Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Modest Comics Proposal

Let's all eat comics!

No. Wait. Wrong kind of modest proposal. Let me start over.

Everyone talks about how comics are insular, and how they've become insular and self-referential and can't find a new audience. (OK, I've been talking about it. But I've been talking a lot about it, and that has to count for something, right?) We have a few things to rectify this, like "Free Comics Day" (although I think Marvel would do better by giving those free comics away at the movies the weekend "Iron Man 2" opens, but that's just me) or the "Ten Cent Adventures" comics aimed at "new readers" (although again, "new readers" in this case translates to "existing comics fans who don't read this particular book, because we don't promote this nearly enough outside of comics stores.")

Which is, ultimately, the problem. Comics don't get promoted enough outside of comics stores. They have a huge, devoted fanbase who is absolutely passionate about the hobby, they have the kind of brand recognition that just about any other company in the world would kill for (well, the Big Two do, but due to the crazy economics of the comics industry, the Big Two subsidizes the hobby by keeping comics stores solvent, so they're the most relevant economically.) And yet, their promotions never really click.

So here's what we do. We go viral. Once a year, DC and/or Marvel has a "Share the Love" month. Every comic that month a) tells an entirely self-contained story that explains the premise of the book for someone who's never read a comic before, b) contains information on how to find a comic book store, how to subscribe to a comic, and how to find comics (and specifically that company) online, and c) is half-price. And then they ask retailers to stock twice as many copies, and ask fans to buy two copies of that comic and give one to a friend who they think would like it.

Now obviously, it's not actually going to double sales every year. Not everyone will go along with the idea, either at the retail or the fan level, and not everyone who gets a free comic will actually become a regular reader of that title. But it's a promotion that works at the word-of-mouth level, the only place that comics still have any kind of hope in hell of getting through to people; it's a promotion that harnesses the passion and energy of the fans, which is better than any marketing tactic; and it's a promotion that's pretty cheap to do. One half-price book a year isn't a major dent in the company's bottom line, and it's really no cost to the retailer or the consumer at all if they go along. They've already budgeted that money for a comic, and now they get two. One to keep, one to share.

It's pretty modest in scope, but it might have some pretty big results.

(And if you don't like the free comic, you can always eat it. No, wait...)

1 comment:

Unknown said...

It's a good idea, and would probably be beneficial for the Big Twos' respective bottom lines in the long term, but Western comics ( in the direct market model, at least ) tend to require such a commitment that the free or cheap sample would have to be incredibly addictive in order to get a non-comics reader hooked. To break it down, here are the steps a reader would have to take...

1.) To buy the " Share the Love " half-priced comic
2.) To enjoy the " Share the Love " half-priced comic enough to want to buy more
3.) To go into a comic book store, putting aside existing prejudices against the nature of such places, and buy a related comic of that series
4.) To understand what's going on in that comic enough to appreciate the story
5.) To want to come back, either next month to buy that comic, or at an indeterminate point to buy another comic

You might be able to skip some of these steps if they buy a trade paperback in a bookstore, but those are still a big expense ( $15 minimum for the big two, these days ).

Also, keep in mind that Marvel hasn't really figured out how to make a great-- not just enjoyable, but the kind of material that would really hook people with one " hit "-- promotional strip. The best FCBD strip was the New Avengers/Dark Avengers team-up, and there were so many characters and histories there that " jumping in " would be represented as a very daunting task.

Your idea is good, but before distribution advances can really work, I think both of the Big Two need to really investigate why their comics aren't clicking with a contemporary audience.