Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Wars and Rumors of War

I recently had occasion to order from the Discount Comic Book Service. I had never used the service before and was wondering how they compared with similar retailers. Well, I placed an order back in February (not an advance order, I ordered two books which had been out for months and which they listed as in stock) and it just arrived yesterday. All this after numerous e-mails to costumer service went unanswered. So yeah, I don't think I'll be using these guys again. I don't expect much in the way of costumer service from online retailers, and they failed to meet the minimum requirement for competence.

The best online retailer I've found is Buy.com, which guarantees ten percent off of Amazon's listed price, as well as free shipping on orders over $25. The free shipping usually makes up for any price difference between the site and deeper discounters like AllDirect.com (although AllDirect is still my first choice for buying music online -- the discount is usually significant enough that as long as you buy two or more CDs you're saving a fair amount of money). Plus, I have never received a dented or scuffed book from Buy.com, which is something I cannot say for Amazon. Every once in a while I will encounter something I can't find on Buy.com, and in those instances I might actually (gasp!) buy something at the store. But the internet usually does a good job of serving my retail needs.

I guess I should mumble some sort of half-hearted apology to all the comics retailers in the audience, but I don't think their feelings are much hurt. Most good comic book stores offer subscription discounts that can alleviate the pain of buying massive amounts of comics. The last store I frequented (the wonderful Comic Empire of Tulsa) offered a 20% discount, but I understand that's rare. (Perhaps he was unusual, although I can't say for certain, in that by far the lion's share of his business was through subscriptions, and he also had a handful of costumers who regularly ponied up for the obscenely expensive items -- statue collections and limited edition hardcovers -- that you and I usually make fun of when we see them in the catalog [not to mention the small but lucrative trickle of significantly old books that be managed to place in the hands of willing buyers]. He could afford to be generous, because he made a mint. A small business with low overhead and a pathologically devoted costumer base willing to pony up insane chunks of money for useless tchochkes ordered by phone from a single primary distributer -- it's the American dream.) I've seen anywhere from 5%-15% offered as the "industry standard". But I don't buy very many comics anymore, and most of what I do buy comes in book form. My discretionary income is small enough that I can't afford to pay full price when I can go cheaper, and even if I did have the money it would be stupid to do so unless a local retailer went out of their way to provide me with reason to patronize them.

There's a really good comic book store about a mile from my house (That's Entertainment), but honestly, I don't go in there often. I buy comics so rarely these days that I value the ones I do all the more, and I want to get the most "bang" for my buck. I know that's just a variation on the same old shuck and jive that is generally considered to be killing small businesses across the country, but there you go. People wouldn't be shopping at Wal-Mart if they didn't need the goods at the prices offered -- it's hardly a status symbol. For me, also, the retail experience is greatly improved by the privacy of my own living room, which is something that most small business won't be able to counter unless they bring back door-to-door salespeople.

So where is this going? I don't really know, to be honest, I just sat down with the idea of putting up a post about something or other and ended up typing a lot. Anyway, I don't doubt that there are numerous good comic stores out there -- That's Entertainment is definitely one, which is probably why I don't go there much so I don't feel guilty for not spending more money -- and ultimately they can't really feel bad about losing me as a costumer. I respect what they do, but right now I'm just too poor to pay a premium for good service. And ultimately, that's what it comes down to. If you own a comic book store, you best provide good costumer service, or you've already lost the only advantage you have against places like Buy.com.

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