Roger Anderson and Musicquest Comic Book Store in memoriam (November 09, 2012)

            Today, November 09, 2019, it will be seven years since I got word that Roger Anderson had passed away at 1:47pm and what I expect will be a sad day for everyone that knew Roger.

            I remember I got the call from a friend of the family, Ing, and was told “Roger died”. It was a Friday. I was at a customer site at that moment and not sure what was going on. The person delivering the message was not a native English speaker, so I was hoping that I had misheard her or somehow it was a miss translation. (Of course, how much off could two simple words be?) So I rushed around my customer site telling the controller and human resources person that ‘everything was fine, but I had to go immediately to Shrewsbury to check on something.’ On the way their I called one of my classmates, who was an attorney in Massachusetts at the time, and put him on standby in case a lawyer would be needed.

            When I got to his house at about 2:30pm, it turned out, Roger really had died. Roger did not get up for the day, like he normally would, even in the worst of neck or back pain to at least have a coffee and talk with his family in the morning like he normally would. So they went to check on him around 11am, found they couldn’t get him up, and ‘he was gone’. We had always feared that in Roger’s declining health days that he was going to end up in a nursing home that would take up all of his assets but never, ever expected that when the end came, he would just simply ‘be gone’ and nothing possible to be done. The day before Roger seemed fine. While he was recovering from something like the flu, he was generally ok. I even spent time helping to get his van running with the expectation that Roger would go to the store for several hours and be open for customers getting their comics from the weekly shipment. I remember leaving Roger’s house at 10:15pm the evening prior to Roger passing away, and outside of his family, I was the last person to see Roger.

            The whole problem with the van was somewhat amusing. Roger, for whatever reason, had a habit of letting the gas run down in any vehicle he was driving. Normally, this was not a problem but in the one he had at the time, a GMC suburban I think, if you let the gas run down to about 1/8 of a tank or less, and the weather got cold, I think frost would form on the gas filter in the tank, and then you would have trouble starting the van. The same thing happened about a year earlier where I helped Roger with the exact same problem, until I realized what was probably wrong and fixed it (get more gas, then jump the battery and then the van was fine). The problem is that by the time I figured out what was wrong we would have spent so much time trying to start the van that the battery would need to be jumped, after a few more gallons were put into the gas tank. So on this evening, just like months prior, after trying to start the van for a while, with it seeming it was going to start, I ran the battery down. Then I realized what the problem was, had to make a few trips to the gas station to put in a few gallons, jump the van battery from my car, and then finally could get the van started, recharge its battery. Since I had to run the van for a while, I took it over to a car wash and cleaned it up a little. That all took about 90 minutes or so, but at least then the van was ok for the next day.

It is hard to believe that so much time has passed and how things have changed. While everyone had some hope that maybe Roger’s comic book store, Musicquest, would somehow be able to stay open, that was not be to and now the space is currently vacant. I have thought about maybe trying to reopen the store, once I was in retirement, but realize that without Roger there can be no Musicquest and is something that I mentioned about the whole comic book store thing. As long as the owner is still around, it is possible for a store to keep going. Even if all of the inventory is gone, the owner can just setup with a stack of comics, a table, chair and phone and ‘he is in business and the store still alive’; but if the owner is not around anymore, then even with a mountain of inventory is it not possible for the store to keep going. While there maybe some kind of business there, it will not be the old store plus after a period of time many of the old customers will have gone elsewhere.

            I have been fortunate in that I have been able to stay in contact with a few of Roger’s friends and customers, even after all of these years, and hope to continue to do so in the future.

            In the first few years after Roger was gone, I had keys to the store space and would go there for a few minutes on November 09 every year, get some Chinese food from the restaurant next door and read some of the latest issue of Knights of The Diner Table comic. (I was even able to do this one last time after the building was sold in 2014 since nothing was being done with the space with the new owners.) In recent years, I will stop over and take a few pictures of the building front, even if it is just from the window of my car, like I did one year since it was night out and raining and wanted to get ‘my memorial’ of this day.

