Amazon Killed the Comic-Book Store

Author’s Note: The following editorial is intended to highlight the ramifications of digital distribution, the overhead in producing printed comics, and what changes this could bring to the industry as brick and mortar publishing companies, including DC and Marvel, increasingly focus on digital platforms. Let it be said here that I love printed comics, comics shops, and other places to experience geek culture! I in no way desired to ridicule them, or what the store owners do. I simply hoped the following editorial could stir thought about the future of comics as the companies we follow switch to more digital platforms in the future.

Finally, I would like to publicly apologize to John and Carol’s Comic Book Shop for the picture choice I originally used in this editorial. I was not aware of what store the photo depicted, and the editorial wasn’t about that store in any way. It was a thoughtless error for which I apologize profusely.

Yesterday I went to a local comic book store at the mall in my town. My wife picks up the new issues of Grant Morrison’s Multiversity series, as well as the new Sandman Overture, when they come out at this particular store. I hadn’t been in a while, so I thought I would go by and check out what they had.

Android's dungeon

Going to a comic-book store is, at times, a paradigm-shifting experience, only because comic-book stores rarely cater to just comic-books and serials. Within the microcosm of the store are branches of affiliated segments; collectible cards, action figures, porcelain statues, and odds and ends are sold, in addition to comic-books. So I am reminded of this (and on this particular occasion) every time I go into a store to get anything. Comic-book stores are indicative of both the insular and the trendy, the niche and the mainstream, both within the comic-book world and wider American popular culture. Superman is iconic, recognizable for all. Indie comics, not so much. The traditional comic-book store is a watering hole for the profane and the sacred, etc.

But the stores are dying off. Why? There are a few reasons for that. Regardless, it doesn’t matter. It’s a good thing the stores are going, and here’s why:

Back in the era of collectible markets, comic-book stores were very popular. They were relevant, cool, hip, and many more people read comics on a regular basis back then. We all know this mood of prosperity came to a head in the mid-90s, when the speculation bubble burst. By the end of 1997, about 75% of comic-book stores in America closed up shop. (Marvel even filed Chapter 11 in 1996, mostly because of a foiled business venture into their own distributing ring.) One could imagine the aftermath to be something in line with post-plague Europe in the 1300s, with a small remnant of field laborers in the game to call the shots. With humility and reality, hand in hand, the industry restructured, but the sales of “floppies” never fully recovered.

Consequently, the advent of the internet, digital distribution, and digital storefronts is saving the comic-book industry. The internet keeps the communities and their causes in continuous circulation. People can stay connected, discuss storylines, and even sell their own used comics through online marketplaces like eBay or Amazon. Most importantly, digital comics now allow companies to reduce their overhead by an order of magnitude. So while local comic-book stores slowly disappear and fall off, their incorporeal counterparts continue to thrive. Action figures, collectible toys, and the other odds and ends are also getting good notice, even two-day free shipping. Without the distribution logistics being handled by a multibillion dollar corporation, it would be otherwise impossible to get in on the ground floor of a new toy or comic that was extremely rare, all the while ordering from a computer on the opposite end of the country. These kinds of transactions are made possible with this digital orchestration. And don’t forget that these comics, because of the reduced overhead, sell for almost 50% off cover price, thereby protecting consumers from blowing their wad on shock-and-awe stories that sell filler and not lasting impressions.

Comic-book stores thrived because, without an internet platform, the only way for Diamond Comics Distributors to vend comics was to get the comics to independent shops or newsstands.

The greater issue with comic-book stores dying out is that the physicality of the medium is being called into question. Do comic-books require the aesthetic of turning pages? Does this make the stories more tangible? Without such interaction, there isn’t much need for a place to go and buy / read comics, let alone reasons to invest large amounts of operating capital to sell at exorbitant cover prices. So in a sense, Amazon killed the comic-book store. And, you know, that’s not a bad thing.

Correction: an earlier version of this editorial incorrectly used an image of Carol and John’s Comic Book Shop in Cleveland, Ohio. It was unrelated to this editorial’s content, and it’s beloved by its customers! It looks like a wonderful store, and Sequart encourages its readers to check it out!

Tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Stuart Warren is the former managing editor and webmaster for Sequart Organization. Stuart earned a BA in English with an emphasis in Early Modern Studies at University of California Santa Barbara. An avid reader and historian, Stuart researches Nordic mythology and paganism and is self-taught in the Norwegian language (Bokmål). He is a novelist and comic book writer. Spirit of Orn, his breakout Science Fantasy epic is now available for purchase via Amazon Kindle and iBooks.

See more, including free online content, on .

17 Comments

  1. Just wanted to go on record saying that Carol & John’s is the best store in the Cleveland area, hands down. I always try to stop by whenever I’m in town visiting my parents.

  2. Ironic that the picture in your article is of carol and johns in Cleveland Ohio (an amazing store) and they are flourishing not closing down.

