Most days, Jim Drucker is surrounded by hundreds of thousands of stories about Spider-Man, Archie, Wolverine and countless others. He readily admits that he hasn’t given any of them a serious look. “I’ve read three comics in the past 18 years,” he says.
Drucker isn’t dismissive of the many customers who’ve helped make his Norristown-based NewKadia Comics the world’s largest online-only comic-book seller. Heck, he started NewKadia with 850 of his own titles, which he collected as a boy growing up on Long Island, N.Y.
The son of former NBA referee Norm Drucker, he created the company because he needs to be “at risk”—or so a friend once told him. Drucker’s strong entrepreneurial spirit first emerged when he was a 12-year-old gopher for ABC Sports. It pushes him to tackle and grow businesses that don’t have surefire concepts or easy paths to success.
Why else would he, in 1978, become commissioner of what would become the Continental Basketball Association, which had team values of $3,000 and no national profile? There were plenty of other jobs available for someone with a law degree from Duke University—including the teaching position he surrendered at Temple to work for the CBA. “I love the challenge of doing a project where there’s no manual for how to do it,” he says. “I love to solve problems I’ve never seen before.”
Drucker started NewKadia in early 2000. He wanted to sell his own comic books after a local dealer offered him $250 dollars for a collection he’d valued at $12,000. Now 66 years old, he estimates that there have been 19 days in the last 42 years that he hasn’t wanted to go to work.
Drucker had no retail experience when he started NewKadia. In late 1999, after learning that the fledgling worldwide web “might be pretty good,” he decided to channel his inner Jeff Bezos (Time magazine’s 1999 Man of the Year) and sell his books online. In his first week, he had three offers—from Sydney, Australia; Laramie, Wyo.; and Manhattan. “No [brick-and-mortar] store in the world could have had those three customers,” he says.
Drucker’s first goal was to sell his collection, but after receiving emails from people looking to unload their comics, he expanded his view.
On Feb. 1, 2000, he signed a lease for a small office. He split revenues 50-50 (less some carrying charges), and the expansion began. Eight years later, he moved to his current location on Noble Street in Norristown.
It’s a strong business model. Drucker doesn’t pay for his inventory until he sells it. He has a high profit margin because his overhead—reasonable rent, two full-time and two part-time employees, a minuscule marketing budget—is minimal and he can benefit from the nation’s superhero fascination. “Everything we do is for the customer,” says Drucker.
As commissioner of the CBA, Drucker instituted some of his own innovative marketing ideas. The CBA staged the first-ever million-dollar halfcourt shot. Nobody won, but the league did receive tremendous publicity. The CBA also sponsored a contest to find a broadcaster for its games–another PR winner.
In 1994, Drucker became commissioner of the Arena Football League, helping it expand from 11 to 18 teams and boost its average franchise value from $250,000 to $1.8 million. During his two-year tenure, he encouraged teams to surround indoor gridiron action with a carnival of mascots, music, contests and sundry promotions. He received an option to buy an expansion team, later selling the Philadelphia Soul to a group led by Jon Bon Jovi—for a profit.
A quick tour of the NewKadia facility reveals a series of computer work stations used to log new arrivals and ensure that orders are filled quickly and accurately. The split to sellers has changed, with 50 percent going to those looking to offload ordinary issues. More valuable releases can mean as much as 90 percent for those who contract to sell with NewKadia.
Those who buy can browse the entire 750,000-comic inventory online. His least expensive comic book costs less than a dollar, while more coveted editions bring in several hundred. Drucker even instituted “NewKadia Prime,” which provides three months of free shipping for $8. NewKadia’s gross annual income is in the seven figures, according to Drucker. He won’t reveal net numbers, but they’re “good,” he says.
The time will come when Drucker decides to move on. “I have a couple other projects I want to do,” he says. “At every stage of my life, if someone asked me what I’d be doing in 10 years and I made a prediction, I would’ve been wrong.”
And he’s quite happy about that.