Mile High Comics is a huge, Denver-based comic store, one of the biggest in the
nation (if not actually the biggest). Their Denver warehouse is
comic-fan heaven. I try to make time for a trip to that sprawling mega-shop
whenever I'm in their hometown, and coincidentally I find myself making pilgrimages there more and more.
Mile High has always been a staple of my comic book collecting. Since the day that I got my first dial-up connection, I was ordering back issues via Mile High's online store. MileHighComics.com hasn't changed very much at all in the fifteen years since then, and there's a feeling of nostalgia I get every time I visit their site just to browse the inventory.
Unfortunately (for Mile High perhaps), I've found more affordable avenues for comics collecting in those fifteen years as well. Moving to San Diego in 2008 put me right in the middle of a comic collector's paradise, and discovering MyComicShop.com made me realize just how overpriced Mile High's books really are, even during their long and frequent sales, sales that aren't really sales at all when you consider that most of their inventory of trade paperbacks are listed at double or triple their cover price.
And therein lies the problem with Mile High Comics' soon to be unsustainable business model. Mile High-owner Chuck Rozanski is still banking on the collectors' craze of the '90s, even over a decade after that bubble's burst. He doesn't seem to understand that there's a new generation of comics buyers who just want to read his books and not necessarily hoard them and resell them on eBay.
You might remember Chuck from Morgan Spurlock's San Diego Comic Con documentary, Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope. Chuck was the one who did quite a bit of whining about not making money until, voila, he changed his expectations and made a ton of money. This seems like a pretty cut and dry apogee to the story and you'd expect good ol' Chuck to learn a thing or two from this public and, honestly, kind of embarrassing ordeal. You would think that, but you would be wrong.
If you receive Chuck's newsletters, you know that his complaints about SDCC haven't waned in the years since the documentary. For Chuck, it seems, the happy ending we saw in Spurlock's film didn't quite stick. Chuck Rozanski thinks he deserves better than breaking even in San Diego, especially after all the work he's put into helping build the convention. And maybe he does, but he shouldn't expect the con to do his sales for him, which from his newsletters is what I get the sense that he believes should be the case.
In his last newsletter, from this past Sunday, Rozanski claims that he's devoted 42 years of his life to the con only to come away from this year's with a $10,000 loss. In a previous email, Chuck stated that for a booth of Mile High's size and enviable location the rental cost was about $50,000. At first this seems astronomical, and Chuck would be happy to have you keep thinking that it is, but keep in mind that Comic Con attracts something like 120,000 pop-culture enthusiasts from all over the world. Even if there were only about 80% of that number of attendees, Chuck would only need each of them to spend fifty cents at his booth to break even. And let's not forget that Mile High was even featured in the con's souvenir book this year. It seemed like Chuck's shop was poised to make a killing in 2014.
And then I saw their booth.
It was a mess. There was Chuck, complaining to a solitary customer about losing money hand over fist and blaming it on the publisher exclusives, while the Diamond exclusives Mile High were selling were pretty difficult to see or to find. This year they didn't bring any trades either. There also weren't any big ticket items like we saw the year that Spurlock made his film. I browsed the back issues for books to fill out my collection, but I was appalled by most of the prices: $6 for a comic book issue I could probably find at my LCS for fifty cents. (There's that fifty cents again.) The Mile High Comics booth was nearly empty all weekend while other booths with half-priced trades and comics marked-down below cover-price were incessantly swarmed with ravenous comics readers. These people weren't mobbing these booths for exclusives, as Chuck posited. They were just looking for something good and affordable to read. Many of these bustling booths didn't even have exclusives. It wasn't until Sunday, the final day of the con, that Chuck put out a sale sign, and guess what--business started booming for him as well. But it was too little, too late.
In his latest newsletter, Chuck seems mystified by this. He wonders why if he made a killing at his last convention in Denver he flopped in San Diego. This ignorance is infuriating, because I love Mile High, and I want them to succeed. I want to be able to visit MileHighComics.com fifteen years from now and still get that same sense of nostalgia. I know they've been through a lot in the past few years. They've had to relocate their massive warehouse store and cut back on inventory by a few thousand comics. But the answer he's looking for is right in front of his face. He's just too proud to pay it any mind. There's competition in San Diego like there isn't competition in your hometown, Chuck. You can't expect to make any money when you're refusing to acknowledge that every single booth at SDCC is drastically undercutting your over-inflated prices. You think you should get the Denver fanfare everywhere you go, and maybe you should, but you need to work for that. You. Not the con. Not the attendees. You, Chuck Rozanski.
So Chuck says he won't be returning to SDCC. He's made this empty threat many times before, so it's hard not to think of "The Boy Who Cried Wolf," but Chuck seems genuinely fed up with the con this time, and that's a shame. Certainly he's getting a lot of exposure just by being at the con every year, and it's like I've said before: Mile High is one of those few great comic book shop mainstays. But you know what? Part of me thinks, "Good riddance. That's a huge booth that's going to open up and maybe Dynamite Entertainment or Valiant will finally have a place to make their own in the exhibit hall. Or maybe a comics megastore like Mile High but with fair prices will move in. This could be a really great thing."
And I guess that's the thing: Chuck Rozanski's attitude toward all of this has been pretty toxic, and it might be a blessing in disguise to have him out of the con. Anyway, those are my thoughts on the matter, and I wish Chuck and his daughters and their business the best of luck.