Physical stores will never die (but the comic book store might)
A few weeks ago, the LA Times (and many others) reported that Google was considering opening retail stores, similar to what Apple has done and Microsoft is in the midst of doing. Though that rumour has been denied by Google, it would have been an interesting direction for the software giant to take, as it would have made a statement that Google recognizes the need for retail locations through which they can project (and control) how their products are perceived. Google has since expressed a different view: that consumers no longer feel the need to “physically experience a product in order to make a purchasing decision“. It’s true: as online reviews have become the standard by which we judge most products, sometimes giving it more importance than our own judgment. And with the ease of online stores like Amazon that will deliver anything to you in 24-48 hours, combined with their usual lower cost, it’s hard to argue the need for a physical store.
If we only look at Apple and Microsoft, you’d think the opposite. Apple store sales are still growing and Microsoft continues its growth of stores. But then you analyze Barnes and Noble, the dismal outlook most investors have over their future , and you really have to wonder what’s going on here.
More importantly, one has to wonder what the hell this has to do with comic book stores.
When I see that computer manufacturers and software creators have, for the most part, eschewed traditional retailers and gone straight to the consumer, it makes me wonder why, and what benefits such a move has, even as other retailers see dwindling sales and have, in many cases, just ceased to exist (Borders and Circuit City, anyone?).
Aside from the vertical nature of distribution in having your own store (allowing you to stock it up with only your products), the most important benefit one’s own store provides is the complete control of the purchase experience. Aside from having a product that is in demand (which is where Barnes and Noble is failing) and allowing you to purchase it, it is the most important function a retail store can provide. Apple realized this 12 years ago, and invested heavily in crafting a physical presence and instituted programs like computer lessons and how to alter your photos, to encourage people just to come in to the store. Cause, you see, once you’re in a store, you’re more inclined to buy something then and there.
This is how most mom-and-pop bookstores were able to survive the onslaught of the mega-bookstores: they provided an experience and prices that competitors simply couldn’t match. And thankfully, through the comic book store, we already have a network of stores specifically targeted to our readers. All we need to do is get them to come in.
How? Well, first it needs to be easily found. That surprisingly obvious fact is not that obvious to most comic book stores. Second, we need to shed the image and mentality that we are this closed and dark place where only die-hard geeks dare venture. That image does us more harm than good, as it somewhat frightens potential customers from reaching out.
More importantly, we need to give them a reason to come in.
Naturally, this can be through signings and events but we need to focus on more than that. There is a movement growing of people who want to create comic books of their own: why not provide a venue for them? Perhaps comic book stores can double as a place to learn how to create a comic book. If we can foster the creative spirit at our retail locations, people will gravitate towards them and bring their friends (who doesn’t want to show off that their comic books are in the shelves?).
Another idea would be to have small, mini-conventions where people can gather once every two months or something like that and just relive the great things about conventions: the sights, the sounds, the cosplay, the “OHMYGODI’MTHEIRBIGGESTFAN” moments. Yes, this is harder to pull off, but it’s completely doable (with the right partnerships).
The point is, comic book stores need to craft a more welcoming experience and need to focus more on bringing people into the store rather than just selling comic books. Comic books are in demand now (you can thank digital sales and movies for that, BTW), we just need to provide the right incentives to get them in through the door.
That’s all for now.