Evolution of the Direct Market Part VIII

In my past two columns, I have alluded to a letter I sent to Marvel Comics in 1979. Rather than to continue to paraphrase what I said in that letter, I decided to instead track down a copy, and print it in its entirety. While it was not the most diplomatic of letters, through pure circumstance, it was to ultimately have a profound effect on the future of the Direct Market. I'll discuss the wide-ranging consequences of my letter in my next column.

    Robert T. Maiello 5 - 9 - 79 Manager, Sales Administration Marvel Comics Group 575 Madison Ave. New York, NY 10022

    Dear Mr. Maiello:

    My name is Charles Rozanski, and I own Mile High Comics. I am one of the largest comic book retailers in America (sales 1979 about $400,000), and thus a customer of yours. I am also a small advertiser in your comic books. This letter is an attempt on my part to bring to your attention some suggestions which I believe will be relevant, if your job truly encompasses sales and promotion.

    To begin with, I have been an active retailer of your products for over four years. Starting with no more than 15 of any comic title, I am now purchasing over 10,000 Marvel comics a month on a nonreturnable basis. I get these books through Seagate Distributing (Jonni Levas, Phil Seuling ) . It is my latest order with them that has especially prompted this letter.

    My order ( of which a photocopy is enclosed) for your products is just under $4,000 for this month. These are books that will arrive between June 10 and July 10. Under your existing policies you have just lost at least $1,000 in sales. The reason: After putting my order together I cut my list to the bone in order not to have to lay out any more up-front cash than was absolutely necessary during May, a slower month for my business. So, we both lose: you lose my business, and I lose those sales that I could have gotten by having a reserve instead of ordering just barely enough for my guaranteed sales.

    Why is this foolishness still necessary? In November of last year an "outside consultant" who supposedly was representing Cadence Industries/Marvel Comics approached us about direct contact with your office and the possibility of some mutually beneficial programs. He told us he would get back to us in December. We have heard nothing. Did you send out a representative? If so, did he present you with a breakdown of what is happening? I am going to take your silence of the past six months as evidence that either the "consultant" in question did not really work for you or else did his job very poorly. Or, there is one other possibility. Did he tell you that you would be better off without us? Is this why rumors of a lawsuit on predatory pricing are circulating? For your sake and mine, I hope not.

    Whatever the case may be, I think it is about time you heard from a retailer directly. Ours is a dying industry and if we don't get together and cooperate there will be no comic books at all. If you don't believe me, check with John Goldwater, the president of the Comic Magazine Association of America. According to him, circulation from 1959 to 1978 dropped from 600,000,000 to 250,000,000. This alone should be enough for your office to be highly interested in actively seeking to expand our business as much as possible.

    Well this has not been the case. The policies currently in force are restricting severely the ability of comic book retailers to grow or even in some cases to stay even. How can you justify continuing to require advance payment for all comic deliveries? Do you realize the cost in lost sales of this policy? As I pointed out earlier, I would have spent another $1,000, this month alone, on your products. Multiply my business by the hundreds of independent retailers, large and small, across the nation, and you come up with a staggering sum that is being wasted. Stop and think, what is the variable cost of a 40 cent comic? When you have already paid all your costs except paper and shipping, how much does it cost to leave the presses running for another 10,000 copies? My guess is between 3 and 5 cents a copy. In a business with razor thin margins, you can't afford not to get every bit of profit available

    And don't be misled, we do not siphon off business from existing distributor accounts. Quite to the contrary, we salvage thousands of customers who otherwise would have left the field in disgust at the poor distribution. When you print continued stories, it is imperative that the customer who wants the next issue should be able to find it easily. This is not currently the case. Comic books are among the lowest items on a normal distributor's priority list. And thus the whole point of continued stories (i.e. creating customer demand for future issues) is lost, and instead the opposite occurs as customers quit buying from frustration. Pardon me for being the one to say it, but that is stupid.

    Another point is that we do not just salvage customers you otherwise would have lost, we also create new ones. At 40 cents and up, comics are no longer able to sell themselves. You have made the product so thin and unattractive with advertising that it takes salesmanship to get them to sell, even to collectors. How much salesmanship do you get in a 7-11? We go out of our way to sell comics, they are our main business. (For example, the Superman the Movie book from DC...I set up a stand in a local theater and sold over 1200). Isn't it about time we got some help and support?

    Well enough of generalities. After four years I have some concrete suggestions that will make you money and make me money. Here they are:

    1) Give us billing, or at least COD purchases.
    2) Start a cooperative advertising program to promote comics.
    3) Pay for artists and writers to do promotional tours.
    4) Give us better information about what is coming out. We will buy many more books if the uncertainty about artists, etc. is alleviated.
    5) Start up a listing (on one of the ad pages ) where comic book retailers could list themselves at cost.
    6) Make it an editorial policy to support us. Present policy never even mentions we exist.
    7) Ask us for feedback. When you do something, we hear about it, believe me.
    8) Set up a remainder sales division. Since I, and many other retailers, also sell back issues, we would buy thousands more comics if they were available at a remainder price instead of normal cost.

    While I realize that not all of the above suggestions are currently viable, at this point anything would be better than the situation as it exists. I sincerely believe that I am echoing the sentiments of other independent dealers when I say I am tired of not getting any help from you, the people who benefit from my efforts. Right now, comics are my life. I work seven days a week, ten to twelve hours a day, to make my business exist and your business better. And you have been no damn help at all.

    So please give me some feedback. We are both in the same business and cooperation between us can do nothing but make our mutual jobs easier and business more profitable. I'll be awaiting your reply.


    Charles W. Rozanski

    P.S. I am going to distribute this letter as widely as I can and ask my fellow dealers to send you signed copies to indicate their agreement with most of my points. Without an official organization to support us (we are all very independent) this is the best I can do to prove that other dealers are in agreement with my opinions.

To be continued...

Mile High Comics, Inc.
Attn: Chuck Rozanski
2151 W. 56th Ave.
Denver, CO 80221

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