Sunday, May 08, 2005

IN CASE U MISSED IT: Free Comic Book Day, a success?

One of Newsarama's regular columns is Mike San Giacomo's Journey Into Comics. Not one of my favorite columns, but this week Mike's topic was Free Comic Book Day. FCBD is interesting, it's intent is fabulous, the execution however, is a bit tricky. Although it's designed as an event to draw in new readers, or new customers, FCBD is often referred to as "customer appreciation day". As the event draws existing customers to shops to get free books. Which, is not the events intent. Sure, the books are there if the customers want them, but it's problematic.

The forum posts in response to FCBD kind of speak to the polarization that occurs, where you have those in favor of making the event an internal thing, as opposed to focusing on the broader purpose, drawing in new customers.

Here are my comments taken from the FCBD thread on Newsarama, that sum up my take:

If retailers, customers, and even publishers treat FCBD as an internal promotion, is anyone surprised the event isn’t growing by leaps and bounds?
I’m not saying small press publishers, or retailers shouldn’t do this, but to not even acknowledge that it is not the events intent?
The event is designed to bring in new readers, point blank.
That’s what it’s supposed to be about.
Sure, it can be other things, but it should always be first and foremost an event to bring in new readers, new customers. When it becomes about being something else, then it’s failed, at least in the spirit from which it was created.

It just feels like this is the case, and the event is being adapted more and more to cater to respective business needs, as opposed to the overall need of the industry for new customers. As long as the ultimate goal of bringing in new customers isn’t taking a back seat to improved sales from the existing market, things are fine, and it’s up to the FCBD committee, or non-partisan folks to determine that. Certainly no one can fault businesses for using the event as they see fit, that's up to the FCBD folks to drive.

I'm not trying to be all doom and gloom here, if the event takes on a life of it’s own (or perhaps already has), and still brings success to the industry, than that’s fine, as long as we try.

As I said, the event is tricky in many regards. Something I barely touched on above is the Publishers participation. I certainly can't fault small press publishers for trying to use the event to get attention from the existing market, but I do question the bigger publishers offerings. You see Marvel, DC, and Dark Horse generally cater their offerings to children. In itself, that's hard to fault. However, if you really look at it, that's a problem too. A big one. Because the market is not about kids, it hasn't been for years, almost decades, and if you continue to cater all of your outreach product to kids, you're just reinforcing false perceptions of the industry, and the medium, and doing more harm than good. I think. That's not to say there isn't kids material, or shouldn't be, but it's by far in the minority. Something that's too often neglected within the bigger comics promotions.


Jason Martin said...

Thought I'd post the reply I received, and my comments to that...

Originally posted by cliff biggers
Free Comic Book Day is designed to bring in readers. Old readers. New readers. Every reader that we can reach. You seem to think it's an either/or situation--I infer from your statement that you believe one can only market towards established readers or towards new readers, but not both. I disagree.


No, sorry. Didn't mean to paint it that way. Just that it's main intent, I thought, was new readers, and it feels like it skews more towards patronizing existing ones. It can certainly serve both. Where I think my message got confused, is that I felt the focus should be on the outside market. But that's not to suggest that you or anyone handle the promotion a certain way, just posing that the spirit of the event be adhered to, because some times the perception is different than that.

Originally posted by cliff biggers

We managed, through a strong publicity push, to get a mention in advance of the event on an Atlanta television station and an Atlanta radio station; we got a full-page article on the front page of the Lifestyle section of the Marietta Daily Journal, complete with three full-color photos; we got an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Cobb Extra section (we're in Cobb County, a metro Atlanta suburban county); and articles in two newspapers that serve communities further north of us that feed into our county. All of that created a tremendous influx of newcomers, which is what we hoped--but we couldn't have gotten that publicity is we hadn't enlisted the help of talented creators who came in to sign... and those signings primarily appeal to established readers who know who those creators are. It's a marketing synergy; the bigger the event, and the more people it appeals to (both veteran and new readers), the more likely we are to get outreach publicity that brings in those new readers. We've managed to get strong publicity coverage every year through this approach, and we get impressive attendance and impressive return customers as a result.


That's great, and more testimonials/examples like this are great to hear! Perhaps as a retailer, you're already privy to this kind of information, more so than the public, but I've mentioned before, it'd be good to hear more of these types of mass market successes. Not only does that help bolster opinion/support for the event, but it can help/improve retailer participation. Perhaps an area the FCBD committee are falling down on...

Javier said...


When you mention that when DC/Marvel market their free comic to kids, they perpetuate the stereotype that 'comics are for kids'.

First, we need kids to come back to comics! Kids buying comics will lead to them hopefully sticking around as they get older and keep buying comics. We talk about losing reader to video games and cartoons and such all the time. Well, here's a free comic that a kid can test-drive and maybe come back for more (with mom and dad's money).

And as for you're comment about the public's perception of 'comics are for kids', I would quit worrying so much what the public thinks about comics! They are what they are. Those of us who look beyond Ultimate Re-Hash or Wizard's ridiculous Top Ten lists know that there is as wide a variety of genres in comics as in the book trade. Comics problems aren't what the public thinks about comics, comics problems are caused by comics worst enemy: the comics biz itself (distributors, narrow minded fans who like the same cookie cutter stories over and over, retailers who mindlessly order only from Top Ten lists, 'creators' with 'great re-imagined' takes of 40 year old properties, publishers buying licences to nostalgic childhood properties, etc.)!

On a positive note, I know one internet retailer who gave free comics at his local library. That's smart, because he gave the books to potential comic book buyers OUTSIDE of a comic shop! Maybe some of those kids go to a comic shop, but chances are he got some comics in the hands of folks who don't frequent a shop. Thus, he reached new readers!


Jason Martin said...

Yay! New readers!!

Yeah, I guess I think my point is still valid. The comic market today has moved beyond kid entertainment, and I don't think that should be it's focus. I think we both agree, as you say, that it can do or be anything, it shouldn't be restricted to any one genre or market. However, when you play into the stereotype that it's a medium aimed at kids, well, be careful what you wish for.

I guess my problem is, comics, and cartoons in America have the perception of being kids stuff, when nothing about either medium dictates that it has to, or better yet should be. It's time for America to realize that artistic storytelling is not only for children. Hopefully anime and manga will continue to do this.

But yes, we do need kids to come back to comics, not arguing against that. But if you have arguably the biggest outreach program for the industry have the face of "comics are for kids", then you're perpetuating that misperception. I just think it's funny that the majority of Marvel and DC's material is aimed at a level beyond kids, and on to mature, yet the face they put on to the public contradicts this. I understand why they do it, but that doesn't mean I don't think it's a slippery slope.

And let me clarify, I'm not looking for validation here, I don't want joe public to acknowledge it's okay for me to read comics. I want them to realize it's okay if they do. That's all. It's about expanding the mediums potential, not restricting it.