New Ways Forward for Comic Book Specialty Market. Highlights from 13th annual ComicsPRO Comic Industry Conference. Optimism and shared risk are the common themes of conference.

Looking to spur new and sustainable growth in an under-performing comics specialty market, comics retailers, publishers, and distributors met in Charlotte, NC this past weekend for ComicsPRO’s 13th annual industry conference.

“Comics retailers are sharing with us the feeling they are shouldering a lot of the risk in the industry and are looking for new ways to move this market ahead,” said Peter Dolan, President of the Board of ComicsPRO. “This malaise convinced the ComicsPRO board to facilitate retailer brainstorming with an eye to solutions. We recently released a report showing some suggested ways forward. I believe publishers and other vendors are hearing our concerns and are moving to sensible ways to share the burden and grow the market,” added Dolan.

Publishers and distributors pledged to help in various ways. “The themes I heard from publishers were returnability, responsible curation of product lines and strategies to deal with the glut of variants, plus better information flow,” said Marco Davanzo, Executive Director of ComicsPRO.

One of the highlights of the conference was Friday morning’s “State of the Comics Industry” discussion, headlined by veteran retailers Brian Hibbs (Comix Experience, San Francisco CA), Phil Boyle (Coliseum of Comics, Florida), and Joe Field (Flying Colors, Concord CA).

“Simply, Brian, Phil, and Joe are the best at what they do,” said Marco Davanzo. Calling them “retailer thought leaders, Davanzo added “They are deep thinkers, often with disparate opinions, and have the respect among retailers and publishers. If all three are talking about the same themes, it’s time for everyone to listen!”

Speaking first from the dais, Brian Hibbs of San Francisco’s Comix Experience said retailers, distributors, and publishers all share the blame for comic sales’ difficulties. He proposed a 10-point plan to move the market forward and hopefully solve some of its current issues: 

• Lack of quality in core superhero and licensed titles
• The current glut of comics
• Retailers, Publishers, and Distributors working against their own long term interests.
• Shortage of new customers becoming regular comics buyers.

Phil Boyle, owner of Florida-based Coliseum of Comics eight-store chain, then started his talk sharing a long list of recently shuttered shops, pointing to the urgency of just how much comics publishers, retailers, creators and distributors need to work together.

“We’ve seen times of crisis in this industry via the black and white glut of the 80’s and the speculator crash of the 90’s,” said Boyle. “This time we’re in a different, more subtle type of crisis, as other forms of entertainment have whittled away our base of readers. Even with many great things in this business we need to reconsider all aspects of publishing, distribution and retailing.” Boyle added “I’m very happy to see the open dialog that happened at this meeting”.

Long-time retailer Joe Field of Flying Colors Comics in Concord CA and the founder of Free Comic Book Day was the last to give his prepared statement. Stressing the difficulty of ordering comics in a world where there are not just so many titles, but so many entertainment choices, Field pushed for publishers to share some of the risk. He mentioned graduated returnability as a possible solution. “We need to work as much toward 100% consumer satisfaction as we do toward 100% sell-through,” said Field. ” Publishers want retailers to order more aggressively. The way to do that is to mitigate our risk. We have to get back to taking care of the comic book fans that have been so faithful for so long while also having enough stock on hand for more people to become regular comic book readers.”All in attendance agreed to look at potential solutions for the benefit of all involved with the comics’ specialty market, from publishers, creators, distributors to retailers and fans.

The ComicsPRO Annual Industry Conference is the only annual retailer-driven event in the industry, often cited as the most important business-focused event of the year.

ComicsPRO is a non-profit trade association dedicated to the health and progress of comic book specialty retailers. ComicsPRO gives retailers a unified voice to speak on important industry issues, provides educational and mentoring opportunities to current and future retailers, and provides ways for members to reduce fixed costs.
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