Diamond Comics Distributors is looking to release a digital pre-order system called “Pullbox.” For those of you non-comic readers, a “pull box” or “pull list” is a list of to-be-released issues of your favorite chosen titles. I found this article on Polygon while I was looking for podcast talking points and thought maybe one of our local comic store owners (Jordan Lowe, Asylum Comics, Marietta, OH) would be willing to chime in if we talked about it. And while I didn’t even get the chance to ask him on again, the conversation was quickly off to the races!
While this was an informal interview, I did ask permission to post the conversation because I think the points of view are very intriguing. Some formatting and minor editing has occurred, but the overall content is the same.
Jordan Lowe (JL): Is it sad that my first thought seeing a big shift in the industry is “Well, what’s THIS gonna cost me…”?
Rem Hitchcock (RH): Bahahaha. No, that’s a completely valid response as a local business owner. Did you read through it yet?
JL: I saw a different article that didn’t have much info, but I am one of those “keeping paper lists” stores, so this will be a bigger leap for me, haha.
RH: It’s an interesting model, and it’s certainly one that leaves me scratching my head. Because this is literally one step away from creating your own online pull list and just having it shipped straight to your house, which would absolutely not bode well for retailers like yourself.
JL: Absolutely. If the customer is already doing all the work, clicking on product and updating carts, etc, they might as well just be ordering it online. But getting people to preorder is like pulling teeth a lot of the time. Nobody wants to commit to anything two months early. I wonder if this would do anything to change that, providing more info, etc.
RH: I suppose if it’s done right it could. I think we’re on to something much bigger here. The article said that Comixology had something like this but ended it (which is understandable, because it doesn’t seem like too long ago that the website went through their revamp into this decade after being owned by Amazon for something like 4 years).
But the bigger picture is that if this were to take off — if it were done correctly — they could collate and analyze purchases for individuals and better categorize them, thus getting more books that a person may like into their hands. That would be a potential boon to your sales, right up until they make everything ship-to-home.
Do you think the industry appreciates the comic shops enough to keep a technology like this in the hands of the brick-and-mortar? To support the local lovers like yourself?
JL: Oh, they try to keep us in the loop. Which, really, these companies have no real reason to. If they can build a better system to sell more stuff without us, there’s no reason to keep the antiquated system except for sentimentality. But like when digital downloads first started becoming a big thing, they tried to put in a system where people would go to local stores to buy their digital codes. NO ONE was going to do that, but at least they tried to throw us a bone.
RH: That’s really interesting.
JL: Some retailers feel entitled – like they owe us for selling their stuff for so long. They get mad when they do ANYTHING without us. I’m more pragmatic (and pessimistic). I’ve said for a long time I didn’t know if I could retire doing this, things change so fast.
RH: Ultimately, even if you told your customers about an app that they could create a pull list for, that still doesn’t guarantee them to come down and pay for it when it comes to your store. All it does is take the weight off of you to keep track of the PL for those who are using the app. You’ll still have the customers who won’t want to fool with it, though,
and stay with the antiquated PL.
JL: One comment on that article put it in an interesting way: I’d have to pay for access to my own pull list records. That seems… off.
Pulls are a double edged sword. They are absolutely essential, and those customers are my weekly bread and butter keeping the doors open; but the percentage of them that bail on me and stiff me on stuff is also one of the biggest money losers I have. Honestly, only about half the people who have a list tell me when they want it canceled. People who have shopped here for years will disappear without a word and leave me on the hook. Digital will only make that easier.
RH: Oh of course. The customer doesn’t have to pay for it, but they gotta make money to pay for it somehow, right? Nevermind that you’re already paying your wholesaler costs for books on current PLs as well as generic stock.
Do you think that the convenience of going digital but having a pay-to-use system is worth the effort?
JL: I’m a small operation. I sort every book myself on tuesday, go through my 3-ring binder and divide them into files for each customer. If I had a bunch of employees I knew were more likely to screw that up? Probably. Or if I had way more customers to keep track of where it just became impossible.
From the customer end of it, I’m sure there would be interest. But the reading demographic is shifting older. We’re all old and cranky and set in our ways, haha. Some hip young millennial won’t just start reading comics out of the blue because they become easier to order, but it might help keep them around if there is less work involved once they get into it.
RH: I think they’re the iGeneration now. Heard that on the internet. Must be true.
JL: I have younger readers come in and not understand how I’m out of an issue or why they’ll have to wait 3 weeks for a second print. This is not a hobby for instant gratification or pre-ordering a thing they’ll wait months to see. They are much more likely to utilize the “everything is available, always digital” side of it.
RH: Ah yes, that’s definitely an interesting perspective. If this new system included a preview of the book — a proper hook — then they could rest comfortably in their choice and be okay to wait knowing that in (however long it takes) they’ll have a crisp, inky-smelling, colorful tree-pulp masterpiece in their hands.
JL: And to prove my point, I just had a customer I haven’t seen in 3+ months come pick up 1/2 of his stack with “Sorry, car trouble.” as his excuse, hahaha.
RH: Hahahaha. (Sheesh, it’s like reading a Joker comic up in here!)
JL: Can’t live with’em, can’t throw their unpurchased books in the river…
RH: No matter how close it gets to you. (There was threat of flood in the area. It was a funny joke. Trust me.)
So can I turn this into an article for the website? I started off just wanting to know your thoughts, but I think there’s enough here to make it an article.
JL: Oh, sure. Stealth interview!
Thanks again, Jordan, for the stealth interview!
What are your thoughts?
If you’re an avid comic reader, would you prefer to have an app that creates a pull list for you to pick up at your local shop? Do you prefer going in and adding it the old-fashioned way? Would you like an app that made suggestions based on your reading habits? Let us know in the comments below!
While he's not reminiscing fondly over his ill-gotten acorn collection, you can also catch him pretending to know anything at all about audio while trying to produce this train wreck they call a podcast in his "studio," which is nothing more than an multidimensional pocket shimmed between the fabric of space-time. That's where sasquatches live, you know.
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