Category Archives: The Comics Are All Right

The Comics Are All Right: Marvel, Geo-location, and Contextual Marketing

Last week Marvel announced they were making some changes in their email program and would start advertising comics in movie theaters and on television. The news was covered with some praise, which it deserves, but beyond the announcement itself there wasn’t much as to what they were actually doing. So, this felt like the perfect opportunity to go into more depth as “The Comics Are All Right” column’s point is to point out the negative, positive, and present things with actual facts and data.

But, to better understand the Marvel announcement about geo-location and marketing, you need to first understand email. I’m not talking about the email you send to one person, I’m talking bulk email where special programs are used to send thousands or even millions of messages. When these messages are sent there’s a few extra steps compared to a one off message you send to a friend, and one of those is adding more information to the email. That info might help track people who open or click the message or it might change parts of the email like adding your first name to the message or changing an image. Usually, that is based on static information in a database, like a first name or a product being sold based on past purchases or your behavior on a website.

What Marvel is doing is doing that, but it’s on steroids.

By teaming up with the company Moveable Ink, a leader in what’s known as contextual marketing, Marvel is able to leverage more information than what’s in a database and also able to power their email program in a different way. Moveable Ink is a technology leader in what’s known as contextual marketing. This type of marketing delivers content based on behavior and data. You probably experience it every day without noticing. Moveable Ink makes that marketing easier in email through their toolset.

In the announcement, Marvel said they’d be including information for local comic book shops in the emails they send promoting their spring comic launches like X-Men Gold and Secret Empire. In the past, that information would be static. Marvel would use information like a zip code to match your location with a local shop and that information would be merged into the email. Where this program differs is that the information can constantly change. If Marvel leverages Moveable Ink in the way it’s supposed to be used an email you’re sent can show different shops based on your actual physical location. In one location on Monday you’ll be shown one shop and in another location on Tuesday you’ll be shown a different shop. The email evolves based on your physical location.

The above the scenario is what Marvel touched upon in their announcement without that much detail and also left out is the cost of it all. Moveable Ink is not cheap. For 600,000 opened emails a company would pay around $15,000. Marvel has an email list of about 1.5 million and averages about 14% opens per email. So, they’re spending about $5,000 per email sent using this system. But, it’s a successful tool and can boost sales, though I haven’t ever discussed real world purchasing with Moveable Ink only online sales when it comes to their success stories.

And that’s a big question to me. How success will be measured? A digital sale is easy to measure, but driving someone to a store to buy a physical product is a bit more difficult. The publisher can look at opens and then cross reference sales to a store, maybe, but it’s not an easy task laid out. Add in the fact this will need to boost comic sales by the 10s of thousands to be profitable and you have to respect the task at hand.

But, what Marvel didn’t lay out in their announcement email is the other uses of the tool. Sales can be updated when they end. New release information can be swapped out. Events can be better tailored to the individual and promoted. The same email may look different in the morning than it does in the evening. There’s a long list of possibilities and to see what they do with this new found tool will be interesting.

This is a big leap for the comic industry, one that is woefully outdated in the marketing and promotion. This technology has existed since 2010 and I’ve been aware and working with it in my political email career for 4 or 5 years at this point, and was checking it out for years before. Hopefully, other publishers take note of this move and truly understand how powerful this technology is and how much it can benefit them. Someone needs to be first and Marvel has stepped up.

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The Comics Are All Right: The One Where I Say “We Told You So”

i-told-you-soWithe ComicsPro over, the thoughts of store owners as to the state of the “comic industry” and the past year have trickled out. Some of what I’ve heard discussed is building communities and better dialogue between stores, publishers, and fans, and that some of the blame for current struggles is due to lower cover prices (we showed that was the case a month ago). Add in news DC will again be partnering with stores to include ads in front of movies (something we’ve brought up numerous times on our radio show), and I’m left here thinking this all sounds familiar. Add in how we were ahead of the curve about “women comic fans” not due to opinion or anecdotes, but with numbers, analysis, and trends.

It sounds familiar, because, these are things we have directly reported and analyzed or some of the articles we’ve run for years now.

So, instead of just repeating “we told you so” over and over for a 1000 words, I decided to put together a recap of key articles so that it won’t be a few more years before folks catch up with what we’ve already been saying now for a while.

And, for those that enjoy these columns, there’s a few months worth to catch up on.

The Comics Are All Right: Now’s The Time to Be Political

greater_coat_of_arms_of_the_united_states-svgI began “The Comics Are All Right” feature to explore the inner workings of the comic book industry and give a take that’s focused more on data, facts, and examples, not opinion. And for the most part I’ve succeeded diving into actual sales numbers and trends, throwing out hypotheses as to the direction of the industry, giving examples of publishers and stores that are breaking the marketing mold, and more. And, I think I’ve done a decent job of staying away from opinion (Yes that is an opinion. The irony is not lost). But, this one is going to be opinion, sort of. Here we go:

The comic industry needs to get political!

