Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Thinking Outside the Mail Box

Posted by Don MacPherson on June 8th, 2011

Pretty much as long as there have been comics, they’ve been making their way to some readers through the mail. While direct subscriptions with publishers aren’t as popular as they once were, a lot of readers still get their comics through mail order, especially since businesses selling to such a market have been much more accessible online.

The question arises: what happens when the mail stops? Most of Canada Post Corp.’s unionized workers — including letter carriers — have been in a legal strike position since last week. While the Canadian Union of Postal Workers hasn’t opted to go into a full-on strike mode, it is taking job action in the form of rotating strikes in different cities across the country. CUPW and Canada Post are still in negotiations, but the threat of a nationwide strike by 50,000 postal employees looms.

Eye on Comics checked in with some of Canadian retailers about how an interruption in postal service will affect their businesses.

Calum Johnston, owner of Strange Adventures in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Fredericton, New Brunswick, said his business frequently fulfils customers’ needs via mail order.

“We have about 40 monthly mail-order customers who have standing orders, and we get a lot of special requests from folks every couple of days looking for comics, graphic novels, toys that can’t be found in their local area,” he said. “We get a lot of mail, and I still prefer to mail cheques to many suppliers and for paying the store’s bills, so Canada Post is an important and vital part of our day-to-day business.”

Johnston said there are alternatives to Canada Post, such as courier services, but he’s found postal rates to be much more reasonable and therefore more affordable for his customers, who absorb those shipping costs. So far, he said, the CUPW job action hasn’t hindered business too much, but that could change.

“Right now, it’s more of a work slow-down with the rotating strikes. If it turns into a full-blown strike, it could seriously harm several mail-order companies in Canada,” Johnston said. “We hope that both parties can negotiate to a mutually amicable solution. Canada Post has to see the issues from the workers’ perspective, and the union has to be aware of what state the economy is in and that we all need to tighten our belts.”

AllNewComics.com is a Canadian online comics retailer, so it relies even more on mail order, but representative Brian Garside said that while he and his partner are keeping an eye on the situation, he wasn’t all that concerned about the overall effect on the business.

“We’re still figuring out what we’ll do should the rolling strikes become full-fledged,” he said. “So far, it’s just been a bit of an inconvenience, and we’re just keeping our customers informed.”

Garside said he and his partner prefer to use Canada Post to send orders, not because its prices are particularly better than what courier services offer, but because they’ve found the service to be better.

“The post office’s prices aren’t a ton better for us at our volumes (about 200 packages a month), but the delivery tends to be much better in terms of damaged packages,” he said, noting that on occasions when AllNewComics.com used one of the big courier services, there were problems with the state of the package upon delivery.

Garside said the strikes will be more detrimental to Canada Post than to his business.

“Inertia has prevented us from exploring other options seriously, but if we’re forced to move, we would,” he said. “Since the majority (about 90 per cent) of our customers are monthly, this is something we really only have to think about at the end of a month.”

Jay Bardyla, owner of Happy Harbor Comics in Edmonton, Alberta, said the rotating strikes can be inconvenient but they haven’t halted the mail-order side of his business, which consists of a few online orders per week and a dozen or so packages for regular customers at the end of each month.

“With the way the strike is set up, there may be disruptions in delivery, but most customers are understanding of it and everything still eventually makes
its destination,” he said.

Bardyla said if the mail stopped altogether, using courier services wouldn’t be an option due to the increased cost.

The potential for a Canadian postal strike could be felt beyond Canada’s borders. Gerry Gladston of Midtown Comics Inc. in New York City told Eye on Comics that Midtown has quite a few Canadian mail-order customers but none have mentioned the labor situation with Canada Post.

“We have the option of shipping via UPS, but for now, we’re operating on a case-by-case basis, as it’s more expensive,” he said. “We hope that this dispute is resolved as soon as possible so it doesn’t disrupt the comic-book business.”

Another manner in which a postal strike could affect Canadian comics enthusiasts would be through an interruption of subscriptions direct from publishers. However, a DC Comics spokesman declined to comment on the effects of a postal strike on subscriptions or on what contingency plans the publisher might have. Marvel Comics didn’t respond to an inquiry.

Update: Canada Post Corp. eventually locked out the CUPW members, and the Canadian government later passed back-to-work legislation.

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2 Responses to “Thinking Outside the Mail Box”

  1. Comics A.M. | Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark makes final changes | Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources – Covering Comic Book News and Entertainment Says:

    [...] about how a full-on strike by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers would affect their business. [Eye on Comics] Justice League [...]

  2. Sequential | Canadian Comics News & Culture Says:

    [...] gets the lowdown from Strange Adventures, The Beguiling, Happy Harbor and Big B Comics. Meanwhile, Don McPherson quizzes Strange Adventures, Happy Harbor, and Allnewcomics.com about he Canada Post strike and its [...]