One of the greatest challenges any comic publisher faces these days is marketing their work. While some comic books have eye-catching images on their covers and amazing stories in between their pages, most publishers including Marvel and DC don’t have a clue on how to turn those fantastic tales into sales.
When it comes down to marketing, the entire comic book industry is stuck in the 1990’s. Still trying to get people’s attention with archaic approaches such as gimmicks, events, and shock marketing. While these approaches got the attention of speculators in the 1990’s, 21st Century comic fans today are completely indifferent to them. Worse, New customers are just walking right by them in an age where superhero movies are raking in billions of dollars.
Comic publishers like Marvel think they’re getting the public’s attention when they go out and drop a press release announcing things like a Black Female Iron Man, an Asian Hulk, a Female Thor, a Hispanic Ghost Rider or a Gay Rawhide Kid. While DC thinks it’ll get the attention of readers with big catalog wide events like New 52 and Rebirth. And while many comic fans will debate these gimmicks on social media forums like message boards and Facebook groups it usually doesn’t have much impact when it comes to increasing readership. While these marketing stunts may shock most comic fans in the short-term, the sales numbers aren’t anything to write home about a few moths later. In most cases the attempt to generate controversy among readers generates next to no traction for a publisher.
At the end of the day a title winds up getting cancelled after six or eight issues, the publisher takes a financial loss, the character gets a tarnished reputation and the publisher doesn’t expand its audience. That’s throwing good money after bad, and a publisher doesn’t have that much in their budget. In a marketplace where 90% of all books fail in the first year, a comic publisher really needs a strong marketing campaign to make a first impression on readers.
It’s clear that shock doesn’t lead to sales in the comic book business anymore. Readers have heard it all before. And they just don’t care enough to spend money on the same old gimmicks.
Base blown up? Predictable. Death of a character? Been there and done that. Big menace everyone has to come together to fight? Did that last year. Major crisis that affects all the titles in a publisher’s catalog? Meh. New person taking over for the original? We know the original will be back sooner rather than later. New minority replacing the original? Ditto. It’s hard to sell a comic to a reader when they know what the story is gonna be about in a shock marketing campaign.
The biggest problem with publishers in the comic book business since the 1990’s is that they’re still trying too hard to get the attention of the man and woman on the street. Yes, comic fans are shocked by the controversial announcements of stuff going on in their major events However, they aren’t giving casual customers a reason to care about spending any money on comic books. With the speculator boom over, the rest of the world now sees these stunts as desperate Hail Mary ploys to get attention.
While the marketing stunts get a lot of bickering and arguing going among comic fans on message boards and social media, they don’t build the buzz that generates interest among casual customers. A handful of comic fans will get excited about that event in a 32-page comic and buy comics from a comic shop, but by the time the masses of casual readers find that same story on Amazon or Barnes & Noble in a trade a year later, the opportunity for making a serious inroads in sales has been lost.
That’s the other big problem about marketing comic books, comics today are made and marketed for comic fans, not casual customers. Unfortunately, casual customers are the bread and butter of a business. And without them, it’s hard for a publisher to expand their readership.
Getting people to spend money is the hardest part about marketing. A good gimmick can get people to take a look at something for a second. It can even get them buzzing on message boards and social media. But if the product isn’t great then the customer has no incentive to spend money. Comic publishers aren’t giving casual customers that reason to invest their money and time in reading their publications.
And that’s the big question writers and artists in the overall comic book industry have a hard time answering for the layperson: WHY SHOULD WE CARE?
Hollywood screenwriters can answer this question. Trade publishers can answer this question. Even some POD authors can answer it. Unfortunately most comic publishers can’t. And because they can’t answer this question when they market a story, they can’t sell comics.
Events, gimmicks, and stunts may get the public’s attention. But if the public doesn’t care about the story they don’t spend money.
Publishing is a long-haul business. And the short-term marketing of the 1990’s are killing the comic book industry. In the 21st Century its clear the business needs to apply some new approaches to marketing comics. Approaches that focus on building audiences of readers with good stories, not gimmicks.
Unfortunately, no one wants to take the time to build that audience. In this age publishers want instant results on the first issue, not understanding the business of publishing is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes anywhere from three to five years minimum to build an audience for a title and possibly eight to ten years for a character to build a serious following with fans. The key to marketing comic books successfully isn’t getting people’s attention with the first issue, it’s keeping them interested in reading a character’s adventures three years from now, five years from now or even a decade later.