Now, this particular column isn’t what you think it is. I’m not going to debate that politics and comics go hand in hand (they do and have a long history together). No, this is a call for the industry and publishers to become aware of possible legislation and policy changes over the next years and how it’ll impact them.

For almost seven years I worked as the Online Advocacy Director for the Entertainment Consumers Association (ECA). During that period we monitored legislation and built campaigns to allow video game consumers to have a voice in the political process about legislation and proposals that directly impacted them. At times those campaigns overlapped with the needs and wants of the video game industry itself. We tackled issues ranging from censorship, broadband expansion, a Supreme Court case, video games and health, Net Neutrality, broadband caps, and more. I’m proud to say, we never lost a battle.

The comic industry will face legislative issues (they always do beyond censorship) and it’s time we recognize this, and do something beyond it. Here’s just a sampling of what we’ll likely have to deal with in the years to come and why it’s important.

Repeal of the ACA aka Obamacare – The pay for comic creators can be pretty low and add on top of that a lack of benefits and it’s clear that eeking out a living as a creator isn’t the easiest or most rewarding career there is. Freelance creators are forced to purchase their own healthcare through the ACA, from a union, a spouse, or through another job. That first option is currently at risk with threats of a repeal which will cost an estimated 18 million people their insurance in the first year.

Our insurance system is flawed, that’s not what this is about, this is about ensuring an easy way for self-employed individuals to gain insurance, not be discriminated against due to pre-existing conditions, and benefiting women and helping with their choice of birth control.

A repeal would increase costs by either putting some individuals in a high cost “risky pool,” deny coverage outright, or increase out of pocket benefits. It’s estimated that women will have to pay $1.4 billion in copay for birth control for instance.

That’s less money in the pockets of creators. More freelance jobs needed to take. Possibly greater cover prices due to the need to charge more by freelancers. Decreased health. Less money means less traveling for conventions. Less interaction because time spent online is time not spent earning money.

Quality of life will decrease for those in the industry.

What this means is the industry needs to start thinking of solutions. A guild through which freelancers could purchase insurance or publishers offering ways for creators to buy into their offerings are both solutions. Now is the time to think this through before it’s too late.

Import Tax – The Trump administration has threatened to create an import tax, the theory of which is it’ll force manufacturers to produce items in the United States. I’m not going to go into the legality of this or how flawed the economic theory is (that’s for another post). Instead, if it goes through, the import tax won’t be paid by corporations, it’ll be paid by the consumers. That $3.99 comic will now be $4.99 or $5.99. Nothing changes except higher retail prices which equates to fewer items sold, stores struggling further, and publishers cutting back or going out of business. No one gains in this scenario, from the consumer through to the publisher, we’re all screwed.

Repeal of Net Neutrality – If you sell digital comics or use the internet to market, you should care about this issue. At it’s basic core, Net Neutrality is the concept that like content online should be delivered at like speeds (it’s more complicated than that, but we’ll stick with the basics). If Comcast offers you internet and voip phone and another service offers voip, Comcast wouldn’t be able to slow down the competitor to benefit their service.

If Net Neutrality goes away the internet becomes pay for play with content producers shelling out money making it more difficult for upstarts to get noticed. It would allow internet providers to outright block content and websites. It could slow down connections making it more difficult for creators to talk to fans, their publishers, or fellow creators to work on projects.

That’s not even getting into data caps.

The Return of SOPA/PIPASOPA/PIPA is online censorship. The legislation was first put forth in 2011 and threats of new versions rear their ugly head every year. We beat it once. It doesn’t mean we will definitely beat it again.

European Rules on Copyright Infringement – Lets not focus on a “what if” and instead focus on the now. A current proposal by the European Commission would adopt new rules requiring platforms to scan and filter user uploads for copyright infringements.

Want to share that cool art? Yeah, not happening. Want to upload a gif? Nope.

SOPA/PIPA was a similar plan and was defeated here in the US, but this is one that’s being discussed, today. As is, the copyright system and its tools are broken. The DMCA is used in ways it wasn’t meant to and the one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing. A rule like this is an affront to the rule of law and freedom of expression and if you’re in Europe, this should concern you.

Immigration and Travel – The Trump administration that has put out an Executive Order that has thrown our immigration and border system into chaos. Individuals are being asked to hand over their phones and unlock them even if they are US citizens. Not to mention the disturbing questions being asked and social media being mined. The EO threatens all of us, but if you’re a foreign creator or US creator (citizen or not) who has to return from overseas, I’d be nervous right now. Do you enjoy creators being flown from overseas to conventions? This could impact that, at a minimum.

