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Saturday, July 16, 2005
Sean here, and I've got a couple of pretty elementary observations, but ones I think should be of some value nonetheless. Everyone loved my How To Sell Me Your Comics bit, so here's some ideas from the other end of the spectrum.
1. The customer is a person, not a wallet.
So this kid (I'd say about 18-y/o boy) comes into the store yesterday, right, and he looks around for a minute and doesn't find anything he wants. We get into a discussion about realistic superhero books, and he says he didn't like Marvels or Kingdom Come because of the "useless 'normal person' characters." Step #1: Swallow it. I loved Marvels and Kingdom Come. But I don't have to whip out my claws and fight him about it, and honestly, I can see where he's coming from. Step #2: Think about what he says, and respond to it. Hey, how about Astro City? (Oh, damn, we don't have any of the trades stocked up yet.) Well, that's okay, he says. I've gotta take off now, but maybe I'll come back later. Hey, that sounds great, I'll be here at least until nine.
7:30, 8:00 or so he comes walkin' back in. I recognize him and welcome him back, and after we talk a little more he finds a hardcover copy of Hip Flask, asks if he can sit down and take a look at it. Of course, I say, take your time, just chill out on the couch with it for a bit. He's flipping through it and gets excited about the art, so I do a quick internet search to see if we have anything else by the same artist - because Hip Flask is, after all, thirty bucks. I find out the artist's done some work on Incal, and I show the kid our Humanoids section. If you like that art, buddy, you should really spend some time checking out these books. "Hey, thanks, man, I appreciate it!" At this point, I'm pretty sure I'm not making a sale - the kid just don't have any damn money on him, I figure. No worries. IT'S OKAY. The point is to let him enjoy himself at the shop, because people notice that kind of thing. Not only that - he gets a call on his cell phone and steps outside for a second, but I can still hear him. What's he saying?
"I'm at this place called The Isotope. It's awesome! You should come down and check it out."
Ten minutes later, in walks the kid's girlfriend. She just moved to San Francisco. She loves the place. Guess what? She taught a course in graphic novels at the guy's old college. Now we're friends with a comics professor, just like that. Do you have any idea what kind of opportunities that opens up? How valuable it is to be one of the stores breaking down the gender barrier? (Reference the Isotope's recent award for Best Comic Book Store in which to Be a Girl.)
Be patient, be hospitable. Good things happen.
2. This is a library.
You think people can find this many good comics just anywhere? The direct market comics shop is the most focused, diverse source of comics entertainment in the world. If you don't think letting people sample the work for free is a good idea - you are missing the hell out. This isn't just a place for people to buy comics - it's a place for people to discover comics. Is it any coincidence that the RIAA's crusade against MP3s listeners synchs up directly to the plummeting revenues of the music industry? I think not. The more people are allowed to explore, the more likely they are to find something they want to buy.
Also, inviting people to read makes them feel more confident in their purchase. They don't even have to actually take you up on the offer; the mere invitation itself shows confidence on MY part and therefore reassures the customer that they're making a worthy purchase.
3. Help customers sell themselves books
Brian Hibbs of Comix Experience came by a few minutes ago and asked what my biggest "retail surprise" so far was - what have I learned? My answer was easy: I came into this with the idea that I'd pick a book - one from my own private reading agenda - and just sell the hell out of it. Doesn't really work like that - I'm finding myself a lot more effective when my salesmanship is responsive. Somebody's picking up some Frank Miller books and wants to branch out to other writers? Well, how about Preacher, for some comparable balls-crazy humor and hyperkinetic testosterone? Somebody's picking up the first issue of Serenity, maybe they'd like to take a look at Whedon's first Astonishing X-Men trade. "He's writing X-MEN?" Yeah, but he's using all the same dialogue ticks and characterization you're familiar with. BOOM, right there - a potential new super-hero reader. You have to encourage questions and you have to sell them what they already want but don't yet know about. It's your job to be more informed than they are; there are far too many comics around for the average reader to keep up with and the only way a lot of them will be able to branch out and pick up new books is if you show them the way. You have to make EVERYTHING as easy as you possibly can for every reader.
That's not specific to retail, really - that was one of the main points I made in my column about convention salesmanship. The reader, the customer - they're at the very bottom of the pyramid. They don't make a profit in the same sense as everyone else in the industry. So while relationships between and among retailers, publishers, distributors and creators are all very similar, working on a symbiotic model of mutual profit-making, a lot of give and take... the customer has to be given everything. They're parting with their hard-earned money in exchange for nothing but stories on paper. There's value there, or else they'd never come back. But they aren't obligated (or in many cases, inclined) to assist in the process of getting that value. You have to show it to them.