Points of Articulation
Notes about Mile High Comics and SDCC
This past weekend was the 2014 "Comic-Con International: San Diego," better known as SDCC. It's the Nerd Prom, the time when 130,000 of the world's most anti-social people put that aside to stand shoulder-to-shoulder and chest-to-backpack with fans every bit as obsessive as they are. It's an amazing time, and every fan should have the chance to experience it at least once.
But among all the big news and cool reveals, at least one person decided to crap all over the event, while simultaneously throwing himself the world's biggest pity party.
If you bought any comicbooks in the '80s or '90s, you're probably familiar with Mile High Comics. They'd run half- or even full-page ads in lots of books, advertising back issues you could order through the mail - often at remarkably low prices! Well, they're still around, and when you go to a big enough comic convention, you're sure to see them set up with a massive booth - and yes, that includes SDCC. But maybe not any more.
In a newsletter dated July 25, Mile High President Chuck Rozanski, mentioned that this might be the company's last year at SDCC. You can read his entire letter if you want, but we'll share the important parts.
I will begin by stating that we are not (at least for now...) succeeding in meeting our minimum financial requirements at this year's San Diego show. In some regards this is not surprising, as we needed to have a steady $1,200 per hour passing through our cash registers during all 41 hours of the convention, simply for us to cover our costs of setting up our seven huge booths.
First of all, the floor is open from 6-9 on Wednesday night, 9:30-7 Thursday through Saturday, and 9:30-5 on Sunday. That's 39 hours, not 41. But let's base the "$1,200 per hour" on that bad math - that means Mile High needed to make $49,200 for the weekend, or about $7,000 per booth space "to cover our costs of setting up our [...] booths." He doesn't specify what that entails, but we can guess most of it: exhibitor fees, rental of floor space at the show, and transporting all the comics (and, presumably, the physical elements of the booth, such as shelves and everything) down from Denver. The cost of the actual comics shouldn't enter into it, because that money is already spent; if they're counting on con sales to cover the cost of their inventory, then they're in trouble to begin with. From the phrasing in the newsletter, we can't tell if the $1,200 per hour includes staffing costs - salary, transportation and housing for the people working the booth - but assume it doesn't.
Clearly the first step would be to not take up seven booth spaces. If seven slots cost $49,000, then that's $7,000 per slot - each fewer booth they bring with them would require about $150 less in per-hour sales.
(Obviously, less display space would either mean less inventory or a more crowded booth, both of which could hurt sales. We recognize that. But it's beyond the scope of our discussion today.)
Anyway, Chuck goes on to say that he didn't think they'd be able to make that much money, but exceeded that rate at last month's Denver Comic-Con, so he was feeling optimistic before SDCC started.
So, what has changed here in San Diego? In a word: exclusives. At the Denver show there were a similar number of comics dealers present as here in San Diego, but almost no publishers and/or toy and game manufacturers. The absence of those publisher and manufacturer booths in Denver may seem a detriment to many fans, but it made all the difference for us. That is because having our most valued suppliers in the same exhibit hall kills our sales. Simply put, the very organizations that we most support are those who can cause us the most harm when they create exclusive products that can only be purchased through their own booths at shows. Not only do they divert revenues into their own pockets, but they also diminish our standing in the fan community by making us appear incomplete.
That is a remarkably ignorant statement from someone claiming to deal with customers.
To put it bluntly, SDCC is not about comicbooks. It's about publishers and manufacturers - the actual books are secondary, and there's no shame in that. Comic publishers and toy manufacturers don't go to Denver Comic-Con because people aren't going there to see them, they're going there to buy comics. And conversely, the fans who go to Denver Comic-Con aren't buying tickets because they want to see publishers or manufacturers, they're buying tickets because they want to buy comics. It's two different audiences with two different goals, and it doesn't take any special kind of insight to realize that.
Furthermore, that paragraph makes it look like Chuck thinks every one of his customers is a total idiot. Publishers "diminish [Mile High's] standing in the fan community by making [them] appear incomplete"? In what fricking world? If Walmart doesn't have a Toys Я Us exclusive, we don't consider them incomplete. If TRU doesn't have an Entertainment Earth exclusive, we don't consider them incomplete. An exclusive is, by its very definition, not available everywhere; what kind of brain-damaged morons does Chuck think shop at Mile High, that they would expect the booth to have something it couldn't have? How little respect must he have for the people who hand him their money every day? That's just insulting.
Ever since I helped to create the Wednesday evening Preview Night over a decade ago, the bigger booths have had great freebies and exclusive toys available on that first evening of the show.
Sorry, I just want to interject real quick here. I used to listen to Loveline, back when it was hosted by Adam Carolla and Dr. Drew. Every so often they'd get a caller with what they referred to as a "my penis is too big to ride my bicycle" problem: in other words, someone who was just calling to get on the air and boast about how awesome they were. These days we call that a "humble brag," and it's a staple of social media. Anyway, way to work in the mention that you helped create Preview Night, Chuck; real great #humblebrag.
And for the record? Chuck did have the idea for Preview Night: but he wanted it to just be exhibitors and comics professionals - it was SDCC staff who decided it should be open to four-day-pass holders, as well.
What has now changed is both the breadth, and the scale, of those exclusive products. No longer are exclusives limited to just a few booths, or only to Wednesday evening. We are now seeing all of the major comics publishers, and every single toy and game company, creating limited edition products that they deny us.
When were exclusives limited to Wednesday night? Bloodaxe came out in 2002; he wasn't only available on Wednesday. He-Man came out in 2002; he wasn't only available on Wednesday. In fact, it was always far more common for booths to not sell their exclusives on Preview Night, just so there would be more available for the real days of the show.
