Tuesday, April 24, 2007

FCBD 2007 Breakdown: The Rest of the Story

Not exactly on schedule, but now for the rest of our FCBD ordering breakdown (for those who missed it, Part One):

Comics Festival - (3.4% of dollars spent; 2.9% of total copies bought):
As Mr. Butcher was kind enough to point out in the comments section of our last post, this is a very cool book. Essentially an anthology of short pieces from a variety of creators including personal favorites Darwyn Cooke, Bryan Lee O'Malley, Hope Larson, Cameron Stewart, Chip Zdarsky and many, many more. We ordered high on this because it's something that we'll give away all year in an effort to broaden horizons and expose readers to a huge variety of very talented creators.

Transformers: The Movie Prequel - (3.4% of dollars spent; 3.8% of total copies bought):
We do well with Transformers comics in general and specifically with the younger set which is a major target demo in this effort. This book specifically promotes the just concluding miniseries and soon to be trade in time to cash in on some movie hype.

Umbrella Academy, Zero Killer, Pantheon City - (3.4% of dollars spent; 3.8% of total copies bought):
This one is a bit of a shot in the dark since I know very little about any of these, but Dark Horse usually puts out an interesting product. Looking back, this is probably a bit high but I may have been seduced by the Gerard Way/My Chemical Romance connection.

Marvel Adventures Three-in-One - (3.25% of dollars spent; 3.8% of total copies bought):
The Marvel Adventures do well with kids and while it may have been smarter just to reprint the first Avengers, this will do.

Lynda Barry Sampler - (2.9% of dollars spent; 2.6% of total copies bought):
I'm not particularly familiar with Barry's work, but what I have seen looks interesting and I suspect we'll be able to use this in much the same way as we did the Mr. Jean sampler last year.

Amelia Rules Hangin Out - (2.9% of dollars spent; 2.3% of total copies bought):
I'm becoming a bigger and bigger Amelia Rules fan the more I read of it, especially as something that appeals to the girls that come in and complain that everything here is for boys (far from true, but I'm not going to argue that most of the comics industry is geared to boys).

Astounding Wolf-man #1 - (2.75% of dollars spent; 4.1% of total copies bought):
This was one of only two titles that I adjusted down based on price and that's because it was offered at just $.16 per piece and I suspect I'll have quite a few left over. Launching a new title with new characters on FCBD is probably not the greatest idea, but I'm willing to give Kirkman the benefit of the doubt, particularly since this title looks very entertaining (plus the latter half is a Brit story that may entice new readers to pick up a trade). Unfortunately, this is the type of book that likely appeals to those familiar with Kirkman rather than those new to comics.

Legion of Super-Heroes in the 31st Century #1 - (2.75% of dollars spent; 4.1% of total copies bought):
This was the other title that I adjusted down based on price. We're going to be giving these away long after FCBD and they probably won't do much beyond advertise the cartoon but another all ages book with familiar characters doesn't hurt.

TokyoPop Choose Your Weapon - (2.6% of dollars spent; 2.8% of total copies bought):
I'm not sure about the titles TokyoPop is spotlighting here going all out with the action and the new titles but it's manga and the kids are gonna scoop it up -- and hopefully remember us when they're looking for the next volume of Bleach.

Family Guy/Hack Slash Flip Book - (2.4% of dollars spent; 2.9% of total copies bought):
Now here's a misfire. Like it or not, Family Guy appeals to a wide range of readers including some surprisingly young kids. Coupling a popular title with a less popular one, ala Battlestar Galactica and Lone Ranger seems like a good idea at first (especially when the Family Guy stuff alone can help us sell more Family Guy books) but when the less popular property is even less appropriate (and more importantly less familiar to their parents) it's an opportunity wasted.

Wahoo Morris #1 - (2% of dollars spent; 2.3% of total copies bought):
I've mentioned this one before and this order is partially an effort to support a self publisher willing to take the risk of putting out a FCBD book to promote a title that we already stock.

I've left out a few titles that I didn't have anything to say about and there are another six or seven titles that we placed a token order of 15-20 copies for since I don't expect much demand for them nor to be able to use them to sell other books (i.e. Arcana Studios Presents & Buzzboy).

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Free Comic Book Day 2007: It's Time For a Breakdown

I promised awhile back that I would break down our order for Free Comics Book Day this year and so, here we go. I'm talking only in percentages here, although the breakdown will include percentage of money spent versus percentage of total copies ordered (that will make more sense as we go). First, let me say that it's only so much hyperbole to say that we had a metric ton of leftover FCBD comics from last year. We distributed many of those around town but we still have enough of the X-Men/Runaways book to wallpaper the store. That said, we spent slightly more on this year's offerings, although when considering that there are ten more books being offered this year, proportionally we cut back a tiny bit.

And now, on the with show.

