Before we start, let much just say that the comic industry doesn’t necessarily need saving. Not right now, not right this second. The industry is doing well, people are buying issues and seeing the movies and playing with the toys. Just like they did in the early 90s. And we all remember how that ended, don’t we? So what can we do to help? How can we make sure that stockholders don’t receive the same bankruptcy notice that I remember getting in the 90s when my Marvel stock suddenly began to tank? It’s going to take more than just a single article to really get into this, but we’ve got to start somewhere, so let’s start right at the bottom.
The bottom of the funnel, that is. Like every other industry, comic book sales follow a funnel. At the top it’s very wide, which consumer awareness coming from a variety of sources. Maybe you saw Avengers in the theater, maybe you saw a cool toy at Wal-Mart, maybe you overheard a conversation that sounded interesting on the bus, or saw a poster in a store window, or saw an ad online, or saw….you get the idea. This stage is important, and we’ll get to it later, but let’s keep moving down.
The next stage in the funnel is a bit narrower. You take whatever it was that piqued your interest and you move forward with it. Let’s say it was seeing the Avengers in the theater, since judging by the box office take it seems like everyone in the world saw it. So, after you left the theater you decided to go home and look up the Avengers online. You just enjoyed it so much, you want a little more, somehow. Well, odds are the next stage is something along the lines of seeing some Avengers related material in Netflix, so you turn on your 360, kick back on your couch, and watch some more of this new interesting team you’re discovering.
Now from here on out you keep moving down the funnel, your interest growing till the point where you finally hit that end mark. You walk into a comic shop. For some people the funnel hits that point right after they saw Avengers in the theater. For some, it’s after watching everything Netflix has to offer, reading wiki articles, playing video games they borrowed from their friends, and talking to people about how to get more out of these characters. But one way or another, you’re now in the comic shop. And here’s where the industry needs the most help.
How the comic industry and comic shops really work!
You see, your average comic shop owner is not a business person. They don’t have an MBA, they didn’t develop a 10 year plan before opening their doors, and they certainly don’t take steps to insulate themselves against competition. No, your average shop owner is a fan. They’re just like you. They love comics. In fact, they loved them so much, and collected so many, that they opened a shop. They’re passionate and interested and they have favorite heroes and villains and series. And that, in many cases, is a problem.
You see, your tastes and theirs may not line up. They may disagree with you. Now, we’ve all heard the expression “the customer is always right”, and it’s cases like this where that phrase is important. Superman may be your favorite hero, but if the customer tells you they hate him, you need to know how to keep smiling, nod your head, say “I see your point” and then continue with the sale. But that’s hard for a fan who feels like someone just walked into their private corner and blasphemed. I’ve seen many a comic shop owner get into such a heated argument with a customer over something trivial that they lost a sale, and lost the customer. And if that customer was the new guy that just finally hit the bottom of the sales funnel after developing a new interest, then the comic industry has lost a fan.
And what’s more, many of these shop owners where just not meant to be the face of a business. A lack of advertising and proper store setup can certainly kill a comic shop, but so can an unhappy face behind the counter. One shop owner in my own area, who I’ve personally come to know well and is a genuinely nice guy, rarely smiles. He just doesn’t, nor does he often joke around. This may seem like a minor thing at first glance, but in the business world, when you have a position that involves direct customer interaction, your business lives or dies on a smile. Disney’s motto isn’t “the most mildly satisfied place on Earth”.
So the bottom of the funnel is where it all begins, and for many people where it ends. And if we’re going to keep the industry fresh and growing, that’s the first point that needs work. In our next installment, we’ll talk a bit on what can be done there, as well as moving into other points of the industry that can make it or break it. We’d love to get your input on this subject, since as you’ve probably started to pick up from this article it all starts and ends with you, so post a comment below to let us know your thoughts.