Right before I sat down to write this article (give or take a few hours), I filled out my first sub-order form in a very very long time. Having a local comic shop hold your books for you every week may seem like a simple no-brainer for some, but for me it’s often been a relatively arduous experience that lead to me not doing it very damn often. This is primarily because, over the last few years, I tended to travel a lot and one of my favorite experiences as a comic reader was being able to track down a local comic shop wherever I may be to get my fix in a timely manner, which would be impossible if another store was depending on me to pay for the books they’d held for me. However, my desire to support my local comic merchant friends, my drastically downsized travel schedule and my need to ensure I get a goddamn copy of The Sixth Gun every month has lead me to create an abbreviated version of my monthly pull at my local shop (which, for the record, happens to be New England Comics in Allston, MA where you’re daft to not shop if you live in the Boston area.) However, I’m okay publicly admitting that I am not a one-trick pony and do make an effort to spread the love around to other sources, including a large chunk of change devoted to the Digital Comic Book Service (or DCBS) based out of Fort Wayne, Indiana; an entirely digital storefront. It occurs to me that this juxtaposition of my buying habits, in a lot of ways, encompasses two of the biggest ways people get their comics these days. Click on down as I weigh the various pros, cons and what-ifs of these methodologies.
Throughout the entirety of the Gold and Silver ages of comics, the name of the game in terms of comic merchants were newsstands and spinner racks at grocery stores, pharmacies or on the street. Indeed, I purchased my very first comic book at the checkout line at the local Shaws at the ripe young age of five. Comic book stores, as we know them today, largely came to prominence in the 80s and slowly became the primary outlet for selling those colorful periodicals we can’t seem to get enough of.
As far as ideas go, the comic book store was a damn good one. Many of us are so used to our shops (or shops in general) just being there that we take for granted the fact that we have a central location to go to every week that, theoretically, will stock every comic we could possibly want or need and more on top of that. An entire storefront dedicated to the medium is something fans in the 60s and 70s could only dream about. In addition to the simple idea of functioning as a place fans can go to ensure they find what they want, comic shops also serve as a very public beach head for comic books and similar forms of alternative media within the (royal) local community, acting almost like a beacon for new and old fans alike.
However, beacon status is not without it’s various setbacks. Comic shops exist on what can only be considered the “front lines” of the war between comics and other forms of entertainment media. When kids, by and large, stopped reading comics, the first to suffer were the comic shops. Chances are, a shop owner could become unable to pay rent on their space WAY before one of the big two took a noticeable hit from slumping sales, just based on the nature of economics: the small entity almost always suffers before the large one does.
Another downside to the very idea of a comic shop is one that those of us lucky enough to have a local shop rarely think about: there are NOT comic shops everywhere. If you are sufficiently isolated, you could go your whole life and not even SEE a comic shop, let alone know that they exist. More than any other part of this industry, the local comic shop is the most sensitive to local economy. Some places literally cannot afford a comic shop, they are just not a viable option for any business owner (though, bookstore chains like Barnes and Noble investing in their comic sections helps to offset this slightly due to their corporate backing, though it is by no means a permanent solution since in addition to no one reading comics anymore, no one reads PERIOD anymore either.)Continued below
Given this set of facts, going out of one’s way to enter into an agreement that guarantees business to a local comic shop is that much more crucial. Whether you open up a pull with a few or many titles on it, or simply make an effort to shop locally on any sort of regular basis, directly benefits no only the business itself, but the comic industry and, on a slightly larger scale, the idea of comics in general.
However, on the other side of that coin lies the digital comic store. Recent years have brought on a wave of internet-based retailers that have far fewer operating costs than their physical counterparts. The primary return on these lowered costs usually translates into often deep discounts on books and trades for those that buy them, often times closer or indeed below the cost retailers pay for copies of new books. For those that are not economically inclined: the price you see on the front (or back) cover of a comic is the suggest retail price (SRP) that has retailer profit factored into it. Simply put, retailers themselves do NOT pay $3.99 for *insert 22 page Marvel Comic (yes, I’ve been counting)*, and that when certain members of the Big Two say price hikes directly benefit the situation of retailers, they actually AREN’T blowing smoke. However, when a retailer has fewer costs to make back, they can charge less than the SRP for their books. Hence, the aforementioned DCBS, which regularly offers between 40 and 75 percent off single issue comics and new trades month in, month out. (Just incase your curiosity hasn’t lead you to Google at this point, you can check them out at www.dcbservice.com)
Simply put: buying your comics online is cheaper for you, the reader. Sometimes SIGNIFICANTLY cheaper, and there is absolutely value to that fact. Sure, saving money on the things you’d buy anyway is nice if you’re in a financial bind (as many of us are, since the economy is still tanking last I checked.) Sure, the rising cost of single issue comics directly benefits both publishers and retailers alike (less so creators, but them too), but that does not put more money in your wallet every month. Online discounts certainly help in this regard, although the added downside being that to really take advantage of the savings, you have to get your books shipped to you in one lump shipment in order to save on shipping costs. Trading timely reading habits for a lower price of admission may be a steep consequence for some, and indeed was very much so for me, but the ends do sometimes justify the means.
For example, I order the majority of my books in any given month through DCBS. I discovered the service during my third year at university when, like most third year university students with an interest in the arts, I was damn near next to broke. While my financial situation is mercifully a little more comfortable now, I still enjoy the deep discounts provided to me through DCBS, though for more than just the money saved. Just about 100% of the books I order online are sure things. Mainstream titles with characters and creative teams I know will deliver enough to plop my money down for them two months in advance, that I know will give me return on my investment when my shipment arrives during the first week of the month following their month of release.
However, I still make an effort to drop by NEC each week and indeed leave some titles OFF my pre-order in order to do so. Dropping between 60 and 75 dollars a month on comics as opposed to, well, a lot more paying full cover price, allows me some often coveted wiggle room in my monthly comic budget, which often leads to me trying new (usually independent) titles that I would never have considered while all of my money was going to titles put out by the Big 2. Without DCBS off-setting my costs, I would have never discovered books like The Sixth Gun, Skullkickers or Sweet Tooth because there simply would not be room in my budget to experiment on titles that appeared to be outside the realms I had known for years. So, not only did buying online save me a bit of coin, but it allowed me to invest some of that saved coin into books that actually NEEDED that revenue to stay afloat. A bit of a paradox, but hey I make it work, and so can you.Continued below
Ultimately, while its more important that comics are getting bought in general, it’s still worthwhile to note that where and how you buy your books DOES matter, and that each method impacts different people in different ways. In conclusion: read comics.