Amazing Spider-Man Swing Shift - (5% of dollars spent; 6.2% of total copies bought):
Considering FCBD is May 5th and Spider-man 3 comes out on May 4th, I suspect that there will be more demand for this title than any other. Unfortunately, it appears to be one of the least useful FCBD books available since it advertises neither a trade paperback nor even an ongoing story to immediately point to if a new customer likes it. At best I can point to other Spider-man titles and the work of Dan Slott and Phil Jimenez. Even so, Spider-man is a character that people recognize and that we can stick into just about anyone's hand year round and they'll probably at least take a look.

Unseen Peanuts - (4.75% of dollars spent; 3.8% of total copies bought):
This book was one of the rare instances in which I upped the percentage of money being spent because of a fairly high cost to retailers of $.31 per copy. This book, however, has tremendous selling potential since it offers a sample of what is included in each volume of the Complete Peanuts while highlighting that fact that many of these strips have never been collected in any other volume. Based on the promotional value of this book, I upped the amount we spent on it, and even so we'll still have 2/3 as many copies of this as we will of Spider-man.

Justice League of America #0 - (4% of dollars spent; 4.7% of total copies bought):
While I wasn't a huge fan of this particular issue, it does act as an introduction of sorts to the Justice League and I can pretty safely point anyone who likes it towards Meltzer's run on JLA.

Train Was Bang on Time - (4% of dollars spent; 4.7% of total copies bought):
Anything I can do to get people to read more Eddie Campbell and First Second is high on my priority list. The one drawback here is that we may not have the Black Diamond Detective Agency book that it's promoting on FCBD, but we will shortly thereafter and we'll be using this one year round.

Whiteout #1 - (3.8% of dollars spent; 3.2% of total copies bought):
After the success we had with using the first issue of Fables to turn readers onto the trades, this one is a no brainer (especially if the movie's development picks up steam).

Bongo's Free For All - (3.7% of dollars spent; 4.28% of total copies bought):
Everyone loves the Simpsons. And there's plenty more where that came from.

Lone Ranger/New Battlestar Galactica Flip Book - (3.5% of dollars spent; 3.6% of total copies bought):
This one is a bit tricky, but it is a chance to promote to readers who enjoy Sci-Fi's BSG show and to promote a Lone Ranger series that has been pretty solid thus far.

Owly & Korgi - (3.5% of dollars spent; 2.25% of total copies bought):
Expensive but worth it. The little kids who got dragged in last year with their parents and older siblings really liked Owly and it's a series that I hand sell pretty well so anything that helps promote it is helpful.


Coming Soon: Part 2

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Singling Out Books With Crossover Potential

The last two months have seen the release of a rash of what I like to call crossover comics, i.e. those books that bring new people into (or back into) comics in general and our shop in particular.

Over the long term, I suspect that the most important of these will be Dark Horse's new Buffy the Vampire Slayer series. The wide-spread appeal of this comic is pretty amazing, so much so that, despite the fairly common knowledge that Buffy was a popular show and made for some truly devoted fans, retailers and Dark Horse pretty badly misjudged demand. Over at the Engine, Warren Ellis asked how this was possible and a series of individuals proceeded to toss their theories against the wall. One of the great things about Buffy is not only the number of new customers it's bringing in but the type of customer it's bringing in. Joss Whedon is so tied to fan's concept of Buffy (which makes sense since he wrote the movie and created the show) that it's easy to point out Fray, Serenity, Astonishing X-Men and Runaways. More on why we love Joss Whedon.

Next up, Stephen King's Dark Tower series. Really solid stuff from Marvel with top notch productions values and more importantly, it's own unique visual style thanks to Jae Lee and Richard Isanove. I've had more than one customer mention that it doesn't look like a comic book. Obviously I can't know what every new customer expects when they look at a comic but any time that one can broaden their opinion of what a comic can be and do, that's a win-win-win for the industry. While the Dark Tower series has about as devoted a following as Buffy, though, I've noticed more of a reluctance among Dark Tower devotees to branch out into other comics. Part of that is Whedon's obvious connection to comics versus a much more tenuous connection between King and the rest of the comic world, but it's far from impossible to find something similar that a reader might like. Still, there's more of a tendency among the new faces coming in for Dark Tower to grab the latest issue and head out rather than browse a bit.

The third crossover comic was the surprise, Captain America #25. Here we have, far and away MacGuffin's best selling single issue of any comic since we opened. In fact, it's been our best selling single issue each of the past three weeks and this is all with limited quantities available in the first week of release. Unfortunately, while this issue brought in the most new faces and would seem to be a solid gateway comic, it's also an ending rather than a beginning. With Buffy and Dark Tower, even if these new faces don't pick up anything else, they'll almost all be back for the subsequent issues of the series that brought them in. If a new reader likes Captain America #25, the best we can do is start working backwards. Sure the series will continue, likely with someone like the Winter Soldier as the new Cap, but that's not exactly what these new readers signed up for. As I've said, there's always places to point a new reader (in this case, towards Brubaker's other stuff is a great place to start), but there's quite a bit more work involved when Cap #25 is the starting point.

