A comic pull list is a customer subscription system offered by most comic book retailers. The system provides readers with the assurance that a title will be available even if it sells out on the stands. Additionally, it provides the retailer with a helpful ordering gauge so they don’t end up shorthanded or get stuck with copies that might not sell. The first step to becoming a reliable regular customer at a local comic shop is to establish a pull list.
Why set up a pull list?
- New comic book day is on Wednesdays. Many of us (usually for employment reasons) can’t make it to our LCS when the new titles hit the stands. As a result, we’re relegated to the status of weekend comic book warriors. Having a pull list ensures your coveted issues aren’t snatched up by the folks with Wednesday friendly work schedules.
- Helps your local comic shops with ordering. Pull lists often act as an informal poll of what’s going to be popular. Comic fans with pull lists are often tuned into the comic industry zeitgeist because we pay attention to solicitations (more on that in “How to set up and manage a pull list”) and general comic book news. If a comic shop sees a spike in a book being added to pull lists they’ll order more to have on the shelves.
- Send a message to publishers. That’s right, the simple act of having a pull list gives you a voice with publishers. For better or for worse, nearly every single comic book publisher distributes titles through Diamond Comic Distributors. Diamond requires comic shops to have “initial orders” submitted two months before a comic is set to land on shelves. This helps publishers determine how many to print. However, retailers do have some wiggle room after thanks to the ‘final cut-off” date (that’s what comic pros mean when they write “FOC” on twitter). Most publishers offer a FOC option with that deadline usually being three weeks prior to release date. This is why you’ll often see publishers announce a title has entered a second printing before the official release date. It’s also why those “save such and such a title” campaigns typically have little impact if they happen after a publisher announces a cancelation.
- Support the independent publishers. You might live somewhere without a huge appetite for comics outside of the Big Three publishers. As a result, your local comic shop, for good reason, might be skittish about ordering from a smaller publisher. However, that doesn’t mean your shop won’t order that title for just for you. Often, if a customer expresses interest in a title the shop might not usually carry they’ll order two or three extra copies to put on the shelf. If one person is requesting a unique title there’s a chance someone else is interested but shy about requesting.
- Buzz insurance. Maybe you love Action Comics but you never put it on your pull list because you know that’s one title that will be reliably ordered by the majority of comic shops and always be on the stand. But wait, oh snap, news breaks that DC is going to kill off Lois Lane in the next issue! And you can’t make it to the store on release day! Ahh! No one saw this coming but now everyone suddenly wants Action Comics and you’re stuck with a third printing. Sucker. Use your pull list!
- Building a relationship with your LCS. Every decent comic shop proprietor will use the pull list to better understand the regular customers. My wife, for example, will buy anything with Rogue in it. Our local comic shop is aware of this fact. If they know Rogue has an appearance in an issue that isn’t on her current pull list they’ll set the issue aside to see if she wants it (usually the answer is ‘yes’). When they noticed I was picking up Donny Cates’ Venom series they put aside the Web of Venom one-shots. I wasn’t even aware those were a thing, so I was thankful for the tip-off.
- Additional perks. Occasionally comic shops offer additional perks to keeping a pull list. This perk can be anything from 10 percent off to free boards and bags to invites to special in-store events. If you’re blessed to live in an area with multiple comic shops this could be one of the deciding factors for choosing where to keep your list.
How to set-up a pull list
- Choose a store. Choosing a store and starting a pull list go hand-in-hand. The pull list concept is essentially the same from store to store but some shops have different restrictions or perks. If you have the luxury of choosing between more than one store it’s a good idea to find out which one has a pull list system that fits your needs. Different shops have different rules, so make sure you know what the shop requires before setting up the pull list. Some might require a minimum number of titles. Others might require a credit czard so you don’t ghost.
- Set a budget. This is important. Before starting a pull list you should know how much money per month you’re willing to spend. You should also consider if you’ll discretionary comic spending for grabbing titles off the shelves. Once you figure out how much you’re willing to spend on a pull list divide that number by $3.99, the current median cover price of a comic, and that will give you how many titles you can put on your pull list.
- Research and make a list. In most case, you can simply walk into a comic book store and recite off the top of your head which titles you’d like on your pull list. A better practice would be to create a list in advance. There are a number of resources for researching comics hitting stands. The Diamond Comics Previews catalog is currently the best way to see what’s coming down the pipe. You can even help your LCS out by noting the product number. A handful of websites do a decent job of listing monthly comic solicitations by the publisher.
