Last weekend, I decided to make the switch from buying my comics at my local comics shop (LCS) and instead get them from Discount Comic Book Service. This was a long process for me, that I’ve resisted since I got back into comics for a few reasons.
I’m lucky enough to live in an Austin neighborhood that has two comics retailers along its borders less than 2 miles from my house, Dragon’s Lair Comics and Fantasy and Austin Books and Comics. Dragon’s Lair is my ‘home’ LCS (where I keep my pull list) and Austin Books is where I go for things I missed, because Dragon’s Lair is sold out, it’s a more obscure indie book, variant cover, back issue, etc. Austin Books is a tremendous shop — by far the best shop I’ve ever visited. The big downside of Austin Books is that they don’t offer a pull service. They send out an email once a week listing all the new items, and you can reply and say what you want so that it will be set aside. That’s too much work to go through every Tuesday.
And neither shop offers discounts on new issues (Austin Books gives 10% on trades), or really much of any incentive to shop with them. Dragon’s Lair will occasionally drop a variant in your box if you ask for one and charge you just cover price, but that’s about it. They are each good shops and are fairly good at what they do — Dragon’s Lair is the Gamer’s shop that also has comics if you want (no back issues, just stuff from the last few months) and Austin Books is the specialty shop that carries pretty much everything all the time and is the big advocate for comics in the community.
I understand the business reasons not to do pull lists if you don’t have to (the overhead to maintain the lists, people not picking up their books, people pissed off because there pull was off by one book, etc.) and I understand the business reasons not to give discounts (your core customer is the gamer who also reads books and wants it all from one location, you carry comics mostly as a courtesy to them), but I’m looking for a retailer both interested in comics and interested in my business. I don’t pick up as many books as some (35-45 books a month), but I pick up enough that a discount would make a big difference. And I’ve always bought in to the idea that the LCS is a place to talk about books with other people, that it’s the ‘heart’ of the comics community wherever you live.
I’m also a ‘local business first’ kind of guy, and interested in keeping my money in the community, but I also want a good deal. In the past I’ve figured that I’m willing to spend 10-20% more to buy my books locally instead of online, but not much more than that without feeling like the retailer is taking advantage.
So, once or twice before, I ran the numbers. I pulled down the excel sheet from DCBS and would put in my regular pull list — no extra books just bec. they were cheap, or anything like that. Once I factored in shipping costs, getting my books delivered every week (paying extra for that), and the delay from Wednesday to Friday (or even Monday) to allow for that shipping time, the discount only ended up being about 17% for me. Not enough for me to switch.
Then I listened to the latest 2 part episode of Comic Timing with John Mayo and Bob Bretall of The Comic Book Page. You might know John from his regular Mayo Report feature on CBR or his regular reports on Around Comics (sadly, taking a hiatus now) doing analysis and commentary on the Diamond sales rankings.
Two important things I took away from that podcast:
1. When you order your books online from somebody out of state (I live in Texas, DCBS is in Indiana), you don’t pay sales tax. Doh! I hadn’t included that in my analysis before!
2. Bob’s comment that he didn’t spend as much time as he thought at his LCS. Mostly he would drop by, pick up his books, and go. Sometimes the guy behind the counter knew his name and sometimes he didn’t.
That second one really stuck with me. How much time did I spend at Dragon’s Lair? Maybe 20 minutes once a week. There were some people there who knew me, but there’s also a lot of employee turnover there — mostly because high school kids and recent graduates are the bulk of the employees — and very often I would have to tell them my name and then have them search for my books and hand them to me. That’s not a big deal when there’s a new employee. I don’t expect every employee to get a primer on all the regulars. But after four or five weeks of me coming in at pretty much the same time and telling them my name, I’d like them to at least remember who I am. But most of the people who work there are gamers (naturally) or into Manga (I’m not), so they are naturally less interested in comics. And I’m not even getting a discount!
I downloaded the latest spreadsheet from DCBS and built a sample order. They had recently changed the shipping rates as well. Once I factored in sales tax (8.25% in Austin) I realized I could save between $50 and $75 a month with DCBS (or 28-35% of my monthly budget). For me, that’s like getting nearly a month of books for free every quarter! That’s not something I can seriously pass up.
So, I’m making the change. My first shipment should arrive around the first week of March. I broke the news to Dragon’s Lair about leaving. They didn’t do anything to try and keep my business, so I guess that’s that. At least for now.
More in the coming weeks about the process and my experience. It’s also seriously made me re-evaluate the long term prospects for our hobby and the viability of the current direct market model. More to come on that as well.