This is the second month of my independent publishing professional round table posts, and I’ve decided to pose a question to my panel of experts that has plagued the industry for years.
In my opinion, the two major issues in the comic industry are marketing and distribution I’ve been focusing on the fundamentals of comic book marketing all summer (See How Many People Want to Read Your Comic?) so I posed the following question as part of that analysis:
What do you think independent comic book creators and publishers need to do to attract more new people into becoming comic book readers?
Except for emphasis in limited areas, I kept the editing to a minimum. Each expert’s opinion is their own.
Thanks to all who participated.
Steven Colle, Founder at Editor’s Eye View
To begin, this is a tricky question because it addresses, in its wording, both attracting “people into becoming comic book readers” and the more global – yet more focused – “new people”.
To use a retail comparison:
It is easier to sell to the patrons who are already in the store. They are the ones with the interest to walk in.
In the case of selling comics and graphic novels, the “new people” to concentrate on aren’t those who don’t read comics, but rather those who do and haven’t read your comics.
There has been such a focus and – in all honesty – a misdirected struggle to attract an audience from outside of the medium instead of targeting those currently appealed to - and invested in - the comic form. In essence, focusing on the non-comic reader or non-collector is like turning a light on hoping it will be seen by those looking away from it.
The more direct question needs to be “What do independent comic creators and publishers need to do to attract – and sell – to new readers of their specific product?”
I’m going to concentrate my response to the physical presence of your product for customer consideration:
The first thing to realize is that everything in the retail world is competition for the almighty dollar. If you are selling your product at a convention, you aren’t just fighting for sales against other comic publishers; you’re also in competition with everything else that isn’t comics – including refreshments. The size of the show affects how much competition you’ll have.
Likewise, if your comic is on the shelf in a comic shop (if you’re one of the lucky ones), you are fighting for those very dollars against everything in the store. This includes new comics, last week’s comics, older back issues, OGN’s and collected volumes, and any merchandise that may also be attracting the attention of a potential consumer.
In truth – whether convention or comic shop - some customers enter with direct intent and head straight to what they want, bypassing anything else with their one-track minds. Other times it is the “Squirrel!” in the room that diverts their attention away from your book. Still other factors involve their usual buying habits versus chances they take on new product, the appeal of your cover and logo on the stand – or on the table - in comparison to others in attracting attention, and much more.
And finally, it is the cold hard fact that comics are expensive and options need to be weighed of what will be picked up, paid for, and carried out the door.
The first thing to understand is that your target financial demographic isn’t those who can afford to buy stacks of comics. In today’s global economy, they are the exception, not the rule. Those who can afford them will spend $50 to well over $100 per month – and sometimes per week – on comics new and old. These are also the same people who haven’t read their comics for months, so they don’t have the investment to your product any more than they do to other publishers. I’ve been in this position.
As a matter of fact, it’s those who can’t afford them and yet passionately select from the pack who are the ones to consider. These are the readers who can’t wait to open the pages. Buying the book is their gift to themselves, their long-awaited release from the world around them. It means something to them.
However, to most, comics are an expense that needs to be worth it to them personally – often involving a combination of physical, intellectual, emotional, and financial investment - and even though what makes a book “worth it” is very personal, more often than not, your audience is a reflection of you and those you recognize around yourself who represent those readers personally. Your market, ultimately, are part of you and your circle.
In understanding the people directly around you, you’ll discover how to best reach your market.
(… and if you live in a vacuum, you will have a much harder time understanding those potential readers, their needs, and their limitations.)
Now, let’s concentrate on conventions and trade shows.
Think about how many times you have said the following and then consider how many times you have heard the same as a creator/publisher:
“I’ll be back. I’m just going to look around first.”
This is the death knell of the comic sale.
What this means isn’t necessarily that your product isn’t any good, but rather that you have not sold them on it when you had the chance and therefore, with their limited funds waiting for just the right thing - which may or may not appear before the end of hours upon hours of walking around - the likelihood of getting them back to your table is slim to none.
The more time and distance that takes them away from their memory of you and your product drives them further away from returning to buy it.
Also, because of everything that lies ahead of them as potential replacements for the sale you missed, that money is more likely to be spent on something else, instead of returning home with them. To the point, attendees come to trade shows with the intent to spend, sometimes more than what they actually have on them. You need to reel them in and clinch the sale while you have their attention.
But what if you don’t have, and never had, their attention?
Then ask yourself the serious question: Why?
This is where studying event marketing in preparing for your trade show opportunities is a must. Without this key element in your business arsenal, your presence and success at selling your product – as well as your company and yourself – will be limited or stagnant.
