Thursday, March 05, 2009

Economy Chronic Depression Bear

EDIT: I wrote this on Tuesday night. On Wednesday, I went out on an interview with a potential client for an editing/blogging/PR consulting job.

I start this, another edition of my look at the world's current economic woes (and how it intersects with things of particular interest to the comic book industry, like "digital vs. paper"), with a personal view.

All the places I used to meet up with my friends back in the old days are being closed.

Take Virgin Megastore in NYC. Gonna be closed by the Summer. Now, I'm not saying that Virgin Megastore was the most awesome store in the entire universe, or that it didn't put a lot of its smaller neighbors out of business. But this was the place that me and my friends would meet up at before going someplace else. A place to browse. A landmark. A touchstone.

Now, here are some of the other places me and my buds used to use as meet-up locations:
* Coliseum Books, RIP
* Tower Records, RIP (except online)
* Barnes and Noble on Astor Place, RIP
* Barnes and Noble on Sixth Avenue, RIP
* Toys R' Us on Union Square, RIP
* Toys R' Us on Herald Square, RIP
* Circuit City on Union Square, soon-to-be-RIP
* KB Toys, RIP (they even let the fricking url go)

I should probably switch to meeting at subway stations.

Now for another installment of...BUYING COMICS ON A BUDGET!

I consulted the list of this week's comic books and decided to apply the BF's "three comic maximum" to myself. Speaking from experience, there are many comic books that I would buy on whims that I would flat-out not consider for purchase when I am trying to budget. For example, I like to pick out odd-ball comics to review. Harder to take that leap -- even in the interest of Comic Book Scholarship -- when one is budgeting.

I become far more choosy. I consider at that ad for the latest issue of The Goon, for instance, and ask skeptically: is this in current continuity? I look at that intriguing hardcover edition and immediately decide to not only wait to get it on Amazon, but to wait at least two months until the price drops. And my experimentation with manga? Unless it's Deathnote, it'll probably be on hold. Cuz three regular comix iz wurth one manga. Onlee...not really. And I can buy two of the higher-end cans of cat food for the price I pay for one comic. This is how the logic starts to go.

But one thing I've can all turn on a dime. Either way. Dangerously, I have an appointment with a potential new client on the same day as when the new comics come in. If I wait until after the appointment to buy the comics...and I get the gig...yikes. I might go overbudget, making an excuse in my mind that I "earned" this little spending holiday. Will I be strong?

This article, about the crisis in Newspaper Land, brings up some interesting basic points that might (might!) be applied to the comic book industry. The first point is that it is important to separate out the "end is nigh" hysteria from the actual situation. Some newspapers, for example, are facing "certain death" scenarios, while others (while certainly hit by the crisis) are not. The writer makes the following distinction:
  • Debt-ridden: Debt-ridden companies are behaving as if their very survival is at stake; in many cases, this is true and understandable. Newspapers owned by debt-ridden companies are under enormous pressure to throw off cash and produce profit margins that are unthinkable in this kind of economic downturn. A local publisher of one such company in the United States told me they had to get rid of their plants because they had no money to water them! For debt-ridden companies, there is little long-term thinking; it's all harvesting.

  • Recession-ridden: The recession-ridden companies are in pain. The pain is greater than the other two global recessions, combined, from the past 20 years. Yet the pain is scalable. There will be the inevitable balance between cost-cutting and development.
Now, what makes the difference between a debt-ridden ("certain death") and a recession-ridden publisher?

  • Where to cut: The best ones are right-sizing their editorial and production operations relative to the size of revenues they can generate. The worst ones are cutting across-the-board, depriving managements of the ability to market, sell, understand customers in changing times, and evolve toward digital.

  • Transformation: The best ones are turning danger to opportunity by accelerating transformation strategies. The worst ones are sticking their heads in the sand, and hoping the storm will pass.