What's a little bit unusual about these three books, at least in the short term, is that they're all bringing in new readers to buy single issue comics. We're designed to introduce customers to new materials and I've found that a big part of that is finding a format that the new reader is comfortable with. Nine times out of ten, that means a trade, but as much as I like trades, if new readers can adjust to different formats quickly it allows for a much broader range of titles to choose from. And that's good for everyone.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Return of Movie Marketing

Just a quick post to point out an unusual bit of coincidence:

In the 3 months prior to and the month following the release of the film adaptation of V for Vendetta, MacGuffin made exactly $.14 more off of that book than we have off of 300 in the 3 months prior to and the 2 weeks since the release of that film adaptation. I found it rather unusual for the difference to be that small, especially considering how much more business we are doing in general this year. To a small degree I'll credit DC with running their consignment program last year, allowing us to always have V for Vendetta in stock and to carry enough to have a small, fully stocked display. On the other hand, knowing the difficulty that Dark Horse has had keeping books in print in the past, we stocked up early and there were only a scant 3 days when we were without a copy of 300 in the months leading up to the film's release.

All of that said, we clearly had proportionally more success with V for Vendetta, especially when you take into account the 20% discount we experimented with in the weeks leading up to the release of the film. In retrospect, the discount was a mistake because nearly every sale we made was to someone coming in specifically for the book rather than as an impulse buy. We gave away money on those sales since the discount was not the deciding factor except in one or two cases. The money we would have saved by eliminating that discount would have more than made up for the smaller unit sales.

Speaking of small unit sales, those of you who have put 2 and 2 together have realized that, once the $30 price tag of 300 and the discount we offered off of the $19.99 price on V for Vendetta are taken into account, we moved roughly half as many units of 300 as we did V for Vendetta, despite a much larger box office performance by the former and a much less faithful adaptation of the latter. Not what I was expecting, but I'm sure the price tag and unusual format of 300 scared more than a few potential buyers off.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Not So Much Free

Over at Comics Worth Reading, Johanna Draper Carlson recently summarized some of the more important pieces of a conversation on the CBIA regarding the upcoming Free Comics Book Day offerings. The gist of the conversation is that many retailers are only willing to pay so much to promote a publisher's product via giveaways.

There are 42 FCBD titles this year (a few publishers have more than one) at an average cost of $.275. I certainly don't blame any store for carrying only what they think they can use, or even only those that they think are cost effective. And, while the majority of titles come in under that average, some of the more useful titles (I'm assuming sight unseen) will likely be Whiteout, Train Was Bang on Time, Unseen Peanuts, Owly & Korgi, Amelia Rules and hopefully Wahoo Morris (a cool little book that hasn't gotten much coverage -- Johanna's got a review). Notice, none of these are Gold Sponsor books, but I'll get back to that.

Unfortunately, only two of these books come in under the average of $.275, and they are from two completely opposite sides of the spectrum. Train was Bang on Time costs is an excerpt from The Black Diamond Detective Agency, Eddie Campbell's newest due out from First Second at the end of May and costs retailers $.20 per copy. It has the promotional weight of First Second (and by extension Holtzbrinck publishing) behind it and these are publisher's used to working in the spend money to make money world of book publishing. The other is the Wahoo Morris book, excerpting the first chapter of that series' first book, from creator and self publisher Craig Taillefer, who's working on a much smaller advertising budget yet he's also offering his book at $.20 per copy. I suspect (or hope) that this price point may pay off in spades at those stores restricting their purchases to the less expensive silver sponsor titles.

The rest of the titles I listed are$.29 and up, topping out at $.37 for Owly & Korgi (overall the most expensive title offered is Pirates vs. Ninjas #1 at $.50 each). In my breakdown of our FCBD purchasing last year, I pointed out that we set aside a certain percentage of our budget for each title and bought however many copies that budget would allow and we've done the same this year (if I have time I plan to break down the percentages for this year's books in the coming weeks).

All of that said, we're carrying almost every FCBD title this year. The only titles we're omitting are Jack the Lantern Ghosts (only 2 people took last year's book and we're never sold a Jack the Lantern comic) and Comic Genesis and Keensot Spotlight, two books that promote web comics and that almost no one picked up last year.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Counting the Ways

DC finally announced what we all new was coming, Countdown, a weekly series follow-up to 52. I will give them credit for a creative numbering gimmick (starting at 51 and counting down, presumably to either zero or #1 of Crisis Management or whatever they call their next event series). And, while I don't know that another weekly series is necessarily the best idea, it does give editorial the chance to apply some lessons learned to improve upon the lackluster storytelling 52 occasionally suffered from.