(NOTE: I teach “The 12 P's of Event Marketing” to vendors of various trade show models, which include discussions on: Product, Place, Presentation, Personality, Pitch, Practice, People, Price, Payment options, Promotion, Perspective, and Perseverance. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for details.)
To wrap things up:
Concentrate on an existing, yet untapped, readership instead of seeking an audience with no experience as comic readers;
Realize that everything is competition for the almighty dollar, especially in convention and comic shop scenarios;
Note that those with less to invest are the most likely to be dedicated to your product, and
Study various sources on the topic of event marketing to strengthen your presence at trade shows.
David Gallaher, Author of THE ONLY LIVING GIRL
Location. Location. Location. As creators, we have the opportunity to go where readers are hungry — libraries, schools, book stores, book festivals. Comic conventions are great, but they are for casual and converted fans... we have a responsibility and obligation to put comics everywhere from newspapers to web platforms and broadcast the content everywhere. Teaching comic literacy is crucial to building tomorrow’s readers today.
The challenge, as I see it, is twofold. First, they need to get their books noticed in a vast sea of sea of comics that are dominated, frankly, by the leviathans of the industry - Marvel and DC, and to a slightly lesser degree, Image. Second (assuming that they've managed to enter the market and are getting their books into the hands of readers), they now need to retina the readers, and keep them coming back for more. This, in my opinion, is the most difficult part.
Now, how do they do it? How can a small publisher, or an independent creator, get retailers to buy their books, and get readers to be interested in them? It really comes down to marketing, and how much (and how well) you can do. Interviews or pieces on industry websites, print ads in Previews, having a presence at conventions - these are just some of the ways to get the word out there. These days, social media can be an extraordinarily effective tool, if used properly. I don't think it's ever been easier to promote your own work than it is now. Merely having a website, or posting on Twitter or Facebook automatically gives you strong advantage. Sometimes it might be worth it to do things outside the box, and promote your book via unconventional methods. Maybe create clothing, or other small products with characters from your titles on it. Or a special homemade brew. Anything to differentiate yourself from the rest of the pack, and get people interested enough to buy your product (or at the very least, interested enough to learn more about it). Whatever you wind up doing to get more people to read your book(s), just remember that this is the easy part. The real work is in getting them to come back for more.
How you hook a reader, and make them want to read the next issue? The ideal answer is to make the comic so good - so interesting, entertaining, through-provoking, FUN - that not only will readers feel like they have no choice but to keep reading, but that they will actively WANT more. (This is also the answer that I feel most strongly about.) I truly believe that if the story is good, and that you're getting your money's worth of entertainment, then the books will sell themselves. This is something that I would like to see more of in today's industry. And it is MUCH easier said than done.
Dirk Vanover, Attorney at Comicslawyer.com
The simple answer is to publish interesting comic books, and get them into readers’ hands. All it takes is one intriguing comic book to make a reader appreciate the medium.
The hard part is getting those books into the hands of those who don’t typically read comics. While comic book shops and comic conventions are great, don’t shy away from other distribution outlets or models, be it libraries, book stores, digital, online, or any other place you might reach readers. Taking risks on non-traditional outlets for comic books could pay huge dividends.
Zomburai!, independent artist and writer
I think the question of how to attract people into becoming comics readers is flawed at its premise: it puts the cart before the horse in a way that might not be obvious to someone already entrenched in the comics community.
We as a community, both professional and reader, are often very focused on getting people into comics as a hobby. This, I believe, is backwards. Comics culture and the comics community largely grew organically from the books themselves--even the direct market was a viable option because of an already passionate fanbase. I would wager that everyone reading this joined the comics community because they fell in love with the books themselves, not the other way around.
I would argue that the question needs to be laser-focused: How do I get people to read my comic?
That tight-knit subculture we love so much? It's an impediment. People see the Big Bang Theory or unflattering, mean-spirited pictures of unflattering cosplayers and they recoil. We cannot sell the hobby. We cannot go in looking to create comics readers. If we sell our specific stories to people who might enjoy them--then we have a created a comics reader. Maybe only that one comic to start with, but now there's someone who's in love with one comic, and now has a frame of reference to maybe buy more comics.
I believe that, for the indie creator or publisher, this involves two things: getting sales among groups that do not read comics, and selling them on the comic itself. (Selling merch and the brand and all that is probably necessary, but won't create a new comics reader.) Creators with swords-and-sorcery fantasy comics should be taking their books in front of D&D communities and selling them at gaming stores. Creators with hard sci-fi stories should be shopping them around to science groups. If someone's got a book about firefighters, they need to research the hell out of that and then start passing it around to firefighters.
It's a big, complicated issue, but we need to understand that a book's visibility to the general public inside of a comic store or behind a Comixology account is zero.
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