  • Treating employees: The best ones are treating their surviving employees as if they'll be with them for the long-run. The worst ones are treating surviving employees as if they're lucky to have what they have.
Now, I'm no business expert; I just like to read these articles and come up with these crazy theories every once in a while. But it seems to me like Comics are not going to "die" as the result of the crisis. It's going to get a massive pruning and metamorphosis, though. Who makes it and who doesn't depends a lot on matters of:
  • Long-term investment vs. short term investment -- of stories, storylines, talent, etc.
  • Embracement of new technologies
  • Maintaining a sense of morale
The last point is really important. I think in this environment, it's really easy to be an Economy Chronic Depression Bear. I'm deciding between comics and cat food, so I know of which I speak. But I think giving into the hysteria is fatal at this point. We need to be realistic. Realistic is being informed and cautious, but it doesn't mean falling into hysteria.

And places close down all the time, that's part of life. That bombed-out old candy store across my street that was a front for drugs? Now it's an elegant French restaurant. Of course, if that restaurant closes and becomes a 99 cent store...well...I'll probably save a lot more money.

EDIT: After the interview, which I aced, I went straight to Forbidden Planet and spent 45 dollars. To be fair, a few of those books were for my BF. But I bought a lot of books, including a $15.99 copy of the Boom Studios "Seekers Into The Mystery" collected edition. I was very tempted to get the Fantagraphics Bible book with the Basil Wolverton illustrations, but this was not the time to go completely insane. I might "Amazon" that one.

One more footnote to this long post. I've been learning to be a lot choosier with clients. The client I talked to yesterday wanted to promote a product and a positive philosophy about life that totally uplifted me and that I deeply agreed with and believed in. It might sound idealistic to wait for these sorts of clients. But it always pays off for me. You have to love what you do.


  1. I loved reading about people getting to do what they love to do. Congrats on landing your new client. :)

  2. congrats. also, during this financial crisis, i've become much friendlier with the "dollar bin" at the comic shop.

  3. The Borders on Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago is going to be gone by next year. :(

  4. That is a pretty good analysis :)

    Before the recession I switched from buying comics online to buying from a small hobby shop that also orders a few comics. I culled my pretty big pull list a lot and after a few weeks of less comics, I felt really good about it.

    I got rid of all of my "average" titles that I was reading mostly just to keep up with what was happening. Currently I've got:

    Batman (favorite character, was good but maybe not any more)

    Booster Gold (fav. character, good stories)

    Walking Dead (excellent comic)

    Invincible (excellent comic)

    Green Lantern (excellent)

    I read a few events and mini-series too here and there like Terra and Final Crisis but I dropped books like:

    JSA, Justice League, Teen Titans, GL Corps and a few others that were never really consistently good or interesting. It also helps that the store I go to doesn't get many comics in for the shelves so I can't impulse buy :)

  5. Congrats on the gig!

    I feel you on losing the landmarks. I used to hang out on 86th Street in Bay Ridge every weekend, but every store I hung out at has closed for a long time now. The final straw was The, going in there to browse we had a lot of fun. And my neighborhood keeps on changing. I've been going to this one diner most of my life, then one winter it closed only to reopen as a pastelle nightmare imitation of itself. I have since found a NEW diner I, unfortunately, don't have the time to patron like I was. Stupid deadlines. and my comic shop changed owners unexpectedly. Now, it's still a good shop and I like the guys there, but I've been going there since it opened over a decade the sudden transition was a bit jarring, to say the least.

    Fortunately, all my friends no wlike to go to clubs and bars so I don't even get to notice all my favorite haunts are gone. :)

  6. Yeah. And the Barnes & Noble on Webster in Chicago is gone, too.

  7. Val, as an employee of Barnes & Noble, might I recommend the Borders at Columbus Circle? A major subway transfer point, near Central Park, and a nice place to window shop.

    This week, I bought ONE comicbook: Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the Eighth Grade. Fantastic story. Can not wait for the trade, it's too good!

    And to paraphrase the Furry Freak Brothers: "Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries." Free books, folks. They don't have what you want, ask a librarian. They'll find a way to get it.