            While I knew back then, that things eventually change, somehow I always felt that ‘the fun would never end’ and that somehow Roger would always be around. Now it is the later, am not really sure what to expect in the future, do miss how things use to be and know that it is all an era gone by forever. Once in a while when I am at the laundry mat or Chinese food take out place, that are still open next to what was Roger’s store, I run into someone that remembers the store and maybe even Roger, so at least I know that people still remember Roger and the store.

Good Luck and Take Care,

Louis J. Desy Jr. – November 09, 2019

LouisDesyjr@gmail.com

Link to old web site for Musicquest.com:

http://www.musicquest446.com

Link to uploaded video of Roger on the Worcester Community Cable channel in 1984. Roger Anderson appearing on Greater Media Cable in Worcester, MA WCCTV-13 show Entertainment Showcase in 1984. This digital copy is from a VHS tape that was found as part of the Roger Anderson estate and saved by his friend Kraig.

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Comic Book Stores (and Game Stores) – The Problems of Inventory Buildup and Low Goss Margins – Part 5 of a Series

Recently, I have noticed that comic book stores seem to have somewhat lower gross margins than they use to have in the past. In the past, the typical gross margin for items was on the order of 50% but recently I have seen some items being sold with margins as low as 15%. While 15% may ‘sound’ ok to anyone not running a store, it becomes almost impossible to keep a retail store open on margins that low.

While there was always a problem of inventory build up for all stores when the owner made a mistake on what they thought would sell and orders things that no one wanted, the low gross margins adds to this problem. As an example; in a podcast episode of ‘My Comic Shop History’ they recount how they thought the Ape series of comics would be a good seller so the store orders 150 copies. As it turned out, no one wanted it at all, and none of the copies sold. While an extreme case, it shows how hard it is to get ordering exactly right, and how bad things can go when that happens. While there is not much one can do about problems like that; since how can anyone always be right about all ordering, there is the additional problem of gross margins going down over time. The result of this seems to be that a lot of the reported profit (for those stores that are reporting any profit) from a store is getting ‘stuck’ in inventory; inventory that will not sell at any price and ends up sitting in stores for years or even decades.

One example of an item where there were lots of inventory all over the place, and this was a very successful item, was the 1976 pinup poster of Farrah Fawcett. I remember the first time I saw that poster in years was as part of the background on the TV sitcom, “The 70s Show”. I remember thinking, “wow, I can’t believe they (show creators) were able to find something like that”. I thought there was no way it could be an original from those original print runs and had to be a copy of the poster created special (printed up) just for their use within the show. As it turns out, there are still lots of these posters still around and the price is only around for $15 to $20 per poster. As an example of how many of these posters are still around, one ebay seller listed a few hundred of these posters for sale recently, still in the original shipping tubes with a note that they got them from a failed distributor. My impression is that there still thousands of these poster from the 1970s print runs of them. Another interesting fact surrounding this poster is that the company that originally put this poster out, Pro Arts Inc, went bankrupt. This happened even though they sold something like several million of these posters along with their other posters. My impression is that for some reason they printed millions of extra of these posters that did not sell, which are still turning up in inventories of various distributors and shops as they liquidate after all of these years. Pro Arts Inc itself has a somewhat interesting history since they had some kind of lawsuit on another poster and won, but spent more on legal fees than they won, and eventually went bankrupt with the two owners’ homes as part of the bankruptcy. There was also a book written by one of the owners where he basically accuses everyone, including judges, of ‘being in on the fix’ to take the company apart. I have not been able to find a copy of that book in any form but expect it will be an interesting read of how the company failed even though they put out what was the best selling poster of all time.

Now, comics and games are not the only thins that this problem happens to, but it is an industry where there are stores all over the place in the same industry, across the county, and we see this inventory buildup everywhere. Stuff does not sell, and seems to sit there forever, taking up space and costing money in rent, inventory taxes, etc to keep stored. Plus the money, or profit, of the store is tied up in these items, which may never sell.

While better ordering can fix part of this problem, it is impossible for any store to just order what will sell, since inevitable that owners will order things that will not sell and get stuck with them.

