Articles & E-books

Efficient Back Issue Retailing

Posted: June 23, 2005 03:22 PM

This is an article about how retailers are making money on back-issues in today's radically different back-issue marketplace.

There are many approaches to Back Issue retailing, and some are more profitable then others. I'd like to describe an approach to Back Issue retailing which is simple and profitable. If your store is experiencing financial problems and you want to increase cash flow, or if you aren't personally interested in mastering the intricacies of Back Issues, here's an approach that has worked for my clients and can work for you.

Here are the key elements of this Back Issue marketing plan:

How can this plan succeed in attracting and keeping customers in your store?

First of all, you aren't trying to compete with the Golden Age/Silver Age specialist in the next county who has an inventory valued at $200,000. You aren't trying to compete with the Back Issue aficionado who has three complete runs of "Omega Man" somewhere in his store or warehouse.

What you are trying to do is compete for the most common Back Issue purchaser. This is the Reader/Collector who starts reading a title and wants to get most of the issues which were published in the last 2-4 years so they can get up to speed on story lines and on characters.

The majority of regular comics customers fall into this category, and as a rule are badly served by most comics shops. Why is this? Think about the first time you went into a new comic shop in your area as a customer. You went through their Back Issue section, and were delighted to find 5-6 items which you had wanted for a while. You have gotten positive feedback from your store experience and will come back again.

The next time you came into the store, you only found 1-2 items in their Back Issue section which you wanted, even though you went through every long box there. In fact, you noticed that most of the books you saw three weeks ago were still there, and that there wasn't much new. Instead of positive feedback, you now probably felt neutral about the store, and it took longer before you came back a third time.

The third time you came back, you probably didn't find anything which appealed to you. You are now experiencing negative feedback from shopping at this store, and it will be even longer before you shop there again. It doesn't take long at this rate to turn you off completely from shopping at this store.

The Back Issue marketing plan which we're advocating here is the opposite of the scenario we've just described, and has the result of making it more likely that the customer will return to your store time after time. If you have a relatively small Back Issue inventory on the floor which keeps turning over rapidly, your casual visitors will think of your store as a reliable place to go and search for Back Issue titles that they are interested in.

The other components of the plan as we've described it focus on minimizing your costs and maximizing your profits.

The typical comics shop gets between $40-$150 in sales each year for every square foot dedicated to Back Issues (including aisle space around your Back Issue area). New Comics, on the other hand, can approach sales of $1,400 per square foot annually. Back Issues as an entire department tend to sell very slowly, with annual turnover rates of 1-1.5 being very typical. New Comics can turn over as fast as 10-11 times per year with agressive ordering and marketing. The only area where Back Issues are superior to New Comics is the markup, and that's not sufficient to compensate you for the two other areas where Back Issues are inferior to New Comics and similar merchandise lines.

Try it. We think that many of you will like the results that you get.

An update in 1997

This article was originally written for ComicNet just before the common back issue market really deteriorated. Since then many comics retailers have eliminated back issues almost totally, many others have severely downgraded their back issue space allocation. As usual people have gone overboard. The result is that in many marketplaces there’s accumulated demand for back issues at a fair price.

There’s a kicker, though. If you are still oriented to the traditional back-issue model of careful grading, high prices and slow turnover you won’t succeed in today’s market. I’m not saying that a niche for that kind of back issue operation doesn’t exist. It’s just that the demand for that style of back issue marketing is much smaller than it used to be, and that in the near future most of the demand for that type of product is likely to be satisfied on the Internet.

Think of your back issue department as an used-bookstore, where customers who have discovered a new author can come and pick up all the out-of-print titles that they’d love to read. What are the titles that people really want to read that they’ll pay cover price for or more as a back issue?

Most of the better alternative/independent titles fall into that category. I’ll guarantee you that most of the Image titles and look-alike clones of the last three years won’t be in the category for 90% of comics retailers!

Price your books to sell! Overstreet has gotten a little more realistic in the last few months regarding their pricing, but most guides are still higher than reality justifies. One of our clients posts signs on their display wall to the effect "Wizard price $15.00, our price $8.00". It turns out that $8.00 is what his local market thinks is a fair price for the item in question and it makes him look good.

The name of the game is turnover. The faster your back issues turn, the more profitable they are because you are generating more revenue on small amounts of capital tied up in product. Don’t ever make the mistake of thinking that because you only paid pennies for something that you can afford to have it gather dust in your back room. That’s the way to low profits and big headaches.

We had an entire article on effective back issue retailing by the use of Point-of-Sale technology in the March-April issue of The Comics Spectator.  Send us a note at feedback to get a copy in Acrobat Reader format.