Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do: Cutting the Strings Can Make/Break a Small Comic Shop

When I thought about opening my own comic book shop, I made a list of all the things that I hated about "traditional" comic book shops. I was going to break the mold -- I told myself. Two years later, I've moved out of a brick-and-mortar comic book shop and now do business online and to a select few, local customers.

Looking back at my experiences in the brick-and-mortar, along with the ongoing experience of developing a mail-order comic shop, I have to say that stupid policies we all hate about traditional comic shops, are the reason they get to be 'traditional,' and those trying to break the mold can't survive.

I understand that there is a lot of personality issues between customers and owners of comic book shops (e.g.; The Simpsons' Comic Book Guy), but in this post I'm only going to tackle two business-model customer annoyances: Prepaid Items and Holds/Comics by Subscription.
"Cold Holds" Nov-Jan, subscriptions of just three customers (210 comics / $735)

Prepaid Items

One of the many jobs I had prior to opening a comic book shop was overseeing the parts department of a Harley-Davidson dealership. The company's policy on ALL special-order items was payment in-full prior to ordering. There was no exception. This policy infuriated customers. I always used the scapegoat of company policy from hurting my established customer relationships. And while I understood customers' frustration (especially for items that weren't very expensive), when ordering a motor-assembly kit for a 1978 Shovelhead, the $2k prepayment made sense.

Fast Forward from Trent: H-D Parts Manager to Trent: Comic Book Guy and in remembrance of my own frustrations of having to prepay for a $2.99 comic, I opened the doors for customers to order and then pay when the item arrived. Sure I had to front the cost and shipping of the item in good faith that the customer would come back, but this is a small town -- I naively told myself -- people don't screw people who are part of their community, and if they wanted to pay for it when it was ordered they could just do that via Amazon. I also justified my order-now-pay-later policy in that as the retailer I wasn't committed to getting a product that had been paid in full, while my distributor could screw up (for those familiar with Diamond Comic Distributors, well... they're the worst).

Customers loved that we'd order product without prepayment. For the most part, specially-ordered items that just sat on the shelf wasn't a multiple offense. However, there is a reason customers have to make special orders: a good retailer will only carry what will sell, so if it's not in the store, there's a reason. Without naming names, let's just say that some very happy comic-con fans were able to pick up $150+ items at below cost while I took financial loss, just to get some of my money back and to move the item off of my retail floor.

Holds/Subscription Comics

Whatever you know it by -- holds, subscriptions, pulls, pull list, et. all -- the idea is simple: you tell the comic shop what recurring comic book titles you would like to have saved for you. In the comic book world this is a HUGE deal. Comic book publishing is an extremely precise endeavor. Due to the rise and drastic crash of comic popularity in the 90s, publishers rely directly on the orders placed by local comic book shops for their printing numbers. During the 90s when comics were printed and sold everywhere, a million-issue printing wasn't an uncommon occurrence. Now-a-days, the most popular comics squeak out with 200,000 issues printed. 

Adding to the pressure put upon the orders of local comic shops is that publishers rarely take back unsold product (unlike the common practice in the book/magazine world which got its start during the great depression). Usually if a publisher agrees to accept returned items, it is based upon an ordered incentive: buy X amount of this comic issue and you can return what doesn't sell. A system that works great if you are Midtown comics of NYC and pointless if you are a one-employee shop as X is an unreasonably high number for small shops.

All of these factors are what makes a subscription with your local comic book dealer an essential key for A- you being able to get the comic that you want before they sell out, and B- the retailer being able to cover the costs of products, by ordering what is guaranteed to have a buyer.

Subscriptions aren't novel. In our world of Netflix and Cable TV, you get a bill -- or more likely have a direct deposit set up -- and when you pay it, you get to keep using the product. And paying for your product once a month is a habit most adults are accustomed to.

The pre-comic book guy Trent would get frustrated when comics from my subscription would be sold to other customers because I didn't come in soon enough, and they "didn't know if I was going to pick them up." While I didn't make it in to the shop weekly, there was never a time that I let more than a month lapse between picking up my comics. Carrying this logic into my mold-breaking comic shop seemed like a good idea.