What would help this problem is if the gross margin on items was better, something like on the items of 10% or 20% improvement. That would help all stores so that even though items may not sell, at least the store will make more on what does and it will help to cover the losses on the inevitable mistakes made on ordering.

Good Luck and Take Care,

Louis J. Desy Jr. – Sunday, October 06, 2019

LouisDesyjr@gmail.com

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Is GAMA/Origins Game Fair becoming a modern day dystopia?

Maybe dystopia is not the right word, but I am sure you are aware about how GAMA/Origins “disinvited” Larry Correia in 2018 over a complaint made by someone. Upon examination, it seems the whole things was not a concern for GAMA or Origins and, from what I can tell, Larry did not do anything wrong. The complaint involved a controversy completely outside of Origins or GAMA and something that had happened months earlier. According to Larry’s own account, he found out about being “disinvited” through a posting online, so apparently the mere accusation of doing ‘something’ was enough to get him taken off the schedule, and that is what we have here today. Do or say the wrong thing, even if completely by accident, and anyone accuses you, and you are all done. You are out, disinvited, taken off the schedule, never to be talked about or mentioned again. I would call that dystopian nature.

While GAMA/Origins has a harassment policy that specifically states that the right to not be harassed is NOT the same as a ‘right to not be offended’; i.e. just because you do not like what someone is saying or their beliefs does NOT mean it is harassment. Unfortunately GAMA/Origins does not appear to hold to this in practice and these words mean nothing. When one says or does the wrong thing, even if by accident or just making an inquiry, and there is any accusation, the person being accused is thrown out without any kind of inquiry as to what happened or why and only finds out after the fact.

I, myself, had all of my lectures cancelled in 2016 when some people, who were never even verified as going to attend Origins, posted on social media and made slanderous and libelous accusation about me. I did not even find out this was going on for some time, especially since people were talking about this in a closed group on rpg.net. Apparently, I am now ‘persona non grata’ and will never to be allowed to present on anything even though I had given lectures for years and worked to present as many as possible to help the program.

I have contacted the entire GAMA board, officers and any other staff that I could find contact info for, and nothing has been done. The only message I got, that I remember, was from John Ward who said basically, “We can do whatever we want”.

As such, I intend to secure a seat on the board and will, myself, work to correct this situation.

My take on this  is that anyone connected with GAMA is that they are all simply terrified of some internet mob trying to ruin them if they do not do what the mob wants. As such they have decided that they will not do anything to correct the situation. Of course, the problem with such tactics is that when one gives in to these tactics and behavior, instead of just telling the people off,  it just encourages more of the same and is nothing more than extortion. As anyone can tell you about being on the receiving end of any kind of extortion, is that there is no future in allowing it to continue. Since eventually, as things become worse, it will reach a point that the one being extorted can’t or simply won’t be able to comply with the demands being made.

While I can understand that some people are completely irrational and unable to handle any discussion on #Gamergate or The Culture Wars, and I could have understood if GAMA decided to take those off the schedule, there was absolutely no reason or justification to take my other lectures on economics between the World Wars off the schedule and to prohibit me from ever giving a lecture at Origins again.

And that is why I fear what we have is a modern day dystopia.

In what is supposed to be an academic environment, in a free and open society with free speech, we are not supposed to be booting people out because someone ‘feels’ they are some kind of imagined threat.

Good luck and Take Care,

Louis J. Desy Jr. – June 8, 2019

LouisDesyjr@gmail.com

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Running for GAMA Director-At-Large Seat plus Restitution for Larry Correia

I saw in the GAMA (Game Manufacturers Association) June 2019 newsletter (https://mailchi.mp/80506a4c96cd/gama-2019-june-update?e=b2fee8ddb4>GAMA June 2016 Newsletter ) that a few board seats are up for election at the next annual meeting on Friday, June 14, 2019 at 7pm in room A216 of the Greater Columbus Convention Center. GAMA is the parent organization that runs the Origins Game Fair each year. I put my name in to be put on the ballot for a Director-At-Large seat this past Thursday, so I will be on the ballot for voting members to cast a vote for.

I had thought about joining GAMA for a number of years and finally decided to join a little while ago, especially I would like to do my part to help the hobby and its Origins Convention that I enjoy attending so much.

