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  1. #1
    Mild-Mannered Reporter
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    Jul 2007

    Default CBR: Tilting at Windmills - Mar 24, 2011

    Brian Hibbs looks at the lessons to be learned from what happened to Comic Relief in the wake of Rory Root's passing, plus what the current Borders crisis illustrates about the benefits of buying locally.

    Full article here.

  2. #2
    New Member
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    Nov 2009

    Default It's all about differentiation

    Hey Brian,

    Great article as always. So great to hear actual knowledge about how these things are versus fans speculating about how things are.

    I'd say that for LCSs, like any business, the key is how to differentiate your product/store such that there is a reason to shop there. There is such fixation on "price" in the comics industry and that is just a losing game for LCSs. There is just no way in hell they can ever compete with online shops like DCBS or back-issue places like Mycomicshop or eBay. They lose and lose badly.

    So, basically, the LCS is selling a premium priced product and they have to do something to justify that premium.

    The biggest advantage they have over the other channels is their IMMEDIACY. If you buy your comics at an LCS on Wednesday at lunch, nothing will get spoiled. Play that up! Of course, that means that the LCS employees have to act excited about generic Marvel/DC comics. I know and understand that most LCS employees who love comics often love non-Big 2 comics, but their advantage in IMMEDIACY doesn't help them sell things like Fearless Dawn or Atomic Robo because those comics aren't going to get spoiled if I have to wait a week. But, who died in Fantastic Four is going to get ruined if you don't read your issue asap!

    I think they also need to figure out the whole browsing thing. I'm not a big one for leafing through issues before buying, but if one of your benefits is being able to "hold the merchandise in your hands" you should probably put up a little sign that says, "Feel free to leaf through the front copy."

    And....there are little thing they could do also like get their customers hooked on custom binding their back issues and then offer to be a middle man between the customer and the binder to ease that baffling process for first timers.
    I write a few reviews/week for:

    My comic review blog (for whatever I don't get to review at WCBR):

  3. #3


    I'm gutted to hear about the closing of Comic Relief, much as I was devastated to hear about Rory's death.

    I didn't know him personally, but I grew up in the East bay, taking the bus on the weekends to that other comic book store where Rory worked to buy my comics, and he loomed large as a warm, charismatic figure over my childhood. I was generally too shy to get into meeting strangers, but I always loved being around the guy and listening in on whatever conversation he was having, usually some fascinating (and hilariously rendered) take on comics or the industry.

    When Comic Relief opened I was in transition, towards the end of high school, away at college and later relocating to LA... but on my regular visits home Comic Relief was one of my few mandatory stops. Their last two locations epitomized what a comic book shops wants to and can be. At least, to me they did.

    Last fall, home for Thanksgiving, I of course went by Comic Relief. I had to ask if they had moved new comics from the back wall (as it was bare) and was informed that they hadn't received new stock in a matter of weeks. I found something to take away with me anyway (support!) but left mostly with a gloomy feeling about the state of affairs in the shop.

    Well, your article sheds a lot of light on the situation... Rory is missed, even by those who only knew him from afar. I suppose Comic Relief will be missed, now, too.

    Support local business!

  4. #4
    Junior Member
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    Oct 2010


    If you love having a local comic book shop then you better darn shop in it.

    Nuff said.

  5. #5
    New Member
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    Feb 2009


    Well Written Article Brian,

    Rory was a Personal Friend. I'm not telling you aything new to say he thought highly of you Brian and always had 'Tilting at Windmills" in stock to refer to anyone (including me) who was considering entering the retail Comics Business.

    It breaks my heart to see what happened to Comic Relief after his death. I've never met any of his family and frankly do not care to.
    His wishes, while not in a will, were clear to all of us. He said it to me personally several times.

    Another lesson to take away from Rory's passing is to take care of yourself as well...he continually put off Medical Procedures.

    His Dr had been telling him for some time that he had to get his weight down to lower the risk of having surgery until it couldn't be put off any longer.

    As a business owner, taking care of yourself or as you said, having the appropriate documents in place to assure the business continues; is looking out for your employees.

    I just wasn't right to not have a Comic Relief booth at Comic-Con last year.

    -Ray Feighery

  6. #6
    New Member
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    Sep 2010


    Y'know, the reason why LCSs and brick and mortar bookstores are in trouble is the same that the local aircraft modelling stores are disappearing. They've been confronted with a new - and better - business model. DCBS and Amazon can supply the same product at a huge savings. And since I live in Seattle, and therefore have to pay the 10% sales tax, the rest of the country gets an additional 10% discount above what I get. Honestly, unless you have to have it RIGHT NOW I can't see how local stores are going to compete in these particular niche markets. That's just capitalistic Darwinism in action.

  7. #7
    I like good comics. ScotsScribbler's Avatar
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    Sep 2010


    It has been my dream to open up a comic book store for a long time.

    Reading about the current state of affairs makes me wonder, this store would really have to be something special.

    I've seen a couple where the people running them were miserable, the selection was poor and they ended up closing up.

    I go to Forbidden Planet in the UK and others LCSs a fair bit and buy my montly issues there but they are pricing themselves out of the market for TPBs. Amazon with low to no postage cost could eat them alive in the UK. Most Northlander books are 6-7 on Amazon while they are 10-12 in stores.

    Glasgow's Forbidden Planet has the best selection in Scotland but they lump the quality stuff in with a deluge of superhero dross.

    The Beguiling in Toronto is probably the best comic book store I've been to and they separate their superhero stuff from everything else. And they really have a great deal to offer.

