Thursday, December 24, 2020

A New York Christmas, in Nebraska


When I lived in New York City (1997-2018), I worked retail, which meant that any vacation time between November 15th and January 15th was usually not possible. Much later, when I side-stepped to the home office, I'd take a ten-day vacation during Thanksgiving, using the weekends as bookends and only using three vacation days, as the office was closed on Thanksgiving and Black Friday.

That was when I'd travel back home to Omaha, knowing that most of my family would be available at some point during that week. Mom was happy to see me, I could relax a little, and my agenda was simple: just tell me when and where I had to be, and what I should wear.

The Holidays? I'd spend it in New York, generally by myself. I'd socialize a little, usually on New Year's Eve, although there were times when I preferred to find a quiet corner of Central Park (I recommend Hans Christian Anderson) an hour before the fireworks and 10K Midnight run. I'd ruminate and marinate in my thoughts, and then be part and apart of everything around me.

That's one of the archetypes of New York... a little bit Marty, a little bit Holly Golightly... singular and single. Romanticized a little, even by me. "Hopeful romantic". I was social enough, but really, I perfected the art of social distancing years before it became a survival skill. I'd be happy to spend a Sunday in bed, napping, snacking, reading, surfing, my entire world defined by the kitchen, the bathroom, and my apartment. About once a week I'd meet friends, but I was...not content, but relieved in the routine of my life. Not happy, but accepting. (Then I flipped the script back to disquiet anger, gave a one-day notice to my employer, and a month later I was back in Nebraska.)

Christmas Day would be spent opening the box my mother shipped to my office a week earlier. I'd dress, grab lunch at the deli run by Yemeni immigrants, and take the subway into Manhattan. Now, in most of the country, cities are mostly closed on Christmas Day. Not New York. With the amount of tourists visiting and the large number of Jews in search of Chinese and a movie, a lot of the city was accessible, and filled with lots of pedestrians, no matter what the weather. The weather was usually above 30 degrees, the sidewalks were meticulously bare, and the City is one of the best places to walk. Density, intriguing shops and parks, and a subway station if you needed to go someplace far and quickly.

I'd be out among the teeming hordes, wandering, taking pictures to share online, making a small effort to celebrate the holiday and have a nice day off. New York is always a magical city, no matter if it's Christmas or August 12th. There's always something to be discovered, like wandering through a theater. Even if there's a ghost light on stage, you know there's narrow hallways to explore, props and trap doors and fly catwalks and little bits of history on the walls. But when there's a show on stage, all that spirit gets channeled onto the stage and out into the audience. New York in December is like that Broadway musical. The City puts on a show, with numerous Christmas tree lightings, lights strung across small town Main Streets in all five boroughs, window displays that rival the Met Gala, and of course all the areas of town you avoid the rest of the year because of the tourists, but tolerate because, yeah, you're a resident of New York, it's like living in a movie, but dangit, this time, it feels like a Hallmark holiday movie, and maybe you'll get that random Meet Cute that you read about in the Sunday New York Times marriage announcements.

It was Christmas, and I made the effort. When the City offers so much beautiful set designs, on the greatest stage in the world, you have to go out and photograph it, even if that camera is an old smartphone with a 5-megapixel camera and the screen is the size of a credit card. Unlike most tourists, there aren't any specific memories attached to those photos. Put them in a random slideshow, and I couldn't tell you when I took each photo. Something caught my eye, the composition was interesting, and in a small bit of empowered self-esteem, I figured others would enjoy the photos. They were my Christmas cards, randomly scattered, not addressed to anyone in particular. (Me, the hopeful romantic, used Valentines Day instead for personal missives.)

This is my third Christmas since moving back in the Summer of 2018.
This year, it's on hold. My German mother, probably for the first time in her life, which includes World War II) has not put up a Christmas tree. (We have a small fake tree in front of the garage, festooned with lights.) Tonight, we opened up the crates from the basement and did a little decorating, but it's more Winter than Christmas. (You can leave a wreath up until at least Lent, and maybe longer.)
We'll repeat the same procedure as Thanksgiving; dishes are selected, and my brother trades servings from his kitchen with ours.
Gifts...are mostly for the nieces and nephews. I've given up expecting anything specific, and I am sometimes surprised. But like I mentioned above, just tell me when and where I need to be, and I'll fulfill my obligations happily.
This year, my parents and I will be experiencing my New York Christmas. Staying at home embellished with a few decorations, opening a few gifts, talking on the phone, eating some fun food, and quietly anticipating the new year.

Yeah, there's a bit of nostalgia during the holidays. What I miss most about New York City is the discovery, no matter what neighborhood you might find yourself. I've taken photos of items piled on the curb awaiting trash pickup (and even schlepped home a few items). I've taken numerous photos of the abstract remnants of subway advertisements ripped from their frames, awaiting replacement. I miss the diversity, the opportunity, and the people. People I've known for years, and the people I know for a few seconds as our paths cross in opposite directions.