So if you know anyone that is a member of GAMA, or even has any part in the overall gaming/boardgame/comics industry, please mention my running for GAMA director and recommend a vote FOR me for director. Even if the person you are talking with is not a voting member, they may know people that are or have connection to other people who are and word can get around.

While I probably will not be able to attend the meeting in person, there is an option to attend remotely through Zoom this year so I expect to be doing that.

If there is anyone that would be interested in talking about my running for GAMA Director I can be reached at LouisDesyjr@gmail.com.

One item of particular importance, it seems to me that all of us owe Larry Correia restitution for how he was treated and what we all, collectively, allowed to happen. What happened was an outrage. Larry had not been in contact with the person who made the complaint in years plus the person making the complaint did it because of a rebuttal Larry wrote to an article that their finacee had written. So the person making the complaint did it about something they were not even involved in! On top of all of that, the person making the complaint was not even going to attend Orgins, yet GAMA/Origins decided to ‘disinvite’ Larry and take part in this farce.

In the dystopia that we appear to be constructing, people are not banned, they are ‘disinvited’. It is as though we are making our own dialect of newspeak to use.

1984 was supposed to be a warning, not an instruction manual.

It seems to me that all of us should beg forgiveness from Larry for what happened; those that directly took part for what they did, and the rest of us, including me, for failing to prevent an innocent man from being unjustly slandered and persecuted.

Maybe in the future some kind restitution can be made to Larry, like some kind of official staff/officer position as a way to make amends for what happened and in some way, compensate Larry Correia for what happened.

My plan is that once on the board of GAMA, whether it is this Friday, next year or a decade from now; that I will do everything in my power to effect such restitution as soon as possible.

While we can not change what happened in the past, we all can work today to make amends for what we allowed to happen. If you have ever thought or wished that you could repair the damage done last year to Larry and make amends, now is the time to act.

Good Luck and Take Care,

Louis J. Desy Jr.

LouisDesyjr@gmail.com

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Comic Book Stores – Could Marvel Comics End Up Being Closed Down by Disney? – Part 4 of a Series

While I had planned a more orderly presentation of the different aspects of comic books stores and the comic book industry in general; there was a recent article mentioning the possibility that Marvel may end up no longer publishing comics.

While the comic book industry has been in the middle of a multiyear decline, in spite of the success of many comic book characters in a number of movies, comic books themselves have been in the middle of a gradual decline spanning multiple years. Some things are not in the control of anyone related to the industry, but there are parts of the decline that are within the control of the various stakeholders.

In general, over the decades, comics have always had boom/bust cycles, especially after the whole distribution model changed from drugstores, supermarkets and book stores around the late 1970s/early 1980 to dedicated comic book stores, as they are today.

While Diamond Comics Distributors Inc (hereafter referred to as Diamond) does not usually publish the number of comic book stores it has as customers, as far as I can tell, at the highest level, probably in the middle of the 1990s comics book boom, there were about 22,000 comic book stores. In recent years the last Diamond ‘official’ number of accounts with Diamond was put out at around 4,200 with 2,200 being comic book stores. (The non comic book store accounts are ‘entities’ that are buying comics through an account with Diamond but they do not have a retail store.)

Over the many years I have been discussing the comic industry with people, is that it was generally believed that no matter what happened, the publishers and Diamond would always stay in business as long as they right sized their organization for the level of business they had. Since most comic book sales are the result of orders in advance by customers through stores, it should be very possible for publishers and Diamond (the one and only distributor of comics) to properly size their businesses and keep operating. Individual comic book stores have a problem in that customers may order comics and then not pick them up, leaving the store stuck paying for comics that end up sitting in inventory forever and costing the store money.

Over the years I have been part of a number of discussions about if there was some ‘lower limit’ on comic book sales that could or would cause something to happen that would bring an end to comic books in the United States.

