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What more can we do to help retailers sell our comics?

edited March 2014 in The Toolbox
The conversation about Eric Stephenson's ComicsPRO address has got me thinking about that. But then, I think about it a lot.

I'm going to throw a couple ideas out to get the ball rolling. I'd like to hear your thoughts — both on the things I'm bringing up, and about the topic overall. What can we as creators do to get more people into shops, and to encourage the people already in the shops to pick up our work?

Market your books to people who don't read comics. A number of us do this already (@RussellLissau): We go to horror conventions or anime shows or similar, and hand-sell our work to people who don't already read comics. For a lot of those people, that's where it ends. But some of them are inevitably going to read our comics, like them — and go into a store looking for more.

Ad campaign for pre-ordering? I'd love to see some kind of awareness campaign in comics for the importance of pre-ordering. Pre-ordering is so important for the life of our work... but such a small percentage of fans seem to do it. Personally, I feel like a lot of that has to do with a lack of awareness on the customers' parts.

Maybe we need a website (preorder-your-comics.com?) explaining how to preorder and how it helps YOU the customer out (which is really how I think we need to think of this: How does preordering add value to a comics reader's life?)? Maybe a nice ad (full page and half-page options) with a CC license, saying "Independent comics wants YOU to preorder your comics!" and explaining how to do it and how it helps you? And a matching poster/flyer that stores can post in their shops? (I think any ad or poster, to work especially well, is going to need to be really well-designed. Eye-catching and memorable.)

In-Store Street Teams? The accepted wisdom is that street teams don't work for comics the way they do in music and in marketing other products. I don't know how true that is. But recently I've been thinking about starting a specific street team: One composed exclusively of comic and book store employees. Lots of comic store employees like my work, and hand-sell it — I talked to four or five comic store people at Wizard World New Orleans alone. So I'd like to encourage that, and reward people at comic stores who make an effort to support my work.

What form would that take? Probably an email list to keep them aware of when my new books are coming out, maybe some talking points and "for fans of [similar titles]' comparisons, plus maybe exclusive posters/prints for the stores, bookmarks/post cards/business cards they can put out, and maybe something like an individually-signed postcard from me that they can put in the box of people who subscribe to my work, thanking them from me (and maybe giving them an exclusive free comic PDF or something?). That's off the top of my head. There'd need to be cool swag or free comics or something for the people on the street team, too.

Anyway. What do people think?

Comments

  • edited March 2014
    Models of profitable and popular stores are out there: Comix Revolution in Evanston and Mt. Prospect, Challengers in Chicago, and the best of them all, Isotope in SF. Retailers can follow the models that succeed and improve on them... or die. I know that's cold, but that's capitalism. The Android's Dungeon shouldn't be the future. Challengers and Isotope should be.

    I help the stores where I shop by recommending books to fans, doing signings and referring people to the stores when I'm asked "What's a good comic book shop in the Chicago area?"

    On the other hand... Most of the things Brandon mentions above don't help the retailer, but the book producer (whether it's creator owned or publisher owned). And all are good ideas.
  • Point! Changed the title of the thread to reflect what it actually ended up being about.
  • A web site offering a collective e-mail to retailers who *want* to be marketed to could be useful.

    On the other hand, they are likely to be flooded with e-mails from every rookie trying to break in but so not ready that it would clog the system. It could be worse than the slush piles publishers face.

    Damn, another fine idea shot down.
  • Not if the website is run by someone who vets who can access it.
  • edited March 2014
    HERE IS THE NUMBER ONE THING YOU CAN DO TO HELP INCREASE YOUR BOOK SALES AT BRICKS AND MORTAR STORES.... And I stole it from @SteveHorton.

    At every single comics convention I do, as the show is winding down I take a stack of my unsold books to the vendor booths. I ask for the manager, I introduce myself and I offer to sell them some signed  books at cost for their stores. They always say yes. At Appleseed last year, a store owner was thrilled to meet one of the Strawberry Shortcake writers (me), because the book killed at his store. I give them a business card and a good handshake whether they buy books or not.

    It lets them know that I, the creator, appreciate their existence. It builds rapport. It builds sales.

    ALSO: I visit comic book stores when I'm traveling. I introduce myself to the manager/owner. I drop off business cards. Again, it builds rapport/sales.

