COMIC SHOP COMMENTARY: Pre-Orders and Subscriptions


EDITOR’S NOTE:  If you’re a regular reader of this blog, then you probably have noticed that I’ve been working towards posting more opinion pieces in addition to the usual fare.  I’ve also reached out to comic shop owners, podcasters, and fandom in general and offered them a chance to share their point of view.  Guest writer RANDY GRACE is the manager of THE MAROON HORNET in Oxford, PA - - a brand new comic store that opened it’s doors in October 2016.  Let’s hear from Randy . . . . .


        A recent article on the BC Refugees blog offered some opinions on pre-orders and subscriptions, and questioned if they are a good idea.  I was invited to comment, and share my viewpoint as a comic shop manager.


     Pre-orders and subscriptions are an integral part of being able to gauge public interest in a title. Knowing in advance that an ordered item has a guaranteed sale helps store owners pay the monthly bill.  Then, we can take what is left over (after expenses) and apply it towards ordering interesting new books.  We can then afford to bring in an obscure title that we want to give a chance to see if it will sell.  Having a known income allows us the comfort level to go out on a limb every now and then.


     The only drawback to this happens when a customer pre-orders and then doesn’t come in to pick it up.  As a new store, all of our orders are C.O.D., paid for on the day of delivery to us.   From that point on, we own it. We cannot return unsold books to the distributor.


   We don’t ask customers to pre-pay for items they order or subscribe to. We take 100 percent of the risk on these transactions.  Usually, that risk is respected and rewarded by our customers, which we are very thankful for. For every 100 subscriptions/special orders, 98 percent are picked up quickly by our customers.  It’s a great show of loyalty to us, and we greatly appreciate it. 


     The two percent that don’t pick up their items may not have an immediate effect on our store. But, after three months of attempts to contact with no response - -  things can begin to add up. 


     For example, we receive around 400 subscriptions/special order items per month.  On average, eight of these are left in customer holding files.  We won’t put them on the shelf at the end of the month, because some customers may only be able to visit us once per month.  Or, maybe our email reminder is going into their spam folder.  We just keep the faith and hope to hear back from the customer.


     After three months, our chance to sell that comic book or item at retail price is gone.  Most likely, it will end up in a discount bin.  That revenue is lost forever.


    Customers that don’t pick up their pre-orders affect the other customers. The guaranteed sale from a pre-order/subscription allows us to take a little risk with bringing in some lesser known titles. Without that comfort level, we may only order five copies of a potentially worthwhile book or none at all. Without the cushion that pre-orders provides, we can’t go out on a limb and take chances.


   We don’t mind if customers can’t pick up what they ordered, but a no reply creates a problem. Their notification at least gives us a chance to get the item sold at the price we need to.  


    To those customers, we say:  “Just Tell Us.”  We all have bills to pay and mouths to feed. We get it.  Those priorities come first.  Even a call or email to say “I know it is there, but I still want it and can’t get it until next month” is acceptable.  Don’t be afraid to reach out to the local shop. And please don’t be afraid to come in the store after something like this happens. 


     We value you as a customer.  We won’t shake you down like the Kingpin or be more self-righteous than Superman!  Managing a comic book store is challenging. But the relationships that are made there are ones that I will cherish and keep forever. 


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