One speculation, especially during the financial crisis of 2008/2009 was the possibility of Diamond failing. Diamond is the only comic book distributor left in the United States so its failure could be the end of the comic book industry, or at least a big financial hit to publishers and comic book stores. Without Diamond there would be no way for comic book stores to get their new comics, and publishers would have no way to sell to the vast majority comics to their customers. In such a scenario, it would be easy to see how a lot of comics book store and publishers could all go out of business. It was rumored for a number of years that DC was so worried about the effect of a failure of Diamond on the industry that it had some kind of agreement of understanding with Diamond that if it ever was in danger of failing, and being unable top operate, that DC would have the first right to take over Diamond and continue to keep the distribution operation going.

A recent article at comicbook.news (DISNEY SHUTTING DOWN MARVEL COMICS? : https://cosmicbook.news/disney-shutting-down-marvel-comics , March 1, 2019 ) talks about recent rumors that Disney may close the Marvel (Marvel is a division of Disney, trading under the stock symbol DIS) comics division because of a continuing drop off in volumes and revenue. While it is not clear from the financial reports of Disney just exactly what the revenue is for the comics or if Marvel comics makes a profit or not, because comics are grouped in with other Marvel revenue in the quarterly reports. It does sound like more and more people are under the impression and belief that Marvel comics is losing money, has been losing money for a while, revenue continues to fall, and there is serious speculation about Marvel not publishing comics anymore.  

Within the same time period, IDW Media, the third largest comic book publisher, appears to be having its own set of problems. IDW Media is a publically traded company under the stock symbol IDWM. Its stock closed today at $25.75, down around 50% from its 25 week high of $53.99. Last summer there was an unusual capital raising done that looked like, to me, done to raise cash and keep the company operating. To me this lends credibility to this belief that the comic industry is having serious problems, in general. In addition, BleedingCool.com reported on March 5, 2019 that investors sent an open letter to IDW Media calling for the company to be sold.

(IDW Media Holdings Investors Call for Sale of Company in Open Letter

https://www.bleedingcool.com/2019/03/05/idw-media-holdings-investors-call-for-sale-of-company-in-open-letter/ March 5, 2019)

Here are some of the comments, posted with the first artilce, that I found alarming from the first article, Disney Shutting Down Marvel Comics?, were are follows, along with my comments on those comments:

1: ” Too bad Marvel’s deplorable business practices are killing the comic shops that kept them going all these years.

I’m done with the Big Two. It’s indies and creator-owned for me as has been for over a year now. If Marvel wasn’t putting out such miserable crap, and insulting and attacking its own customer base, maybe it would be in a better spot, but most of the creators they employ these days are worthless hacks, so…”

This commentator clearly thinks that Marvel is partly responsible for the sales declines, which also have been hurting (killing?) comic book shops.

2: If Quesada actually thinks the mouse is going to subsidize Marvel’s garbage tier work while it runs an endless deficit, because it somehow ‘inspires’ the MCU… he’s delusional. The last time Marvel made comics that were coherent, much less entertaining enough to feed into the movies, was almost ten years ago now.”

3: “It’s time for the comics industry– and Marvel in particular– to clean house. FIRE these obnoxious scolds who spend all their time antagonizing the company’s long time customer base with their endless identity politics. Stop all the scams on comic book retailers. Get some legitimate editors. Cater to the actual customers again.”

This commentator believes that identity politics has ruined the product. The ‘scams’ this commentator refers to I believe are promotional items like variant covers, or requiring stores to have certain minimal orders in order to get special limited items. The problem is the minimums are so high that usually it is impossible to sell enough to at least recover the stores cost, leaving the store with unsold inventory and losing money on the promotion.

4: ” Marvel floods the market with new #1s and a million variant covers to get that sweet #1 spot with Diamond every month so they can show their masters at Disney that “We’re still number 1. See?” It’s a bluff. It’s always been a bluff. These #1s sit on shelves collecting dust while a “Second Printing” is announced because they “sold out” at Diamond.

