Friday, August 27, 2010

Blockbuster's tale is lesson for Comic Book Industry

Blockbuster and it's once high flying video rental chain is finally going to call it quits.

Ok, so they are not exactly about to board up every location but once they enter into bankruptcy in September, no one really expects them to come back out of it with a better plan and sail on to greater glory a la the Auto industry. No government bail out here fellas. The days of the consumer renting movies from a neighborhood chain are officially over. When you can summon up movies anytime you desire on your TV, game system and phone, it's the beginning of the end of mass retail media consumption.

Blockbuster played this game far too long and actually did try to bail out a few years back before it was too late when the now defunct Circuit City Electronics retailer looked into buying the company. After a lengthy review of Blockbusters finances and future prospects, CC ran away from the dying idea of video rentals. Not too long after, CC finally died themselves because of their own poor management.

The quickly shifting landscape of retail media is a problem every major retail chain is facing right now. Even the juggernauts like Target, Wal-Mart and Best Buy know that their once traffic driving area of books, magazines, music, video and games are shedding sales year by year. Internally, each company has been working with the major studios and distributors on what the future looks like for each of them. These media areas of the stores are shrinking and so is revenue. We know of one of the big chains that has devoted a specific team to map out when and how these areas of the stores will further shrink and what kind of products should then take over that valued space.

Media is going straight to the consumer and it's getting cheaper. Not news to anyone but still good news for the consumer and bad news for just about everyone else.

This is where we tie it all into what is happening to the comic book industry. A very small group where aging and stubborn fans and retailers refuse to accept what is happening before their very eyes. An industry where both publishers and distributors are fearful of bringing the subject up to any retailer's attention.

I don't call this problem out to gloat, I want comic retail and publishing to survive and I want the industry to finally engage in meaningful conversation about the change.

Anytime any site or blogger wants to discuss digital comics you can count on plenty of short sighted retailers and fanboys to decry any discussion of change and claim the pulp will never go away. Right, just because no one buys a music CD anymore in favor of digital files doesn't mean they would stop buying the 'Adventures of Captain Cape' publication any longer when they could read it on their phone on the bus to work.

The heads have got to come out of the sand in this industry. If your comic shop's primary revenue is generated by weekly comics, they are not long for this world unless they study retail trends and history, make plans for change and accept what is happening to every retailer around them that sells any form of media.

The traditional single comic store retailer and distributor are especially at risk. First, the consumer goes, then the retailer with no plan goes then the distributor finally falls 'cause no one is paying their bills. The big publishers will go on, wounded of course but propped up by the mega-conglomerate that supports them because they can at least still sell Spider-Man & Batman underwear. Everyone else in publishing will have to choose between digital distribution or an ever increasingly expensive publication option with less retail support. Real change is coming and Disney/Marvel, Warner Bros/DC and select others do know this and are making plans. You won't catch Jim Lee and Joey Q discussing such plans in public but they are. God forbid they mention any of this to the overly sensitive retailer and upset the apple cart.

So to the loudest comic retailers like Brian, Chuck and the rest, I submit that you consider the Blockbuster saga a warning from the Ghost of Christmas Future: If you are a retailer sitting out there and not making plans for your inevitable future with less and less weekly goods to sell to a shrinking consumer base, then you may as well get in line with Blockbuster next month.

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