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So You Want to Own a Bookstore II

March 15th, 2008  |  Published in Bookselling

Yesterday I posted Chuck Rozanski's seven questions to be asked before getting into the comics business. Here are a few of his choice observations, which apply equally to the used book business:

"I remember reading a Small Business Administration (SBA) pamphlet 30 years ago which laid out the hard facts that 70% of new businesses started in America fail within three years, and that 85% fail within five years….For the specialized area of comics retailing, those percentages were actually a bit optimistic. Very few of the stores that were opened from 1988-1999 are still in business, and I'll bet that 75% of those that are still open could be purchased for net asset value, with no consideration given for the enterprise as an ongoing business."

"What most comics retailers never figure out (until it's too late…) is that they are losing money every day that they are open for business. They accumulate lots of inventory, and come to believe that owning lots of stuff is the same thing as making a profit. Well, that's only true if you have a cost-effective mechanism for turning your stuff into cash. If you don't own such a mechanism, you're not generating a profit, you're simply adding to your storage cost burden. Eventually that burden, combined with a lack of cash flow, will kill your business."

"Comics retailers are notorious for seldom liquidating slow product, and as a result, what you see in a store is not what their customers are seeking, but rather what they got stuck with."

And finally, in a much later column, Mr. Rozanski asks a question that I think all book collectors should ask. It's one that I've been giving a lot of thought to of late as I have been working with one of our regular contributors, Richard Goodman, on a story about what the book world can learn from the art world. A lot of people are concerned about an apparent waning of interest in books. The same is true about comics. I am reminded of the last lines of that famous Dylan Thomas poem: "Do not go gentle into that good night. / Rage, rage against the dying of the light." What Mr. Rozanski asks here is worth asking of everyone who loves books.

"To get to the nub of my question for today, I would ask you to consider what you are personally doing to try to save the comics world. I realize that there is not a single one of us who can have any measure of a significant impact solving this kind of dilemma alone, but I do fervently believe that great numbers of people working toward a common goal can create an astonishing level of positive change. To be a bit more specific, I would ask what kind of outreach you have done of late to try to bring new readers into comics? All of us have favorite stories that particularly resonate with us as an individual. Have you tried passing that book and/or comic on to a friend? How about giving comics to kids?…How about speaking about comics before groups of young people? I've been to numerous elementary, middle, and high schools during my career, speaking to young people about the merits of graphic storytelling, and passing out free samples. These are just a few of the ways that all of us can help encourage new readers."

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