Will I be nostalgic for Christmas 2020? No. I don't think I'll ever be nostalgic for 2020. I'll remember it, just as I've remembered many other events of fortitude, where you boast of survival during adversity, because that's life. It's a sense of accomplishment and survival, like a smallpox scar.

I hope we can meet again soon. May 2021 be a better year, a year of progress and hope and opportunity. I keep hoping for that Meet Cute, although I'll probably not recognize it until I'm walking up the stairs. I guess that's why Hallmark keeps making movies...

Friday, December 11, 2020

Disney Investor Day: December 2020: Analysis

My notes from watching the Disney Investor Day presentation.


First, here's the page, with an embedded video.
It's three and a half hours, just like the last Avengers movie! 

So, let's begin...  I'm kinda liveblogging...

3:38    86.8 million subscribers on Disney+  
Disney+Hotstar,  part of Star India, has 300 million active users. We'll see if they discuss this later in the broadcast.

3:45    "DTC-first business model"
Direct-to-consumer. Cut out the middleman. 

4:20    "One billion ... true fans"
A Disney army. "Who's the leader of the club that's made for you and me?"

Note the background slides. Star and National Geographic are shown, but Disney has yet to really promote those brands.

Hmm... no Twentyfirst Century Fox logos shown. That's a big chunk of legacy and property!

7:10    "...1957 schematic..."
(This deserves a separate post!)

9:10  "...coming launch of our Star brand..."
There it is... Disney streaming, outside the U.S.  "Hulu International"

10:15    Kareem Daniel

12:50    Disney is prioritizing DTC distribution. (No surprise there.)

13:45    Ten Marvel series, ten Star Wars series, fifteen Disney and Pixar series, and fifteen Disney and Pixar features.

It's like The Wonderful World of Disney, if it were on all five broadcast channels.
WHOA... new Pixar features on Disney+! 

Given the Pandemic, this is expected. Animation can be done in seclusion and isolation. Voice acting can be done in a closet, if the equipment is excellent. With direction via conference calls, it's not much different than if they are in a studio. 

Animation..that requires a more robust infrastructure. Not difficult to move workstations to a home office...but it does require a dedicated network to transmit loads of data for rendering.

15:10    Raya and the Last Dragon debuting simultaneously on Plus and theaters.

16:35    Rebecca Campbell

17:10    2024 forecast for growth, from 2019:
60-90 Million Disney+, 40-60M Hulu, 8-12 ESPN+
12/02.2020 numbers: 
86.8M Disney+ (30% are Hotstar (India) subscribers), 38.8 M Hulu, 11.5M ESPN+

137 million now, vs. 162 million goal.

18:55    22 European and Anglo-American markets. Plus a beachhead in Asia.
November 2020 launch in 21 Latin America markets.

"EMEA" = 
Europe, the Middle East and Africa
Eastern Europe, South Korea, and Hong Kong.

19:50    Michael Paull
More partners and access across multiple platforms and countries.

23:55    Expansion globally
India's example:
Star TV, Hotstar
Disney+ Hotstar
7 languages, cricket part of the service.

Indonesia is next. (Fifth most populous country in the world.)

Star is "Disney plus" in foreign languages.
In Anglo-American markets, Star is part of Disney+, one of six brand tiles.

Will Disney offer ala carte menus for watching foreign-language offerings domestically? Can I watch Coco in Brazilian Portuguese? Or Mulan in the original Mandarin?

28:00    Jerrell Jimerson

Star is the ADULT corner of Disney+! The Fox/Touchstone catalog!

30:50    Latin America strategy
The Star+ menu...  that's a pretty good user interface. I hope they offer filters for fans... "Show me only soccer matches available now."     

34:35    Kelly Campbell

Hulu
36:45    Hulu charges $65, and makes an additional $10 on ad revenue per subscriber.

39:45    ESPN programming available on Hulu at no added cost.

Will Disney offer ad-supported packages for the other services?

42:00    ESPN+ update

43:40    Jimmy Pitaro
SEC in 2024 on ABC and elsewhere.
Extra SEC games on ESPN+ next year.
Bundesliga. PGA.

A new "SportsCenter"-style show for ESPN+
Peyton's Places renewed for a third season.
 
51:25  INTERMISSION

Bob Iger

Interesting...  ABC is not a big brand. There might be some news programs. As a network, it's just a another way to broadcast media...much is produced by other divisions or production companies. ABC Sports' brand is non-existent...it's all ESPN now. 

Good Morning America can become a franchise, aimed at the New Parent demographic, senior citizens, and others. 

