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A comic book pioneer adjusts to the digital age


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    Meltdown Comics and Collectibles

    - Tommy Andres/Marketplace

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    Comic books in the wild.

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    Marketplace's David Gura explores the world of comic books and collectibles.

    - Tommy Andres/Marketplace

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    Collectibles and figurines provide another source of revenue for comic book stores.

    - Tommy Andres/Marketplace

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    Comic book sales are hurt by the proliferation of digital media and digital comics.

    - Tommy Andres/Marketplace

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    A customer browses the selection at Meltdown Comics. 

    - Tommy Andres/Marketplace

Meltdown Comics and Collectibles opened in 1993 on Sunset Boulevard, in Los Angeles, less than two miles from the intersection of Sunset and Vine, right in the heart of Hollywood.

More than 20 years later, the store is one of the largest in the country and has diversified its inventory from simply comic books and graphic novels into comedy, podcasting and pop culture.

"Digital media is killing us, just like records stores," says co-owner Gaston Dominguez-Letelier. "People started downloading music, now they are downloading books and comics. ... It's not the same as it used to be."

Dominquez-Letelier says customers are also having comic books and products shipped directly to their homes, instead of coming in and picking up comic books every week. But he says that most of his customers are 25- to 45-year-olds. Older fans who remember coming in as children are now coming in with their own kids, and "hopefully it keeps going like that."

Dominguez-Letelier says Meltdown is trying new business strategies to grow. They've opened a live comedy venue in the back of the store, and are also accepting new forms of payment, including crypto-currencies like Bitcoin to grow foot traffic.

"The key word right now is 'experience'. Experiential marketing," says Justin Sewell, the director  of new media for Meltdown. "It's not enough anymore to have a line out the store. They want the buzz, they want the cool factor on Twitter, Facebook, reddit, YouTube, Twitch. Cool stuff online, so fans in Terre Haute, Indiana, can be part of the fun here in Hollywood."

About the author

David Gura is a reporter for Marketplace, based in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

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