When you don't pay for your cable subscription, you no longer have access to all of those TV channels. You aren't able to go to Comcast and tell them about how hard times are right now, and how you'd only like to pay for your HBO channels, but will come back later and pay for the rest of your channels when you can afford it. However, that is the exact mentality that slowly ate away at our shop's capital. Compounding the problem are those who have a substantial amount of comic books on a subscription that drop off the face of the Earth, and those who promise that they will be in to pay, but simply never do.

I really hope that this post doesn't come across as a "woe is me the martyr of local comic shops." The failure of my brick-and-mortar comic shop is wholly mine. I accept that. I write this hoping to convey to comic book readers that may be upset about the irksome, pain-in-your-ass policies that their comic book shop has, those policies might just be the only things keeping your comic book shop open. So please, just remember: Someone had to buy that stuff before it could be put on the retail shelf. It might be awkward to tell your comic book guy that you can't afford your subscriptions, but he'll hate you much more if you never tell him.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

@apartofhim's Top 20 of 2014 - #1 Creepoid "Creepoid"

The best part about making lists is that they are wholly yours. Of course as Rob explained in High Fidelity "First of all, you 're using someone else's poetry to express how you feel. This is a delicate thing." But sound is a sense that we connect with sound in a way that is unlike any other sense. Interpreting sound is, if not more, as personal as interpreting touch. Both are in the very physical world, but one invokes the mind more directly since it can't be tainted by the sense of sight (think about how touch is interpreted by a bind person).

Anyway, what I'm getting at, is this whole top 20 list of mine, is mine. It's not wrong; it can't be, because it's mine. I just wanted to share what touched me most profoundly this year in the world of new music. Let me know what you think and what your favorites were.

That said, take this into consideration when listening to "Creepoid" - via The AV Club:
Press play if you like: Low; Mazzy Star; cough syrup; chronic insomnia; pop-punk 45s played at 33

Zeros N' Heroes 076

Zeros N' Heroes 076

Zeros N’ Heroes 076 This week we’ve got cools — Daredevil B&W, Fantastic Four Isla de la Muerte, X-Men Hoodies, Amibos — stools, and more!

Monday, January 19, 2015

@apartofhim's Top 20 of 2014 - #2 The Orwells "Disgraceland"

Young adults playing loud-fast garage rock. But you're thinking #2.... really? This band has had a ton of hype. A TON. Rolling Stone, SPIN, NPR, everyone has been raving about these guys since their ep released in 2013. And guess what, it's totally deserved!

Read what Consequence of Sound senior staff writer Ryan Bray wrote about the album:
Almost every band dreams of one day meeting David Letterman, and The Orwells, whether they meant to or not, found a way to crack the king of late night comedy’s code. In January, the raucous garage pop act banged out an intoxicating rendition of “Who Needs You”, the lead single from their major label debut, Disgraceland, on the Late Show. Highlighted by the bizarre theatrics of frontman Mario Cuomo, the performance prompted a surprisingly spirited reaction from Letterman, who urged the band to keep playing through the credits. It’s tough to get a rise out of Dave these days; throughout his 22-year run on the Late Show, the host has no doubt seen and forgotten more bands than most of us. But musicians are also acutely aware of his well-established track record for introducing today’s best young bands to the masses. In a quick but ever-important three minutes, The Orwells had gained an important ally in their quest for rock and roll glory. 
With that, the crank on the hype machine started working overtime for the natives of Elmhurst, Ill., a good five months shy of the album’s release. But as the rock glitterati propped The Orwells up on their shoulders as the indie world’s next big thing, questions persisted. The band got a lot of mileage out of its wild network television debut, but how could they build upon that momentum on record? The Orwells laid their foundation on 2012’s Remember When, whose tasty nods to the Velvet Underground and neo-garage heroes like The Strokes helped the record proudly live up to its nostalgic title. There are considerably more eyes and ears zeroed in on The Orwells this time around, but surprisingly little changes about the band’s approach on Disgraceland, and that might be the record’s best quality. Read the rest at Consequence of Sound

Sunday, January 18, 2015

@apartofhim's Top 20 of 2014 - #3 Tycho "Awake"

Listening to the third track "L" will do more for your understanding this album than anything I could ever write. It embodies everything this San Francisco artist (tours as a trio) has created on this album. It's smooth, driving, catchy, airy, weird, and perfect. This summer I put "L" on repeat and rode my motorcycle to 2 and a half hours to Wyoming, and I still wasn't sick of the song. But if you ever tire of "L" you'll be primed to ingest the top 3 album of 2014.

