Hey, Los Angelinos and other assorted comics fans! Everyone have a nice summer? Yeah, me, too.
Anyway, I have often been accused of being backwards, so rather than hibernate for the winter, I have come out of my sequestering with some new columns and a hankering for Christmas ales.
First up is a conversation with Howard Chen, the owner extraordinaire of my local comics shop, Legacy Comics & Cards, in scenic Glendale, California. As some of you may remember, I featured an interview with Legacy’s manager, Henry, prior to my disappearing off the face of the Earth. Now, we’re picking up where Henry left off, and Howard provides us with a fascinating look at the ever-expanding landscape of digital comics from a brick-and-mortar retailer’s point of view.
FAT: Howard, welcome. Can we start with the basics? How long have you been a retailer? What made you get into comics retail in the first place?
HC: Thanks go to my cousin, Paul, who left me his collection of a couple of long comic boxes to get me started. I was working for a show dealer for fun during the time, and he said I can do this, too! I’ve owned Legacy since September 1990, but started out selling at conventions and the back of my house to classmates when I was in Junior High School.
FAT: Did you work your way up through the ranks, or have you always been a shop owner?
HC: I had a part time job (working 1 day a week) at the former comic shop called Heroes for Sale, while I was doing shows. The owner had another store in Valencia as well, but chose to sell Heroes for Sale to me, which is now Legacy Comics and Cards.
FAT: You mentioned doing shows in your early days. Do you ever purchase retail booths at comic conventions today? If so, what has been your experience? If not, why didn’t you take the plunge?
HC: Since having a storefront, I had chosen not to do conventions anymore. That might change in the future, but I went through a couple of years of the loading and unloading of tons of comics and that wasn’t too much fun.
FAT: Tell us a little about your decision to sell digital comics from your store via a ComiXology interface. What’s your experience with ComiXology been? Do they seem retailer friendly? How easy was it to adopt this system?
HC: It’s the sign of the times now and, with all of the major publishers going into that direction, we did not want to be left out. Overall I am very satisfied with their service. It has been easy to adopt.
FAT: From your perspective, are digital sales eroding print sales, supplementing them, or doing something else entirely?
HC: It’s too early to tell. Our new comic sales are up since the onset of digital comics, but our trade paperback/hardcover sales are slightly down. I can easily see how some customers will purchase a tp/hc digitally (because of the convenience) and then follow the story on a monthly basis with the physical comic, because it is the single issues that could go upwards in value.
FAT: You also have an online storefront through Diamond’s Digital Comics Reader. How do they compare to ComiXology? Does one platform seem better suited to the retailer or the consumer?
HC: Well it seems that Comixology has the better platform for both the retailer and consumer because they offer Marvel and DC digital. I would hope that Diamond Digital will get all the major companies on their platform someday soon.
FAT: I have to say that I bought the last two issues of The Walking Dead through your ComiXology storefront and found the experience particularly painless, especially since I could already log-in with my pre-existing ComiXology account. Without having you divulge the particulars of your sales figures, maybe you could elaborate on how ComiXology and Diamond get the comics to your store, so to speak, and what happens after you have sold something from your digital storefront. What are the next steps between you and ComiXology or Diamond? Do you have any say on what you will or will not sell?
HC: It is pretty painless for me also! Both our Diamond Digital and ComiXology storefronts provide all the digital comics they can offer without us doing anything but collecting a portion of the sale when a customer purchases a digital comic. We have no say in what our digital websites offer. Those companies provide as much digital product as they can with no cost to us, so the more they offer the better, and the customer has a larger selection to choose from. Because all storefronts have a limited amount of space to carry new comics, our digital websites allow a customer the ability to purchase digital comics that can’t be found in our shop.
FAT: It seems to me that, if I purchase a digital comic on the ComiXology website, my money gets split between ComiXology and the publisher. However, if I purchase a digital comic on the ComiXology iPhone/iPad app, my money gets split between ComiXology, the publisher, and Apple. Finally, if I purchase a digital comic on your shop’s ComiXology storefront, that same amount of money gets split between ComiXology, the publisher, and the retailer. Did I get that right? If so, option #3 seems to be the best way to enjoy the convenience of digital comics, while still supporting our beloved local retailers, too.
HC: That is exactly right. I am glad you brought this question up. I would like to hope that all digital customers will help support their local storefronts by purchasing comics specifically from that store’s own digital comic website.
FAT: I want to follow up on your point that a digital storefront allows you infinite space to carry titles that you might not normally be able to fit in your physical shop. As a store owner, what advice can you offer Indie creators who want to see their books up on LCS shelves? What do they have to do to earn a spot on your shelf that would normally be devoted to a mainstream book (which might seem like the surer sell at that point)?
HC: Great question! As indie creators should know, shelf space is limited, and stores have to display comics that are known sellers. We always welcome indie comic creators with a space in our shop for their comics, as we want to support the up and coming creators, especially local ones, who don’t get the chance to get in with the major companies as a stepping stone to showcase their talents. But not all comic shops are like us, as others may be tight on space to display non-proven comics, so my best advice is create a friendly rapport with your neighborhood comic shop owner/manager/employee. I think that many stores don’t bother carrying an indie title because there is no connection or history between that person and the shop. Visit the shops in person, if you can, as opposed to email or Facebook connecting. Also ask the local store owner or manager to put flyers or postcards of your new indie comic to their pull list customers who preorder indie titles, and have the flyer direct the customer to a Facebook or web page that can show them your artwork and storyline in more depth.
FAT: Finally, Howard, you’re been in business for a long time (especially in the mercurial world of comics retailer). Part of that success must be attributed to your knowing which books to order and at what quantity. So… what’s your secret? How do you pick the winners, discover books that are going to be hot before they gain traction, and stay away from the loser titles?
HC: This really is what makes or breaks a comic shop. Because there really is no full returnability with comics we have to get our numbers right. We heavily rely on reordering when a title is close to selling out as we try to never not have the comic on our shelf. People love great story and art so, with artists or writers that have a good track record, we can rely on that when ordering new titles from them. It’s always challenging though, even after 22 years of being in business. The best advice I can give is that no one goes out of business by selling out of their stock. So edge towards selling out but be on top of your reorders to restock.
As always, my thanks go to Howard Chen for his time and in-depth answers. Believe me, Howard is one busy man, so I truly appreciate his participation. If you’re ever in the Glendale area – heck, I’d even recommend you make a special trip there just to visit Legacy Cards and Comics at 123 W. Wilson Ave. For my money, it’s the best damn LCS on the planet and online, too.
Richard A. Hamilton is a Los Angeles resident for 12 years running and the writer/publisher of Return of the Super Pimps and Miserable Dastards. On his free time, he seeks out new Indie comics, local beers, and –on good days — both.
FAN ABOUT TOWN
An Occasional Series Following L.A.’s Indie Comics Scene
By Richard A. Hamilton
The Legacy of Digital Comics