Now most comic shops these days seem to be cutting back on the back issue selection, but there still seems to be an exorbitant amount of comics that never seem to get to the readers hands. What does this mean for the future of the comic, the comic shop, and the reader?
So, you're a retailer and you have 50 copies of Batman #622 left, you miscalculated the orders after Jim Lee left and it turns out the Azzarello story just wasn't that good and the book has vented readers, but by the time you realised this you had already ordered the next three months worth of issues.
What do you do with the back issues? Is it better to sell a comic cheap if you have a lot of them, or do you charge the "going rate" and get top dollar while you can? Even if you do charge far less than wholesale for the comic, you still might not motivate a sale: comic fans tend to go into a store with an agenda, be it a specific Tpb, back issue or more often than not for this weeks new comics. The chance of them picking up an odd issue of Batman in the middle of a story-arc - even at 50p - is unlikely.
This is why the ordering system needs to change, the Wizard-hype machine can still generate all it needs to for 2-3 months, even still sell Previews a couple of months ahead of time, but comic stores shouldn't have to place their final order until 4-5 weeks ahead of shipment.
So are back issues worth it?
In a world where Marvel ships the Ultimate Elektra Tpb the week after issue 5 shipped, you have to believe that the trend seems to be moving away from back issues to the more accessible, reader friendly Tpb. Especially with the average Tpb costing far less than the single issues.
Problem for the retailer: The mark up for the Tpb or GN format is fairly shitty and ties up an awful lot of money awfully fast. 100 Tpbs in stock can tie up anything from £400-£1,000, which is an awful lot for an independent comic shop competing against Ottakers, Borders and the Internet. Now imagine the small indie shop with 2,000 + Tpbs in stock.
Its no wonder most comic shops seem to be either / or when it comes to Back Issues Vs. Tpbs, despite the fact that the two seem to cater to a different market.
Some comics are invariably written for the inevitable Trade release, most of the Ultimate line for example, and most creator owned miniseries. Much of the Vertigo line has had a much healthier response from Tpb release than periodicals. But there are still a lot of comics out there written for the monthly format, heralding back to the Buster Crabb days of Matinee cliff-hangers. Who can deny that ID Crisis was written as a monthly: causing rampant fan speculation in the four weeks between issues? Yet an awful lot of people I know are waiting for the Tpb.
So, in the argument for back issues against Tpbs: I have this solution: Both.
Picking just one writer as an example, and he is a writer I am not amazingly keen on so no-one can accuse me of favouritism: Grant Morrison. We live in a world where Marvel takes out of print New X-Men Tpbs to make way for Chuck Austen. Flex Mentallo has never been reprinted, due to legal constraints. Kill Your Boyfriend remains conspicuously absent from Vertigos much lamented impressive Trade list.
This is the main reasons why we need back issues as well as Tpbs: Completion and Choice.