Can our local comic shops endure the COVID-19 pandemic? One LCS owner says yes, but they need the support of the comic community and even more from Marvel and DC.
With more of the country under quarantine lockdown each day, businesses everywhere are closing their doors, some permanently. Even in the best of economic times, most comic shops operate on a thin profit margin. As social distancing and shelter orders keep customers at home, are we seeing the end of the LCS as we know it?
Josh Olive, owner of Haven Comics in Madison, Alabama, said the economic impact on smaller shops shouldn’t be taken lightly. “This is going to spell the end for a lot of comic book stores, I have no doubt. … The longer this goes on, the harder it will be to recover.”
THE CATCH-22 OF SOCIAL DISTANCING AND BUSINESS
Like many business owners around the world, comic shops are taking a hit from social distancing and “shelter-in-place” orders, both of which keep consumers away from stores.
“We’ve been watching our customers begin to follow social distancing protocols and stay home,” Olive said. “We’ve been wrestling with our responsibilities as a business and our responsibility to do our part to flatten the curve.” Since the pandemic hit home, Olive says Haven Comics has seen a fraction of its revenue over the past three weeks, making “less than 10% in our first week.” With Madison ordering all non-essential businesses closed, as many cities are doing, the revenue drops to 0%.
Recently, Diamond Distributors, the sole company responsible for printing all your favorite comics from Marvel and DC, has shut down its operation for the foreseeable future. On one hand, that can help businesses by not sending them comics they can’t currently sell, but Olive said it makes it difficult to engage new customers without having new issues on the shelves.
Haven Comics has been in operation for 19 years, and Olive feels his business can survive in the current climate for “a couple of months if need be,” but he needs new issues to draw consumers.
“If product resumes but the ability to sell that product still isn’t there, that’s when it’s going to get hairy.”
MARVEL AND DC’S SOLUTIONS
Marvel and DC have initiated plans to aid in the struggle, but Olive said they need to do more and improve communication with retailers. “Without clear support from Marvel, DC, and Diamond, the number of store closures will increase, I have no doubt.”
He said that DC has asked to be kept informed as far as store closures and other issues affecting businesses, and the company has recently announced its plan, emphasizing returns on comics up to mid-June for retailers.
The plan also includes more focus on a digital comics push which could damage the LCS market even further, considering there’s nothing for retailers to sell. “That would likely doom everyone (and suck 100% of the joy out of reading comics for me),” he said.
According to Olive, Marvel responded with two hand-washing memes and an expanded discount for retailers, but a discount isn’t much help when there’s no one buying the product.
To make matters worse, he says that his emails to both Marvel and DC have gone unanswered, leaving him with little direction. “It’s like being in a raging river headed for a waterfall you know is there.”
HOW CAN WE HELP?
As a community, Olive said we can still help save the LCS that has meant so much to comic fans. “If you’re in a position to help that guy keep his business going so you can continue to enjoy those things, do your part. Pitch in.”
While many stores are closed due to coronavirus concerns and shelter orders, some shops are still operating with no-contact pickup options available. If you have a pull list waiting, make a trip to your LCS and buy it. People across the U.S. have been advocating buying gift certificates to local restaurants, and that can apply to comic shops as well. Buy those gift certificates that you can redeem when the pandemic has ended.
“Reach out and contact your retailer. I guarantee they’re trying to find ways to reach you,” Olive stated.
In the end, Olive is optimistic that the industry as a whole will overcome the global recession. “Comics survived the newsstand implosion of the late ‘70s, the direct market collapse of the mid-90s, 9/11, and the 2008 market collapse,” he wrote. “They’ll survive this.”