Comic stores vs. the economy: a grim tale of two retailers

Economic forces continue to take a toll on comic retailers -- online stores and brick-and-mortar shops alike -- a gloomy reality illustrated by two recent developments.

The first comes from Khepri Comics, the 12-year-old Internet bookseller specializing in independent comics and the works of creators like Brian Wood, Becky Cloonan, Ross Campell and Cliff Chiang. According to owner Brian Johnson, it's been a brutal past few months, with "gross 'summer' revenue" down 43 percent versus 2009, and 58 percent versus 2008. "Sorry — one more summer of decline, and Khepri is done," he writes on the store's blog.

"Sure, the economy is crap," Johnson says in a follow-up with The Beat. "Undoubtedly, downloading (legal or otherwise) must takes its toll. But excuses won’t pay the bills. So I’ll redouble my efforts and see what the next twelve months bring."

As Johnson suggests in his nod to downloading, he doesn't think the recession is solely to blame for Khepri's declining revenues.

"It’s tough sledding out there competing with Amazon’s free shipping, Hastings’ new impetus, Mile High’s incredible selection, Midtown’s dogged advertising, and on and on," he continues. "At the same time, Marvel is now Disney, DC is Time Warner, Comic-Con International is now Hollywood, and only Big Business is Too Big To Fail. It may be sluggish yet, but the future is now – this is the new comics industry, this is the new global economy. Where, exactly, do I fit in?"

Meanwhile, as Puyallup, Washington, retailer Comic Evolution heads into its third anniversary next month, owner Chuck Messinger reveals he has experienced a decrease in business of more than 60 percent in recent months.

"In years past, it has been safe to assume everyone is enjoying their summer and will get back to reading the good stuff in the off months," Messinger writes on the store's Facebook page. "This year we have not even made enough to cover invoices since June."

In addition to "the harsh reality of this economic downturn," Messinger lays blame on subscription customers who abandoned their accounts without notifying the store, leaving him "to write off more than $30,000 this year in neglected subscription files."

In the Facebook plea, titled "State of Evolution: Save Our Store," Messinger asks for subscription customers to bring their accounts up to date or at least notify the Comic Evolution that they're unable to do so.

"For the first time since our opening in 2007, we are experiencing a financial crisis that unfortunately we may not be able to pull out of," he writes. "Not having enough revenue to pay the utilities, the rent, and all necessary commodities has opened our eyes."

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