55:10    Sizzle reel!   (nope... edited out)

Dana Walden talks. What's interesting are the many television shows and series in the background. Disney+ isn't known for that... Netflix, Peacock, CBS, they promote that because they don't have a huge movie catalog. Disney's brand is family fare. With Star becoming the 18+ side of the service, Disney can mine that rich catalog of television shows.

Only Murders in the Building (no video) has a good cast!
The Dropout with Kate McKinnon!
Dopesick   When was the last time Michael Keaton was on television?
Nine Perfect Strangers

Season five of A Handmaid's Tale announced.

1:01:00    John Landgraf

FX.  Lots of high reviews on IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes.
Four more seasons of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Lots of ...
Y THE LAST MAN?!  A DC Comics title, at FX. 
WHOA. Drinking the milkshake.

Alien television series. Set on Earth.
Shogun. Paramount produced the 1980 miniseries.

1:11:25    Lucasfilm and Kathleen Kennedy

1:13:15    Mandalorian Season Two re-view
Two new spinoff series!
"Climatic story event"?!

1:17:15    Stagecraft
Three new "volumes" being built in Los Angeles, London, and Australia. 
High definition virtual backdrops...an LCD screen replaces a greenscreen.

Star Wars Andor  spy thriller
Obi-Wan Kenobi

The Bad Batch  Dirty Dozen meets Clone Wars?
Star Wars Visions  animated anthology  ANIME

Lando!

Acolyte  Star Wars mystery set during the High Republic.
A Droid Story

Willow !!!

Indiana Jones!   July 2022 [but not the Fourth of July weekend... that's claimed by Black Panther II]

A new character!  Children of Blood and Bone adaptation

Star Wars theatrical

Patty Jenkins!  Rogue Squadron   Christmas 2023

1:27:55    Courtenay Monroe 
National Geographic
Cousteau documentary
Secrets of the Whales  James Cameron
A Real Bug's Life  micro-camera documentary
American the Beautiful   an F-15 flying at the speed of sound aerial photography!

Darren Aronofsky 
Limitless with Chris Hemsworth six-part series about aging
Welcome to Earth with Will Smith

1:42:00  Dana Walden in Springfield with the Simpsons!
Homer gives his thoughts on Disney+!
The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers
Turner & Hooch
Big Shot 
David E. Kelley! Private girls school, Basketball. 

Beauty and the Beast: The Prequel Series  ALAN MENKIN music!
Swiss Family Robinson
Percy Jackson and the Olympians
The Mysterious Benedict Society

1:49:55    Sean Bailey
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Productions

Hocus Pocus 2
Three Men and a Baby  2022 Zac Ephron     
Safety  True story from Clemson University
Greek Freak
Chris Paul memoir
Flora & Ulysses
Cheaper by the Dozen multiethnic
Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild
Night at the Museum  animated!
July 2021   Jungle Cruise  Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt
Lion King prequel
The Little Mermaid remake
Chip 'n' Dale Rescue Rangers live-action/animated hybrid   Spring 2022
Pinocchio  Robert Zemeckis and Tom Hanks!
Peter Pan & Wendy
Disenchanted  
Sister Act 3
Cruella  1970s punk rock London

2:04:55   Jennifer Lee
Raya and the Last Dragon   March 5,  2021

Walt Disney Animation Studios  original series
Baymax! as a nurse.
Zootopia+
Tiana longform animated series
Moana longform series
Iwaju !!!
Fall 2021    Colombia. musical. Encanto   Lin-Manuel Miranda

2:14:10  Pete Docter  Pixar

Soul
Burrow (Spark Shorts)
Inside Pixar
Pixar Popcorn
Dug Days (Up series)
Cars road trip!
longform animated series  Win or Lose  multiple points of view!
Luca  June 2021
Spring 2022  Turning Red
Summer 2022    science fiction  Lightyear  The ORIGINAL Buzz Lightyear, which is what the toy is based on!  Chris Evans

2:26:40  Kevin Feige
MCU

WandaVision
America Chavez appears in the next Doctor Strange movie!  March 25, 2022
December 2021  Spider-Man movie
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier six episodes
May 7, 2021  Black Widow
Loki series   crime thriller   THE TVA!
What If...?
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings   July 9, 2021
Ms. Marvel
Captain Marvel 2  Ms. Marvel will appear! Along with Monica Rambeau, the other Captain Marvel
Eternals   November 5, 2021
Hawkeye 
She Hulk
Moon Night
Secret Invasion
Ironheart
Armor Wars
The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special
I am Groot
Thor: Love and Thunder  May 6, 2002
Blade
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania  KANG.
Black Panther II  July 8, 2022
Fantastic Four 