Read what Pitchfork's Nick Neyland wrote about "Awake:"
Awake is the album where Scott Hansen, the San Francisco-based visual artist and musician who records as Tycho, expands into a far-reaching space. He's made gorgeously constructed techno under this name for over a decade, ultimately gaining traction with the sunny Dive in 2011. In the context of Awake—the first Tycho record recorded as a three-piece band—his previous albums now sound like mere dreams of the luminous world he was trying so hard to connect to. Here, Hansen gains a skip in his step and strides right into that place, largely due to a shedding of the muddied beats and wistful synth tones that positioned him a little too close to Boards of Canada's retro-futuristic notions. There's more air here, lending a greater expanse of room to move around in than before, like travelling from a rundown seaside resort to vast scoops of desert plane. It's still recognizable as a Tycho recording, with a familiar sense of melancholy and the embers of sundown burning through it, but with the ambition clearly heightened right from the first few notes. Read the rest at Pitchfork

Saturday, January 17, 2015

@apartofhim's Top 20 of 2014 - #4 St. Paul & The Broken Bones "Half the City"

Soul is sexy. It really is. It is the musical embodiment of all love and all that comes with it: lust, anger, passion, sadness, ecstasy, etc. And this album the embodiment of all things sexy and delivered in a palatable modern-soul album, despite the band players being less-than-physically sexy, their music supersedes their limited-flesh appeal. Check out the music video for "Call Me."

Read what PopShifter's Melissa Bratcher had to say:
St. Paul & The Broken Bones’ frontman Paul Janeway (St. Paul himself) was raised Pentecostal and studied to be a preacher. Upon hearing Half The City, one can only say, “Thank God it didn’t pan out.” Paul Janeway has the kind of voice that you’ll read all kinds of hype about, and for once, that hype is true. The man sings like the second coming of Otis Redding and has a killer band to back him up. Hailing from Birmingham, Alabama, St. Paul & The Broken Bones tread the same sort of ground as Alabama Shakes (and Half The City is, in fact, produced by Alabama Shakes’ Ben Tanner): soulful and bluesy, but with the added bonus of an amazing horn section. Read the rest at PopShifter.

Friday, January 16, 2015

@apartofhim's Top 20 of 2014 - #5 Michael Christmas "Is This Art?"

I don't know if I've ever been struck by so much genius in one music video. When @WillDKent showed me the video for "Michael Cera," my mind broke. The cinematography is brilliant, the shots, editing, sound, as a music video, it's perfect. Then breaking down the lyrics I saw not only was it lyrically sound but were so well crafted blending whit and humor, that when I found out Christmas was on 19 years old... WTF?! Yes, I was hooked. This is without a doubt the hip-hop album of the year!

Martín Caballero of the Boston Globe wrote this:
Answering the titular question posed by Roxbury rapper Michael Christmas’s debut album is more difficult than it may seem upon first listen. On the surface, it’s a Seth Rogen movie in rap album form; Christmas plays the role of hilarious, endearing slob with such natural humor and charm, you tend to overlook the surplus of masturbation jokes. He outshines Rome Fortune on the blunt cruise anthem “Duck Duck Goose,” drops rewind-worthy lines on “Overweight Drake,” and displays an easy comic chemistry with Alex Wiley on “Step Brothers,” even if they’re just trying to top each other’s gross-out gags. But repeat listens reveal that he’s more than just a slacker comedian. There’s something very self-aware in the way he deftly mixes metaphors in the first verse on “Michael Cera,” or the way he effortlessly tosses out a line like, “I almost paid the rent, but this new hat, you know I had to get it/ standing with my white Sonata, need Xzibit” on “Y’all Trippin’.” As relentlessly entertaining as Christmas is here, “Is This Art?” sounds like just the early glimpses of one of the most original and promising young talents in the city. That, and it’s really funny.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

