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Saturday, December 8, 2012

The insanity of Free Comic book Day

The definition of insanity is doing the exact same thing and expecting a different result. And insanity has become a way of life in the comic book industry.

For over 10 years Diamond Comics Distributors have coordinated Free Comic Book day. A day where comic shop owners reach out to new readers by offering them free comics to sample and try out.

So why aren’t there more new readers buying comics?

Because the only place to get a free comic book is at a comic book store.

Here are the facts: There are less than a thousand comic book stores in the United States. And only 2000 comic book stores in 30 countries participate in this event.

Here’s another fact: Most comic book stores terrify average everyday people.

Comic shops have a bad reputation. While some stores like Jim Hanley’s Universe and Midtown Comics have clean professional layouts, others across the country reinforce the stereotypes about Comic shops and their customers. Dingy lighting, middle-aged guys in trenchcoats, hostile clerks, and a weird smell. To the new or casual customer a comic shop is not a fun place to be. In fact, it’s considered to be one of the least inviting places for customers. Especially customers with children.

Children the industry desperately needs to buy comic books.

But many in the industry swear up and down that Free Comic Book Day has an impact. That it brings new readers into the shops.

Then why are the sales numbers for most comics stagnant or on the decline? Why haven’t the demographics changed in over a decade? Why hasn’t the median age of a comic book reader declined?

If Free Comic Book Day worked at bringing in new readers publishers like Marvel and DC wouldn’t need to reboot their titles every 24-36 months. There would be enough new readers from the people who sampled those free comics to create sustainable numbers for a publisher to maintain profitability.

Would we really need a new 52 or a Marvel Now event to get new readers into the medium if Free Comic Book Day worked? Wouldn’t all those free samples given out at the comic shop reach all those new readers and give them an incentive to try new product? Wouldn’t that free comic they got at the comic shop persuaded customers to keep buying comics long-term?

Let’s face it Free Comic Book Day only works for that day. It’s the kind of promotion that gets people’s attention, but doesn’t allow businesses to keep customers coming back for product long-term.

As it stands now, Free Comic Book Day is just a way to take money out of the Comic shop owners’ hands and flush it down the toilet. That’s right the shop owners pay at least 50 cents a copy wholesale for these comics.

And they lose money with each book they give out.

The only institution making money on Free Comic Book Day is Diamond Comic Distributors. And it isn’t fair to the comic shop owners who get nothing out of the deal for all their hard work except a one-day boost in sales.

It’s time for Time Warner and Disney to start footing some of the bill for Free Comic Book Day. It’s time for them to start reaching out to get new customers for their properties. The comic shop owners shouldn’t have to put forth all the effort. These are their properties and they should make some serious efforts towards invest in the marketing of them.

It’s time to take Free Comic book Day out of the comic book store. The goal of any successful promotional campaign like this is getting product in the hands of people who don’t read comic books. Taking the comic books to THEM so they can see how great they are.

So they can go to the comic shops to buy them. And so they can go to other retailers and start asking them to start stocking them.

Larger publishers like Marvel and DC have to do things like offering comics as an insert in cereal boxes, with Sunday Newspapers, and as a supplement to pages of a top selling magazine like Family Circle or AARP. Places where they can be seen. Places where they can be read. Places where customers can demand for the comics or find out where comic books and trade paperbacks can be sold.

Free Comic Book Day also has to head into cyberspace. Digital Comics are cheaper and easier for publishers to produce than printing thousands of comics shop owners have to pay for and take a loss on.

And it wouldn’t hurt to send out copies of comics free through direct mail. Sure people hate junk mail, but any catalog retailer knows that for every catalog that goes straight to the trash, they get a sale or two on the ones that don’t. If those customers like what they see they buy more. Some even become long-term customers.

All of these approaches are a great way to reach out to those twenty million younger readers who could become new customers in the future.

I offer various free eBooks throughout the year on Amazon through the KDP select program and on Smashwords through promotions like my YA eBook exclusive series. Distributing these free digital copies is no cost to me, but it does lead to worldwide sales of eBooks throughout the year. Once a customer tries out one of my free eBooks, sometimes they actually come back and buy other books in the series like Isis or All About Nikki. Others just come back and buy the same book at another site because they like it so much. And quite a few people recommend my work to their friends. If this business strategy can work for me on a small scale, it should be able to work on a larger scale for a multibillion dollar corporation like Time Warner or Disney.

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