Last week, I (and the rest of the Canadian comics community) had a chance to reflect on the last year. It was a year in which I (and the industry) have had our ups and downs, as we transit through a painful period in our industry. The goal of this post is to reflect on some of the lessons I’ve learned in a year that has seen the Canadian comic book industry transition from a thriving industry into a jobless one.
A year has passed since the launch of the Liberals’ carbon tax, and the Liberal government is now suggesting it may impose a price on pollution as early as next year . It is unclear, however, how such a price would work. The Liberals have pledged to impose a price on carbon emissions, but have not yet fleshed out how they will do so. The government has promised to consult with provinces, industry, and environmental groups—but it has yet to reveal how it plans to reach such a diverse group of experts. Should the Liberals decide to move ahead with a carbon tax, it seems likely the federal revenue from the carbon tax will end up in the hands of Ottawa, rather than the provinces
Canadian comic book store owners and staff who registered with the government’s COVID-19 database are eagerly awaiting the results of the annual random national verification. The results will say whether their store was verified as running completely above board. I know it was a massive undertaking for the government to do this, even though they had most of the comic industry’s biggest names on their side. “It’s not every day that the government forces a massive law firm that claims to represent the best interests of comic retailers to pay out a rather large sum of money to it’s ‘have nots’ (i.e. those who have been left out of the COVID-19 process).”
Last year we looked at how the coronavirus pandemic affected comic book stores. Like all business and entertainment sectors, comic book stores and the broader direct market have been affected by supply chain disruptions, non-traditional store closures, and a host of other problems caused by the spread of COVID-19 across the country and around the world. At the time, we contacted several stores across the country to ask them how the pandemic had affected their business and how they saw the future, not only for themselves, but for their direct market as a whole. Since then, the story has taken several twists and turns, from new outbreaks of COVID-19 infections that have led to changes in business and the constraints of daily life, to dramatic changes in the most immediate market. Now, a year after the pandemic began, we’re talking to some of the companies from our original series to find out what’s happening now, how the past year has changed, what’s next, and what lessons have been learned from the whole situation.
Before we move on to the updates, let’s recall some important changes in the industry. The 23rd. In March 2020, Diamond Comic Distributors announced that it would no longer accept shipments at its warehouse indefinitely, effectively ending distribution to the direct market and marking its 25th anniversary. March 2020 was the last regular New Comic Book Day. And a few weeks later, on the 17th. In April 2020, DC Comics announced that it would begin selling new comics on the 28th. April 2020 to take over with the help of two distributors: Lunar Distribution and UCS Comic Distributors. Diamond resumed operations in May 2020. In June 2020, DC broke with Diamond and announced that they would no longer work with Diamond and would continue to work with Lunar Distribution and UCS Comic Distributors, the groups they had turned to after the closure of COVID-19, as well as Penguin Random House for the distribution of graphic novels and collectible titles in bookstores.
In March of this year, Marvel also made a major change in its relationship with Diamond, announcing that starting with the 1st. October would use Penguin Random House as its new distribution partner. Direct market retailers will be able to choose between ordering directly from Penguin Random House or ordering from Diamond Comics Distributor, the previous exclusive distributor of Marvel Comics in the direct market, as a wholesaler under Diamond’s terms in the US and UK. Hatchette Book Group will continue to distribute and market Marvel graphic novels to bookstores.
In addition to the upheavals in industry, there have been major changes in daily life. In the last year, we have seen the requirement to wear masks in public places, including shops, capacity restrictions on the number of people allowed in a shop at any one time, and many of these requirements withdrawn. The COVID-19 vaccines have also been distributed to the public, leading the CDC to announce that fully vaccinated individuals no longer need to wear masks or stay away from the public (unless required by regulation or law). Across the country, restrictions on home care have been lifted, businesses are reopening and life is returning to normal.
But even when things start to look normal, things are still different in some comic shops. Last year, Mary Jo Bammel, owner of Villains Grounds in Perryville, Michigan, told us that her business has been hit hard, even though her shop is not only a coffee shop but also a comic book store. The situation has improved in the meantime, but she is still not quite right – and neither are the lives of their clients.
Our business is back to about 85 percent of what it was before, Bammel said. Some of our clients have cut back on their hours, leaving less money for extras like comics. I am hopeful that the situation will improve over time.
The opposite happened to Miriam Ramos, owner of a comic book store in San Leandro, California. She told us that business is good, although she expects it to slow down as new facilities are opened.
Right now, nothing is normal, Ramos said. We are doing well – in the last six months I had four of the best months in the last 27 years. I would expect this figure to fall again as more stores/activities are opened and discretionary spending falls.
Although the two stores – one in a small town in southeast Missouri and the other in the San Francisco Bay Area – had different experiences from a business standpoint, both were generally positive about the changes in the direct sales market. While Ramos sees the change as generally positive – not least because Marvel is allowing retailers to continue working with Diamond if they want to – Bammel, who previously told us about serious delivery problems at Diamond, said that things had already improved significantly shortly after DC’s departure.
Frankly, we’ve accepted the changes, Bammel said of the changes at DC and Marvel. Before the split with DC, we had issues with delivery and quality of delivery. The situation has now improved. I think the separation from Marvel will lead to even more changes, and for the better. Our customers are happy with the splits – to keep them happy, we make it even better. The only downside is the minimum order – if we don’t meet the minimum quantity, our books are delayed a week.
Of course, there’s still a long way to go after a year, and it’ll be a while before we see how the pandemic affects comic shops and the pure market in general, but for Bammel, the key is to come out the other side, remember that it’s not over yet, and be flexible for what’s coming.
It’s not over yet, she said. Life has all kinds of surprises in store for us, and if we are flexible enough, we can handle almost anything. We are here to take care of our customers, no matter what life throws at us.
Photo: Cliff Grassmick/Digital First Media/Boulder Daily Camera via Getty ImagesAs a result of the new comic book classification law, Canada’s largest comic book retailer, Chapters-Indigo, which is a subsidiary of Indigo Books & Music Inc., began restricting the sale of comics and graphic novels within its stores to children under 17 years of age. In January, the Vancouver-based social media company COVID and the Montreal-based comic book publisher Éditions TPB were met with strikes and demonstrations in their respective home cities, with many among the protesters concerned about the disruption of the industry in the wake of the law.. Read more about is indiana going back on lockdown and let us know what you think.
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