’ve lost your core audience and haven’t done anything to bring in a new audience to actually purchase these books, there won’t be a comic industry for you to exploit in ten years at this rate. Marvel, please fix it before it gets any worse and think about the long term consequences of your actions before reaching for every possible short term dollar you can with all the ridiculous variants, events and gimmicks.

Thanks to Rich for giving this opportunity to share my opinions on the current state of the comic industry with the Bleeding Cool audience.  

(Last Updated February 21, 2017 2:19 pm )