Publishers, creators, and we the fans, need to organize and be aware. These issues will impact our enjoyment within the industry and the ability for publishers and creators to deliver. Now is the time to band together. Now is the time to build an apparatus to lobby and help speak on our behalf. Now is not the time to sit on the side and watch it all pass us by.

The Comics Are All Right: Break the Marketing Mold

sink-1While many are discussing the spiral death of the comic industry excuses as to the cause seem to vary depending on the position the person is in. Store owners often blame publishers for putting out too much, not marketing enough, incorrect pricing, lackluster product, a broken preordering system, and more. Indie creators focus on an antiquated distribution system, a market too focused on a few publishers, fans unwilling to take a chance. Fans blame stores for not reading their minds and ordering what they want, publishers for the product, creators who fight with fans.

In reality, it’s not one thing, it’s many that lead to the ups and downs of the comic industry.

But, there are some who are bucking the system. Creators who are talking directly to fans. Publishers who are going around the current distribution system. Stores who are finding customers and building their own communities.

There are roughly 284,163,264 individuals interested in comics according to Facebook demographics. That’s a large group of folks to advertise directly to. Stores, like Third Eye Comics in Maryland, are doing just that with engaging advertising to get folks to come to their store. Three years since I first covered Third Eye’s fantastic ad program they’re still going strong, so it must be working for them, right?

When I started these columns, I didn’t just want to highlight problems of the industry, I wanted to spotlight those who are doing things that go around the system and pave their own path like Third Eye Comics.

A prime example of this entrepreneurial attitude is ComixTribe headed up by Tyler James who recently spoke to us about Kickstarter and the things the publisher is doing there. The publisher definitely is blazing their own path working within and outside of the current system to create their own corner of comicdom and doing so by building a community.

Their latest project to break the mold is Sink. The series by writer John Lees, artist Alex Cormack, letterer Colin Bell has done its own thing to build its audience.

First: A series of emails to the ComixTribe list teased the new series

Second: After a series of teasers the comic’s first issue was given away for FREE to the dedicated email list. ComixTribe often gives away free first issues to incentivize individuals to join their list.

Third: A limited amount of print copies were released primarily at conventions.

Fourth: A Kickstarter has been launched to fund an offset printing for the comic before it’s released to mass markets later this year.

330 individuals, and $3,300 above the goal raised as of this article being published, the Kickstarter and marketing plan is a success.

But, the email list could have been it to build a promotion. ComixTribe has gone an extra step with what I see as a rarity this day, a physical mailing. It feels like far to few publishers and creators take advantage of a cheap communication platform like email, but to see one send out a physical mailing is impressive, to say the least.

comixtribe-1 comixtribe-2

You think this is would be a pretty big outlay right? Some Google search has each postcard pegged at about 30 cents a piece. A 5,000 person mailing would cost about $1,500. With the postcards just hitting mailboxes, the return on investment most likely hasn’t been seen… yet, but the project is already above its goal.

If 5,000 individuals seems like too few individuals for your $1,500 investment, that same amount of money on Facebook gets you about 63,000,000 views of individuals who said they are interested in comics. If 1% of 1% of those views take action, that’s 630 new Kickstarter pledges, almost double the current amount of individuals pledged for this project.

With ComixTribe, what we’re seeing is a new type of marketing being used, one that bucks the press release, blog, individual, shop, dynamic that’s dominated the industry. And by doing this sort of hard work, ComixTribe is building their own community, one that will follow them through ups and downs and the market and most importantly, they can talk to directly.

ComixTribe might be a small publisher, but their ideas are pretty big, and they’re showing the industry you don’t have to beholden to the current paradigm, you can create your own and find success.

The Comics Are All Right: A Cover Price What If?

In last week’s “The Comics Are All Right” I explored that the reason for the recent nervousness in the comic industry and stores could easily be explained by the drop in “weighted cover price” for the top 300 comics.

For those that haven’t read last week’s column, as reported so far Comichron:

  • All Unit Sales For Diamond Comics increased by 1 million
  • Unit Sales for Diamond Comics Top 300 Comics increased by 180,000
  • Unit Sales for Diamond Comics Not 300 increased by 820,000

So, more comics were sold. HOWEVER:

  • Dollar sales for all Diamond’s comics decreased by $6 million
  • Dollars sales for Diamond’s top 300 decreased by $8.9 million
  • Combined dollar sales for Diamond’s top 300 comics and trade paperbacks decreased by $5.22 million

While more units were sold, less money was coming in. WHY?

The weighted average price for Diamond’s top 300 comics decreased by 11 cents.

If we assume shops aren’t sitting on a ton of excess comics that aren’t being sold (and judging by monthly reporting of the estimated number of comics ordered, that’s not the case), the yes the problem shops are facing is that the top 300 comics aren’t bringing in the dollars that they were in 2015. Yes, it really is that simple.