There has been some considerable speculation over the past few years that at times Marvel has been printing and sending out for distribution comics that no one ordered. The theory under this idea is that Marvel prints and sends out product that no one wants because it is able to report to the higher ups at Disney what their print runs are, and look better by doing such antics. Part of the reason some people think this is that there are multiple reports of stores getting in quantities of comics that they did not order or way too many ‘extra’ comics. According to the reports, this keeps happening and the speculation is that Marvel is deliberately overprinting comics so they can report better numbers. If this is what is going on, someone at Disney should be able to tell by looking at the gross margin percentage over a period of several years. If what I just describe is happening, what one would see is that the gross margin percentage would have declined over time and be much lower than it should be, for no discernable reason.

5: Gee,

You must live in a different world than many people who don’t even have a comic shop closer than 45 minutes away!

There can’t be much of a comic book industry if there’s no place SELLING comics!

There are fewer than 1900 comic shops in North America. They lost around 300 shops in the last 3 years alone! There are many people evaluating whether to keep their stores because Marvel and DC are NOT making moves to improve the situation. They essentially told them at the last major meet-up between the companies and retailers that they’re not going to change how they run the business because it would cost too much to change their business models!

It’s completely insane to do business like they have been for about 40 years and most people are aware of that except guys like you who are ignoring the reality.

The business model HAS to change if the industry wants to survive BUT they’re not going to make the changes and it’s a bit late for some of things like selling anthology reprint books at Wal Mart especially when the retailer is indifferent to that idea and doesn’t care to promote comics.

What B&N and most places sell are packaged reprints, not original stories for the most part.
B&N has DRASTICALLY scaled back the size of the American comic section (which looks disorderly) while the manga sections have at least doubled in size. This doesn’t paint a nice picture for American comics on top of the reports about massive shipments of trades and hardcovers to discount places like Ollie’s unless you care to dispute that, too? I’ve been to a local Ollie’s and seen TONS of books from the last 5 years that just haven’t sold!

Yes, the industry CAN collapse.

They HAVE tried to make a go of it on digital but digital does NOT pay the bills and many web artists are finding it impossible to make a living off of web comics!

Do you think it’ll be much better for “comics pros” who are better at insulting the people who buy comics than selling themselves and their product?!?

I think the most alarming part of this comment is the mention and estimate, if true, of about 300 shops closing within the last few years.

6: I am gonna gonna tell you what has slowly killed comic books. Comic shops. I am 49 and when I was a kid you bought comics at grocery stores and convenience stores. Comic still depend of that 9-12 year old first time buyers to get hooked for 5+ years. 
The publishers only want to sell the 100% guarantee to shop. Selling other places that return unsold issues just isnt acceptable anymore.”

This commentator cites to the change in the business model. Pre comic book shops, publishers had a big incentive to put out a quality product that people would buy, since the grocery stores and convenience stores could return unsold comics for full credit. Once the business model change to direct to comic book stores, who had to pay for the comics in full when they were delivered, the incentive and driver was just to make a comic ‘look’ good enough in Previews (monthly catalog of new comics available for ordering with Diamond) to get customers to order them through the store.

Hopefully, Marvel is still doing at least ‘ok’ and sales will rebound, but I find it alarming for an article like this to be published, and, with how things have been going with sales, for it to seem very possible that Marvel comics could get shut down by Disney.

Good Luck and Take Care,

Louis J. Desy Jr., March 8, 2019

LouisDesyjr@gmail.com

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Comic Book Stores – Inventory Problems – Part 3 of a Series

One of the big problems all comic book and game stores have is inventory buildup over time. In all of the time I have been looking at comic book and game stores, I have almost never seen the problem being a lack of inventory in the store, the problem always seem to be a build up of inventory of items that were never picked up by the customers or that owners ordered but no one wanted so it sits in the store forever. In some cases the inventory build up over the course of decades is so bad that some businesses end up with a few hundred thousand comics sitting around and in a few cases, I have run across reports where the build up was as much as one or even two million issues of comics.