That said, the fairly spectacular sales of 52 will not necessarily be easy to duplicate and that's not necessarily a bad thing. First, in order for DC to do this correctly, they need to make at least the first few issues returnable (something of a theme lately), if not the first 12 as they did with 52. By all accounts there were a fairly small percentage of issues of 52 returned to Diamond, yet I'll guarantee that no retailer would have taken nearly the chances they did on 52 if not for the option to return what didn't sell. And on a weekly series like this, it's important to hit as high of a ceiling as possible as early as possible, because despite the relative stability of 52's sell in numbers, they have been in steady decline. At the moment it appears that DC is content to assume that retailers will treat Countdown as an extension of 52 and order accordingly. If that remains the plan, then DC is pretty much setting the ceiling of Countdown at whatever minimum sales level 52 ends up at and setting themselves up for a series of diminishing returns when they do arrive at their next big event.

A larger problem, however, is the damage another weekly series could potentially do to DC's mid-list. Marc-Oliver Frisch (among others) has put forth a theory over at The Beat that the dwindling sales of DC's mid-list is at least partially due to those sales shifting towards 52. On an anecdotal level, we can't sell an issue of Hawkgirl or Green Arrow to save our lives and judging from Diamond's sales charts we're not the only ones. While I don't think it's a conscious decision by most consumers to stop buying a title like Nightwing in favor of 52, I do believe that it becomes much easier to stop reading a monthly title of middling quality or interest when $10 a month is being eaten up by a weekly series that purports to be critical to the overall universe and has a much stronger grip on the reader simply by virtue of offering a new piece of story every week.

Whether the thinning of the midlist is a good thing or not is open to debate, but if DC isn't careful, they may end up losing some sales without making up for them with a high selling weekly title. Hopefully we'll see an announcement soon about returnability on the early issues of Countdown, allowing retailers and DC to see the best possible sales and offsetting any damage that may be done to the bottom half of the sales charts.

UPDATE: Rich Johnston has the news that the first twelve issues of Countdown will be partially returnable (about halfway into the column). Good news, but it would be even better if retailers actually got this information with the solicitation copy -- or at all.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Returning to Minx

In the interest of actually posting something besides weekly release lists in the month of February, I'll point out that this is the sort of thing I like to see:

According to a weekly e-mail distributed to retailers, DC Comics is extending the sales incentive offered on their first Minx title, Plain Janes, (the possibility of full returnability) to the entire 2007 Minx line.

This isn't the first time DC has taken on the majority of the risk when it has faith in a product (the first twelve issues of 52 were almost fully returnable). The economics of the comic market, though, are built on non-returnable sales by a publisher or distributor (i.e. Diamond) to retailers at a healthy discount. A publisher offering the same discount along with up front returnability (assuming some very shallow order minimums are reached) is still a fairly unusual practice in comics (so much so that I couldn't tell you the last time anyone other than DC offered anything comparable).

Now, when it comes right down to it, returns are not a great thing, since they cost both the retailer and publisher money. Limited examples of returnability, however, are a great thing because they allow retailers (who generally order conservatively because whatever doesn't sell turns into dead money) to take a much bigger chance on a new release than they otherwise might. This is particularly important because the one thing that will absolutely kill any sale is lack of stock on hand. I can't very well sell anyone on a title if I don't have any copies available to sell. Which leads to unfortunate events like the last two weeks, when we first sold out of Friendly Neighborhood Spider-man #17 on Thursday afternoon (after doubling our standard orders on the title) and then sold out of Sensational Spider-man #35 (after doubling our Friendly Neighborhood orders) on the following Thursday.

The Minx line may be a completely different type of product, but with very little clue as to how much demand there will be for these titles, it becomes a complete guessing game to order these books. We could easily sell out the first day if we order too few, or be stuck with a hundred dollars worth of unsold books if not for returnability. Now I won't worry nearly as much about the number I'm sticking into the order form because I can err on the side of optimism.

On side effect of all of this is also one of the reasons that I suspect trades and graphic novels will continue to see much more sustainable growth than single issue comics: when dealing in backlist, returnability isn't worth nearly as much as discount. Most backlist gets stocked one or two copies deep unless sales data indicates that they're likely to sell more in the space of a week. Any copies that do sell can generally be replaced within a few days or a week, so ideally there's always at least one copy on the shelf but not so many that it's dead money just sitting there.

When dealing with new releases, however, the calculus changes. I don't know any smart business owner that wouldn't be happy to sell 100 pieces they've purchased at a 40% discount versus 50 pieces at a 55% discount. Thankfully, DC has enough confidence in the long term sales potential of these books that we won't have to choose.