In 2015 the weighted average price for a top 300 comics was $3.96 a 17 cent increase from 2014, while the top 300 comics average price was $3.85 in 2016 which is an 11 cent decrease.

I’m a big fan of Marvel’s comic series What If? and decided with this knowledge to play a little “what if” of my own.

“What If? 2015 Saw the Same Average Weighted Cover Price as 2014?” and the sequel “What If? 2016 Saw the Same Average Weighted Cover Price as 2015?”

Here’s the stats:

what-if-stats

As you can see, there’s a big difference. If 2015’s average price was the same as 2014’s there’d still have been an expansion in dollars sales, though not as much as there was in reality ($15 million less to be precise).

2016 is a totally different world. Instead of being a $8.9 million decrease from the previous year, we actually see dollars in increase by $15.871 million if cover prices remained the same (a $24.771 million swing).

We don’t know how many shops there are in the US, but here’s the possible gains.

what-if-gains

Instead of a loss, stores gained a significant amount of money in this scenario. Now, there is a flaw in this thinking in that most likely the units sold would not have been the same, they’d have likely decreased. But in this scenario, we’re keeping it as if everything else remained unchanged.

While 11 cents might not seem like a lot, you can see how much of a difference that can make. Cover prices do matter, and they matter… A LOT!

The Comics Are All Right: Is It Simply the Cover Price?

It’s time for some fun with math! There’s a lot of worry from comic shops about their viability and speculation that 2017 will see mass closures of local comic shops.

Comichron has some stats for 2016 already listed, so I thought it worthwhile to see how the year compared to 2015 with the data we have so far.

What’s reported so far is Diamond Comic Distributor’s estimated sales. Diamond is the primary distributor for comic shops, so this is some of the prime data that we’d want to look at to see the “health” of hoe shops are doing. Again, I stress as I always do that this data are estimates and not perfect in any way.

diamond-data-2016

But what’s the year to year like? Below we see the gains and losses for 2015 and 2016.

diamond-data-2016-year-to-year

That’s a bunch of red in 2016 compared the 2015.

  • All comic sales are down
  • The Top 300 is down
  • The combined top 300 comics and TPBs are down
  • The average price of the top 300 weighted by orders is down

It’s not all bad though.

Comics not in the top 300 increased compared to 2015 selling 820,000 units more. Trade paperbacks too saw a massive increase in dollar sales.

Unit sales have increased as well.

  • All comics increased by 1 million units from 2015
  • Top 300 comics increased by 180,000 units

Trade paperback sales are up. Non top 300 comic sales are up.

The problem is pretty clear from the data, even though there’s more comics being sold, they’re returning less dollars, and there’s two data points that backs that up.

Dollar sales for the top 300 comics is down nearly $9 million and add in the 11 cent decrease in cover price the picture is obvious. More is being sold at a lower price which is causing a pinch of dollars.

It’s unknown exactly how many shops there are in the United States but estimates has it between 2,000 and 3,000 shops. $9 million split that way equals some serious dollars.

shops-loss

That’s a lot of money per local comic shop that’s vanished. Take into account some shops are doing well, that means there’s potentially a bigger loss for other shops. Those numbers above represent a month’s rent at least for some shops gone. Even with margins, these numbers show shops absolutely should be feeling a money pinch compared to 2015 and that there’s something there to correct.

 

The Comics Are All Right: Does Increased Economic Confidence Mean Lower Sales? A Year in Stats.

For those who might not be familiar with it, Comichron is an interesting resource for data on estimated and reported sales figures in the comic book industry. Run by John Jackson Miller, the site is a great tool in trying to suss out trends and patterns and while there are flaws, it’s also one of the best resources we have.

With 2016 over and the December estimates up I decided to check out what might be discerned from what Miller has reported and what stands out to me.

Comics Outside the Top 300 Ended the Year Strong

While Miller doesn’t seem to report this stat for most of the year, in August he began to not just report the estimated number of comics in the top 300 shipped, but the total number of comics shipped by Diamond.

Using that data, we can look at how many comics that weren’t in the top 300 that were shipped and it looks like they ended the year rather strong accounting for almost 10%. While the overall sales for Diamond and sales of the top 300 comics looks to have dipped since August 2016, the percent of indie comics that shipped increased.

2016-non-300-vs-sales

We also see this trend through the year as the comics not listed in the 300 increases as part of the new comics shipped each month (though there’s clearly volatility in comics ordered).

2016-not-300

As the year goes on it looks like shops began to look elsewhere for sales as they began to order more comics not in the top 300 chart. This could reflect the narrative we’ve seen floated by sites and shops that the selling power of the big two has waned and they’re looking to make up for those decreased sales.