My estimate is that there are a number of small comic book stores in the country where they are ‘going along’ with around 50 to 100 subscribers and their typical weekly order shipment from Diamond Comic Distributors Inc (I will, and others, usually refer to Diamond Comic Distributors Inc just as Diamond, Diamond Comics or Diamond Distributing) is around four to six boxes, resulting in the items at retail of around $1,000. With a hoped for 50% gross margin it gives them $500 per week to  pay all business expenses providing that all the customers pick up their orders. Now, I know that many people are kind of shocked that I would pick such a low amount, since at that level of sales the gross margin in full is only $26,000 per year, which is lower than working a job at minimum wage full time in many parts of the country. I have seen the financial books for some stores over the years and they were operating at or below that level. While those stores did eventually close, I have reason to believe that many of the stores still in business today are running along at such levels, and even on average $1,000 in sales may be OVER estimating the sales for a number of existing stores. The reason a number of stores are able to stay open at such levels are usually because the owner is somehow able to get funds from another source or has something special going on (owns the building, has social security retirement income) that allows them to stay open for working, in effect, less than minimum wage.

The reason that many comic book store owners would be willing to work, for in effect, less than minimum wage is, in my view, a combination of two things: 1: The owners love being in the business and do not want to do anything else. As long as they are able to somehow stay in business, they will, and will keep going. 2: The owners really do not want to go work for someone else, mainly for the loss of freedom to do what they want every day at work plus if there is no really better prospect for work, except for something at or near minimum wage, there is not much incentive or urgency to change their work. In many cases it may be that the alternatives offers not much upside or improvement from working for themselves, so there is no rush or incentive to close the store and go work for someone else.

I think part of the reason many owners do not want to close their store, no matter how bad things are financially, is that they feel, and I think they are correct, is that it is something that will be ‘gone and lost forever’; i.e. the closing of the store will be the passing of an era and a tragedy to them and their customer, so they try to hold on for as long as possible. There was time and era where many comic book stores did very well and a dream job for many people. A person, who only really needed to have an interest and knowledge of comics, could go sign up with a distributor for a credit limit of $5,000 on net 7 day terms, lease a store space, and be profitable from almost the first day. A comic book store owner didn’t even need to be a high school graduate, would be able to make a very good middle class income, and was the master of their own fate. One of my friends during the mid 1990s boom, had sales of over $100,000 most years and a few years may have had sales as high as $180,000 per year, all out of a 600 sqft or so store, in a multiunit building  that they owned (three rental units and one commercial unit for the store). This was also around the same time that many comic book store owners bought their own store or building the store was in because they felt the comic book store was going to be around for a long time and wanted to own the building instead of leasing.

Today, there are still a number of stores in this situation and one of the big reasons that those store has been able to remain open is that the store has been shielded from rent increases, due to the escalation of real estate prices over the years, because the store owner owns the building. The problem in these situation is that many times the stores are only marginally profitable, even with the owner owning the building. In many cases in this situation the owner eventually sells the building as they retire but the store ends up closing since there is no way to keep the store as an going business due to the fact that the store is really not profitable enough to support a market level lease, so no one can buy the store as a going business.

Anyways, onto the inventory problem. The big problem is that for many stores there is a massive buildup in inventory which takes up most or all of the store profit, and eventually kills the store. Instead of having cash to pay bills, especially rent, utilities (electric, gas, phone) and the weekly invoice for new product shipment from Diamond, the store is unable to continue on. Over the years I have seen some stores so bad off that they had their electricity shut off or phone shut off. In one case of the phone being shut off the store could not process credit cards at the store and customers had to make arrangements to pay by check or cash, since the store was unable to process credit cards. In another case the store was so bad off that the mall locked the store out of their commercial space and seized all of the inventory in the store for non payment of rent. (Under state law this was legal and a right of remedy available to landlords for non payment of rent on commercial leases.)

The first cause of inventory build up is that customers do not pick up all of their orders and the store gets stuck paying for them and then not being able to ever sell them, in some cases at any price. The typical sales cycle is that customers tells the store what comics they want, the store places the orders every month with Diamond Distributing, and when the comics arrive each week the customer comes into the store and pays for them. This entire model break down when customers over estimate what they can afford to pay for or something changes with the customer and the customer can no longer afford to pay for the comics as they arrive. Some situations are beyond the customers control, like an unexpected loss of their job and they can no longer afford to get their comics. In these situations many customers will notify the store and cancel all of their subscriptions so at least the store will no longer order for that customer. The problem is that even if one stops ordering for a customer today, there are comics that will arrive for that customer for the next few months, which the store is stuck paying for. In some situation sometimes customers will move away and not notify the store to stop their subscriptions.

