Last weekend, Todd Allen wrote at The Beat that he had spotted some Dark Horse comics on the newsstand at Books-A-Million, now the second-largest bookstore chain in the country. That piqued my interest, as newsstand sales have proved to be a challenge for most comics publishers for decades now, so I got in touch with Matt Parkinson, Dark Horse's vice president of marketing, who answered some questions about the company's newsstand sales at Books-A-Million and its used-book subsidiary 2nd & Charles.
Robot 6: First of all, what has Dark Horse’s newsstand presence been like in recent years?
Matt Parkinson: Since the early '90s, Dark Horse had placed titles on the newsstand through various distributors. In recent years we only enjoyed strong sales if the comic had a blockbuster movie tied to it or some major media component. Ultimately, due to the reduction of available display space and the resulting decline in sales, we discontinued all newsstand distribution in fall 2014. We would consider returning to newsstand distribution if a title demonstrated mass-market appeal.
Is Books-A-Million a recent addition? If so, why did you decide to place your comics there?
The placement of comics in Books-A-Million/2nd & Charles is indeed a recently added program. They approached us with the opportunity through Diamond Comics, and we felt it was a good move to have our comics available to their customers. Since they were already selling a variety of our graphic novels, why not have some of the respective single issues available to those readers as well?
“Newsstands” can be in mass-market stores, bookstores, airports. Do you have a particular focus, such as bookstores?
Over the years our titles were available at a number of the outlets you mention above: grocery stores, bookstores, airports, mass market, and more. We did in fact have some newsstand titles that were specific to the book market, including Gerard Way’s Umbrella Academy and Emily the Strange.
Are you focusing on particular genres or titles for newsstand distribution?
We’re currently focusing on a mix of our licensed and creator-owned titles. Specifically those titles which we feel already have a built-in fan base due to the availability of the graphic novels currently in the stores.
What makes the newsstand an attractive place to sell comics?
It presents a natural extension of our business. Both Hastings (who formerly offered some of our titles through their newsstand program) and Books-A-Million are typically stores situated in smaller markets where comics shops might not be easily accessible. Since we already have the built-in reader base, it made a lot of sense to have our comics represented at their stores as well.
Are newsstand sales a substantial part of your revenue stream or is it more of a visibility thing?
Currently, as the program with Books-A-Million is in its infancy, it’s more of a visibility thing. Should the program take off and be successful, it will afford us the opportunity to offer a larger mix of our comics titles. Fingers crossed!