The Non-300 is an Impressive Amount of Money

Miller provides a few interesting dollar stats in his monthly reporting. There’s the “Top 300 Comics Shipped (in dollars),” “Top Graphic Novels Shipped (in dollars),” “Top 300 Comics plus Top GNs Shipped (in dollars),” and “All Comics and GNs Shipped (in dollars) and that latter was also previously labelled “Overall Diamond Sales (including all comics, trade,s, and magazines).”

So, I decided to see what those dollars were that weren’t the top 300 comics and top 300 graphic novels. The answer, an impressive amount. But, that amount looks to be trending down. For as much focus as there is on the sales of graphic novels/trade paperbacks and comics, this “gray” area that includes those outside the top 300 and magazines is often overlooked. For 2016 the top 300 graphic novels was relatively flat for the year and the top 300 comics, while all over, increased over the year too. But, that “everything else” while initially seeing an increase looks to start decreasing about 3/4 of the way into the year. Is the problem for local comic shops actually this?

2016-sales

Is it the Confidence in the Economy?

I don’t know where I first came upon this tidbit, or even how true it is, but it’s believed that board game sales and video game sales do well in down economies. You can read up on some of this.

This is one I definitely want to track going into 2017 and go back for data in 2015, but I used the US Economic Index released by Gallup and compared that to the reported sales by Diamond.

While things are a bit all over for the year, we see the Economic Index begin to increase in August and skyrocket in November, this is about the same time we see the sales number dip. Could the recent worries by local comic shops be due to an increased confidence in the economy? Stay tuned as we continue to track this.

2016-economic-index

The Comics Are All Right: Digital Codes Aren’t the Answer. Digital Comics Are.

bonusdigitalcontent_0201The narrative for the last few months is that local comic shops are falling apart facing mass closures in 2017 in a sky is falling narrative that hasn’t been backed up much with hard numbers. 2016 looks to be a growth year (though final estimates are waiting to be released) for Diamond Comics Distributor, the primary comic distribution company, so someone is buying comics. That’s not to say a bubble didn’t pop, or stores didn’t extend themselves, but right now, the numbers haven’t really backed up the narrative that’s being pushed. I have my own theories, but that’s an article for another time.

But, publishers have taken notice and a spirited discussion happened.

BOOM! Studios’ Ross Richie pled with individuals to help #boostyourlcs by going out and buying a trade paperback to help their sales. Marvel took another route, one that left quite a few folks scratching their heads including myself.

In 2011-2012 Marvel launched a digital code program in a way to justify the increase of comic prices from $2.99 to $3.99. Along with the print copy of the comic a digital redemption code would be offered as well and the code could be redeemed through Marvel’s digital comic app as well as comiXology.

Last week, Marvel announced they would be changing up the program, in part to help boost physical retailers:

Marvel is proud to announce that, beginning February 2017, all Marvel digital redeem codes found within the pages of Marvel Universe titles will unlock two or more BONUS DIGITAL COMICS on the Marvel Comics app for iPhone®, iPad®, iPhone® and select Android devices* at no additional cost!

Starting this year with Marvel Universe titles (excluding all-ages comics), only available within your local comic shop, the Marvel digital code will be upgraded to unlock two or more additional digital Marvel comics – stretching your dollars’ worth!

“Marvel is continuing our commitment by offering our fans the best value in comics along with honoring our cornerstone of the comic book industry – the retailers,” said David Gabriel, SVP of Sales, Marvel Publishing. “Our intent in evolving our digital code program is to offer our fans more value per dollar spent.  Replacing the free digital copy, our BONUS DIGITAL COMICS will offer fans free entry points for current on sale collected editions and, in turn, invite additional and repeat traffic into our trusted retailers.”

Beginning February 1st, Marvel fans that enter the doors of their local comic retailer will now be rewarded when they purchase Marvel titles with a digital code that unlocks existing moments into the Marvel Universe they may have missed in the past.

To get people to buy physical product at their local comic shop, the publisher is doubling down on their “bonus” digital offerings. What’s the logic behind that?

The idea is that Marvel will offer a relevant comic in hopes it’ll get individuals interested in a series or wanting to go buy a trade and that individuals will do that at local comic shops.

“Marvel will always be a brand that looks to excite our fans as well as drive traffic to our tried-and-true retailers,” said Jim Nausedas, Sales Director, Marvel Publishing. “One of the free BONUS DIGITAL COMICS offered in February will be Civil War II #0 in time to promote the CIVIL WAR II collection on sale that month. Then, each week, new BONUS DIGITAL COMICS codes, available only in your local comic shop, will offer fans additional pathways into the Marvel Universe, promote Marvel’s monthly trades, and create repeat retailer customers and Marvel readers for life.”

I underlined the relevant parts in the quote above.