My friend Roger Anderson, of Musicquest in Worcester, MA, had an interesting problem years ago when he was going down his list of subscribers and calling them to get them to come in and pick up some of their stuff. One person he called was not in but someone else answered their phone. The person on the other end did not seem to really be clear of when or where the person Roger wanted to talk to was or when they would be back so Roger could phone them and talk to them. Roger kept pressing and finally the person who had answered asked why Roger needed to talk with the person so bad. Roger explained that the guy had a subscription for comics at his store but the guy had not been in to the store in 3 or 4 months. At this point the person, who Roger had on the phone, told him that the guy had moved away a few months ago and left no contact information. If Roger had not pressed the person he got on the phone for more details, Roger may have place more orders for comics for this subscriber, that Roger would have had to pay for, but was never going to get picked up and paid for ever.

The second cause of inventory build up is that many comic store owners will order things that ‘they like’ under the believe and hope that if they like it, their customers will like it. The problem in many cases is that the customers usually have different likes so the items arrive, get paid for by the store, and then sit in inventory until the end of time. As these items build up over time even a small store could have tens of thousands of dollars tied up in things are never going to sell!

The third cause of inventory build up is the large number of items publishers put out every month plus, in some cases, required minimums to purchase some items. I am still amazed at how Previews, the monthly catalog from Diamond of the items available for ordering each month, is typically anywhere from 400 to 600 pages. The problem with having so many things available every month, that it is hard to know what to order or what will sell. Every time a store orders ‘just a few of something new’ they run the risk that not even 50% of what was order will sell, meaning that it cost the store money to have it in stock and also now the remainder are taking up space in the store, usually forever. While a few things overstocked is not that bad, over the course of a few decades it can result in hundreds of thousand of unsellable comics or even mountains of comics that are unsellable in the range of one or two million issues and require storage or warehouse space. The problem with the tens of thousands of dollars tied up in such mountains of inventory is that they usually will never sell because most comics are usually only in demand for a few weeks after they are released. After that, most stores discount them, and then after that it is the one dollar or even 25 cent bin where they languish forever and take up space. All of this unsold comics take up valuable cash that stores need to pay bills and provide the owner a living.

Fro many stores, the inventory build up problem is so bad that even if they lost something like 50% to 80% of their inventory overnight, they would still be able to have a large pile of inventory available to stock the store with and the store shelves would still be jammed with items. The comic book industry is one of the few industries where I have seen inventory builds up on such a large scale and combined with the problem that even at very low prices it would still not be practical to sell off this inventory. Part of the problem, especially for a number of comic series rushed into production during one of the boom periods, is that the comics were bad (bad illustrations, bad story line, no plot, etc) and no one wants to read them, so no one wants to buy them, ever. Some of these comics are so bad that even if given away from free to people that fans would consider it a waster of their time to read them!

Hopefully, with the help of computer systems such as Comicbase or Diamonds retail Point of Sale System, Comic Suite, for comic book stores, many of the problems with store inventory can be mitigated so comic book stores can be successful and continue to operate for years to come.

One recommendation I would make is that companies like Diamond Distributing should do everything possible to make it affordable for all comic book stores to get an integrated Point of Sale System. The last time I look at that it does look like a good system but seems to be very expensive. While I can understand wanting to make it so the sales cover the cost, Diamond Distributing should remember that it is in the business of moving comics and the Point of Sale systems is a tool to help stores be successful so they can build their business, which would result in more comic book orders. If possible, I would recommend that Diamond Distributing sell the Point of Sale system for as little as possible in order to make it so all stores are automated and computerized to the full extent possible. Every moment such a system can save a comic store owner from having to deal with the mundane work of the mechanics of running a store is another minute that a comic book store owner can be doing something else to directly work on providing service to their customers and building the business, and everyone in the chain (publishers, Diamond Distributing, comic book store owners, customers) all benefit.

Good Luck and Take Care,

Louis J. Desy Jr.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

LouisDesyjr@gmail.com

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