  3. Also pretty sure you don’t have permission to use that picture and considering your incorrect and idiotic opinion about comic book shops closing being a good thing I’m sure they would appreciate it if you didn’t use their picture or at the very least point out that they are flourishing and the local community loves them contrary to your article.

    • It wasn’t my intention to bring shame to your favorite store and local stop for comics. I admit that my article should have been more clear in that I was speaking from a production and logistics standpoint.

      I don’t think it’s good that comic book stores are closing down actually. Rather I am sad about this. However, again from a production standpoint, it’s a good thing that larger markets are opening up for independent artists and writers to get a voice. Before, the only way to get comics into a store was through a deal with the local owner, or getting a gig through Diamond, which is very difficult. I produce comics and I can speak from experience how expensive printing and shipping costs are. However, I am able to share my comics digitally with people from halfway across the world because of comixology, amazon, and other online platforms, even without a deal with Diamond.

      So again, I apologize if my article wasn’t clear in this, and I had no intention of slandering any stores, especially John and Carols.

  4. Vanessa Hall says:

    So, you’re advocating letting local small businesses die out, in favor of multi-million corporations? Don’t get me wrong, I buy things from Amazon from time to time, but I don’t get the kind of community I’ve found at my local store from a faceless website. Also, I don’t find the kind of satisfaction from a digital version as I do from an actual comic, so I don’t (and many others I know) plan to stop buying hard copies.

    My local store, by the way, is the one you’ve pictured above. Did you ask them first before you attached it to an article about how it wouldn’t be so bad if they failed?

    • Thanks for your comment, Vanessa. I’ve also had many great experiences in my local shops, over the years, and they helped me discover a great many wonderful comics.

      Apparently, Stuart got the image from a Google search for a comics store image, and he didn’t think about the implications. He’s apologized, and I removed the image.

    • I am not advocating the closure of small businesses, and I apologize if that was the impression that I came off with. Like I say below, from a production standpoint, my article is stating that comic books are incredibly expensive to produce and run through distribution. While this may or may not be the case for the comic book industry, the brick and mortar publishing houses are experiencing tremendous hardship because of the move to digital distribution. If comics are flourishing due to digital distribution, then we have Mark Waid and his Thrillbent brand to thank for his contribution and being proactive about changing the way people read comics on digital platforms.

      And let it be said, I love reading paper comics, and I will always 100% prefer them over digital. I just feel that when the money is on the line, comicbooks are going digital and this will prove challenging to adapt to.

  5. This article is in no way indicative to what is really happening in the comic book industry. I have owned a comic store in Boulder , Colorado for over 30 years. Business is booming, the industry is healthy, and all the comic stores in Colorado are thriving. Virtually nothing in this article is accurate. Smear campaign.Shame on you Stuart…

    • I’m sorry that my article offended you Wayne, and It certainly wasn’t my intention. I’m speaking from a creator standpoint and as a person entering the industry. Making comics is incredibly expensive, and digital markets are really important to penetrate. I’m sure that comic stores are booming, but I’ve just experienced that doing digital markets and paperless distribution to be way lees expensive from an overhead standpoint.

  6. Craig Murray says:

    Hey genius you probably shoulda searched Google a bit more to find a picture of a comic book store. The one you chose is the one I drive over an hour for because there’s a lot of things Amazon and the internet can’t offer. Word is that they’ve been open over 20 years and don’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. I don’t know where you live or what social circles you travel in but my area has 5-6 comic book stores, almost all of them being open as long as I can remember, so I say the industry is doing alright.

    Sure some of them might sell other stuff, but did you ever bother to ask why? It’s because we like other things other than comics and there’s no shame in that. A place to take care of multiple hobbies all with like minded people?? How’s that bad? It’s saving gas. I live in the sticks of nowhere Ohio and there’s a guy that just opened up a comic book store in his karate studio!! You can break some boards with your friends and then pick up the new books for the week. How does that sound like a dying industry??

    Maybe it’s because the renaissance fair circuit hasn’t caught on like comics in the past few years but just because you can’t buy a chain mail bra for that special lady in your life for a nice Valentine’s Day surprise doesn’t mean all alternative forms of nerd culture are on the decline. You should come out to the store you ripped the picture off from and see how we roll. It’s a good time and you’ll see a store full of dudes that would love to hear all the inaccuracies about Thor being a female now!!

    • Craig,

      I’ve been responding to other negative feedback about the article above, so I won’t beat a dead horse. I am sorry for the picture that I use for this article, and I never intended to slander a store, let alone a greater community the store attracts.

      It won’t happen again.

