Rocket Bomber - article - retail - commentary - Teens with Cash.

Teens with Cash.

filed under , 1 March 2011, 18:30 by

Prior discussion, partial prior discussion, presented more or less in order:

Still running a week or so behind.

Anyway, the Dark Horse manga discussion [don’t think it even rises to the level of ‘debate’] incorporated parts of the larger bookstore vs. comic shop debate, which reminded me of one of the long-simmering topics I always meant to work up into a full rethinking the box post.

Bookstores will always have a place so long as there are tweens and teens with cash.

We’ve not yet reached the point where 11 and 12 year olds qualify for credit cards, or where parents transfer allowances to debit cards instead of handing out cash. The jobs most of us work prior to age 16 are all cash-under-the-table, more often than not, and even venturing into the workforce most of us deposited paychecks while taking only a little cash — if we had goals to save up for — and would just cash the whole thing out if we didn’t. Until folks hit college (and after?) the primary tender is cash-in-hand, often supplementing a gift card, but not credit or debit.

This will change, as our society changes. But even when it becomes possible, will online sales sites sell to folks under 18 without some sort of parental approval? That’s a tougher question.

BruceMcF has commented on this at least once (vague memories point to him mentioning it at least once before) in the last Unique Experiences post.

No matter what happens online or with e-books, there is still no way to capture the cash-only customer.

And teens have cash. Teens like comics. They also like movies, and junk food, and energy drinks with industrial-grade-levels of caffeine, and illicitly procured alcohol (and other diversions) and awkward social interactions and awkward sex and awkward breakups and all that crap — I almost called it “Judy Blume crap” but I don’t want to insult Judy Blume fans, and I don’t recall that she wrote sex scenes.

Anyway, teens have cash, teens like comics, and teens without cars can con Mom or Dad into giving them a ride to the bookstore [or the mall] — or will be dragged along while Moms and/or Dads [in whatever combinations] stop by the bookstore for esspresso drinks and magazines and annoying booksellers with questions.

Books, as entertainment, have to compete with video games and DVDs and movies — and the internet — but we still manage to score some small but constant fraction of that teen cash business.

Comic shops — would need to have teens coming in, before they could say the same. In the 80s? Yes. In the 90s? Yes. In 2011? Well, I think our teens have grown into 30-year-old connoisseurs of comics-as-art [or loser fanboys] and while they might have more income, they don’t spend nearly as much of it on comics.

And comics, as entertainment, have to compete with video games and TV shows and DVDs and movies and hardware purchases — and the internet, and other booksespecially for the sort of customer who is still buying comics into her 30s.

[see what I did there? pronouns for the win.]

The success of manga in bookstores comes down to

  • anime on TV
  • the success of video games that use “Japanese-style” visuals…
  • …not including but related to the parallel success of Pokemon
  • the attractiveness of bookstores as ‘neutral’ destinations for teens, without parental objections


  • the ability of bookstores to accept cash, where the internet does not.


  • the inherent appeal of manga, over other types of comics.

[certain indy comics also have appeal — I’m thinking Scott Pilgrim here, but for it’s content, not it’s visual style]


One thing we’ve done at my bookstore is to start stocking actual comic books – part of this is due to local Borders in decline, part of it is due to broader customer interest with all these superhero movies recently —

but mostly it’s that 3 of 7 managers are comics fanboys [two DC, one of whom also reads a little Marvel, and of course one mangaholic] [guess who] — and also our lead bookseller in charge of the newsstand, who called someone at corporate in New York and asked: say, can we get some comics?

It is such small potatoes, about 30 titles out of a newsstand that stocks thousands (about 2500 different magazines, considering my display space) but hey: we have comics.

And they’re selling. I think Hastings also discovered the same thing.

Of Course some folks just grab a stack of comics, stake out one of our chairs and read them in store. We’re a bookstore, this is what people do. But: the comics are selling. And I think our trade paperback (and hardcover!) collections are starting to sell as well. Not as well as the manga, because, well, Naruto et al. – but they are selling.

Teens with cash. A retail space that is open, and inviting. A ‘neutral’ location that not only doesn’t turn-off parents, but is the sort of place the parents also want to visit. Offerings for all ages, from 3 to 6 to 11 to 13 to 16 to “Oh my god, would you look at what they’re doing in this comic”

Of course manga sells well out of bookstores. So does sparkly-vampire-fiction-with-barely-contained-sexual-metaphors-and-some-actual-sex. Teens love this stuff. It’s a matter of having stuff people want in a space they want to visit. I think a “comics bookstore” (focused: like a mystery bookstore or a travel bookstore) could do quite well where a “local comic shop” does not. I said as much, two years ago, though perhaps I didn’t articulate the point well.


  1. The fit with TOTB#4, Unique Bookstore Experiences: The Last Picture Show [case study 4 of 5] is quite strong.

    Indeed, combine the first run arthouse theater show time with an afternoon tween theater show time and early evening teen theater showtime (crystal clear time differential is important in getting the teens to come in for “their” time slot, but if they drop in early to buy something to eat and drink, so much the better). Slide the low price arthouse re-release in place of the teen slot on Friday and Saturday, when the teens are at the Metroplex.

    And Saturday matinee: the best price point for getting tweens and teens into the cinestore would be free, of course, if you can get enough advertising to cover the cost of electricity.

    If you have the content that gets tweens and early teens to nag their parents to go, many of the parents may prefer to hang out at the bookstore than to make two trips ~ with the added benefit of being a “good parent” by relaxing in a comfortable chair reading a stack of magazines.

    Indeed, given the nature of the beast, there are some odds of at least selling the magazine that the parent is in the middle of when the teen is at the stage that they “have to go” somewhere else.

    Comment by BruceMcF — 2 March 2011, 15:05 #

  2. @BruceMcF say, why isn’t anyone paying us for all this free business advice?

    past that: what isn’t anyone making use of all this free business advice?

    I mean, personally, I have debts and am an awful investment risk, but someone should be able to make at least one of these ideas work.

    Comment by Matt Blind — 2 March 2011, 15:53 #

Commenting is closed for this article.



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