If, as CIROBE cofounder Marshall Smith often says, “the bargain business is really a reflection of what’s being published in the larger publishing world—down the road,” then graphic novels could soon have an even higher profile presence in the book publishing market. CIROBE is the Chicago International Remainder and Overstock Book Exposition, an annual trade show specializing in bargain-priced and remainder books. This year the country’s largest comics distributor, Diamond Book Distributors, is moving into the remainder business and will exhibit for the first time at the Spring Book Show, the largest remainder book show in the South, held in Atlanta at the end of March. Diamond’s presence at the show also marks the first time a bargain book distributor has focused exclusively on manga, anime and graphic novels.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that other wholesalers or their customers are ready to embrace graphic novels, even at a lower price point. “It’s still so early,” acknowledged Diamond sales manager John Shableski, who will do a presentation at the show to help educate booksellers that there’s more to the graphic novel genre than just superheroes.
Not that booksellers have had much of a chance to buy graphic novels until now. “Historically,” said Shableski, “when publishers looked at the remainder market, they priced themselves out of it. They took off 15%, because they saw them as a collector’s item.” Many books were pulped for the same reason.
At one end of the bargain book wholesaler spectrum, graphic novels are a nonissue. “We avoid what we don’t know,” said Daedalus Books & Music president Robin Moody. “We tanked with graphic novels except for the classics like R. Crumb.” Others like Mike Paper, owner of Bradley’s Book Clearance in Pittsburgh, have experienced more traction, but not a high percentage of sales overall. “There are so many titles in each series. It’s tough to sell by title. We do alright with mixed skids,” said Paper, who characterizes his graphic novel sales as “stagnant.”
Others like Scott McCullough, co-owner of five-year-old Symposium Books in Providence, R.I., are more bullish about prospects for the category, which he said is growing. “We’ve gotten in Marvel, Dark Horse, Fantagraphics and Drawn & Quarterly, and we’re talking to other publishers as well. Our main focus is the college market, so we tend toward the more specialized books with more content,” said McCullough. In addition to selling overstock and hurt-books to bookstores and comic shops in the U.S., he notes that Symposium has also done well in the Canadian and U.K. markets.
Some booksellers have been reluctant to add much beyond classics and well-known graphic novel authors to their remainder sections. “We have a whole remainder store, so we do buy graphic novels on occasion,” said Cody Morrison, buyer at Square Books in Oxford, Miss. “I will buy it if it’s something I know like Persepolis, R. Crumb or the Peanuts series, or if it looks cool. Even on frontlist when I’m buying graphic novels, I rely on my reps. We’re still learning this market.”
For stores that have established graphic novel sections like Amarillo, Tx.-based Hastings Entertainment, which has boutique sections with graphic novels, anime, manga and action figures in the Lifestyle Section of half of its 153 stores, remainders are much stronger. According to fiction buyer Tracy Kaemfe, new graphic novels do “very well” and are a growing part of the business. It helps that Hastings can pull together multimedia displays that incorporate related music, video games and graphic novels for series like the wildly popular Naruto. “We just had a summit with major publishers specifically on how to expand our business with graphic novels,” said Kaemfe, who regularly shares information with remainder buyer Joey Middendorf on how particular authors and series did on the front end.
Despite the mixed reaction to graphic novel remainders, Spring Book Show founder Larry May is convinced that they are the wave of the future. “We had to spend the last ten years educating booksellers about remainders,” he said, “and now it’s their mantra. I almost liken graphic novels and anime to sidelines; it’s add-on sales. I think this is an opportunity for folks to get into a niche market.”