Sales To Astonish #9 - May 2023

One of the valuable lessons I have learned in three years of comic retailing is that you can’t just sell titles that you like. The joy of the medium for the last couple of decades has been the variety of titles available and keeping a wide range of genres on offer has always been important. However, even if I only sold superhero comics I couldn’t possibly read, like and sell every one. The case in point here is titles which I never read such as Superman, Ultimate Spider-man and What If always sell when I have them in stock and the first launch or May saw all the issues I had of What If on offer being snapped up straight away. I sold some Civil War issues as people looked to complete runs and also Ghost Rider #1 (first Robbie Reyes) in VFN- @ £27.50 and Astonishing Ant-man #6 in NM @ £7.50

We were afforded an extra Bank Holiday as a result of the King’s Coronation and as the nation partied on Coronation Sunday website traffic slowed to a trickle and sales all but dried up. This is becoming an all too familiar (but totally understandable) pattern on Bank Holidays and thankfully there are only another two left this year!

As with any business there’s a need to forward plan and set targets and for me there’s an overall annual target which is broken down into months and then one for each day. This year I have found that the slowing down of online sales has often meant that by the second week of the month I have fallen behind my target and left trying to be creative in figuring out a way to catch up and hit the monthly target, May was no exception to this trend. As the Bank Holiday ended website traffic didn’t pick up and sales remained scarce. I had really hoped that on the cusp of my third anniversary that I would be seeing regular week on week/month on month increases in website traffic as the site and business became more established. Instead visits to the website have at best plateaued in 2023 compared to 2022 and in some cases decreased, the 9th May being a good example - this was the quieter than traffic on Christmas Day!!

The second release in May was smaller than usual as I was laid up with a particularly nasty virus for a few days and only able to undertake light duties.

It also meant that I missed the opportunity to see Tom Segura an American comedian I had seen on Netflix (my sister kindly got me tickets for Christmas) and also The Blockheads in Northampton (minus Ian Drury) which was a birthday present. To be honest the state I was in being hit with a rhythm stick would probably have broken me! I managed to raise myself to attend Doncaster Comic Con on 14th May, more on that later.

The release on Thursday 11th May was a mixture of sets, graphic novels and Dungeons & Dragons modules. I’m conscious that these are sections of my online offering that need a bit more attention as sets sell well, graphic novels make ideal presents and vintage Dungeons & Dragons are big ticket items so selling one or two of those a week is always a bonus which duly happened when there were new items added into those collections.

Which leads me into a nice segue into big ticket items in general. When I started The Unreality Store I was conscious that from a standing start trying to sell expensive key issues would prove as difficult as an eBay seller with zero feedback attempting the same thing. I’d had previous experience in working in comic shops and was comfortable grading older issues but understandably selling something with a large price tag without a track record takes a certain leap of faith on behalf of the buyer. Now, having spent three years building up the reputation of The Unreality Store it feel’s appropriate to start to offer some more sought after issues.  It was also (prophetically) pointed out to me before I started on the journey of setting up The Unreality Store that I would have to sell lots of comics to make an honest living. Even more so if your stock ranges from between £3-£10 in the main and similar items can be found at the same price and from multiple vendors via eBay.

Back to Doncaster Comic Con which was the first time I had attended an Unleashed Events convention. Their organisation and set up was really slick and they even had a band playing during the day which enhanced the overall atmosphere and were pretty good too (see Lina and The Lions website here) I’d checked the website the day prior to the convention and was encouraged that all the pre-sale tickets had sold out so was expecting a good crowd. And they duly arrived. And another wave arrived at 11am and kept coming through the door until around 1pm. But this huge crowd appeared not to be in the slightest interested in comics but were there for toys, cards and even Pokémon bath-bombs. Tallying up at the end of the end I took £52 which was £18 shy of the £70 table cost. Financially it was an utter disaster. Socially it was great as I got to hook up with a friend and his daughter who were fantastic company and helped out on the stall. Win some, lose some but in all seriousness I am genuinely at a loss to understand why I performed so poorly when the two other comic dealers in the room had good days. Answers on a postcard???? And with hindsight I probably shouldn’t have gone as the following day another trip to the Lazarus Pit beckoned as my health deteriorated again. (Anecdotally on the weekend of 13/14th May I did not sell a single comic via the website, but did however sell a number of Roleplaying game books, supplements and magazines which endorsed my original decision when staring the Unreality Store to have more than one offering via the website)

