By far, my favorite thing about advertising is you learn all sorts of new things about a lot of different industries. Monday might be spent working on a print campaign for a major online hockey store, Tuesday might be spent designing a logo for a local drum shop, while Wednesday is spent designing a point of purchase display for a new BBQ sauce.
It's amazing how much you can learn by meeting with new clients and picking their brains about their industries. But a big part of marketing that BBQ sauce includes talking with retailers about what they need to sell the product, it's something that often gets overlooked in the research process.
So with that in mind, I decided to approach a few comic retailers with an open mind to get honest opinions on what works and what doesn't from their point of view on the front line. The answers I got back were filled with useful information and tips, and some even contradicted other answers.
A big thanks to:
3030 Severn Ave. Suite 8
Heroplex Comics and Games
6248 Rufe Snow Drive
North Richland Hills TX
And Books Too
3315 Johnston St
Here's how the Q and A went down:
Q: Of all the popular marketing and promotion techniques used by publishers, which do you consider most successful and which do you consider least successful? And why do some work better than others.
Grazulis: Since you're already on Twitter I don't think I need to tell you how important a tool it can be. The things that work best are full pdf's for retailers or printed ashcans. Postcards work well for us because we'll stuff them in every bag, but posters don't work for us (as well as many stores) due to layout and store design conflict. In the past we have had luck with money back guarantee's. We've done it a couple of times, once with Proof and once with Scalped TP. The guys that did Proof contacted retailers via The Comic Book Industry Alliance and gave us the first 3 issues in pdf. This showed retailers a couple of things 1)they were serious 2)they were not going to be late. Based on my reading of the first 3 issues I offered a money back guarantee on the first issue. For Scalped TP Vol. 1, Jason Aaron made the offer of money back guarantee. If a customer bought the book and returned it, he would cover the cost. Do not under any circumstances do what Tyrese Gibson did on Mayhem. Tyrese thought it best to boost demand for the book by telling all of his followers on Twitter to call their local store and ask for it. This not only created a false demand, but retailers are very connected and it didn't take long for the whole thing to blow up in his face. Also, FCBD and advertising in college newspapers works well to get the word out.
Houk: I can say that we get a ton of emails each day and they from indie creators very rarely get read. What have noticed that worked are cheap first issues. Like Vertigo's Unwritten. Issue 1 was only $1 and that was the easiest sell for us to make. That got readers hooked and now we have a ton of people pulling it each month. I do remember Josh Howard doing a $.25 issue 0 for The Lost Books of Eve. It was pretty clever as it was digest sized. You can always do free ashcan too. I remember reading that IDW sent out like 500 free spiral bound copies of 30 days of Night to help generate interest.
LaJaunie: I find the best way to get to me is give me a copy to read... whether it be an ash-can, a full issue or what ever... If I have it in hand before it hits the shelves, I can sit and check it out... once it hits the shelves, I wont read it till that night, and I miss the chance to plug it to Wednesdays customers, which is when the bulk of buyers come in. Go back even further than that and an interesting Previews add does wonders with me. I've tried countless things based on a really good Previews add...
Q: Although there is a lot of crossover with the methods mentioned above, what strategies do you think publishers should focus and expand on when promoting new projects directly to RETAILERS rather than fans?
Grazulis: PDF's and online community involvement. Too often, creators appear on retailer boards only when they have something coming out. You need to be an active participant in the community of which you are selling to. There is a great talk given by ComicsPro at SDCC that addresses many of these points:
COMICSPRO: Selling More Comics and Graphic Novels: A Forum for Publishers by Joe Field (ComicsPro President and Flying Colours owner), Phil Boyle (Coliseum of Comics chain owner) and Judd D'Angelo (Earth 2 chain co-owner) give instructions to publishers and creators on how to sell more comics.
Houk: Send us goods. posters, flyers, ashcan, art book, or anything along those lines. Most stores have websites that you can advertise on. I would pick up the phone and call some bigger shops and talk to owners/managers. If they are expecting a PDF in the inbox than I am sure it will be read.
LaJaunie: Info info info! Yes, you want your plot to stay under wraps... but Im more likely to plug and suggest a book if I know what its about before hand... Of course, thats a double edge sword because for every person that can plug a book without spoiling it, theres one that will give it all away and potentially blow the sale.
Q: It can be very tricky to get the timing right on promotion efforts, what are some of the common problems you see, and what would you like to see happen more often or less often?
Grazulis: As stated in the above mentioned audio: Do not release your indy book on the last day of the month or quarter. That's when Marvel is known to dump everything to meet numbers. The most common problem is getting great promotional material a week or two before the book comes out. This is way too late. Your promotion starts before and during our order period for the books which is typically 2 months before publication.
Houk: All I can say on this is keep in mind we have to order two months in advance. If you are going through diamond make sure all of your advanced promo is before the two month window. After two months we wait to see how it does when released before doing a reorder.
LaJaunie: Variant covers are the current marketing blah Im seeing... there are so many of them that they get lost in the shuffle. They're no longer special. Seeing an artist I really enjoy doing cover work from something he normally doesnt will usually get me to try something new as well.
Q: What are your thoughts on publishers and/or creators that call or drop by to talk about upcoming projects?