2:47:25    Bob Iger
2:49:55    Christine McCarthy
Disney Media and Entertainment
Disney Parks, Experiences and Products

Disney+ guidance  2024
April 2019: 60-90M  
December 2020: 230-260M  globally

Profitable in 2024.
Hulu   40-60   50-60M 
ESPN+ 8-12M    20-30M

300 - 350 Million total global subscriptions (137 Million now)

3:03:15    Bob Chapek

Investor questions

A big chunk of subscribers are families without children

63 series 42 films   80% destined for Disney+







Friday, December 4, 2020

Cartoon Crossovers: The Official BBC Children in Need Medley


Released in November 2009, the following video links most of the beloved children's characters from the BBC, along with some American characters who appear in the UK.

Most of these franchises are puppetry based. That's a rich tradition in British television, with The Thunderbirds best known in America.

For this video, most of the figures are animated using stop-motion techniques, with some "live action" video inserts (such as the Teletubbies and Thunderbirds).

The characters shown in the video connect directly to Scooby-Doo. 
This also features a rare cameo from SpongeBob SquarePants!


According to Wikipedia, here is a list of the many series and franchises shown in the video:

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

I wanna know what love is, I want you to show me; or Love For Sale


Serious thought experiment:


An alien lifeform appears in front of you.
It will allow you to travel with it.
However, you may not tell anyone of your departure. You might suffer injury or death while traveling.
To fund the travel, you must give it your most cherished possession, as the psychic emotional residue can be sold as a narcotic, and the object itself can also be sold. Do you go? What item do you give the alien?
What emotional connection does that object contain?


"Do you know what 'love' is?" you ask Qyz, the Chief Extractor.

"We have studied your society, and have made crude analogies, but like your best philosopher-poets have discovered, it is mostly inexplicable," xhe explains.

"Well... since you can harvest emotional residues, I wonder what would happen if we recycled sex toys?"

Three months later, after the purchase of a small habitable moon orbiting a gas giant 15 light years away...

"Hey, Qyz...what happens if we use the Siphon to collect the Love directly from humans?" you ask Qyz, Chairman of UngaCreega, Inf. 

"We would need to create numerous fail safes, as well as explore the many variations of Love. Sex-Love alone has many variables...how do we find willing test subjects?"

"Let me make a few calls. Meanwhile, charter a cruise ship for... let's say...300 people, for Christmas next year."

"Will that be enough?"

"For now. Plus there's the crew. We should also start a foundation to fund research in emotional and sexual health. Why should we have all the fun?!"

Five years later, at the annual board meeting Qyz makes xir annual report...

"This galaxy, 162 light years away, recently acquired by our corporation, will be quarantined as a nature preserve, in the hopes that R&D might find new discoveries for us to offer our customer base.

"In the past cycle, we have expanded our emporia locations by 2.3%, including three new galaxies. While Earth itself is quarantined to ensure the safety of Galactic hegemony, we have been able to charge a premium for both direct and supplemental experiences involving humans throughout our territories, with other sentient species providing more accessible and affordable alternatives.

"Of the 459 known societal outbreaks directly caused by our presence on established worlds, only 97 will require direct physical intervention to preserve economic peace. Many conflicts can be readily resolved via the distraction of stimulation of base desires, which, of course, we excel at, and which further adds to our market dominance in the stimulation industry in each territory."

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Cartoon Crossovers: Animaniacs: Suffragette City


As part of the recent Animaniacs reboot, we've seen many "Merry Melodies" spots where the characters sing. [And since these are the same characters from the original Animaniacs, they share the previous linkage to Freakazoid and Steven Spielberg!]

In this short titled "Suffragette City", Dot begins to celebrate the centennial of women's suffrage, but then quickly learns that she, a cartoon character, has no such rights. 
Thus begins her campaign to secure such rights for all cartoon characters!

If you'd like to sing along, here are the lyrics!



Cartoon characters which appear in this video (in order of appearance):
  • Bugs Bunny [the Looney Tunes nexus]
  • Foghorn Leghorn
  • Witch Hazel
  • The Flintstones
  • Snagglepuss 
  • Secret Squirrel
  • Marvin Martian
  • Gossamer 
  • Babs and Buster Bunny (no relation) from Tiny Toon Adventures
  • Sylvester James Pussycat, Sr.
  • Speed Buggy [which connects directly to Scooby-Doo]
  • Yakky Doodle
  • Augie Doggie and Doggie Daddy
  • Ricochet Rabbit
  • Elmer Fudd
  • Loonatics Unleashed [Danger Duck, Lexi Bunny, Ace Bunny, Slam Tasmanian]
  • Road Runner
  • Pinky and the Brain
  • Tasmanian Devil
  • Wile E. Coyote
  • Tweety Bird
  • Magilla Gorilla
  • The Great Gazoo
  • Huckleberry Hound
  • George Jetson
  • Yogi Bear and Boo-Boo Bear
  • Daffy Duck
  • [various background characters]
  • Penelope Pitstop
  • Screwy Squirrel
  • Porky Pig

Friday, November 27, 2020

Cartoon Crossovers: The Master List


A few weeks back, I introduced you to what I'm referring to as the Scooby-Dooniverse — a vast shared universe of cartoon characters, whose spine is built largely on the adventures of Scooby-Doo and Mystery Incorporated from over the years. 