I have my doubts that anyone will benefit other than Marvel. I’m not going to just criticize, my plan is to offer a better idea that WILL likely benefit local comic book shops.

Here’s the flow and steps that Marvel envisions:

  1. Person purchases physical comic with a code from local comic shop,
  2. Person redeems code,
  3. Person reads the digital comic,
  4. Person is interesting and returns to the local comic shop,
  5. Local comic shop has items that are being searched for in stock,
  6. Person then purchases item.

bonusdigitalcontent_stickerWith that “workflow” I see points of failure over and over the biggest of which is that local comic shops would need to be psychic to know what Marvel plans on giving away. So, unless they’re being told ahead of time as to what to expect, the time for them to stock up and make sure they have the right items to sale is limited, and that’s even if the correct items are in stock.

But, I actually think Marvel’s change has more to do with the current use/popularity of their digital app. Here’s the data I could turn up.

Marvel Comics App

iPhone

Download Ranks

iphone_download_ranks

Grossing Ranks

iphone_gross_ranks

iPad

Download Ranks

ipad_download_ranks

Grossing Ranks

ipad_gross_ranks

Google Play

Download Ranks

google_play_download_ranks

Grossing Ranks

google_play_gross_ranks

We don’t know the redemption percent of those that had been purchased, but it’s clear something isn’t going right lately. The ranks (which are relative, so others could just be doing that much better) for Marvel’s comics app has been dropping for some time. From these reported stats, they need to do something to change direction. When they initial launched this program it seemed to help some after all.

ipad_initial iphone_initial

So we can see how this benefits Marvel and why they need it. They need more users and interest in redeeming these codes after what looks to be declining interest. But, I have doubts this will actually help local stores.

Instead here’s some ways for Marvel to actually help local stores.

Use Their Email List to Drive Individuals to Stores – Each Monday Marvel sends an email for their Marvel Unlimited releases each week, how about an email on Wednesdays announcing their new releases? But, better than that, using zip codes/IP tracking to include addresses for local shops for people to go to?

I estimated that Marvel’s email list is about 2.5 to 3 million individuals. If just a small fraction of new individuals went to their shop that’s a massive impact. If just 1% converts, that’s 30 new customers a week, $100+ if each purchases 1 comic.

The ability to provide specific data based on an individual’s location is easy with numerous services providing the tools for what would amount to pocket change for Marvel. The returns in purchases would pay for itself eventually.

Follow Up on those Redemptions – Because these are digital accounts, Marvel should have the location of their users based off of their zip codes and/or IP address. It’d be easy enough to create a robust email program that leverages this data to provide a kicker and get individuals to go to their local shop. Again, just 1% of 3 million individuals would make a hell of an impact.

Add the Comic Shop Locator to Digital Comics – Reading digital comics is an advertisement to really read more digital comics. The ease of “now” would make me expect the real behavior of these digital codes would be to see the digital reader redeem the code, then buy more digital comics while they’re there. Why wait for the shop? And if they’re online, wouldn’t a cheaper online store such as Amazon be more convenient and immediate?

How about using the digital comic itself as an advertising platform for local stores? At the end of the reading experience a page can be delivered so that a zip code can be typed in and shops looked up, or better yet the data can be auto-populated. They’re reading the digital comic, use that to give them the information needed. Better yet, do this for ALL Marvel digital comics sold and really get people out to their local shops.

 

We’ve seen that physical sales and digital sales can live side by side and as one increases the other does too. One doesn’t necessarily cannibalize the other. What’s unspoken is the vast amounts of data that’s been collected. How about to save comic shops we leverage that?

The Comics Are All Right: Build Your Own Community

I began these articles last year to move some of the discussion surrounding the state of the comic industry away from “opinion” and “anecdotes” and towards facts and data. You can check out what I’ve written before but beyond looking at sales data, the goal is to also look at other data available such as analytics, Facebook demographics, and also talk to creators directly to see what does and doesn’t work.

For this new year, I felt it good to focus on at least one best practice for publishers and creators, building an email list and social networking presence, your own community. But, beyond just going over “how to’s’ as far as building a community or why it’s a good idea, I thought I’d take a different spin and see what we can learn from the data available and answer a question:

What’s the overlap of “fans” of publishers?

There’s no way to really figure out if the folks who purchase comics are loyal to one publisher, many publishers, or maybe a select few. “Sales” data reported is estimated sales from distributors to stores, we don’t know what stores sell directly to customers, whether it’s physical or digital sales.

So what can we look at to figure this out?

First, there’s Facebook data. Twice a month I report on data derived from Facebook looking at the demographics of those who “like” comics. But we can do more than just report on the age, we can also see how many people like two different pages, publisher a AND publisher b.

