Brick-and-mortar comic book stores have been struggling for years, for a variety of reasons. The comics industry as a whole has been in more-or-less continuous decline since the 90s, with fewer and fewer people reading comics. Many who do still read have turned to digital comics, depriving local stores of business. Finally, the economy as a whole sucks. Young people especially have trouble finding jobs, and prices on necessities like gas and food are rising. Chances are that, no matter how much you like Batman, you like eating more.
All this means it’s an incredibly difficult time to operate a neighborhood comic book store.
Perhaps you want to help your LCS (local comic shop or local comic book store) but can’t afford to, or maybe you still go there every week and just can’t spend any more money. That’s why I’m here: I’ve got three tips on how you can support your local comic book store (assuming they deserve it) without spending more money than you already do.
1. Buying digitally? Use a Digital Storefront.
Maybe you’ve made the switch to reading all digital, or you’re considering the idea. It has a lot of appeal: your entire collection with you wherever you go, and thousands more titles available for purchase, anytime, anyplace. But what about your local shop? That’s weekly business they’re losing, with the money most likely going to increasingly large digital distributor, Comixology. Luckily, those fine folks are sympathetic to our cause and have created a digital storefront option for LCS’s. Shops can create a Comixology account, add a link on their store website, and create a digital storefront. Then you, the customer, access Comixology through the link. For any purchases you make, a portion of the purchase price will go back to your local shop. This way, even though they take a hit, they’re not losing all your business. Just remember that you have to access the Comics by Comixology app through the store’s link. And if your LCS doesn’t yet have such a digital storefront, tell them to get one! It’s super easy.
2. Swing by the ATM first. Pay with cash.
This one is actually true for all small businesses. If you’re like me, you probably make virtually all your purchases with a credit or debit card; after all, it’s much easier than carrying cash. Unfortunately, businesses pay fees for each card transaction.
(Warning: Math ahead)
The amount they pay can vary from business to business, but small businesses (like comic book stores) usually pay a higher fee; big retail stores can usually get a better deal with the card companies because they have a greater transaction volume. Regardless, these fees always have two parts: a fixed amount per transaction – around 22 cents would be normal for a small business – AND a percentage of the total transaction, usually 2 or 3%. (This is for a credit card transaction. Debit would be a bit less) This ensures that VISA or MasterCard gets bigger fees for bigger transactions, but that they still make a guaranteed amount even if the transaction is small. The fixed portion of the fee is the most important to your LCS, because many of their transactions are just a few bucks. Say you only pick up a single book for $2.99. The shop paid approximately $1.50 to the publisher (although they get better deals for larger orders), so right away they’re left with $1.49. If you pay with a card, they’ll have to pay a transaction fee of $0.22 plus 3% of $2.99 (it’s actually 3% of $2.99 and tax, but I’m trying to keep this simple). 3% of $2.99 is about $0.09. Add that to the$0.22 and we get $0.31. Now subtract that from the $1.49 they were originally left with, and you have $1.18 remaining. The credit card company has taken almost 21% of the store’s profit from the sale of that book. The store has to use the remaining $1.18 to pay employees, electric bills, rent, and more. Hopefully, in the end, the store owner actually has enough to live off of. This is why Stuart, the owner of the comics shop on The Big Bang Theory is always struggling with money. It’s also why a lot of small businesses refuse to accept credit and debit cards on small transactions.
Difficult as it may be, try to remember to bring cash to the comic shop. Perhaps withdraw the appropriate amount in cash when you deposit your paycheck (if you have one). Even if you don’t pay with cash every time, try to do it as much as possible. All those little fees can really add up.
3. Get your friends involved.
As cheesy as it sounds, getting other people interested in comics will obviously be good for small stores as well. There are all kinds of ways to get them involved. I’ve found that many of my friends have never even been to a comic book store, and there’s often a mixed sense of curiosity and fear about the place. If you’re heading to your LCS, ask if they’d like to come along. Even if they don’t buy anything, you’re introducing them to part of your world. Free Comic Book Day is a great time to bring them in. Everybody likes getting free stuff, and hopefully they’ll see the store at its most interesting,
It may feel a bit underhanded, but while you’re there you can also point out books, toys, or games that you’d like to get one day. It was completely unintentional, but I mentioned to a friend that I’d like to try a certain game, and on my next birthday I found out my friends had gone back to my LCS to get it.
Finally, you can use your LCS for all your birthday and holiday shopping needs. Even if the people you’re buying for aren’t interested in comics, your LCS probably has something they would like for a present. No guys will complain about a Batman or Wolverine book or poster, and even non-geek girls will appreciate a Supergirl or Wonder Woman t-shirt. That’s not to mention the huge assortment of other merchandise. Game of Thrones and Doctor Who are both immensely popular right now, along with the aforementioned Big Bang Theory. Throw in things like The Hunger Games, Angry Birds, World of Warcraft, the always-popular Firefly, and Marvel’s The Avengers, and your LCS literally has something for everyone.
There are tons of other ways to support your favorite comic book store. Some of them involve spending money, but lots of them don’t. Give them a positive review on Google or Yelp. If you encounter someone complaining about a particular shop, either in person, or online, point them toward a shop you like, rather than bashing the other store.
Digital may be gaining a bigger foothold, but brick-and-mortar stores are still a crucial element of comic culture, and we need to help them as much as possible.