Starting Wednesday, many comic book shops will not have a fresh crop of issues, which are released weekly, for the first time in recent memory — making purveyors of masked superheroes and illustrated stories the latest industry to face big changes due to the novel coronavirus.
Most publishers have paused both physical and digital releases following the decision of Diamond Distributors — which has exclusive rights to distribute big labels such as Marvel Comics, DC Comics and Image comics — to indefinitely pause shipments of comics to distributors.
According to a statement from Diamond last week, the decision was influenced by the global coronavirus pandemic.
Kate DeNeveu and David Murray, owners of Telegraph Art & Comics, which has two locations in Charlottesville, said that while losing sales from weekly issues will have an impact, they’re focused on moving a swath of other products.
“We tend to order pretty tightly when it comes to new issues — around 90% of the issues we order go directly to subscribers,” DeNeveu said. “Right now we’re focusing on keeping up relationships with subscribers through email and social media and helping them find new stories.”
DeNeveu and Murray opened a second location near Hillsdale last year, allowing them more space to purchase and showcase products. According to the pair, buying collections and other collectibles allows a shop to set itself apart from other retailers.
“Vintage and used comics has been a growing part of our business for the last year; if you’re only buying stuff from Diamond then you’re basically working for Diamond,” DeNeveu said. “The good thing about books is that they don’t go bad and so if they sit on the shelf for a little while it’s not a huge problem.”
While DeNeveu and Murray are still able to operate their store online, they said they do miss their two full-time and four part-time employees, who are temporarily out of work.
While the Telegraph owners are optimistic, Stephen Lotts, owner of Secret Lair in Harrisonburg, is more concerned about disruptions in the industry.
Lotts, who has operated the store for six years, said most of his business comes from weekly new issue sales.
Like other shops, Lotts switched to curbside pick-up when social distancing guidelines first arrived in March, but has since shifted solely to shipping products.
Now, he has transitioned again to packaging issues together into story arcs and recommending new series and collected volumes to readers and subscribers via the store’s social media pages.
“Some of our best customers are suffering from layoffs and have a lot of job uncertainty and people are going to worry about food and family first, which makes sense of course,” he said. “Comics are seen as an unnecessary expense.”
Lotts said many comic retailers have a love/hate relationship with Diamond but appreciate that the retailer almost exclusively deals with specialty stores, giving them a leg up on chain retailers.
However, he said he is concerned by recent news releases from DC Comics, which indicated it might distribute its issues through Random House and Penguin, two major distributors that sell to larger stores.
“From talking to other retailers it sounds like DC has basically betrayed the industry and I think whatever they end up doing is going to affect comic shops for a long time and change distribution as a whole,” Lotts said.
Lotts, who also works as a middle school teacher, said he is lucky that Secret Lair is not his only source of income, but is unsure what kind of impact distribution woes will have on other shops.
Down in Richmond, Velocity Comics owners Rawn Gandy and Patrick Godfrey have also shifted much of their business online, offering pick-up and local delivery as well as shipping to subscribers across the state.
Gandy was more understanding of Diamond’s position, pointing that many printers had shut down, meaning the distributor was cut off from much of its product. Furthermore, due to essential business guidelines, a lot of shops have closed temporarily, he said, meaning they can’t receive product anyway.
Velocity also carries many products outside of new weekly issues, much of which the store has begun listing on its social media platforms.
“We’re treating this as an opportunity to help readers find new books they might like and to catch up on series they might have fallen behind on due to the frequency of issues,” Gandy said. “It’s an uncertain time but I don’t want readers to think it’s all doom-and-gloom.”