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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Revenge of the Comics: Diamond "pop-up" spinner rack program redeems relic from comics distribution history

by John Jackson Miller

The spinner rack — the rotating wire display with pockets shelving comics — has a bit of a checkered past in comics history, but it's also a familiar icon with a convenient share for retailing. It's now being employed by Diamond Comic Distributors in a just-announced program to put pop-up comics stands in places that haven't had comics in a long time.

In the program, comics shops would purchase 44-pocket racks for placement of comics in other "complementary" businesses. “We’re thinking about stores with the kind of clientele that would be interested in comics,” Diamond Executive Director of Sales Mike Schimmel said. “The book, record, toy, or game store around the corner, the hospital gift shop down the street, drug stores, convenience stores, movie theaters, you name it. Since there really are comic books for everyone, there are lots of possibilities, and each retailer will know best what might work in their communities.”

Diamond is also offering, with partner publishers, a variety of bonus items for retailers who try out the program. Retailers qualify by signing an agreement with another business to allow them to place and maintain a spinner rack of comics in their stores for a minimum of six months. Agreements can be reached on a buy-sell or consignment basis, with quantities, margin splits, payment terms, and other details being at the discretion of the parties. “There are lots of ways to structure an agreement,” Schimmel said. “We’ve provided a couple of templates that retailers can adapt as they see fit. The program is also flexible in that there are no requirements in terms of the titles or quantities retailers put on the racks.”

The spinner rack as a vehicle to get comics into places they weren't is interesting in hindsight, because while many collectors recall them with fond nostalgia, the cold retailing history was that the spinner rack was originally developed not as a showcase, but as a response to 20th century newsstands and grocers who found comics unprofitable and undesirable, and who wanted them off their magazine shelves. Sticking them all onto a standing rack allowed newsstand owners to stick them off into a corner — "a place for comics to go and die," as one observer recollected.

In practice, of course, comics fans followed the books there, with many developing a fondness for the displays — enough so that the "Hey Kids! Comics!" label atop spinners became a slogan reclaimed by fans (it was even Heidi MacDonald's column title for a time in Comics Buyer's Guide). And even after most comics sales had migrated to comics shops, the racks have proved popular enough that shop owners and fans alike have sought them out (including via a successful Kickstarter earlier this year which raised $95,000).

It's highly unlikely that any of the outlets taking the pop-ups would have been ones that exiled comics to the spinners decades ago — but the fact that the spinner is being employed as a way back into wider distribution is interesting. And since the terms for the books on those racks will be different — and because the titles will be curated rather than selected randomly and shoved haphazardly in, as in the bad old days — there's a better chance that this century, they'll be profitable enough to stay.

Comichron founder John Jackson Miller has tracked the comics industry for more than 20 years, including a decade editing the industry's retail trade magazine; he is the author of several guides to comics, as well as more than a hundred comic books for various franchises. He is the author of novels including Star Wars: Kenobi, Overdraft: The Orion OffensiveStar Wars: A New Dawn, and the Star Trek: Prey trilogy. Read more about them at his fiction site.

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