What this comic shop's bold move says about comics (and how they're sold)

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Feb 7, 2014, 6:32 PM EST

The future of brick-and-mortar comic shops is in a perpetual state of flux, but could this one shop's plan be a sign of things to come?

All things being equal, the chances that your first comic shop is still open are pretty slim. I came into comics in the '90s during a major boom for the business, but, as you probably know, that boom was followed by a serious bust, leading to many shops around the world shuttering.

And in the interim between then and now, there's always been this question hanging in the air -- how much longer can comic shops endure? Sure, there are occasional spikes in sales, but single issues are usually ignored in favor of buying the collected trade paperback. And with most comic publishers going same-day digital, the future of comic shops has only gotten murkier.

Recently, a local Brooklyn shop, Bergen Street Comics, made an official announcement on Twitter that, although unintentionally, speaks to how some may deal with unpredictable floppy sales in the future.

Now, to be clear, that doesn't mean the big two are never being sold at Bergen Street again, it just means that, if you want them, you have to order them. Ordering books is hardly revolutionary (plenty of comic fans have a subscription box at their local shop), but the idea of leaving Marvel and DC all but entirely off the rack? That's very telling, whether it means to be or not.

Bergen Street was quick to say that this was not a political move, and I absolutely believe that. But they also said that the move has "nothing to do with other shops/state of comics in general," and I'm not so sure I agree there.

Is this a thing every shop should consider? Nah, I don't think so. I worked for years at the Forbidden Planet down in Union Square, and if their buyer decided he was sticking to subs when it came to Marvel and DC, I'd assume he'd lost his mind. But that shop represents what I've always seen as a minority -- comic stores in tourist-heavy cities located in an area of heavy foot traffic. They can afford to order in large quantities, because people will walk into Forbidden Planet because they know the name and because it's New York City.

But what Bergen Street is doing could very well be a viable business model for many smaller shops across this great sphere of ours. Think about it -- you assess your built-in sales from regulars, cut down on the cost of floppies that waste on the shelf anyway, and open up more space in your shop for trades, indie books, home-grown geek merch, 'zines and the like.

Sure, there will always be the occasional new reader walking in (especially when those big-budget movies come out), but it's much easier to sell those folks a collection anyway. When Marvel's Avengers came out and ended on a Thanos cliffhanger, copies of Infinity Gauntlet flew off the shelves, but single issues for Marvel didn't see that same dramatic increase.

Comic shops are purveyors of commercialized art, and the downside of that means that the bottom line is something they always have to keep in mind. But moving the big two to subs-only might not mean losing money, it might mean saving it. And, at the same time, it could mean the chance to put the focus on the stuff most of us love best about comic shops -- hanging around salon-style, talking about issues (both comics and otherwise) of the day, and maybe even working on (and then selling) funny books of your own.

(via Comics Beat)