@apartofhim's Top 20 of 2014 - #6 A Sunny Day in Glasgow "Sea When Absent"

Despite the name, A Sunny Day in Glasgow is not one of the Scott-Rock groups that has made this years top 20 list. However, this Brooklyn-based dream-pop group - comprised of artists from Philadelphia, Brooklyn, and  Sydney Australia - will have listeners looking for remnants of the hay-days of shoe-gaze nodding their heads as if to say, "Yes. This is it."

Here is the video for In Love With Usless

The Guardian's Dave Simpson wrote this:
Twenty-two years ago, Nostradamic pop critic Simon Reynolds predicted that pop music would become a game of mix-and-match rather than great leaps forward, as artists would fuse genres and sounds together to create new music. A Sunny Day in Glasgow's fourth offering might have been the sort of thing he had in mind: listening to it is like standing in the middle of a festival with music coming from all directions. Somewhere between My Bloody Valentine and the Avalanches, the Philadelphia group hurl everything from shoegaze to dreampop into their sonic soup, garnishing it with 1960s girl-group melodies, children's voices, echo and FX-laden guitars. Fragments of lyrics – "Sometimes I feel so happy I'm in love with useless" – leap out, but words are used more as textures than text. Indeed, vocalists Jen Goma and Annie Fredrickson sound like lost sisters of Cocteau Twin Elizabeth Fraser, as voice and sound are burnished to a heavenly haze.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

@apartofhim's Top 20 of 2014 - #7 Mutoid Man "Helium Head"

For fans of Cave-In -like myself- we can't get enough of front man Stephen Brodski's work. Be it traditional Cave-In or his solo work, his high screaming vocals layered atop the unique top end, dream-like metal guitar, puts fans into a state of post-hardcore euphoria. Teaming up with Ben Koller of Converge and All Pigs Must Die to create Mutoid Man, only means more of what the Cave-In fans crave!

Punknews.org's Bryne had this to say:
Based on the pedigree of their members, Helium Head is more or less exactly what fans would expect, but the familiarity doesn't make the trip any less fun. These songs–just seven of them in about 16 minutes–twist and turn with the furiously reckless abandon of Koller's most affecting work with Converge, and contain enough doubletime Sabbath-in-the-space-age riffs from Brodsky to satiate any Cave In enthusiast. "Gnarcissist," "Scavengers" and the especially excellent "Sacriledge" blaze by in mathy bursts, with loads of frantically calculated drumming and lightspeed guitar-tapping. Brodsky's vocals are distorted throughout, which oddly make the standout moments such like his Robert Plant-esque howl on "Scrape The Walls" all the more memorable. Read the rest at Punknews.org

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

@apartofhim's Top 20 of 2014 - #8 Paws "Youth Culture Forever"

Distorted thick gutairs , tom-heavy drums, gravely vocals juxtaposed with air harmonized backups: This is Scott-Rock at its best!

Pitchfork's Jeremy Gordon had this to say:
There’s a scene in Cartoon Network’s "Adventure Time"—a cartoon that embodies the intersection of interests between seven-year olds and stoners—where the main character, Finn, is frustrated by the old people who tell him he’s too young to know what he’s doing. Undeterred, he yells "Youth culture forever!" as he runs away to try something new. You might consider this when listening to Youth Culture Forever, the sophomore album from Scottish trio PAWS that comes here to both praise and bury youth. Like contemporaries Yuck and Tony Molina, you can pinpoint PAWS’ 90s alt rock influences from a mile away—there’s a bit of Mascis, Malkmus, Cuomo, and the like. But while they spend time recounting the well-worn experiences of being young—the drunkenness, the heartbreak, the drunken heartbreak—they also push aside foolish things in favor of sober observations, giving them gravitas beyond their years. Read the rest at Pitchfork...