April 14, 2020
The coronavirus delivers a huge hit to the comic book industry
by Alyea Canada
The coronavirus continues to wreak havoc on all that we love and at this point there isn’t an industry that hasn’t been touched. In book publishing, booksellers have been adapting by embracing online sales, virtual events, Go Fund Me campaigns, Bookshop.org storefronts (this one specifically supports unemployed NYC booksellers), Binc or some combination thereof. However, the comic book industry, which still relies heavily on in-person print sales, has been hit especially hard and at every level. On Friday Dave Itzkoff wrote for the New York Times about how already thin margins and the loss of a major distributor has put an entire industry in peril.
The comic book industry has been booming in recent years according to a report by Comichron and ICv2, with the industry topping $1 billion dollars annually in the United States and Canada. Sales at comic book stores account for $510 million, followed closely by book channels—including indie and chain bookstores and beloved Scholastic book fairs—with $465 million, digital sales only accounted for about $100 million in sales. Now owners of comic book stores are seeing a promising year disappear as they shutter their stores and try to stay afloat.
As if that wasn’t enough, Diamond Comic Distributors, the largest distributor of comic book and graphic novels, has been making deferred payments to publishers and stopped shipping new comics to stores as of April 1. In a statement on their website, founder Steve Geppi cited numerous issues and strains in both the supply chain from publishers and freight networks and distribution centers for their decision. He continued to encourage retailers to “let loose your own creativity” to sell the stock they already have, suggesting “special sales, promotions, and even eBay” as outlets. Regardless of how creative comic sellers are, the fact remains that now no one is making money on new comics. Many comics and graphic novel fans prefer reading print and value the community built by shopping in person at their favorite store.
If you want to help, some shop owners are providing mail-order sales of graphic novels, anthologies, and collectibles, and donations to Binc also support comic book stores. However, when this pandemic is over and we begin to approach our new normal, be sure to return to your local comic store and rediscover that community you’ve probably been missing.
Alyea Canada is an editor at Melville House.