  7. Interesting read. I suppose the existence of comic book stores comes down to a basic argument that people attempt to make for maintaining the creation and distribution of the American cent/Penny: because it has become a “tradition.” The problem with tradition is that eventually it becomes infeasible and may be more “wasteful” in resources rather than a beneficial institution.
    There is a comic book store in a nearby shopping center I like to go to from time to time, and for the most part, it is empty. The advent of the internet has made things more convenient but also, the digital method in some cases may be cheaper (ideally it should be). We are living in an era in which income stagnation and degradation in the face of price inflation is leaving us with less wealth then that of the baby boomer generation and the early decade of generation X (in comparison to the millennial generation at least) and will surely become an even greater issue for future generations to come. With this and the struggling comic book store unable to competitively price their products to online stores like Amazon, the age of comic book stores is certainly at an end.

  8. Leef Smith says:

    Comic Book store are definitely not dying out! In fact they’ve been experiencing growth over the past few years. Please consider doing some more research and revising this article. With just a few searches I was able to find these article that might help you.
    http://www.newsarama.com/19937-comic-book-comeback-why-retailers-saw-2013-sales-growth.html
    http://www.comichron.com/yearlycomicssales.html
    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/21/business/media/comics-sales-rise-in-paper-and-pixels.html

  9. reynard says:

    Why would you ever say that a comic book store closing is a good thing? Or any small business? I read this article after it became covered in retractions about the previous picture so it is good to know that no one cared enough to review it before it was published. I do not want my LCS to close down I want this site to close. If Amazon bought you all maybe they would force you to hire an honest to goodness editor.

    • Saying you want this site to close is not fair. Sequart’s been in operation for almost two decades, has published historically important books about comics, has produced six documentary films that have gotten widespread coverage and praise, and has done a tremendous amount to advance comics as an art form that deserves serious thought and attention. While I understand you didn’t like this editorial and that it had issues, saying you want two decades of hard work (largely done with no remuneration and out of love for comics) to “close down” is not appropriate.

      Also, you’re right that mistakes were made in this editorial, and that this represents an editorial failing. You may know that similar mistakes have been made by very big-name sites with huge budgets (something we don’t have). That’s not to excuse our own mistakes! But the clearest mark of an honest and serious player isn’t so much whether mistakes are made but how they’re handled. Once I learned about the problem with the picture, I immediately took it down. Stuart has apologized repeatedly, and he’s addressed his critics here and on social media in an honest and apologetic fashion. Again, none of this excuses that mistakes were made, but we’ve handled this in a direct, open, and professional manner. To use the fact that editorial notices have been added to the piece (which you say makes the piece “covered in retractions”) as a way to bash this site is to punish the act of taking accuracy and readers’ reactions seriously.

      Ethical behavior doesn’t mean no mistakes, or even no stupid mistakes. It means taking accountability for your mistakes and righting them as quickly and as seriously as possible. We believe in this at Sequart, and we’ve followed through on that philosophy with this editorial. Stuart has apologized profusely, and we moved aggressively to remove the picture — and haven’t hidden that fact.

      So while you’re welcome to criticize mistakes, or argue with an editorial’s stance, there’s a big difference between these and mocking the very idea that mistakes would be corrected or taken seriously — or wishing out of spite that a site would shut down, based on an error that it has taken very seriously indeed.

  10. Brown says:

    Can we instead talk about the damage done by the large corporations you would have us support instead?

    Small businesses accounted for 65% of all net new jobs over the past 17 years.

    Small businesses employ 77 million Americans.

    89% of consumers agree that independent businesses contribute positively to local economies.

    Residential neighborhoods served by a successful independent business district gained, on average, 50% more in home values than their citywide markets.

    Independent retailers return more than three times as much money per dollar of sales than chain competitors. Independent restaurants return more than two times as much money per dollar of sales than national restaurant chains.

    If independent businesses regained their 1990 market shares, it would create 200,000 new small businesses, generate nearly $300 billion in revenues and employ more than 1.6 million American workers.

    If just half the U.S. employed population spent $50 each month in locally owned independent businesses, it would generate more than $42.6 billion in revenue.

    For every square foot a local firm occupies, the local economy gains $179 vs. $105 for a chain store.

    Did you know independent locally owned and operated businesses…

    Are run by your neighbors—maybe even friends or family? They genuinely care about the well-being of your community because it’s their home too.

    Are among the first to offer their communities a helping hand? Small businesses donate about twice as much per employee to charitable organizations as large businesses.*

    Add character, quality and charm to your community, not to mention more choices?

    Often these smaller shops carry items that bigger stores don’t sell—usually because there’s not enough of the really good stuff to go around or the profit margin isn’t high enough for the big guys to stock.

    When you shop at independent locally owned and operated businesses, you are contributing to a smaller carbon footprint. Products often require less packaging and don’t travel as far.

    Many independent locally owned and operated businesses can be found in established business districts, which mean less infrastructure, less maintenance and less wear and tear on your community.

    Please, spend wisely.

Leave a Reply