This week, let's look at some of the many, many series and characters that are a part of this shared universe. 

Monday, September 28, 2020

(Mis)fortune Telling: Amazon Comics?: Part Five: How can comics retailers compete?


Today, I've been exploring how Amazon can and will utilize a variety of strategies to exploit markets. Comics shops are not a specific target, but the industry will suffer collateral damage as customers opt to "get it online" cheaper and easier.

So, how to compete with a billion-dollar corporation which innovates both online and physically?


Here are some suggestions and examples I've brainstormed recently and previously. I've been a bookseller (1994-1997, 1999-2018), and as a comics evangelist, I am constantly thinking on how to connect readers and consumers with amazing comics and graphic novels!


CAVEAT: Some of these are crazy ideas. (But it's not "crazy" if it works and makes money!) Some might not work for your store. I might be naive, not privy to private discussions, or uneducated on local and federal laws. Discuss these down below in the comments. Offer your own as well!


I'll begin in the order I posted the articles from earlier today.

Amazon Travel Truck

A random truck on the streets of Manhattan. Your logo will be more legible.
This one is probably the easiest to counter. Buy a box truck, van, or SUV and have it skinned or painted with your store name and a cool graphic. Maybe that's your daily driver, that you use for both business and leisure. Maybe you're embarrassed to be driving in what you consider a "clown car"? Well, first and foremost, it's a moving billboard. People will notice it. (Add vanity plates!) True story: My father bought a Buick Rendezvous that had been used as a courtesy car at a PGA tournament. It arrived with a giant Tiger Woods adhesive cling advertising Buick and the PGA. Ten-plus years later, he still talks about strangers coming up and asking if they could take selfies with Tiger. (The cling is long gone...I think it lasted a few years before succumbing to Nebraska's climate.) With the right graphic and hashtag, strangers will advertise your business for free via social media.

Talk to your accountant; you might be able to have the store pay for the vehicle, and write it off as a business expense. But aside from advertising and picking up deliveries, you use it to sell comics and other merchandise. Like the Amazon Treasure Truck and food trucks, you'll use this vehicle to sell product locally and regionally.
Toss in a canopy tent for remote locations. Add a banner. A few tables and seats. Sandbags to keep it from blowing away. 

Where do you sell offsite? Flea markets. Book festivals. Street fairs. Highway yard sales which stretch for hundreds of miles. Local, regional, and national geek festivals.

Perhaps like the Treasure Truck, your store truck offers specials, quantity ordered cheap from the Diamond clearance lists!


Want a really crazy idea?
Just as Free Comic Book Day was inspired by Baskin-Robbins handing out free ice cream, why not appropriate the iconic Ice Cream truck business model and sell dollar comics from your Dollar Comics truck? Park it wherever kids and parents are likely to be. The beach. A county fair. The midnight screening of the latest blockbuster. The county sports complex, where Soccer Moms need to keep Geeky Stevies distracted while their daughters get their Hamm on.

If your store buys old comics (mine does, for thirty cents on the dollar value), segregate out the really worn copies and sell those for twenty-five cents. Maybe you've got some old Archie digests you can sell for $2.
I'm not saying you need someone to drive around neighborhoods constantly, but if you've got enough stock (and Marvel and DC are distributing new dollar titles every month), why not?

Websites

This is more difficult (otherwise more stores would have more robust sites).

At a bare minimum, retailers should have a basic website listing store locations (with a "get directions" button that redirects to Google Maps), hours, events, exterior and interior photos, social media links, and all the ways to contact the store. Ideally, the store has figured out a way to sell merchandise.

BARE MINIMUM: update your Yelp, Google Maps, and other "phone directory" listings online.

For the past five years or so, I have had this idea on how comics shops could set up an e-commerce website that would be unique to the store, but offer a wide range of merchandise without a lot of hassle.
 
If only there was a giant warehouse of comics merchandise that could fulfill orders, just like Amazon does?
 

