This is a modified excerpt from a book I’m working on called The Business of Independent Comic Book Publishing. It’s the fourth installment of my seven part series on independent comic book marketing. My plan is to start from the basic idea of marketing and explore the goals and challenges of marketing in the competitive environment of comics. This week, we look beyond your book to see who you are up against.
Your idea is unique and original, but it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. There are probably similar elements in other stories that appeal to your ideal reader no matter what your story is about. Understanding what’s already out there can provide valuable information in both creating relationships with your readers and producing a better book.
Competition is the effort of two or more parties acting independently to secure the business interests of a third party. For an independent comic book publisher, competition is defined as all media that can appeal to the ideal reader profile. Because readers do not have unlimited time or money, they have to make choices about what narratives they consume. For our purposes, we are going to consider competition beyond just comics, since your ideal reader can choose from books, comics, movies, television, the theater and video games to get the stories that interest them. Expanding your concept of competition offers more information about the world your ideal reader lives in.
How Do You Find Your Competition?
Because your story isn’t targeting everyone (See Who Isn’t in Your Target Market?), you’re not in direct competition with every comic book and movie ever created. The good news is you only have to compete with the media designed to appeal to your ideal readers.
If you created a high concept, then there is a good chance the existing media you used could be part of your competition. If you created an ideal reader profile (See Who Is Your Ideal Reader?), then you already have a handle on the other media influences that helped shape your idea. There is a good chance that some of those stories will be your future competitors too. For a more comprehensive look at potential competition, there are several painless research options available both inside and outside of comics.
For the sake of this exercise, we’ll need some keywords. Let’s imagine that you have a story called Blood Bond about an organized crime family who happen to be a group of vampires. The key genres are vampire horror and organized crime. For our search, we’ll keep it simple and just use “vampire crime” and look at the following search options.
Amazon is one of the largest e-commerce retailers on the planet. In addition to owning Comixology and hundreds of other companies, it is also the most used search engine for product search, even bigger than Google. A search for “vampire crime” here reveals not only graphic novels, but long running book series from both J.R. Rain and Laurell K. Hamilton, games like Vampire Bloodlines, and Vampyr, as well as several TV series including NOS4R2, True Blood, and Vampire Prosecutor
Comichron is a resource for comic book research. It tracks monthly and annual sales for both comic books and graphic novels since 1991. It also has a Google custom search engine. If you type in “vampire crime”, you’ll get dozens of hits. The titles that will stand out as the most relevant will probably be American Vampire, Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, Bite Club, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Comixology is a digital comic book distributor owned by Amazon. It sells individual comics, graphic novels and subscription services. It also has a genre page as part of its browsing features. If you use the “Browse” drop down menu, you’ll see a selection for “genre”. Both crime and vampires have their own selections. Searching through them will reveal new possible competitors including Angel, Blade, Spike, and Vamps.
The Comics Database is a user generated database attempting to catalog every comic, graphic novel, manga, creator, and character ever created. It also has a search function. A search for “vampire crime” reveals not only specific titles that might be in competition with your book, including Fray and The Vault of Horror, it also lists specific characters who match those keywords including Bloodscream and Nico Minoru. This can be helpful to ensure that your characters and concepts don’t inadvertently infringe on pre-existing copyrights.
Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that was launched in 2001. It maintains a category of comics by genre, which includes one hundred and eighty four crime titles and sixty vampire titles. Not only can these pages be useful to find new competitors, they can provide details descriptions of characters and plotlines for competitors you’ve already found.
How Do You Compare to Your Competition?
All competition is not created equal. While your story idea might share genre characteristics with the competitors you found, there will be points of difference you can use to appeal to your ideal reader. A comparative analysis of both the ideal reader profile and SWOT will reveal the whitespace your book can fill for the target market.
To conduct an ideal reader profile comparison, look at the demographic, psychographic, genre and generational aspects of each competitor in relation to your story. Consider the following questions:
What demographic aspects of your story are similar to each competitor?
Which ones are different?
What psychographic values does your book share with the competitor?
In what ways do they deviate?
How much sub-genre overlap exists?
How many unique sub-genres does your book have?
What generation does the competitor speak to?
What message does it support?
What generation does your book speak to?
How is the message different?
If the profile of your competitors and your book are identical, it might be time to consider altering aspects of your story to give it a fresh perspective. I’m not advocating changing essential elements of a story just for the sake of change, especially if you love the story. I’m pointing out that it will be hard to compete with an established competitor if you are both fighting for the same readers with a similar story, but they’re already in the market.
SWOT is an acronym that stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. It is a framework for evaluating the competitive position of a company, product or service. While SWOT can be used for various aspects of your business, in this context you want to compare your book to the competition in terms of appeal to your ideal reader. Your SWOT analysis can help you adjust your marketing based on your conclusions.
Taking Blood Bond as an example, a possible strength could be that my story has more generational relevance than the competitors, or maybe my specific genre mix is under represented in the market. Possible weaknesses could be similar plot points, characters or settings that prevent my story from standing out, or a lack of unique world building. My opportunities could come from the fact that the last new competitor was published several years ago, creating whitespace that needs to be filled. My weaknesses could come from the announcement of a new book in the same space.
Understanding your competition gives you the context to connect with your target market. You can use what’s already in the market to help you connect with the right people and you can differentiate yourself from the competition before your book is created because you know what they offer. You can also wrap your head around just how big the target market is and what steps you can take to make it bigger.
We’ll look at increasing your target market next week.
Have fun with your comic.
If you have questions about the business or legal aspects of your comic book publishing and you'd like a free consultation, please contact me and we can set something up that fits in with your schedule.
PLEASE NOTE: THIS BLOG POST IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR LEGAL ADVICE. IF YOU HAVE AN ISSUE WITH YOUR COMIC PROPERTY, DISCUSS IT WITH A QUALIFIED CONTRACT ATTORNEY OR CONTACT C3 FOR A FREE CONSULTATION