    Basic sales and marketing techniques, and they've worked for ages.


    Oh, one more thing: At my LCS, I tell them my books are coming out
    and ask them to order heavy. I do signings and promotions. And I tell
    them that I'll buy whatever they can't sell at their cost. They won't
    lose a dime on me, and they make money hand over fist.
  • And I stole the idea from Scott Sava!
  • Quick note:

    The pre-order campaign is something that needs to be addressed because of the structure of the Direct Market.  It's all well and good to sell and deal with books that are already printed, but *just* to get it in print means it has to be ordered.  That's the magic bullet in our industry.  Those damn initial orders.

    Building good will with retailers after the convention is great, but the pre-orders are still done by the customer -- if the store isn't going to make a bet on our books in the first place.  In fact, when retailers see customers pre-ordering books it makes them order more.

    So for me... that's the tough nut to crack.  This industry leans on customer support to help fulfill orders which in turn creates the product.  When you think about it is pretty unusual compared to most industries.
  • As I am ramping up to promoting Spread (out in July) this is all on my mind and the pre order thing is right up there. We did preorder sheets for both series of Strode, and while I have no idea if they actually WORKED but I'm definitely doing it again.
  • @JustinJordan - how do you do your pre-order sheets?
  • edited March 2014
    Oh, that's another thing I want to do—

    A retailer friend of mine told me that he didn't get a single person turning in a preorder sheet for high profile books like the Warren Ellis titles at Avatar — and that was Warren Ellis.

    So what I'm planning to do on future books is: Print postcards/bookmarks where one side is an ad for the book, and the other side is a preorder card you can fill out. Give the postcards away at cons, and maybe print up a huge stack of them (5,000 standards sized postcards are $135 through GotPrint) and send them to friendly retailers to have in the store. My hope is that if you're actually giving the person the preorder form, they'll actually turn it in — especially if they see one while they're in a comics store. And even if they don't... it still works as an ad for the comic the way any other post card would.

    (Ideally I'd do this with shops that have a member of my Store Employee Street Team working in them. So I could have someone report back and let me know roughly how many people used the preorder cards, or if nobody bothered at all.)
  • @JimmieRobinson What do you think about the idea of having a full/half-page ad in the back of one's books, as a PSA about the importance of preordering? Do you think part of the problem is that comics readers don't understand how preordering helps the comics they like actually exist? Or do you think readers are aware of the ins and outs of preordering, but still don't bother with it?
  • Basically, re: preorders — I think the existing things creators are doing to get readers to preorder (preorder sheets, asking people on social networks to do it prior to FOC) aren't working, or at least aren't working well enough. And I think we need to go above and beyond the usual stuff to get preorders, or we're just wasting our time.
  • The not enough might be true - I don't think wasting our time is. I suspect anything that keeps people thinking about it and gives them repeated contact with the property is worthwhile, so long as the time and money invested aren't huge.

    Marketing isn't just any one thing, it's a lot of things that bounce off each other.
  • @BrandonSeifert - I think readers are aware but just not ordering... or hoping others will order for them, or hoping the store will order extras beyond the pull lists.

    People still love to *discover* new titles on the shelf while browsing.  I think that mentality (nothing wrong with it) is part of the culture.

    I really like your idea of post cards and street teams.

    I wish there was also a way to discount a percentage of the book to those who pre-order, or some type of *ordering incentive*.  Thus, the customer who pre-orders is getting some benefit over those who merely hope to find the book later.  I can't tell you how many times I've read, "I went to buy your book but it was sold out".

    Folks think it's doing well because it sold out at their store, when the reality is the store never ordered enough in the first place.
  • @Jimmie_Robinson See, when I was a reader, I knew I could pre-order comics. But I didn't know what purpose that would serve, beyond meaning I didn't have to hunt for the titles I was already getting. I didn't get a pullbox until after I became a professional and found out what it would entail. I imagine lots of readers are like I was — or have thought about getting a pullbox but have never bothered — or flat out don't know that pullboxes are even an option. (I don't think I've ever been in a store that had signs up about their pullbox service! So the only way to find out about pullboxes would be if an employee tells you about them.)