  • Diamond runs the servers, the IT, all the internet stuff that stores really do not have the time or money to maintain.
  • Diamond maintains stock, website modules, order processing and shipping. 
  • Stores selects which items will be offered on their store-specific website. 
  • Diamond sells the item, bills the account with an online surcharge, and ships the item directly to the customer. 
  • The store expands their selection without the risk of stocking non-returnable product. 
  • The store can also list high-priced (and high-risk) items such as omnibuses, statues, and booster packs.
  • The store discovers product lines which might work well at the store. 
  • Diamond also supports pull lists, wish lists, and online communities.

Diamond moves more product.

Diamond makes money offering a new system and service (which can be funded by profits made from each store).
Stores sell product via a low-maintenance website and compete online with other stores and Amazon.

A customer walks in and asks for something you don't have?

"One moment, let me check our website. Yes, we do have it. I can order it for you, and if you ship it to the store, I'll wave the shipping and give you our web discount."

Note:
if you use a book distributor such as Ingram, your store should already have a special orders department which has access to that distributor's entire inventory. Someone wants a cookbook? A dictionary? The latest Hunger Games novel? No problem! Pay for it now, give them a discount, and apply the purchase price to their loyalty card!

Mega-Websites

This is more difficult, as it requires cooperation among a variety of parties. Heidi MacDonald reported on Bookshop.com :
Back in January, a bunch of out of work booksellers launched a project called Bookshop.org – it was meant to raise money for indie bookstores and give readers an alternative to Amazon for buying books. Instead of going through Amazon as the middleman, indie bookstores (or anyone who signs up as an affiliate) can set up their own online bookstore. ABA-registered independent bookstores can earn 30% of the profits from online orders – and affiliates can get 10%. The orders are fulfilled via Ingram, the huge book distributor that already works with just about everyone.
For comics, that could be something similar to what I suggested with Diamond above, although with a different fulfillment partner (such as Ingram). Some comics shops are already on Bookshop.com, using it to supplement their other sales streams.

An even larger project would be a one-stop portal for all comics publishers. Again, it would require a lot of cooperation, and run by an organization with no financial interest in the medium. The generic Top Level Domain .comics 
has not yet been assigned. With a unified and well-funded initiative from participating publishers, this could become a web-portal which mirrors other sites. www.Marvel.comics for example. The industry group which runs this can repay the angel investors via rentals, just as Tuvalu earns $5 Million annually from their .tv top level domain.

Chain Stores and Mail Order

This is more difficult, as most stores do not have the market capital to dominate in a region.

Again, a federation of stores might be the best option, similar to a franchise model. McDonald's innovation was not in selling amazing burgers, but in creating a kitchen architecture which allowed for quick fulfillment of orders which replaced an inefficient carhop model. That's what impressed Ray Kroc to take over the franchising of the restaurants.


Perhaps someone creates a store system which includes a robust point-of-sale software suite, store signage, appearance, and cooperation. Each store owner selects what they stock locally, but also links their inventory to the nationwide system, so a customer in Peoria, Illinois, can find that rare copy of Superlative Man in a store located in Moscow, Idaho. Store owners pool their orders, so a greater discount is gained. Variants can be commissioned for the chain. A centralized warehouse handles online fulfillment, distribution, Internet, store systems, advertising, merchandising, promotion.

The Future is Not What They Say It Was 

Long time readers, retailers, comixologists, and fans know that the Death Of Comics has been discussed many times. There's always anticipation of how changes will affect various aspects of the industry. My theory: Any radical variable will cause moderate change; it won't be the worst-case scenario; it will not be positive (good) nor superlative (best), but comparative (better).

I think comics retail will continue. Short term, the collectibles market will continue to drive sales, readers still want to read comics, and kids are hungry for new stuff and will tell their friends, because we all want to be cool. However, comics shops also run the risk of becoming an insular or niche market. Record stores still exist, but at a fraction of what existed in the 1990s. On the other extreme, as comics become more popular, more outlets will begin to sell them. Barnes & Noble and Borders with the arrival of Pokemon in 1999; Target and Walmart with Wimpy Kid and Dog Man; Menard's! In the former case, comics shops become a destination for buying new product which isn't easy to find elsewhere; in the latter, comics shops offer a wider selection for fans who want more but can't find it at their local big box store. How stores anticipate those new customers will determine how well those stores survive and thrive.

 

(Mis)fortune Telling: Amazon Comics?: Part Four: Bricks and Clicks


The recent pandemic shutdown has hit small businesses hard. Already fighting for survival during the Retail Apocalypse, a large reduction in foot traffic has caused many stores and restaurants to shut down in the past months. What happens when the Mom-and-Pop stores go out-of-business because they can't survive in the current pandemic climate? Who fills that void of specialty shops? How might Amazon exploit this opportunity?

The oldest comics shops date to the 1960s, and most of the best started in the 70s and 80s. These stores are mostly sole proprietorship businesses ("Mom-And-Pop") which carry a lot of legal risk. Many comics shops also carry a lot of inventory and operate on tight budgets.


