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Comics have a big problem: They’re sold all wrong

Comic book distribution is the single most frustrating thing about being a fan or creator

Susana Polo is an entertainment editor at Polygon, specializing in pop culture and genre fare, with a primary expertise in comic books. Previously, she founded The Mary Sue.

There’s something broken about the comics industry in America, and it’s been broken ever since comics stopped being readily available at any newsstand — and when a single company got its hands on the exclusive rights to print and ship the books of every major comic publisher in the United States.

That particular knot of business ties, logistical constraints and publishing customs is the subject of the latest episode of Issue at Hand, Polygon’s series about the weird world of comic books, where I explain the best way to buy comic books.

It should be an easy thing to explain, but it’s not. The way monthly comic books are shipped in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom forces retailers to be incredibly conservative in what they buy and minimizes the purchases of casual readers. And that hobbles the industry’s ability to observe and respond to changing readership and unexpected trends.

All in all, this is a pretty depressing episode, but the industry is slowly changing. And in the meantime, consumers should know how the messages they’re sending with their money are received.