The impact of the coronavirus is taking a serious toll on the comic book industry as many comic shop owners are wondering how they’re going to survive with their lowered foot traffic and already thin profit margins. To add even more pain, as of Friday, all of California and New York are under statewide shutdowns of non-essential businesses. Illinois also followed suit.
As the full extent of the virus continues to be felt across the country, a good bellwether for how things might turn out for comic shops is northern California, where retailers have been dealing with an enforced shutdown of their storefronts for a week, without knowing whether or not publishers would continue to release product — and bill stores for it — during the shutdown.
Comic specialty shops were desperate for help from the major comics publishers and Image Comics was first, announcing a series of actions last Tuesday they were taking to help comic book retailers in light of the growing COVID-19 (commonly known as coronavirus) pandemic telling those retailers:
ALL Image Comics product on FOC for Monday, March 16 and for the following FOCs through the end of the month will be fully returnable. Should the pandemic worsen and the closures continue, we will update you all on returnability in April.
We have sent an email alert to 80K+ consumers encouraging them to follow their local comic book stores on social media for updates on store hours, rescheduled events, and cleaning policies.
We are actively messaging to fans across all platforms to purchase their pullbox reserves and stock up on comics at their local shop for reading material during self-quarantine.
We are pushing for Diamond to extend delayed billing to stores.
We are listening to feedback and to your concerns and are monitoring emails from retailers. We are eager and invested in helping support you and your businesses.
Eric Stephenson, Chief Creative Officer and Publisher at Image Comics said “we want stores to order with the confidence they’re not going to be stuck with stock they can’t sell, and we hope everyone recognizes the part we all can play by joining together to help one another weather this crisis.”
Next it was Dynamite’s owner Nick Barrucci offering returnability for retailers on its product through Diamond Comic Distributors, or directly if need be.
Barrucci’s statement to retailers included the following:
We are discussing and working with Diamond on an informed response, and hope to have news shortly about easing your burden in the coming weeks. One option we would like to offer is that Dynamite would take returns (as Image has announced and other publishers may do as well) – but Diamond has a large amount of volume, and has many factors to consider, and we are understanding of that in case it’s not feasible overall. If Diamond has challenges doing so, we at Dynamite will take returns directly. Obviously, we have to coordinate any logistics with each retailer if we are doing so directly. The answers may not be coming quick enough, but they are coming. Diamond is a great company and works with retailers and publishers day in and day out, but this is an unprecedented situation, so please be patient with them, but I wanted to let you know that Dynamite is here for you.
Joe Pruett, Aftershock Comics’ chief creative officer also sent out a letter to retailers telling them:
We have had deep, serious discussions with Diamond and are prepared to participate, where we can, in initiatives and relief plans that they will put forward soon. We have also had conversations with many retailers, who have encouraged us to postpone shipments of our new books. As of this writing, we are working to delay such shipments by a minimum of 4 weeks, monitoring and re-evaluating daily the possible extension of this delay beyond 4 weeks, if necessary. We look forward with hope and confidence to that time when we can return to business as usual.
We’re also taking this action in support of our creators. It’s their books that we’ve been entrusted to publish, promote and work with you to sell. As you know, we have some incredible new series set to launch and are determined to do so in an environment that benefits all contributors and stakeholders.
On Friday, and after much pressure on some sort of statement, particularly by infamous comics retailer Brian Hibbs, Marvel finally issued a statement to retailers:
We have spoken with many of you about the economic impact to your stores from this situation, and we are here to help. To assist and support you and retailers around the country during this unprecedented time, Marvel will be implementing the following support sales measures, effective immediately:
For Marvel titles scheduled to go on sale between March 18 and April 8, Marvel is offering extensive deep discounts (adjusted on top of the existing discounts you have in place) to help alleviate cash flow pressures and give you the flexibility to sell your product in response to customer demand as needed. *Please see the chart below for new discount tiers.
This move will increase total discounts for you upfront and preserve the cash you have immediately available. These discounts will also allow your store to fully dedicate your resources and staff to selling comics and other essential tasks.
Marvel and Diamond will also be preserving your current regular Marvel discount tier, regardless of any decreases to your order levels. By maintaining your current regular discount tier, we hope to give you the confidence you need to reduce and adjust your orders and steadily accommodate your ongoing pull and hold list customers.
No returnability like the other publishers mentioned above, but at least retailers who slashed orders by FOC still get some discounts applied. So there’s that. What do you think these retailers ought to do to keep their stores going while traffic is at an all time low due to this pandemic?