At best, these aging owners will figure out how to pass the torch, allowing younger employees to buy the store and continue the legacy. (This is not uncommon; New York City vegetable grocers are generational, with Jewish owners selling the store to their Korean employees, the Koreans selling it to Caribbean immigrants who are now retiring and selling to Latinx immigrants.)


The second option, conglomeration, is less likely, but has been done before with great effect, especially with local chains: Blockbuster Video in the late 1980s. Wayne Huizenga acquired many regional video rental stores, creating a nationwide chain which became synonymous with the category and the 1990s. It happened again, on a different scale, as Barnes and Noble's Leonard Riggio acquired and conglomerated Babbage's, Software Etc., and Funcoland videogame stores into GameStop.

If done correctly, especially via smaller chains and single stores, the former owners and employees are retained to maintain the unique customer service and community of that locale while updating store systems and branding.


The third option is sometimes the easiest for corporations: wait. Wait for your competitor to make a critical mistake, and then either acquire that business for pennies on the dollar via bankruptcy auctions or stock acquisition, or fill the vacuum left in the market after the company leaves. Sometimes, a company is proactive by region; they see a competitor having trouble in one market or neighborhood, so they enter that area, sometimes by placing a store directly across the street from the competitor.


All three are possible in the Direct Market of comics shops. As with Blockbuster and Borders, computerized inventory systems created successful chains which created efficiencies and profits. Comics shops are unusual retail stores ... they sell a significant amount of product which is "used" or collectible. That requires more expertise from the store owner, but that can be learnt and taught, and even retained if the owner is kept on as an employee. It can also be consolidated and shared more easily with other stores in the chain.


What are the odds that Amazon or another retailer will consolidate comics shops? Pretty good, even in the tough "retail apocalypse" of the past decade. Comics shops create a sense of community among fans and shoppers, based on beloved characters and franchises which are constantly being refreshed and replaced. Unlike most other specialty retailers, comics fans and gamers shop on a periodical basis, as new releases have strict on sale dates and fans are eager to get The Latest Thing. GameStop and Blockbuster were fueled by strong fandoms. Like Barnes & Noble and Tower Records, these stores offered a large amount of items, allowing for discovery and acquisition. Even after chains have disappeared from a retail category (like music), fandoms continue to support independent stores ... they need their fix, and will patronize a record store selling LPs, an antique store selling collectibles, a video store selling DVDs and VHS tapes, or a local ren faire or comic-con offering lots of cool merchandise.

Can a comics shop chain exist and thrive in a small-pond market? I think it's a matter of scale. If Mile High Comics, Lone Star Comics, or Newbury Comics can create a multi-faceted retail chain of stores in a metro area, it is not difficult to expand that nationally. This is how retail corporations originate; someone opens a store, offers a shopping experience which encourages loyalty and innovation, and then competes locally, regionally, nationally.



While Amazon is still considered an online retailer, they have invested in many other industries such as film production, electronics, healthcare, and satellite communications. Their acquisition of Whole Foods Market for $13.7 Billion in 2017 showed that Amazon is not adverse to retail locations, and Whole Foods stores now not only host Amazon Hub Lockers, they also feature Amazon products and services on the sales floor. Amazon also operates Amazon Books, a bookstore chain with 23 locations nationwide. There is also Amazon 4-Star (curated retail), Amazon Go (gourmet grocery), and, circling back to my previous analysis, Amazon Pop-up. Their pop-up stores are permanent, and feature rotating themed inventory, which has included Marvel's Avengers franchise in the past. I would not be surprised if Amazon Pop-up stores become the next staple of shopping malls.


As of 2019, physical retail accounted for only 6% of Amazon's net revenue, but that 6% equals $17.2 Billion. While the current pandemic has paused the global economy (aside from online sales), I expect both the percentage and net revenue figure to rise in the future, partly from filling a void created by empty storefronts, but also from filling the actual physical storefronts. Whole Food Markets and other groceries are re-purposing empty box stores. (My local Whole Foods was built in 1979, housing a Shepler's western wear store, and was remodeled in 2005.) Grocery stores and comics shops are destination retail, as are boutique stores such as Apple and Amazon Books. If there is enough foot traffic and affluence, either on a sidewalk or inside a shopping mall, then smaller stores like the four concepts mentioned above will work, as small retail bays are more likely to be available at a lower cost.
  

Of course, if those bays aren't available, then the Treasure Truck fills that gap. Brilliant, no? It's kind of a bastardization of the Mason Jar parable, as Amazon tries to fill every shopping niche. It reminds me of Clock King's iconic giant hourglass trap, except that it starts with golf balls, not sand, and small business retailers are the intended victims.