What I’ve done is look at the amount of US likes a publisher has (I’ve also included Amazon and comiXology because more on that below and why these particular publishers are explained as well) and then also looked at how many likes those two pages shared in the US. Below is the results in percent and I think the results are really interesting.

us-publisher-overlap-1-2-17

To read an example 61.90% of comiXology’s Facebook “likes” also “like” Amazon. We can see the percents vary greatly, but what stands out to me tis that the overlap is not as much as you think. This isn’t the same fans liking a bunch of different publishers, it’s clear that in same cases some publishers have really built a niche and audience all their own.

One data point is nice, what about two?

Well, this is how this thought exercise began. My day job is working in email and monitoring deliverability, trends, spam, really boring stuff. But, this also gives me access to see how email programs are performing (opens, clicks) and also how much email lists overlap! So, what do we see when it comes to email lists?

us-publisher-email-overlap

The above were chosen to start because they’re all publishers or platforms I regularly get email from and signed up for (I’m particularly fascinated by Amazon’s email program). So, at some point this will all expand, but you need to start somewhere. Amazon’s emails are impressive and they do at least one weekly email for fans of comics, that in particular is why I’ve watched them. But I digress…

What above represents is how many people are on each list. For example 38% of Valiant’s list is also on comiXology’s. Again, like Facebook we see that the overlap varies and that generally people aren’t signing up for everyone. Valiant’s percents are particularly high due to a smaller list size.

So what does this mean?

It means that each of these publishers have a captive and unique audience for them to talk to. They have people who clearly care about them to pitch their releases each and every week. It’s as simple as that. As a publisher, a creator, you should be doing everything to build your community, because from what we see above, that community is probably pretty unique and want to hear from you, and possibly just you!

So, here’s a resolution publishers and creators should be making this year, build your community! Then use it to sell some comics!

The Comics Are All Right: Diamond Continues to Upgrade

While it’s been many years since I worked in a comic book store, I remember going through my orders from Diamond Distribution frustrated by damaged products and/or mispacked items. We’d be shorted items, get items we didn’t order, it was rarely a perfect system and this was years before computer systems were a regular thing (yay compiling orders by hand!).

At the recent 2016 Diamond Retailer Summit, held just before this year’s Baltimore Comic Con, Diamond Vice President of Operations John Wurzer outlined a number of projects that are currently underway in Diamond’s Distribution Centers to improve quality overall.

While this series of articles’ purpose is to really analyze and provide suggestions for improvement in the comic industry as a whole, I have also made it a point to highlight when things ARE being done to improve the current situation. You have to mix in the good with the bad.

Last week Diamond sent out a press update for folks to see where things are in their improvement project which you can check out below along with photos.

For everyone who was unable to attend the Summit, here’s a glimpse into the massive project that’s happening right now at Diamond’s central inventory and shipping distribution center in Olive Branch, Mississippi.

“In 2009, we opened the Olive Branch Distribution Center, the largest facility we or anyone else had built for the distribution of comics and pop culture merchandise,” said Wurzer. “Using historical data and our own experience to make projections, a team of engineers predicted that the new warehouse would meet the industry’s needs through 2020.”

Our Olive Branch facility is 600,000 square feet in area, 35 feet high, with its own server room equipped with generator back up power, and room for 150 people per shift to work on more than two miles of racking and conveyors that move product around the building. Design and construction of the building was a massive project, surpassed only by the huge job of moving in and getting it up and running.

The industry, however, went through massive shifts that no one had anticipated at that time. With the explosion of interest in comics and related products, sales to retailers all over the world grew tremendously. While these shifts were good news for the industry, the change to the status quo presented some serious challenges to the Distribution Center and Operations staffs at Diamond. Part of the shift in the industry was the growth of collected editions and the proliferation of variant covers for comics, each of which occupies its own physical space at the Distribution Center. In short, the warehouse exceeded both its projected 2020 storage and order processing capacity by 2014, and immediate action had to be taken.

Storage of millions of periodical comics, trade paperbacks, and the vast array of related products presents an interesting and unique challenge. For Diamond’s Distribution Center teams to effectively pick products, each is given a physical address, referred to as a “pick face”, “bin”, or “storage location” where it is stored and pulled from when ordered by a customer. When there are not enough pick faces for all the products, a night crew must pull products from other locations to move them into bins that are accessible to an order picker. This frequent moving of product can lead to inefficiencies, and can add to the time required to find product and fill orders.

The first thing that our Operations and Finance teams had to do was locate an additional warehouse that could handle some of the overflow of product. However, this was not a satisfactory, long-term solution. In the end, we were able to lease two new facilities in Olive Branch, one for processing of weekly new product shipments and the other for storage of products that are not available for same-day Direct Ship reorders. Those additional facilities provided us with a little breathing room, allowing Wurzer, Executive Director of Operations Shawn Hamrick, Executive Director of Business Intelligence Steve Tipton and a team of outside consultants to begin planning the next phase of our Distribution Center’s evolution.

