Improving Free Comic Book Day

FCBD line

Photo Credit: Bob Bretall

I love Free Comic Book Day (FCBD) and make sure the 1st Saturday in May is always set aside to visit a number of shops and participate in some really great events all over Southern California.  I’ve been going since the yearly event started in 2002 and have visited anywhere from 3 to 8 shops on any given FCBD.  Even though I love the day, I have noticed that there are some things that could be done to improve the event for the Publishers, the Comic Shops, and the fans.

What is the purpose of FCBD? 

More comics in the hands of more people.

Let’s look at how we can serve the purpose of FCBD, putting more comics in the hands of more people for all the constituents of the day.

Publishers want to expose their comics to fans and get them coming back for more of those comics in the months after FCBD.  To do that they need to put out an accessible, high-quality comic that is going to speak to their target demographic.  It needs to provide enough story and entertainment to and grab them, while giving them a hook that makes them want to come back for more.

Publishers have gotten a lot better of the past years at providing compelling material for FCBD.  In the early years I saw a lot of scattered reprint material and FCBD ‘comics’ that were loaded with sketches and press-release sorts of material.  This year I reviewed 50 FCBD comics as either ‘this will make me want to buy the comics showcased here’ or ‘No thanks, nothing compelling here, I’ll pass’.  On the positive side, 40 of the comics I reviewed earned what I thought was a solid ‘buy’.

PUBLISHER ACTION: DO NOT waste your FCBD offering on text-heavy press-release/sketchbook type of offerings.  It is Free Comic Book Day.  Give the fans a comic book story.  Make sure the selection (new or reprint) stands on it’s own, is understandable, and provides a solid chunk of story value while hooking the reader to come back.

Comic Shops
Shops have at 2 distinct groups to market to on FCBD: Existing customers/comic readers -and- new fans who have not been regularly reading comics (or who have never read comics).  Your goal should be increasing sales into your shop, this means you need to handle these 2 types of fans separately.  I can understand when shops need to limit the number of comics each person can take for free, but there is a better way to do this than I have seen in most shops I’ve visited.

Existing customers/Comic Readers:  I have talked to a LOT of people on this topic.  Most of them, when confronted with a limit of 3 or 4 comics on FCBD will just pick the comics from the comic company they are ALREADY buying comics from.  They don’t don’t want to miss out on a story from their favorite publisher(s).  People Reading Marvel will pick the 1 or 2 Marvel comics.  DC fans grabbed the Divergence book.  Valiant fans got the Valiant book.   This is NOT translating into new sales.  If a shop wants new sales they need to expose fans to new comics.
Note: Some comic shops are already doing this the right way.  No advice can possibly be universally applicable, but don’t take the fact that some retailers are getting it right get in the way of the fact that a LOT of retailers could improve the way they handle FCBD.

COMIC SHOP ACTION (Existing Customers): You know what your customers are buying.  If they buy Marvel from you every month, just give them the Marvel books.  Give them the DC books if they buy DC from you.  Do the same for Image, Valiant, Dark Horse, etc.  ON TOP OF the comics from the publishers they already buy, let them take 2-3 additional comics from publishers they DO NOT regularly buy comics from.  Exposing them to some new comics may or may not translate into new sales, but you’re guaranteed to not get new sales if they just get the stuff they are already buying.
Make an effort to let customers with a pull list select their comics before FCBD and don’t make them stand in line.  Put them in their pull box.  It will make the free comics line shorter, and hopefully the regulars will come by the shop for the FCBD events anyway.
This, of course, assumes a retailer knows their regular customers and actually has pull lists for regular customers.  For shops that do neither of these, that’s a good ‘next step’ completely independent of FCBD.

COMIC SHOP ACTION (New Customers): These folks are comic to your shop for the first time ever, or maybe for the first time in months.  Walk up and down the line as the people wait and talk to the people.  I rarely see any shop owners/employees ‘working the line’.  Ask them what kinds of movie/TV shows they like, what genres of entertainment are their favorites.  Make recommendations about comics they might enjoy, both free ones and ones that are available (on sale for FCBD) as single issues and in collected editions.

New readers are not going to be reading this blog so I’ll target this at the existing comic readers.  Try something new.  Check out the Free Comic Book Day web-site and be educated about the books coming out.  Communicate with your shop owner before FCBD, give them a heads up about what books look interesting to you.  Support the event and the sales your shop (hopefully) runs on FCBD.   Engage the new customers in conversation, make suggestions about what comics they might enjoy (PLEASE, try to be diverse here and not just suggest super-heroes unless that is what the new cusotmer says they are interested in).

If Publishers, comic shops, and existing fans all work together FCBD can kick it up a notch and really deliver on that mission:

More comics in the hands of more people.

Bob Bretall: Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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