A message to comic shop retailers around the world from Filip Sablik, President, Publishing & Marketing at BOOM! Studios.
To Our Retail Partners,
A new day will dawn for the direct market. I believe we must rise to meet this rebirth by recommitting to who we are and what makes comic book stores special.
Soon, we’ll have new comics to sell. When that moment comes, every comic shop will have a fresh start. Each store has their own new Day One in their future.
Some parts of the world will open before others to ensure safety. Comic shops won’t have a single uniform Day One. One size doesn’t fit all.
But one thing is certain: Your customers will return. And on your new Day One, you’ll have an opportunity you haven’t had since you first opened your store – the chance to make a first impression.
How do I know your comic book customers are coming back?
Because you sell community.
Community is what makes comic book stores special.
Before COVID-19, customers could buy comic books online at the click of a few buttons. Many websites sold cheaper than you could even after shipping. Your customers could read the newest stories instantly when they woke up through digital apps. None of this information is new or secret.
If price or convenience was the only thing driving a customer’s decision to purchase, there would be no foot traffic in comic book stores after the widespread adoption of the internet. None at all!
But comic book fans didn’t exclusively buy new releases off the internet or an app. They bought them at your store.
Because you sell community.
It’s why I love comic shops. Where else can I talk about Saga coming back?
Now I don’t debate who’s stronger—Superman or the Hulk. But I’ve been there when two people—neither of whom worked at a job where the boss or a co-worker wanted to debate this—started discussing it and asked me what I thought.
In case you didn’t know, I have a shrine to the original superhero in my office.
You see, you don’t just sell issues of Superman—or Once & Future.
You also sell community, a place where everyone knows your name. You sell a place where every customer knows that you’ll introduce them to the best work from their favorite creators. You sell them Kieron Gillen’s Once & Future or Ludocrats because they love Die or The Wicked & The Divine. You sell them Brian Azzarello’s Faithless because you remember they enjoyed Moonshine or 100 Bullets. You sell them James Tynion IV’s Something Is Killing the Children because they’re devouring his Batman or The Woods.
You sell a space where people appreciate gorgeous art by Jim Lee, Jenny Frison, Dan Mora, and Mike Mignola.
You sell a place where people know who these creators are — and if a customer doesn’t know who they are, you educate them.
And in turn, you know your customers. What they like, what they don’t like, who they are, who their families are, and what matters to them. You’ve shared in their joys and laughter, their achievements and triumphs.
Your store is a unique, integral part of the comics industry. No other comic store can replace the experience of your comic store.
I believe that comic book stores are your customers’ “third place.” I had planned on making this idea a central part of my presentation to our retail partners at the Diamond Retailer Summit in Orlando weeks ago.
In his seminal book The Great Good Place, Robert Oldenburg introduced the idea that in order for a society to flourish every person must have three realms. The first place is home. The second place is work. We all have these first two places. They are understood and universal.
But the third place is a place that is not linked to your home life and not linked to your work life. It’s a place we can be ourselves free from the responsibilities of home or work. They’ve existed throughout human history. We all seek them out whether we realize it or not.
In Ancient Greece, it was the agora. During the Enlightenment and French Revolution, it was the coffee house. During the American Revolution, it was the tavern. In modern life, it might include churches, community centers, coffee shops and cafes, bars and pubs, restaurants, malls, hair salons and barber shops, pools, movie theaters, clubs and organizations, libraries, and even parks.
Because they are a third place, I believe comic book shops are an intrinsic part of our society. Comic book shops matter.
The good news is that you don’t just sell comic books. Because you offer your customers something far more valuable – community. If your store is a reflection of you, your staff, and the customers you want to fill your store with, that’s a third place only you can create. You’ve created a place where a group of people can be themselves, debate their favorite stories and heroes with friends, share their burdens with a friendly ear, and discover the next amazing story from a trusted source. And community is the most powerful reason for customers to shop at a comic store.
Across the world, we’ve seen members of our community rally to boost their local comic shop. Those customers, the customers you serve, aren’t buying your backstock, donating money, signing up for book clubs, or ordering gift cards to save the places they buy comic books and graphic novels.
They’re doing it to save their third place.
The third place you’ve created cannot be replaced, replicated, or made obsolete by another channel that offers to sell the same product you sell to your community.
You are a community builder.
Don’t lose sight of who you are, why your store exists, and what you believe. No other channel can sell the same stuff you do.
We’ve all had to hunker down while this passes outside. We’ve had to find shelter and safety. But Day One is coming. It’s time to engage with, to strengthen, and grow your community. I’ve seen amazing examples of comic stores learning to live stream across social channels, running book clubs through video conference services, offering curated or concierge shopping services, providing information and entertainment to their communities through blog posts, videos, and newsletters, and so much more. I’ve talked to retailers who are organizing, cleaning, and reinventing the interior of their stores to make them even more welcoming when they reopen. Some of these ideas generate an immediate return, but even if they don’t, investing in your community is something that will pay dividends in the long run.
You are community builders.
And what’s more, I believe that when this is all over – whether the world returns to something that closely resembles the world before or whether our new normal is quite different – that our community will need both of us more than ever. After weeks of isolation and communicating through text, phone, and video chat, we will all need to reconnect with our third place. We will all need stories. Stories that help us reconnect with our humanity, that will help us make sense of what happened, stories that allow us to escape, and stories that inspire us.
Let’s make sure we’re ready when that day comes. Let’s take this time to make sure that we have the best stories ready to go. That our third places are all the best versions of themselves.
At BOOM! Studios, we’re ready for your Day One. As your best partner, we’ve been planning and refining our 2020 publishing plans to ensure that we show up with Must Read stories to earn our space on your shelves. We’ve already shared with you our Retailer Support Services to support you when you open your doors again for your community. You’ve seen our continued support every week in our retailer newsletters arming you with small business tools and information. There’s more support to come. More importantly, we will transparently share our plans so you aren’t wondering what’s going to draw your community in for this new dawn, you can start talking to them about it. Together we’ll make sure that when our community returns to their favorite third place that they are excited to do so and are greeted by the best Must Read stories we can deliver.
I’ll see you there. At my local comic shop.
President, Publishing & Marketing