Over the course of last year, we brought in experts to work with our own internal teams to devise what would become a complete reimagining of the Distribution Center’s layout and operations.

“Millions of data records reflecting ordering patterns, inventory velocity, and growth trends were dissected, organized and analyzed during the process of developing what ultimately became the solution we decided to implement,” said Tipton. “New software and procedures will be paired with new materials handling equipment to provide much more storage space, along with the capability to manage many more orders.”

There are three main objectives for this project: increase storage capacity, increase throughput capacity, and increase order accuracy while reducing damages.

Increasing Storage Capacity

While we can’t increase the physical size of the warehouse, we can use the space in different, more efficient ways. A second floor, called a mezzanine, was added to a portion of the warehouse to expand the pick modules available. These modules, where product is stored for picking, and the expansion and addition of a fourth module, will give us over 21,000 new locations where products can be stored and then picked for orders. We are also in the process of adding space for 16,000 additional pallet positions to store back stock to accommodate the industry’s continued growth.

Increasing Throughput Capacity

Throughput is a measure of how many orders per hour can be picked and packed by the Distribution Center. Increasing this capacity takes a combination of new materials-handling equipment, such as conveyor belts and automatic sorters, and changes to our processing procedures.

To that end, we are adding over a mile of conveyor, which will move product and orders through the warehouse, either to other parts of the building or to waiting trucks when shipments are ready to go to customers. We are also adding machines that automatically weigh boxes, measure their dimensions, and apply shipping labels, which gives us much better information about the packages and reduces the potential for human error. A ceiling-mounted monorail circulates an unending stream of empty boxes, which allows the people on the warehouse floor to focus on picking and packing orders, and a similar system automatically moves empty product boxes to an area where they can be processed out of the warehouse. As boxes are filled and sealed, they will move down an automated line that will sort them via barcode readers that scan the boxes. This will then move the boxes to the appropriate pallets or trucks for delivery to customers, reducing opportunities for boxes to end up in the wrong place.

Increasing Accuracy

While it’s important to increase our ability to process orders quickly, it’s just as important that we do so accurately. The changes we’ve made in this area are the most dramatic and have taken the most time to research; a great deal of analysis has gone into determining what constitutes best practices, given the many different types of products that Diamond distributes to its customers every day.

The first change will be to our pick method. Currently, a box (or group of boxes) moves through the warehouse and the order picking team uses automated headsets to pick products from their assigned area and place them in the box as it moves through. Under the new system, the pickers will pick all product for a group of orders at once, scanning the barcode on the product to ensure they have the correct items, which will then go into specially-designed totes and move to an order sortation area. In this area, the barcode is scanned again, and a large wall with an area for each order will indicate which orders need that item. Once all items for an order have been pulled and verified, an order packing specialist will choose the appropriate size box, and pack the box in such a way as to minimize damage to the products. As they do so, the items are scanned a final time, and any items that are missing or are identified as damaged are flagged and pulled for the shipment before it is sealed and sent out for delivery.

“We believe that this is the best possible solution, allowing our pickers and packers to be both fast and efficient,” said Hamrick. “With a person making decisions about the size of the box and the way the product is put into it, the amount of product damaged in the packing and delivery process should decrease. We are also researching different types and sizes of boxes and packing paper, while keeping in mind the delicate balance of damages vs. increased freight costs.”

Where We Are Right Now on the Expansion

At this point in the process, the mezzanine has been built and is in use, and many of the new materials-handling equipment is on-site. The existing pick modules have started to be expanded, and the new module has been built and partially integrated into our operations. We are currently testing the software integration that must be completed before we can move on to other phases of building and testing, so that the transition can proceed smoothly. One of the greatest challenges is that the warehouse has remained fully operational during design, construction and various implementation phases, and must continue to do so.

One of the greatest challenges is that the warehouse has remained fully operational during design, construction and various implementation phases, and must continue to do so.This project represents a massive investment by Diamond, but one we feel is necessary to meet the current and future needs of a market that

This project represents a massive investment by Diamond, but one we feel is necessary to meet the current and future needs of a market that continues to grow and evolve.

Members of the Operations and Business Intelligence teams of Diamond have spent significant amounts of time away from home, supervising the construction at Olive Branch and coordinating teams of programmers inside Diamond and with our outside vendors. Millions of dollars and thousands of employee hours have been spent working on the expansion, and there is still a lot of work to be done. We’ll be providing more updates as we progress through different phases of the project which are expected to progress into early 2017, and are looking forward to showing you more!

We’ll be providing more updates as we progress through different phases of the project which are expected to progress into early 2017, and are looking forward to showing you more!

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