I heard from my fellow dealers that some publisher and manufacturer booths were refusing to even allow anyone wearing a dealer's badge to stand in line. That is beyond ridiculous.
You know what the proper response to that is? "GOOD!" The exclusives aren't for you, they're for us. Here we begin to see the actual meat of his complaint start to surface: "people are allowed to buy things from not-me! That's not fair!" It blends surprisingly well with his vision of Preview Night as a chance for the elites to mingle without being bothered by things like "fans" or "customers."
He then writes about how hard it is to get a four-day pass, and so that means each day sees a larger number of new customers. But even that doesn't translate to good news according to Chuck:
While that would normally result in some measure in increased potential for sales at all booths, social networking has made knowledge of available publisher and manufacturer exclusives widely known.
Translation: "people know what exclusives are available and where to get them. This is a problem for me because now they're not surprised when they see I have something, and I can't trick them into paying too much for it before they realize they can get it elsewhere!" Wah-wah-wah!
...new attendees to the show are now manifesting the exact same behavior as what was once limited to Wednesday evening. They rush in the door, and immediately head to our suppliers to purchase those very goods we cannot offer them. Each exclusives line can then take upwards of an hour to traverse, which really cuts into an attendee's 10-hour day.
Putting aside the fact that publishers are not your "suppliers," Chuck (Diamond is) that's a good point: standing in line sucks. But just like scalpers claim they're "providing a service" by buying rare toys off the shelf so collectors "don't have to spend all their time hunting," an exhibitor with a booth charging double, triple, or quadruple the price for an exclusive isn't worth having them stand in line instead of me.
If the motivation for these thousands of exclusives buyers were only to add unique items into their own collections, I could at least somewhat rationalize this entire fiasco. The reality, however, is that this process is now all about turning a quick profit on eBay. If you were to look right now, you would see that all of the hundreds of SDCC exclusives are available online right now, but at vastly increased prices.
To reiterate: he's mad that everybody can now do what used to be his domain alone. Replace "on eBay" with "at my booth," and the sentence is still 100% true. "This process is all about turning a quick profit at my booth."
Making these speculators already complicated task much more difficult, however, is that most suppliers with booths at the show have dramatically increased their production runs, but sometimes without revealing the extent of those increases. As a result, the lucky few who are able to score rare exclusives early in the show have a much greater likelihood of potential gain. This means that wednesday evening and Thursday tickets are now far more in demand. This has perverted the process to such a degree that a significant number of "fans" now attend the San Diego convention only to turn a quick profit.
What the eff are you talking about, Chuck? He's now just making up scenarios with no basis in reality. In what cartoon world are Wednesday and Thursday passes more in demand than Saturday - aka, "whatever you do, stay off the sales floor because it's too packed to move around" day - and Sunday - aka, Family Day - passes? Who are these imaginary people who are spending thousands of dollars on a trip to SDCC not because they like the panels, events, or guests, but because they just want to make money?
Oh, that's right: Mile High Comics. They do that.
And yet in his next newsletter, he accused comics fans of "greed and avarice" without a hint of irony. Are you fricking kidding me? I've known preschoolers with a smaller sense of entitlement than that, and a better-developed empathy for those around them.
His entire argument - his entire argument - boils down to "customers aren't being kept in the dark and cut off from access, and I don't like it. Someone took my unfair advantage away." It's the distress of the privileged, just played out between a retailer and his customers rather than between a man a woman, a white person and a person of color, or a straight person and a gay person. Chuck Rozanski (and by extension, Mile High Comics) is losing the advantage he took for granted, and it scares him. So he says Mile High might not be back next year.
To which we say, "don't let the door hit ya where the good Lord split ya." If Mile High Comics wants to abandon its seven booth slots, there are surely seven different retailers who would love to move in (that's assuming this isn't all just a melodramatic ploy for attention, like a child threatening to run away from home).
I've been to SDCC, and you know the best thing about the Mile High booth? It's a good place to plan to meet up with your friends. It's huge and easy to spot. The first year I went, I was drawn in by their "50% Off comics sale" sign (which, seeing as it's a professionally printed, permanent part of their signage, isn't really a "sale" so much as it is a "price"), but the prices didn't live up the promise. The second year, I didn't even bother going into their booth.
Like airlines counting on gouging travellers on last-minute business trips or the music industry fighting tooth and claw against digital sales, Chuck Rozanski is trying to operate his business on a model that doesn't work any more. It used to be that going to a con was the only way to find rare issues, but now the internet exists. When you can buy any issue you want the minute you decide you want it, why would you fly across the country to crouch on the floor with your forehead at crotch-height to dig through deteriorating cardboard boxes? You're just going to have to lug that stuff back home with you. People aren't flying in to Denver Comic-Con - at least, not in the same numbers as they fly to San Diego. You go to SDCC to get things you can only get at SDCC (whether it's actual items or really good discounts), and yet the Mile High Comics booth is filled with average, run-of-the-mill items at less-than-impressive prices. Sorry, "booths." Seven of them. That apparently cost $7,000 each.
Mile High Comics isn't going back to SDCC next year? Good, this guy has a message for you, you gigantic crybaby. There are actual fans trying to have a good time and they'll all be happy to spend their money on the people who deserve it.
Update: shocking absolutely no one, Chuck Rozanski's latest newsletter continues to blame Mile High Comics' SDCC failure on everybody but himself, but also cites the "emotional response" that has unsurprisingly led him to "change" his mind and return to San Diego next year. Hopefully comics fans will remember this infantile bullcrap in 2015, and ignore his booths even harder than they did now.