12 August 2010

“Get More Comics into Bookstores”?

Another of the conclusions from Hope Larson’s informal survey of young female comics readers was this advice to publishers about how to increase their readerships:

9) Availability is a problem. Get more comics into schools. Get more comics into libraries—especially school libraries. Get more comics into bookstores, especially large chains.
I see this sort of advice almost anytime that comics fan discuss the medium’s popularity or lack thereof, and it drives me batty.

Because I’m pretty sure those goals have already occurred to comics publishers. I don’t think they’d look at this sort of feedback and say, “Whoa! We should try to sell more! And then—look, I even checked the math—we’d make more money!”

In fact, I’m pretty sure the people who work for comics publishers (most of whom are comics fans, since there are usually higher salaries in other fields) spend at least six hours of every workday trying to make comics as widely available as profitably possible. That’s their job. That’s what pays for their food.

That doesn’t mean those companies are uncovering every opportunity, or always going about the task in the most effective way. But seriously, telling a publisher that the key to success will be putting out more copies—that won’t get them any farther than they are already.

Often well-meaning industry observers, as in this survey, follow up that advice about making comics more widely available with additional advice about spending more money. As in, “Publishers need to advertise in mainstream media…” (Advertising = $$.) “Use licensed properties to lure new readers into comics.” (Licenses for hit properties = $$$.)

Most print publishers don’t have a lot of marketing money to throw around, but they’re already aware of the strategies of paid advertising and licensed properties. The more advanced questions are:
  • Are those strategies cost-effective? I always wonder if people who recommend advertising think that such techniques work on someone as intelligent as themselves.
  • Do those strategies come with risky trade-offs? For example, one of the advantages of selling to comics stores is that there are no returns. Selling paperbacks to bookstores means that a company opens itself up to getting all the unsold inventory back at any time. And even then bookstores are choosy about what they put on their shelves.
I don’t expect people without experience in the peculiar publishing industry to know its wrinkles any more than I know how to price insurance. But I try not to give advice to underwriters and actuaries.

TOMORROW: Other responses to this survey.

1 comment:

ericshanower said...

Wish there were more of you.