    Independent stuff, Tintin, Disney, vintage, erotica, magazines like Illustration and TCJ, all sorts of stuff. It's a store for the medium and probably no surprise that they are the best rated by creators and consumers.

    If I were to take the plunge I would follow their model, but I can say I've been to maybe 10 different LCSs and theirs was the only one to use the medium model.

  8. #8


    Good article as always, Mr. Hibbs.

    Quote Originally Posted by Brian Hibbs
    Despite all of the talk about digital sales, or internet-sales, the overwhelming majority of commercial transactions take place face to face over a counter. I was recently at a meeting with Google, on their campus, where Google presented a whole lot of metrics that showed, even with the most glowing projections that was going to be situation for many, many years to come.

    There's a factoid from six months or so ago that's recently been trotted around by various comics internet militantly-pro-digital pundits: Apparently sometime last year Amazon announced that within an uncertain span of time sales of digital books surpassed their sales of hardcover books. (BTW, the comics pundits often leave out the qualifier of "hardcover", opting instead to say that digital books surpassed all physical books.) This factoid, however, was debunked soon after the story broke: a huge percentage of the digital book sales made thru Amazon cost $0.00. There were/are many digital promotions in which Kindle buyers can get many digital books for free. Usually they're books they don't want, but the free legal files are there, and they show up in Amazon's shopping cart, for a price of $0.00, so technically they were bought.

    I'm not anti-digital, but this is the sort of skewed information one has to fight through to find the truth. Unsurprisingly, many of the most rah-rah pro-digital people have insufficient attention-spans to actually look beneath the surface and study what's really going on.
    Last edited by DarkBeast; 03-26-2011 at 10:57 AM.

  9. #9
    Web Guru Brian Garside's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2004
    Toronto, ON

    Default The reasons are changing

    My sympathies on the loss of your friend, Brian. Rory was a big presence in the industry, and he and Comic Relief are missed.

    I miss a lot of the great shops that I frequented over the years. I used to love going to a new town and finding the Indy bookstores and the out of the way comic shops. I always joked with my wife that I had "Comic Sense" meaning that I could predict with eerie accuracy the location of a comic shop in a town.

    Unfortunately that particular superpower rarely activates these days.

    While the majority of physical purchases may still happen online, that changes with the demographic. Consider that the majority of your customers are "geeks", who tend towards knowledge work, and who are more likely technically savvy (and who obviously have disposable income). They tend to be the first to migrate to a new way of thinking.

    Plus we're all (comic nerds), hitting the same age where we need more space for our children's stuff, and can't justify the 29 long boxes in our basements anymore.

    On top of that, our overall bills are increasing and diversifying. I pay nearly $300 a month on a bill that 10 years ago simply didn't exist (2 wireless phones with data plans, home phone, cable, and Internet).

    On top of all that, people have changed their habits. A large majority of people (upwards of 75%) use the Internet to research major purchases. If your shop doesn't have a GOOD Internet presence with easy to find information about what's new and your location, your chances of success are lower. I'm not talking about Diamond's silly comic shop locator service, I mean good ole fashioned Google, where 90% of all searches happen.

    Some shops get this and are successful. Look to A Comic Shop and the major presence they have online. That translates to dollars in the door.

    Comic retailers need to evolve, and time is of the essence.
    Brian Garside

  10. #10
    Junior Member
    Join Date
    Jul 2009


    How many thousands of independent book stores have gone under in the face of chain retail, and now how many scores of communities will now have no bookstore available to them when their local Borders closes?
    I live in Tempe, Arizona, and there's a new-and-used bookstore called Changing Hands. It used to be on our main street, Mill Avenue, and my dad would take me there when I was four.

    Ten or fifteen years ago, rents on Mill got high; Changing Hands had to move and Borders set up shop a little ways down the road.

    That Borders is long gone -- years ago, well before the bankruptcy -- but Changing Hands is still around. In fact I biked over there yesterday, and bought a copy of Zot.

    Quote Originally Posted by Owned by pugs View Post
    Y'know, the reason why LCSs and brick and mortar bookstores are in trouble is the same that the local aircraft modelling stores are disappearing. They've been confronted with a new - and better - business model. DCBS and Amazon can supply the same product at a huge savings. And since I live in Seattle, and therefore have to pay the 10% sales tax, the rest of the country gets an additional 10% discount above what I get. Honestly, unless you have to have it RIGHT NOW I can't see how local stores are going to compete in these particular niche markets. That's just capitalistic Darwinism in action.
    It appears that you didn't read the last half of the article; Brian takes some considerable time to address this claim and point out that there are still a whole lot of people buying books across counters.

    There's no doubt whatsoever that Amazon played a role in Borders's collapse (and iTunes in Tower's, and Netflix in Blockbuster's), but Barnes and Noble is still doing brisk business. Therefore we must conclude that B&N is doing something right that Borders was doing wrong. Brian mentioned the rent; maybe B&N simply chose its locations more wisely. And there's also B&N's online and eBook presence -- no, it's no Amazon, but it's a damn sight better than Borders's was, and people know what a Nook is. (Anybody ever hear of a Kobo?) But that's not the whole story; you can't prop a brick-and-mortar business up entirely on a website and an eBook reader.

    I think part of it is simply that people still prefer walking around a physical location, holding products in their hands, and talking face-to-face to other human beings. Amazon can beat just about anybody in terms of price and selection, but if I'm walking past a bookstore and have some time to kill, I'm probably going to wander around for a bit.

    Amazon is tough competition, there's no doubt about that. But it IS possible to compete with it -- if it weren't, there'd be nobody else left. (And see how long those low prices would last THEN.)


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