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What Free Comic Book Day Means to a Small Publisher

| May 4, 2014

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Free Comic Book Day means different things to different people in our community. For retailers, the first Saturday in May is often their single biggest in-store event and sales day of the year. For comic readers, it’s the opportunity to get their hands on some new books for the tasty price of free. For non-comic fans, it might be just the enticement needed to finally check out that cool looking specialty shop they’ve thought about poking their heads into. For big publishers, it’s usually the chance to preview the next big line-wide event, or showcase a few upcoming new series.  But for a small publisher like ComixTribe, it’s something more.

Free Comic Book Day is an opportunity for us to sit at the big kids table for a change.

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This past Saturday, at comic shops around the globe, more than 60,000 copies of ComixTribe books were given out by participating retailers. That’s more total ComixTribe books distributed in a single day than we’ve distributed in our two year relationship with Diamond combined.

SCAM #0: Crosswords FCBD had a print run more than thirteen times as large as SCAM #1, our first Diamond release back in 2012. Where, on a monthly basis, it’s a struggle to get even 10% of Diamond retail accounts to order a single copy of ComixTribe books for their shelves, our FCBD books get stocked by 70-80% of retailers. Nice change of pace, right?

Now, I don’t want to belabor the point that the direct market deck is stacked against small publishers. That’s as it should be. ComixTribe and other small publishers don’t deserve the same attention in the Previews catalog as larger publishers with 20+ year track records, whose books keep Diamond in business. All the rest of a us want is a shot. A chance to tell our stories, entertain readers, and not go broke in the process.

And that’s why FREE COMIC BOOK DAY is such an incredible opportunity, one made possible by comic book retailers. In case you didn’t know, Free Comic Book Day may be free to consumers, but they’re not free to retailers. Rather, publishers offer books to retailers at a low price (usually around $0.20-$0.30 per copy), and Diamond adds a nickel a book to distribute them. With 60 titles in the FCBD 2014 program, those dimes can really add up. Retailer Brian Hibbs noted that it would cost him nearly $20 per person were someone to take all 60 “Free” titles. Many retailers spend thousands of dollars on “free” books, in what is most shops biggest outreach and marketing effort of the year.

Jason Ciaramella at the Jetpack Comics Festival in Rochester, NH.

Jason Ciaramella at the Jetpack Comics Festival in Rochester, NH.

We recognize it’s a tremendous thing to be a part of this event, and with our offerings, we’ve really tried to make them count. That’s why we paired SCAM’s Joe Mulvey with Eisner-nominated scribe Jason Ciaramella (The Cape) on an explosive one-shot featuring SCAM’s marquee villain. Not only that, we included a crossword puzzle on the back of the issue that readers who solve and submit the correct answer can win a ComixTribe graphic novel for themselves and their comic shop!  We did a similar promotion last year, had more than 300 entries, and gave away 10 graphic novels to readers and shops.

And it’s also why, for our second Free Comic Book title, EPIC, we did something no other publisher did. We gave away a book that is BIGGER than an average length comic – one 32 page pilot issue for this new super-teen action comedy.  More than 33,000 copies of EPIC were given out on Saturday, a print run that puts this book on par with mid-list Big Two, and bigger than most other publisher’s standard print runs. That’s a hell of an opportunity Free Comic Book Day provides.

One way we’re thanking retailers is by releasing the next issue, EPIC #1, this Wednesday immediately after Free Comic Book Day…to get new readers back into the store ASAP.

photoCOULDN’T MAKE FREE COMIC BOOK DAY OR COULDN’T FIND COMIXTRIBE FCBD BOOKS AT YOUR LOCAL SHOP?

Not to worry.

There’s still a chance to get (Almost) Free Comic Book Day 2014 books from ComixTribe.  We have a limited supply of our 2014 titles available at Shop.ComixTribe.com.

Our e-commerce platform doesn’t allow us to sell FREE items, so the books are priced at $0.01. Regular shipping rates do apply. Quantities are limited, and there’s a limit of one copy per title per person.

We recently added a bunch of new spring and summer titles to our shop, so it’s a great time to stock up on ComixTribe stuff!

What’s the Impact of FCBD?

There are plenty of FCBD skeptics who challenge the efficacy of the big event. I’ve spoken to a retailer who admits, “I sell five Simpsons comics a month. Every Free Comic Book Day, I give out three hundred Simpsons comics. And the next month, I still sell five Simpsons comics.”  There are no guarantees that free books are going to cause sales to explode. (If you’re looking for guarantees, comics isn’t the business for you.)

But we did see direct market sales of THE RED TEN jump about 20% after THE RED TEN #0 FCBD was released last May.  And EPIC #1, which we scheduled come out the first Wednesday after FCBD, will debut at our highest retail numbers since SCAM #1, thanks in large part to the Free Comic Book Day tie-in. Are sales where we’d like them to be? Certainly not. EPIC will still land near the bottom of the Comichron sales charts in May, even with the FCBD lead in. But we’re certainly opening higher than we would without it.

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While we see a tangible sales impact by participating in the event, the real excitement is the opportunity to give our creators a much bigger stage to shine on.  Thirty thousand more people have been exposed to the work of Alex Cormack and John Lees, who did a back-up story in SCAM #0.  Many thousands got to see a teaser of AND THEN EMILY WAS GONE in the back of the same book, which is incredible targeted advertising. Have a FCBD book got Joe Mulvey an invite to FCBD at Forbidden Planet NYC, where he held court and signed four giant stacks of books to enthusiastic new fans. (Joe’s since been invited back for a SCAM ULTIMATE COLLECTION release party, details of which we should have soon.)

As a creator, I’ve been doing in-store events at comic book shops on Free Comic Book day for the last five years. And truly, nothing beats making a direct, in-person connection with fans. Those interactions can create fans for life. And yet, as individuals, we can only scale so much. This year, I personally gave out at least 500 copies of ComixTribe FCBD books to fans at the Jetpack FCBD festival. Those are huge numbers for a personal appearance, certainly. But knowing that at the same time, 60,000 more ComixTribe books were being handed out at shops around the world meant that this day could have even more impact.

In addition to the people I met in person, by monitoring social media for people mentioning our books, we’re able to make direct connections with more people around the world.  I’ve already received four fan-emails letting us know how much they enjoyed EPIC.  And the ComixTribe mailing list has received about 50 more subscribers in the last twenty-four hours, thanks in large part to a well-placed offer for more FREE COMICS placed in the back of the book. We’re also getting a bump in activity at our online store and through our various digital sales channels.

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Tyler James at the Jetpack Comics FCBD Festival, holding up copies of ComixTribe’s books.

In conclusion, Free Comic Book Day is a big deal for us. Once again, we thank the retailers, fans, and creators who helped make it happen.

Keep Reading!

If you liked this article, you may want to read one of these three articles next:

We Are a Tribe

The Creator & Small Publisher’s Guide to the Diamond Distribution Cycle

Think Outside the Floppy

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About the Author ()

Tyler James is a comics creator, game designer, educator, and publisher residing in Newburyport, MA. He is the writer and co-creator of THE RED TEN, a superhero murder mystery, EPIC, a superteen action comedy, and TEARS of the DRAGON, a swords and sorcery fantasy. Tyler is the publisher and co-creator of ComixTribe, which is both a new imprint of quality creator owned titles, and an online community where creators help creators make better comics. Follow him on Twitter @tylerjamescomics, or send him an email at tyler.james@comixtribe.com.

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