Too Damn Many Superheroes? The Solution is Marketing What Else is Out There.
Over at Comic Book Resources comic book writer Ron Marz has a column called Shelf Life. In this week’s edition, Marz talks about the plethora of “superhero comics” that fill the shelves of our local shops.
In a great many shops, as much as 80% to 90% of the new comics are supers from the Big Two. That’s an awful lot of shelf space devoted to a pretty singular storytelling niche.
He equates that to Barnes & Noble “stocking only bodice-ripper Romances, or four out of every five movies at the theater complex being a Western.” On top of that add in crossovers and deep continuity and you quickly narrow your audience to a hardcore few. Marz lays this out:
The hard truth is this: very few people in the general public are interested in reading superhero comics.
He accepts that the comic industry is producing more varied material. But superheroes dominate sales. This focus on superheroes narrows the audience and creates a niche that’s focused to. Marz correctly blames everyone for the issue.
So who’s to blame here? Take your pick: everyone or no one. Publishers are in the business of staying profitable; they supply what the market demands. Readers buy what the publishers put the most muscle behind, as well as what they pick up out of habit. Retailers stock what they think they can sell, which often means extra rack copies of “Batman” or “Avengers” at the expense of taking a chance on something new from a non-Big Two publisher. Everybody’s just trying to survive, and in doing so, further contributing to the death spiral.
His conclusion is digital publishing is one solution. This allows easy access with just one click. But we have digital publishing and distribution through about a dozen different apps and numerous more illegal avenues. What dominates? My guess is superhero comics. It still doesn’t help the situation.
I think the material is there. Our “best comics of 2010” will be out this Saturday. What you’ll notice is, a lot of them aren’t “superhero comics.” But the fact is this, even with digital publishing and digital distribution the potential audience still doesn’t know about the product. Marketing and targeting is the answer. Direct marketing, niche marketing, micro-targeting. These are all things the comic industry should embrace in the short term to help in the long term.
Daytripper is the example I use constantly. When I bring up the fact I read comics on dates, the women always role their eyes. I then describe Daytripper and there I get a bit of a hook in. I then hand them a copy down the road. Every single one has asked for more. They like it and then want to see what else is out there. That’s word of mouth marketing. They had no idea that comic and others like it exist.
How would I have marketed this comic? Daytime shows whose audiences are women would have been a stop on the promotional trip (Oprah would have ate that shit up). Online ads based on demographic information would have been next. “Mommy blogs” might provide an interesting avenue to explore. Word of mouth campaigns through Facebook and Twitter would of helped too.
I get almost no ads on Facebook for comic books. I get them for shops or other websites. How about using some of the demographic data people freely give up on Facebook to place a few ads? Believe me, it works. Here’s a test. Take a “preview” pdf of an upcoming comic book series and do some ads on Facebook about it. Make that the only avenue you officially advertise that this exists. See what the downloads are like and how it spreads around. Try the same thing on Twitter, see how well it works. That’s digital advertising, targeting, plus word of mouth. It works, it works well, I’ve done it.
That’s the key, word of mouth. Marz does this (though he may not realize it). I wasn’t reading Top Cow comics last year. In February of this year Ron reached out to me on Twitter and had this simple question, “why wasn’t I reading Top Cow?” The answer was simple, my shop didn’t really carry it, and I have only so much money to spend. From there I was added to their press list and now review their releases regularly and readily enjoy what’s produced. They created a convert, and I’ve spread the enjoyment of their releases through this blog, on Twitter, Facebook and listservs I belong to. I went and converted others who weren’t reading or buying those comics. I gave them free advertising. That’s word of mouth. That’s basic PR.
That story has been repeated dozens of times this year with writers or other publishers contacting me directly. And sadly there’s quite a few I’ve reached out to on numerous times and I’m either ignored or given lip service that I’ll be added to a press list, only for nothing to arrive. That’s a failure of the publisher to do their job and promote. I’m giving you free advertisement through stories, take advantage (you can probably guess by who based on lack of reviews or stories).
It’s the responsibility of publishers, who make the investment, and writers and artists, who want to get paid, to get the word out. Find those people who might be interested and build that “street team.” Build that buzz. This is grassroots organizing 101.
If you don’t do this, instead of a niche audience visiting comic shops, you have that same niche just downloading the material in further isolation and haven’t moved that non-superhero market share at all. At that point we’ve all lost.