Is this the zero hour for comics shops? Are the sands of time really running out for the Direct Market? At long last has it met a gritty, granulated, inglorious fate? Only time will tell... Tune in soon, as I discuss ways that comics shops can compete now and in the future!

(Mis)fortune Telling: Amazon Comics?: Part Three: Amazon's New Frontier


With a gargantuan online website (Amazon.com), numerous specialty sites (Zappos, IMDB, Audible, Goodreads, Comixology), physical stores (Whole Foods, Amazon Books, Amazon To Go), Amazon actively seeks out new markets to conquer. Online, that territory is marked by domain names, the addresses people use to search, find, and buy items online. 

How would Amazon sell comics and other related merchandise online? Well, two ways. One is they buy an established online retailer and acquire expert staff, as well as significant back-issue inventory. (Quite a few comics retailers are approaching retirement.) The other is they go big, and utilize their gTLD .books as an aggregator for geeky product found on Amazon.com.

What’s a “gTLD”? That’s short for “generic Top Level Domain”, which in tech-talk is the last section of an Internet URL. (.com is the best known TLD.) A few years ago, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers auctioned off a set of generic domains, such as dance, city, and… books. (The entire list is hereAAA to ZW, if you're curious. Comics and manga have yet to be offered. BD is reserved for Bangladesh.) 

Amazon spent a reported $10 Million to acquire the .books gTLD, which currently is parked. (They own 52 gTLDs.) The placeholder is found here, at http://www.nic.book/ . The Amazon Registry Services, Inc. DNS Practice Statement for the BOOK Zone Version 0.2, which details their DNS security, is also available, if you're into that sort of thing. There's ICANN paperwork as well. 

Oh, So? Well, after a Top Level Domain, you add the Second-Level Domain (SLD) to create a unique web address.
Amazon could set up a retail site using www.comic.book . See how powerful that is?
www.cook.book is just as powerful, selling cookbooks, utensils, appliances, and even ingredients.
www.text.book for university students. 
www.school.book for home schoolers.
www.phone.book.
www.work.book for business books and office supplies.
www.note.book for sheet music.
www.sketch.book for art supplies.
www.scrap.book for paper artists.
www.date.book for booklovers (kinda like "Netflix and chill", which is the modern version of "looking at etchings"). (www.horn.book.com if those "etchings" are by Aubrey Beardsley.)
 
[Note: if Amazon does not grab these domains, they would be great URLs for entrepreneurs to set up trading posts within an Amazon-owned domain.] 

Amazon has stated that they will also sell access to that gTLD to publishers and authors, just like Tuvalu sells access to their .tv TLD. (Tuvalu earns about $5 Million a year from licensing that domain.)

Looking at the foreign gTLDs that Amazon owns, there is one that is especially interesting: 
書籍 (Japanese for "books") 

This Japanese domain has existed since August 2013. 33 domains are active, 16 are parked. You can see the list of domains here. Many of them are trademarks, such as Rolex, Google, and Apple, and are likely reserved to prevent cybersquatting, the ransoming of trademarked URLs to corporations. Currently, the active domains redirect to https://www.amazon.co.jp/. Amazon will most likely follow a similar path with .books, reserving the common URLs for themselves.

When will Amazon utilize their new .book domain, purchased in 2014? Unknown. It's possible they acquired it to prevent others from using it, but this seems very unlikely, given how lucrative this domain can be. Book.com (1998) and books.com (1992), both owned by Barnes & Noble, have yet to be fully exploited, so it might be awhile. (Aside from email addresses, both URLs redirect to www.barnesandnoble.com .)


Something to note: Aside from .com and .edu, most people are not familiar or comfortable with strange TLDs. The adult film industry tried to encourage the use of .sex and .xxx to create a more controlled online environment, yet most websites maintain their .com URLs because that is what people know. There is also the taint from fake websites which mimic a well-known URL. This is mostly a generational learning curve...decades ago, people didn't trust the Internet for online purchases.

Most likely, URLs will interlink and overlap like a Venn diagram, sharing data and content. Zappos could mirror a fashion book discussion group on Goodreads, Twitch can stream a fashion show that is also featured on Zappos, and IMDb would recommend documentaries. It might be that one day, .com will be seen as a relic, like .uucp is today. Perhaps URLs themselves will become invisible, just like IP addresses are today, as people either click on an app or shortcut, or a digital assistant automatically links to the site. Most likely your Amazon Fire or Apple iPhone will not let you leave their "garden of pure ideology" of that device. One day, your loyalty card might require a Loyalty Oath.


Think that is scary? What happens when the Mom-and-Pop stores go out-of-business because they can't survive in the current pandemic climate? Who fills that void of specialty shops? I'll discuss that next.