Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Retailers Like No Other

Comic book shops in the Philippines have a special place in my heart and not necessarily because of the comics. Take for example my current predicament—I’m a pen-and-paper RPG fan yet the hobby store that’s supposed to stock them (Neutral Grounds) simply hasn’t obtained any new books for the past five months at the very least. My only alternative if I want to purchase them locally is to get them from Comic Quest. Now don’t get me wrong, I love Comic Quest. I just find it strange that I’m getting items from them instead of the shop that’s supposedly dedicated to the products I buy.

I bring up the phenomenon of the Philippine comic book shop because few comic shops are run the same way and are a hodgepodge of various interests. Take for example one of the oldest chains of comic book retailing: Filbar’s. To begin with, Filbar’s roots wasn’t solely in comics but for a time in the mid-80’s and early 90’s, if you wanted the latest comics, you went to Filbar’s. Currently it’s embraced more of its roots—you’ll likely find the latest magazines just as you’ll find the latest comics. And yet that’s not all you’ll find there any more that you’ll only find books in National Bookstore: posters, romance novels, knock-off toys, model kits, toys, etc. It’s simply a bizarre amalgam.

Yet Filbar’s isn’t alone. I mean I’ve visited the newly-opened Comic Odyssey in Robinsons Galleria, Comic Quest, CATS, and the now defunct CCHQ in Katipunan. Aside from comics, they also have different product lines but one thing common to them is that they stock collectible card games (CCGs) that is more reminiscent of hobby shops. In fact, back in the 90’s, perhaps the reason the CCG phenomena hit the Philippines hard was due to the various comic shops who carried the product, everything from Magic: The Gathering to Legend of the Five Rings to Pokemon. And looking at it from a business perspective, the CCG business is quite lucrative: high profits for little shelf space.

Of course CCGs isn’t the only product comic shops have dabbled in. I mean Comic Quest has toys and RPG books, CATS DVDs and anime, Comic Odyssey busts and sculptures, and CCHQ authentic manga, plushies, art books, and Japanese trading cards. Aside from their main demographic, namely comic fans, these comic shops also had other subcultures trickling in. For a geek like me, the comic shops are like a second home, not just because of the products they sell but because of the kinds of people they attract.

Unfortunately, this phenomena isn’t necessarily all good news. I mean as much as I appreciate variety, I have to ask, why can’t comic shops just sell comics? I can’t help but feel it’s like the predicament with National Bookstore two decades ago—they can’t sell books alone because it isn’t profitable. Of course the environment with bookstores decades ago is different now—we have chains like Powerbooks and Fully Booked wherein books do comprise most of their sales, as well as independent bookstores like A Different Bookstore, Booktopia, and Aeon Books surviving (I presume) on simply selling books. But what about comics? Is it simply the owner’s wish to expand to other fields of interests or do they really need that extra something to supplement their business?

Perhaps another sign of troubling times for comic book retailers is the encroaching of bookstores into their territory. As a fan, I’m happy that comics are getting more shelf space in bookstores. That, after all, means that hopefully there’ll be more comic book fans. On the other hand, that’s also drawing some business away from comic book shops, especially when it comes to sales of graphic novels and trade paperbacks. Here’s a fact some of you might be aware of but not necessarily fully understand: bookstores sell their comics cheaper. Since I love whole numbers, let’s work with Absolute Sandman Vol. 1. It’s $100.00 and sells for P5,000.00 in Fully Booked and P6,000.00 in most comic book shops. Why is the former cheaper? Well aside from ordering in bulk, the real money savings for bookstores is shipping. Bookstores usually have their stocks delivered by boat while comic book shops by plane. That’s how consumers get the latest titles every week instead of simply every month. Comic book reailers get new stocks every week while bookstores every two weeks at best.

I don’t think it’s the end of comic retailers. They’ve survived difficult times in the past although at the present, they are thinning out. Nonetheless, it’s far from the brightest of moments for them, and I expect in the future, local retailers will have to compete with online vendors. But in the meantime, I really appreciate my local comic shop and more importantly patronize it. It’s not just about the comics but rather everything else.

No comments: