For some people, writing critically acclaimed comic books just isn't enough and Sean McKeever is one of those people. The young author is trying to give back to the industry and medium he loves so dearly with a new website, ComicsMover.Com, that he hopes will allow retailers to better manage their inventory and ultimately allow the customer to walk out of the store more satisfied.
"ComicsMover.com is a free, members-only listing service and community for North American comics retailers," Sean McKeever told CBR News. "It's a place where retailers can essentially buy and sell comics and related product off of one another. The site came about because of two things, really: my history as a comic book retailer; and my ability as a web architect. As I'm always quick to point out, I started a tiny comics retail operation at the age of 14 or 15 in my parents' hardware store in the tiny town of Eagle River, WI. I operated it for nearly a decade, through all the craziness of the early 90s boom and through some of the bust before moving to Columbus, OH. So, because of my retail comics experience at such a young age, I kind of feel comics retailing in my blood, you know?
"While working on developing my freelance comics career, one of the jobs I took on was as a web designer. I worked freelance, and then signed up with a couple local firms, learning a lot along the way. I still do freelance some, but mostly I build my own applications that I plan to resell, like message forums and shopping carts. Well, at some point, it occurred to me that I should build an application that would be beneficial to the comics industry and that I could maybe even make a little money at. I had a few different ideas, which I won't go into here, but they all required a hell of a lot of upkeep. I was on the Comic Book Industry Alliance (CBIA), a private forum for comics retailers, pros and vendors--reading threads about retailers looking to move overstock or buy/trade comics they couldn't reorder when I thought of the idea of creating a sort of automated eBay/shopping cart hybrid. I figured I'd build the thing, try it out, and if it was a failure, then oh well--it was a worthwhile coding exercise. Something for me to do as my writing career gets into gear. If it's a success, then maybe It'll even help pay the bills. Outside of voluntary donations via PayPal, the only way the site's maintenance costs can be covered is through sponsorships. I won't just accept any old advertiser, though. Sponsors have to have goods or services to offer that are worthwhile to comics retailers."
As noble and altruistic as McKeever's goals may seem, it would seem natural for one to question the need for ComicsMover.Com- after all, isn't it the retailer's job to order the correct number of comics? According to McKeever, it is the nature of the market that has led to a need for something like his site. "Well, comics are sold non-returnable, which means the retailer is essentially stuck with any unsold product. There's only so much a shop can put out in the back issue bins. Eventually, the rest of it has to go into the backstock wasteland. I put in some time at The Laughing Ogre, a shop here in Columbus, and part of my job is to process this overstock. I thought, 'wouldn't it be great to be able to offer this stock up for sale to other retailers?' Especially in a climate where the number one publisher doesn't really overprint, and doesn't allow for the return of contractually returnable product, you know there's some retailer somewhere who's dying to get his hands on stock that some other retailer is dying to unload. Also, I just like the idea of retailers helping each other manage their inventory flow and cashflow by moving and redistributing this excess product amongst themselves. I'd like to see better overall sell-through for the industry. One of the great things about ComicsMover.com is the Wantlist feature. Retailers can construct and manage a list of words and phrases that describe the products they're looking for. When a new listing is added that matches their criteria, they receive an e-mail alerting them to the listing. It's a really slick way of keeping on top of high-demand (I hate saying 'hot') product.
"Another benefit is the service being free. It costs them nothing to join. And when they do join, they become part of a community of people who own and run comics shops just like them, with a message forum for people to chat it up and all that. Also, it's an opportunity to move unwanted/unnecessary stock and/or find product their stores desperately need. The site's only been up and running for a couple weeks, and with only 27 stores currently signed up, the site's already processed hundreds of dollars' worth of transactions.
"I think there's really little risk of their information being misused. It's a private community of comics retailers, and the only information they're really sharing is their names, addresses, phone numbers and e-mail addresses, which is all stuff they have on their business cards, print ads and websites. They're not giving the site their credit card numbers or bank account numbers or anything. Aside from that, ComicsMover.com has a policy of never divulging member information to third parties, and the member agreement requires that no member can misuse other members' information. If they do, they're out."
It's interesting to note that McKeever says he hasn't noticed any major trends developing in respect to the merchandise being offered by retailers on ComicsMover.Com. "It's hard to detect any trends this early on. At first, I was worried that we'd have all these shops posting the same unwanted, unsold stuff, but that hasn't been the case so far. Seeing as how I'm the overstock guy at the Ogre, I've listed about 200 items for that shop, and a lot of it appears to be much-needed stock for other stores. Overall, most of the listings are in line with industry market shares. The site has more listings for Marvel product than any other, and DC comes second, etc."
McKeever is also happy to note that he's received a lot of positive feedback so far, saying that comments have been, "Pretty positive. I first opened up membership to CBIA members, and the intent there was to start out slow and work out some bugs--beta testing, basically. At this point, it looks like 99.9% of the problems have been addressed and the site seems to be running nice and smooth. One thing I'm looking into is developing a credit network. It would be a way for eligible retailers to run credit markers with one another so as to not have to process and track so many payments. If a retailer has credit with another retailer, that credit can be used as currency in the shopping cart. I'm working out the logistics and potential pitfalls of such a system, and I'm looking for retailer feedback in the site's message forum. I think it could be really cool, like trading rather than purchasing. Another thing I hope to implement is the adding of a sister site where publishers, manufacturers, suppliers and other vendors who would like to sell direct to ComicsMover.com's membership of retailers can join and list product for a fee. If I can convince suppliers to offer reduced or free shipping in exchange for selling direct, I think this step could really be helpful to the industry as a whole."
While McKeever does see a bright future for his newest venture, he isn't exactly sure what that future holds. "Gosh, it's so difficult to say. The site will only become more successful in its mission if lots of retailers join and list lots of varied product--whether it's different publishers, cards, games, toys, videos, what have you--so I hope the ranks swell quickly to keep the momentum going."
For those comic book fans, not necessarily retailers, reading this piece, McKeever realizes that you may wonder how this website affects you and he offers these parting words. "To fans? Hmm, I really don't know what to say, except that ComicsMover.com exists to help comics retailers stay lean and profitable, which is something I'm sure every comics reader wants to see."