The stories behind the stories

Comics Retailer

Comics Retailer (later Comics & Games Retailer)

Published by Krause Publications • 1992-2008
Editors over the years included John Jackson Miller, James Mishler, KC Carlson, Don Butler, Brent Frankenhoff, along with Maggie Thompson, Don Thompson, Jason Winter, and Joyce Greenholdt

Comics & Games Retailer was simply Comics Retailer in 1993 when I became editor with the 23rd issue. For the next decade, I worked to add sales reports and data analysis to the magazine — and tried to provide a lively forum for retailers, distributors, and publishers. I stopped being involved in the day-to-day workings of the magazine years before it folded, but my sales analyses appeared there each month until the final issue in 2007.

The initial Comics Retailer concept, back in 1992, was to capitalize on the strong retailer mailing list Krause Publications had generated through its consumer magazine, Comics Buyer’s Guide with a trade magazine inspired by Kalmbach‘s Model Retailer. During those boom times, the idea was swiftly copied by Wizard with Entertainment Retailing and Sendai (publisher of Hero Illustrated), with Comic Book Business. The latter title actually hired away Comics Retailer editor Don Butler, whom I was hired to replace. (Don eventually returned to the company, where he worked again with us in comics for a time.)

I signed on at the end of 1993 — just as the comics market began to collapse. (Just a coincidence, I assure you!) While the competing publications folded, we coped with the introduction of an industry directory issue which became an annual event. (As did the total loss of my weekends surrounding its production. It was always a massive undertaking!)

But when the comics distributors went to war with each other in 1995, the model was challenged again. In this wholly ad-supported publication, support from the competing distributors was as important as advertising from comics publishers. Now, the distributors themselves were going away — and as publishers signed exclusives with the survivors, their needs to advertise were similarly eroded; the distributors handled the job of reaching retailers for them.

We responded with a change that not only helped the magazine survive the next decade, but prosper as it never had during the comics boom. We had noticed the popularity of Magic: The Gathering right away in 1994 thanks to ad rep Jim Owens, who had learned about it early on — and carved room within the magazine to report on that gaming phenomenon. With the addition of more gaming stores to the readership, the magazine had full access to a field that had, as comics once had, multiple players at the distributor level. That gamble paid off — with issues going into 1996 and 1997 regularly surpassing 100 pages. The 1998 Industry Directory was the magazine’s largest single issue, with something like 180 pages. I didn’t sleep that month at all!

But every successive year required a recalibration editorially, reflecting the state of the readership and the balance of its advertising support. If anything, comics got far more coverage in the later years than it might have warranted just by the sector breakdown of advertising — but I was adamant that, in the late 1990s, the comics industry needed information like never before. To “Market Beat,” the monthly retailer reporting column I had added in 1994 at publisher Greg Loescher‘s suggestion, I worked to get comics sales figures into the magazine merging information from the two remaining major distributors. That reporting continues to this day, having carried over to my own Comichron site.

By 1999 — during the pre-Pokémon lull in the game market — I had been redirected to other projects. Where I’d done time-intensive things before in the magazine — like a study with Rutgers and the University of Kentucky on retailer attitudes toward distributors and publishers — I increasingly shifted my efforts toward Krause’s consumer products. The company’s purchase of Scrye magazine in late 1999 was an important complement for the trade magazine — giving us a consumer-publication arm in the games field — but it also took me almost entirely away, as I edited the magazine and its subsequent book price guide. The magazine’s final print reinvention with my involvement came in this period, with the change in the title from Comics Retailer to Comics & Games Retailer.

While the game publishing market thrived in the early 2000s, contraction in the game distributor market impacted one of the markets the magazine had depended upon. And with the Internet, controlled-circulation periodicals in general faced challenges — access to retailers, a list that used to be protected like gold by distributors and us alike, was no longer so limited. I didn’t take part in any of the further reinventions, though: In 2001, I was moved in the publishing hierarchy — and Brent Frankenhoff, Joyce Greenholdt, and James Mishler increasingly handled the production of the comics, anime, and games sections of the issues respectively. That triumvirate (with Jason Winter in place of later editor Mishler) was officially named in 2003, ending my association — except for the sales analysis, which I continued to contribute. (So, I guess, in that, I was in every issue since #23 — even long after I left the company!)

The magazine finished its run in February 2008 after 191 issues had been published; my Comichron site in some ways serves part of its former functions.  But it was a positive experience for me  — and for the hobbies it served — in many ways.

The print version of the magazine leaves some legacies behind. A lot of starting retailers and publishers took ideas from the publication’s many columnists. Free Comic Book Day resulted from Joe Field‘s column with the idea.

And I met my wife, then a retailer from Seattle, through the magazine. “Market Beat” worked in strange ways!