- Drop off/Enter the list. Once you know what you want it’s time to drop off or enter your list. Some comic shops will simply take a handwritten list. Others will ask you to fill out a shop specific form or the Previews catalog form. A handful of comic shops use League of Geeks online pull list or Manage Comics for taking and managing orders, so you can enter online.
- Do you need a mail order pull list? I wrote a great deal about local comic shops above but recognize that isn’t a reality for everyone. Thankfully, there are a number of comic shops offering mail order services. This Reddit thread offers a number of solutions. Midtown Comics and Things From Another World are typically ranked among the most reliable mail subscription service.
Your pull list responsibilities
- Pick up your pull list. This is number one for good reason. As mention above, a pull list is basically a friendly contract between the customer and the comic shop. The retailer is buying those books and hanging onto them for you. Only in very rare promotional occasions can a shop return a comic. The longer you wait to pick up your books the longer the retailer leaves money sitting on the table. If you never pick up your books that retailer has to eat the cost of those books.
- Never wait longer than a month. Honestly, the best practice is to pick up your books at the least once a week. However, if life gets busy and you can’t make it to the shop never take more than a month. Many shops have started putting books on the shelves and canceling pull lists if a customer doesn’t show up for 30 days. Why? Because it can be costly to not sell those books. The longer they wait, the harder it is to move the comics. For example, here’s the policy at Collector’s Edge in Milwaukee: “All items must be bought within 30 days of the item’s release. After 30 days you will be required to purchase these items upon your next visit at no discount (if any applies). This may also interrupt your package service.”
- Communicate. Life happens. Store owners get it. If you’re going on vacation or have a family emergency, whatever the reason might be, if you can’t get your comics simply drop the store an email. If you’re a responsible and respectful comic purchaser the proprietors will make exceptions for you. For example, there’s a comic shop in San Francisco with a customer who lives overseas but visits the city every four months. The shop hangs onto that customer’s titles because the customer is reliable.
- Maintain your pull list. Not happy with a series? It’s okay to drop it. All you need to do, in most cases, is drop your LCS an email or tell them next time you visit. In case you’ve lost track of what you’re pulling don’t be afraid to ask your LCS for an updated list.
- Recalculate your budget from time to time. If you’ve been adding books to your list without much thought you might be going over budget. I have a rule that I can only add a new title if I’m willing to drop a title. It helps me keep in my comic budget.
- Cancel your pull list. Not happy with your store? Income situation change? Moving away? CANCEL YOUR PULL LIST. See point one. If you don’t cancel your pull list the shop is left holding the bag financially. A friendly email saying “My life situation has changed and I’d like to cancel my subscriptions” will suffice. Trust me, the shop owner won’t take it personally.
A comic shops pull list responsibilities
- Educate new customers. Don’t assume a customer who walks into your store understands the pull list financial impact on your store. I’ve been a comic book customer for more than 20 years. In my life, I’ve opened pull lists at seven different stores. I’ve never had anyone explain to me the negative impact of not picking up my comics on a regular basis. Not once. It’s always been “we’d love to have you as a regular customer! What do you want on your list?” I had to learn that lesson through Twitter posts complaining about absent customers. It’s cool you’re mad, Mr. Proprietor, but how often did you educate your new customers?
- Help customers maintain their lists. My favorite pull list experience was when the shop would print out our lists every six months. The shop would hand the list over with a pen and say “feel free to cross out anything you want to drop or write anything you want to add.” For some of us, it can be psychologically difficult to ask for a book we no longer love to be removed from a pull list. Make it easy.
- Acknowledge your subscribers. You don’t need to give anything away or offer discounts. Simply take a moment once or twice a year to acknowledge those of us keeping a pull list. Send an email out saying ‘thank you.’ Remind us why this relationship is a two way street. If you do want to go above and beyond, consider hosting a once a year in-store event just for pull list subscribers. Do you know who your longest continuous subscriber is? Make a plaque. Perhaps host a “subscriber-of-the-month” club. Hosting a signing? Give your subscribers first dibs for line placement. All of these things will strengthen your bond with customers while acting as promotion for your pull list subscription service.
- Have a strategy that works for you or don’t do it. Due to customers ghosting there’s been a rise in store owners complaining about how much they hate offering the option. I get it, but your subscription service is what you make it. If your current service isn’t working, change it. If it’s a significant burden, get rid of it. I have nearly a dozen comic book shops within a 30-mile radius of my house. I like them all but only one gets to host my pull list. There are many reasons for making my decision but near the top of the list is customer service. I feel valued and appreciated for my subscription. However, if I had a pull list at a store where the owner started bitching about it being a burden to offer such a service I’d pull that pull list in a second. It would paint a fairly clear picture of how that store owner viewed committed customers.