This is a modified excerpt from a book I’m working on called Independent Comic Book Publishing. It’s the first 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 a competitive environment. As always, I welcome your comments and insight.
What is Marketing?
Marketing is the business process of creating satisfying relationships with customers. As an independent publisher, you need to spend time finding, connecting, and building bonds with the people who are most likely to be interested in your project. Marketing isn’t magic, and it doesn’t need to be deceptive or sleazy. It does need to tap into collective aspects of human consumption if your book is going to reach the right people.
In the late 1980’s there was a sports fantasy drama called Field of Dreams. The tagline for the movie was “If you build it, they will come.” This phrase outlasted the popularity of the film and became synonymous with the idea that a great product or service creates its own buzz and audience with little or no effort on the part of the creator. In my experience, a lot of comic book marketing uses the Field of Dreams model. Unfortunately, it is my contention that much of the decline in comic book sales over the past forty years can be blamed on this passive and insular approach.
A more proactive and effective method of customer interaction comes not from business, but from interpersonal relationships. In the best-selling book The Art of Seduction, Robert Greene describes a system that can be boiled down into five parts:
1. Find the right people to connect with
2. Understand what they are looking for
3. Get their attention
4. Offer what they want
5. Provide what they want in exchange for what you want
This process isn’t limited to finding a date or winning an election. It can be used to guide your efforts in finding the right market for your project. Consider the experience of finding out about any action movie released in 2019.
Because I’m in New York, I’m going to see stuff about any particular movie on taxis, buses, and billboards when I’m out in the street.
If I look at my phone, it will pop up on social media multiple times per hour.
If I look at YouTube, there will be teasers, trailers, interviews, behind the scenes stuff, and speculation.
There will be talk show interviews and commercials, magazine spreads and cross promotion with various types of merchandise.
By the time the movie actually comes out, it’s almost impossible to not know what the movie is about, why you want to see it, and where to get tickets. Based on some estimates, the cost to market a feature film can be anywhere from 5-20% of the production budget. The film industry creates excitement designed to put people in seats.
When was the last time that you heard that kind of buzz generated for any comic ever?
How much effort does marketing require?
I’m not trying to suggest that you need to buy a billboard in Times Square or get interviewed on the Tonight Show as part of your marketing campaign. I am not asking you to spend twenty percent of your financial investment on marketing. I am suggesting that you spend between 5-20% of your time and effort to find the right audience for your project. There are too just too many comics released every month for you to publish and pray that people buy your book.
According to Jim Gibbons, editor for Dark Horse and other publishers, there are more than 400 comics released each month or about 100 per week. Assuming you only rely on comic book shop customers to buy your book (which is a mistake), and all number one issues are treated equally (and they’re not) then you only have about a 1% chance for any random customer to buy your book from any given shop, unless you create a market for your book before it’s released. When you factor in variables like well-known publishers, famous characters, media tie-ins, and Diamond purchasing incentives, a more realistic chance of a random sale for your book is less than one percentage point.
If you don’t market your book, there is a very good chance no one will read it. If you build it, they will come, but part of what you build has to be a positive relationship with the right audience for your book.
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