I think it was in an interview with Gary Vee where he was extolling the importance of maintaining your health as a small business owner/entrepreneur. The gist of that part of interview was to look after your health because if you get really sick you won’t be able to run your business. By 15th I was pretty much feeling exhausted so aside from packaging up the orders I received over the weekend and getting them down to the post office, I took the rest of the day off. Taking time off is always difficult to do when you are conscious that if you don’t do the work then there’s no one else to do it, but the words of Gary Vee were ringing round my head.

On Thursday 18th May some of the aforementioned bigger ticket items dropped in store in the form of some Silver Age Amazing Spider-man and an ASM #300 along with a stack of more recent Boom Studios! titles. I sold a nice copy of Amazing Spider-man #38 in VG @£45 and a run of Brzrkr and a number of Something Is Killing The Children variant covers amongst other things.

Sunday 21st May was Coventry Comic Con and Toy Fair so another opportunity to meet new people, chat to old acquaintances and hopefully supplement the diminishing online sales. Whether the weather or location of the venue (it was on the outskirts of Coventry) had anything to do with what seemed like smaller numbers through the door I’ll never know but it felt quieter than other Striking Events I had attended this year. Despite that I sold a nice run of Daredevil, a copy of Jason vs Freddy vs Ash #1 in NM @£30 and an Amazing Spider-Man #62 in FN- @£45 (it’s such a lovely Spider-Man & Medusa cover!). As tends to be the trend these days, the weekend of 20/21 was quiet although I tried a new emailer on Saturday showcasing some fantasy related items (comics, books and Roleplaying games) and the Groo #1 in VG- @£4 was snapped up immediately along with a well loved Basic Dungeons & Dragons rule book @£10.

I had hoped that as we hit the last weekend of May and pay day that sales would pick up and that the month would end strongly. The final Thursday release featured Guardians of the Galaxy, a bit too late to jump on the film bandwagon but there were lots of issues at £3 each which meant they were ideal for gap filling or picking up a nice run relatively economically.

I didn’t sell any GOTG issues but all the Eclipse Comics Alien Encounters issues went almost immediately and later on in the day a complete run of Joshua Williamson and Phil Noto’s excellent Black Widow series found a new home.

Once more, as has become the norm over Bank Holidays, website traffic and sales slowed to a trickle although I did sell a number of Batman issues which is a title, along with X-Men, Star Wars and Spider-man that I am conscious I need to acquire more stock to meet the demand

The damming statistic of May 2023 is that online sales were down 50% in comparison to May 2022. Granted I didn’t run a 50% off sale for the stores third year anniversary but that was largely because I have run a number of these and not only do you get the law of diminishing returns as the more choice items are picked off, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to buy in stock at a competitive rate to replenish what’s been sold and then knock 50% off it when I run a sale. And in all honesty I doubt that running a sale would have made up the difference as it’s clear that this year people’s disposable income has been squeezed to the point where non-essential items are purchased far less frequently than they were in 2022.

So with online takings down and conventions being decidedly hit and miss what all this ultimately means for The Unreality Store is that the future is uncertain at best. I have some ideas to put into place to hopefully establish new income streams and still believe that I have one of the best online shops for back issues in the UK but as I watched someone abandon yet another cart at checkout at the end of the month I must be honest I began to wonder if I would ever make it in the business of selling comics…….