    Signs are another thing I'd love to see. Even for those people who know about pullboxes and don't have one, I think seeing repeated reminders about the importance of pre-ordering helps get them to actually preorder.

    "I wish there was also a way to discount a percentage of the book to those who pre-order, or some type of *ordering incentive*."

    Lots of stores do that on their end. (Including my LCS... and I STILL didn't open a pullbox until after I became a creator!) But yeah, it'd be nice if there was a discount on our end.

    There *is* an option on our end, though: "Pullbox variant" covers. Valiant pioneered them, and now almost every IDW title has them too. I don't know that anything is stopping an Image title from doing them.

    "People still love to *discover* new titles on the shelf while browsing.  I think that mentality (nothing wrong with it) is part of the culture."

    Sure — but that's got nothing to do with pullboxes. Pullboxes are for the titles you know you want. Browsing's part of how you find new titles. Watching people with pullboxes, they either get their pullbox for the week and then go check out the wall of new comics, or they check out the wall of new comics and *then* get their box.
  • I do wonder about contacting shops and seeing if they want me to send them a fancy preorder sheet. Like a good sized thing with names and such on it they could display and have people sign up. So integrate some social proof and stuff. Send that to select retailers with maybe a sample comic to go with it.

    Dunno.

    Likewise, I like the postcard idea.
  • Hmm. That's a good idea! Makes me wish I had a creator-owned book coming out right now, so I could try it out in the comic stores here in town! (Having a half-dozen great local retailers who I have personal connections with makes stuff like that extremely helpful.)
  • Oh, another thing I'd recommend: If you have a good relationship with a retailer (doesn't even have to be one you shop at), you might ask them if you can pick their brain about what you can do better when working with retailers. I did that with a friend who owns a comic store in Portland. Just hung out in his store for an hour on a slow day, taking notes about what he told me. He gave me a bunch of great advice (including: Start an email list for retailers, and send them occasional/rare emails informing them of FOC on your books, incentive covers, and stuff like that). I've pretty uniformly failed to take it so far... but it was good advice!
  • I actually do that every time we have a signing. The email list thing was brought up, but it's really been the only actionable thing.

    (And I am working on developing said list)

    Another thing I'm going to roll out is giving some tips on HOW to sell my book - an elevator pitch, who I think fans would be (as in, if they read X show them Spread) - although I won't probably couch it as such.
  • That's exactly the sort of stuff I was thinking about telling my theoretical comic employee street team. Talking points about new series and such.
  • How about a preorder incentive? Preorder at any of your local shops and get a cool poster or other item that you can't get anywhere else.
  • @SteveHorton - Yeah, I was thinking along those same lines.

    However...

    While that might be good in a small & limited fashion it might not be enough in the grand scheme of things.  A bump of say... 500 or so pre-orders would be nice, but (for me) that wouldn't make the difference in being cancelled or not.  I would need thousands of pre-orders, which would make a logistical mess and a small fortune in shipping to give out all those incentives.

    I'm not shooting down the idea... I just want it to have more impact.  Granted, starting small can also help for future growth.  Everything has the possibility of snowballing.  I dunno.
  • "A bump of say... 500 or so pre-orders would be nice, but (for me)
    that wouldn't make the difference in being cancelled or not.  I would
    need thousands of pre-orders, which would make a logistical mess and a
    small fortune in shipping to give out all those incentives."

    This is sort of fuzzy, because pre orders have an effect beyond just the number of issues preordered - the retailer becomes more aware of the book and may choose to order more (or any), if a store gets, say four preorders that may think it's a hot book and order more, people who fill out preorders might be more likely to tell their friends, and so on.

    But how much these things happen is debatable and would be difficult to quantify.
  • @JustinJordan - oh, for sure.  Like I said, I know how everything has the possibility of snowballing. And retailer awareness is part of that.
  • Once upon a time I noticed that my retailer was ordering a shelf copy of (pretty much) everything I ordered, and I made a point of getting my order in a week early to help him factor my "endorsement" into his purchasing choices.  I haven't noticed that lately, however ... probably a combo of my ordering habits changing and the shop becoming more "conservative" in what they buy for the shelves.
  • Now I don't know how this would work logistically, but what if preordered books have MORE content then "shelfbooks". Digital of print. 

    That might be an incentive
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