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Another retail report -- and the "discount bin"

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Heidi MacDonald spied another media report on a California comics retailer battling recession — this one, Earth-2 in Sherman Oaks. The six-year-old operation saw revenue drop by 20% in the year to Black Friday, according to the Daily News report. There have been other newspaper reports noted here on how comics shops are weathering the recession — this is the third from California. The Daily News one appears to be part of an ongoing package about area businesses. [*See the update, below, for Earth-2's correction to the Daily News report.]

I note that Earth-2 appears to keep back issues on the floor — something many retailers have moved away from in the trade paperback age; unless a store specializes in them or has a commitment to selling them online, back issues generally represent ordering mistakes. But they could be an important cash-flow element for retailers in slow times — the "discount bin" (I hesitate to say "quarter bin" ) giving customers under financial pressure a choice under the $4 level they might not otherwise have — thus keeping them in the store. I recall buying more comics than I ever had before in the 1992 recession — by raiding quarter bins. The comics boom was nearing its peak then — and the older area stores had plenty of ordering mistakes to offload. Not a cost-effective strategy for most operations — discount bins take up a lot of footage versus the revenue they bring in — but they do serve the purpose of keeping people in the store until their circumstances improve.

*Update: Retailer Carr D'Angelo posts a correction to the Daily News story on The Beat: "There is no 20% drop in yearly revenue at Earth-2. 2009 is actually up slightly from 2008." D'Angelo wrote that his statement was that revenue on some titles had dropped by 20%, and that there had been slow weeks in the fourth quarter. "We’re not hurting. But that wouldn’t have fit into the series theme."

This particular series is titled “Hard Times on Ventura Blvd: Is it a Boulevard of Broken Dreams?” — and D'Angelo's statement about it connects to something I wondered about when clicking around the newspaper site earlier, and which I'd considered touching on in the above post. As the sagging economy becomes a "news beat" of its own for reporters in many localities, we may find a tendency for stories about shops to head in that direction, particularly as the same kinds of stories are told and retold and papers hit the novelty "even the local comic shop" phase. That's based on my experiences with the news business and not any judgment of this specific story or paper, but it is something to consider when evaluating stories as they come in.

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