9 Places to Make Money with a Comic Book Vending Machine

This picture of a vending machine that dispenses comics has been making the rounds this week, and for the most part, comic book fans have been bringing up all the reasons it would not make money.  As someone who has consistently been told "You can't make money doing x"  WHEN I WAS ALREADY MAKING MONEY DOING X, I thought I would brainstorm a few ways to flip a well designed and deployed comix machine into a nice income stream.

So the first things that come to mind is you need to know your audience.  It's NOT comics nerds who go to the comic shop regularly.  The level of service of a local comic shop cannot be duplicated by a machine.  You also don't want to be competing on cost.  You want to buy your comics cheap (at Half-Priced Books, clearance sales from the Local Comic Shop, Garage/Estate sales, collector liquidations, eBay, etc), then mark them up and resell.  You should bag and board them, but you want a consumer that is buying disposable entertainment, not a family heirloom.  Small cues like putting a sticker on the cover to obscure the original price will scare off collectors and regular comics shoppers.  They are better served by their LCS.  You want people who need to buy from your machine because they are unaware of, or unwilling to shop at any comic shops.  Preferably people who are captive for a while.  Who have no choice but to stare at your machine and be hypnotized by comic book covers.

So where do you find those customers?
  1. Barbershops, beauty salons, and nail salons are always full of people who are waiting to be served.  These people have money in their pockets and are in the mood to spend it.  Take advantage of the growing diversity in comics to target the demographics of the shop where you are dropping your machine.
  2. Hotel lobbies or hallway vending nooks already have vending machines full of overpriced drinks and snacks, so don't you think another machine with comics and books could work?  Weary travelers looking for the ice machine might want to unwind with a good graphic novel.
  3. Movie Theaters should have been #1 on this list.  Right now, superheroes are the undisputed kings of the multiplex, even though most of the attendees have never read a comic.  If I owned a comic book store, I would be trying to figure out how to get vending machines into one or more of the local theaters, and fill them with overstock and back issues.  I would put a sticker with my store's address and website on the cover of each book.  Putting a coupon inside each issue wouldn't hurt either.
  4. Airports and Train/Bus Stations already have vending machines with overpriced goods, and people who are waiting for mass transit, or for someone to pick them up.  When I travel, I love to read, so if I forgot to pack a book or there is a really interesting comic in a machine, you would probably get my money.
  5. Hospitals and Clinics have waiting rooms full of people who are waiting for an appointment and do not want to think about the reasons they are there.  Some good brainless entertainment would come in handy.  A welcome diversion is well worth the price.
  6. Daycare Lobbies are an untapped gold mine.  Anyone who has ever taken their kid to Wal-Mart knows that children have a special mind-piercing tone of voice reserved for talking their parents into impulse purchases.  Daycares have the added benefit of being a place the parent and child have to go to everyday!
  7. Speaking of Wal-mart, the entrances of giant retailers like Wal-mart, Home Depot and the like are worth targeting with a vending machine simply for the vast rivers of people who pass through them. 
  8. Coffee Shop, Delis, and other informal eateries would be cool because people spend time standing around waiting and then sitting to eat and drink.  Reading and eating have been getting along well for a long time, so finding a hangout where you can drop a machine seems like a good venture.
  9. Employee break rooms should be an obvious choice, but I didn't think of it until just now.  Every company I ever worked at had enough lapsed comics readers or comics-curious people who would be enticed by a vending machine to bone up on their nerd knowledge.  

If you try a comic book vending machine, switch out the contents of the machine regularly.  Start out with multiple price points, from cheap (resell those 25 cent comics for $1.00 - $1.50) up to trade paperback graphic novels for $15-$25.  Again, switch out contents monthly (or weekly if you're feeling really frisky) to create a sense of urgency, and so you can get a sense of what sells in each of your locations.

Remember, this won't work as an attempt to replace or even compete with comic shops.  But I think it would provide a way to expand readership and bring back people who used to read comics.  Genre entertainment (superheroes, sci-fi, fantasy, horror) is bigger than ever with more diversity than ever.  Digital outlets are trying to take advantage of the medium, but the power of comics as a physical object is still way too limited by niche distribution.

Are we ready to try something new?

Samax Amen is a professional Content Developer, Illustrator and Cartoonist. He is the artist of many great comics you never heard of like Herman Heed, Champion of Children, The Brother and The World As You Know It. He even writes and draws his own comics, like Dare: The Adventures of Darius Davidson, Spontaneous, and Manchild when he gets around to it. Because making comics is hard and stuff, he started GhettoManga as a blog in 2006 and as a print magazine in 2008.

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Unknown said...

Awesome advice

Samax said...

Thanks for reading Matthew!

Unknown said...

Where do I purchase a vending machine I would like one.im looking to buy a storefront too

Samax said...

I would just Google vending machine suppliers. You might have to call the company to find a machine deigned too set books, or have one retrofitted like the comic book man founder did.

You're not the only person to ask this question, so i will research it and write a new post about what I find.

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