Grazulis: This is great. For those that have active communities it allows us to send a story out with our weekly newsletter. Passion for a project is much easier to present in person. By the way, you should subscribe to any mailing lists for stores that have them. That way you can keep abreast of how and what they are marketing. Our sign up form is on our front page.
Houk: I love it! We encourage it. We often host drink and draws as well as signings at our store. There are three owners and two of us are artists and one is a writer and teaches composition. We all have aspirations to make comics so we help out the indie crowd as much as we can.
LaJaunie: I LOVE it when its done well. Getting calls from Zenescope or some of the smaller indie companies is a sure fire way to get me to up my pre-orders. On the flip side, having someone obnoxious doing this for you will shoot you in the foot (ask the guys doing Mayham for Image...)
Q: Without a popular creator or an established property, what factors weigh most on your buying decision of well made Indy book outside the superhero genre?
Grazulis: It needs to be on time. Nothing will kill your project faster than lateness.I can't tell you how many times I'm being asked to pre-order issue #4 of a book that we still haven't received issue #1. As stated before, seeing interior pages finished with the story helps tremendously.
Houk: Not being a superhero book is generally the first reason we buy it. Mainly it boils down to art. If the art will catch my attention I will order it on a whim. After that it is up to the story to keep my interest.
LaJaunie: The quality of the art and a solicit that really catches my attention.
Q: Any examples of successful promotion efforts that caught your eye and sparked an interest in ordering a particular book you may not have ordered otherwise?
Grazulis: The money back guarantee for Scalped TP Vol. 1. Offering your product as returnable will perk up retailers ears.
Houk: Spamming on the internet really. Viking and Chew were titles that I missed in previews and twitter turned me onto them so we promptly did a reorder. Now I am always browsing indie creators sites, twitters, MySpace, and facebooks to see what they are putting out next.
LaJaunie: If a solicit can make me laugh, Ill order it. If an story overview can get me to google or wiki something, Ill order it.
Q: What are your thoughts on comic size, price, and production quality? And how do size variations like "Mouse Guard" or "Viking" impact your buying decision or ability to display product (if at all)?
Grazulis: I hate these sizes. The problem is that retailers display books differently and when you go out of the norm size we have to display it somewhere other than its intended spot. We have limited counter space and it usually gets shoved somewhere and never ordered again. Certainly Mouse Guard has bucked this trend, but books like Viking and Lucha Libre didn't. For every Mouse Guard I can show you 5 others that didn't work because of their size. Also, we're dealing with a collectible audience and if it doesn't fit in a standard bag and board, they don't want it.
Houk: Those factors don't bother us at all. I would like for the book to fit nicely in a long box as it makes it easier for us to store for the subscriptions.
LaJaunie: some variation is fine... but after a certain point, they tend to be too big for the shelves and like to bend... and most people wont buy a bent book. Also, I hear lost of complaints about not being able to find a bag and board that will fit an odd sized book... a minor complaint, but still one I hear often.
Q: What are your thoughts on digital comic delivery, and the possibility of simultaneous release of print and digital? And on that subject, what are your opinions on how long publishers should wait before soliciting reprints or collected editions of single issues?
Grazulis: The main objection I have is that people do not want to buy what they have already read for free. There are a few instances where a collector will still want it, but for the most part they don't. Retailers have been burned in the past because certain publishers have announce a digital version to be release before or the same day as the print version. Retailers were not told of this when we ordered our non-returnable final orders. We were stuck with books nobody wanted and moves like that instantly kill retailer support. Marvel has decided to do this with Spider-Woman. We've cut orders dramatically for it.
Houk: I think doing promo issues or #0s online is a great idea. Generate the interest but to the point where they still come into the store and shop. We personally don't carry or sell any collected books of web comics. maybe a few here and there but they seem to be ordered off the internet more. As far as reprints, if it sells out, reprint it. I would limit to 3 or 4 reprints. People do still like the collectability of comics. I think Chew is going about it right. If you're doing 5 issues over 5 months, I feel it's ok to solicit the trade to be released in the 6th, maybe 7th month.
LaJaunie: I'm not a fan of digital delivery... I just dont care to read comics on my computer. I'm all for reprints and collected editions as soon as the original product is no longer available. Keep the story in print as long as you can so that even the late readers can still get their hands on them.
Q: What type of promotion and marketing does your store do, and what type of material from publishers would be helpful in that effort?
Grazulis: In the audio file mentioned above there is talk of the High Concept. High Concept's help us sell books. Lines like "Fans of Criminal, The Hunter, and Vertigo Crime should consider this book." are not enough. This week Sweet Tooth was released and the best high concept description is "It's Bambi meets Mad Max." We do a weekly newsletter and a ton of social networking. Bag inserts and store flyers are a good step.
Houk: We kind of wing it on this. Play it by ear you know. If its a book we really like we may give it a spot by the front door or by the register. We do know our customers very well and if it something they may like it goes right in their pull. They buy it about 95% of the time. Like I said, we have always been indie friendly and most of our customers pick up a great amount of indie stuff.
LaJaunie: we have a HUGE store-front, so posters are always something I jump at the chance to put up. Something big and iconic... something that someone sees from the street and wants to turn around and look into.
A big thanks to Jason Grazulis, Matt Houk, and Jeffery LaJaunie for taking the time to help with these questions.