The results were undeniable. For the first time in weeks, months, years, people were flocking to the comic book shops, current fans, old fans and soon-to-be fans alike, all asking about the new books, all looking for The New 52. And without a doubt, September of last year became a banner month. October almost more so, with second printings finally arriving and second issues performing quite well – sometimes even exceeding what retailers thought in terms of which readers would actually stick around. But now the shine is off the apple. Now, we’re into month five, and most, if not all of the new books have been in the middle of story arcs for quite some time, and as such, there’s no real way to push the books harder. With each new arc, each new creative team, there comes an opportunity to catch people who missed out on round one, or ever worse, who were unaware that there was a book out there made especially for them. As the main line deals with and enters the doldrums, sales are evening out. Most are comfortably above the numbers they were pulling before, or comfortably above what they would be selling without the huge marketing push. (A prime example of this would be Animal Man, which would be selling infinitely worse had it not been part of the launch.)
With numbers settling or tumbling, depending on the series, retailers are now looking to fill in the cash hole that’s been provided. After all, once you become accustomed to a certain kind of lifestyle, it’s hard to go back to what you had before, especially if you’re the lazy sort who is still ordering a bevy of the old titles, wondering why your shelves are bursting with unsold books. To all of you out there looking for the next big thing, I have a little secret to tell you. The reason why The New 52 sold so well was not because of the volume – or even the gimmick of an entire universe resetting. It sold well, because it was marketed. Or rather, it was marketed for us.
We often like to shrug off the attention that newspapers and entertainment outlets drop on us every now and then. Usually I pause long enough to bask in the novelty of comic book Batman getting the same kind of attention that is afforded for the Kardashians, but that feeling is fleeting, and generally, the trickle of articles that hit more mainstream venues tend to have a negligible sales effect. With The New 52, however, the torrent was relentless. Every day, a new piece of information was metered out. A new series, a new writer, a new direction, some new pages… whatever. Something new was happening every day, and it began to form the habit of appearing in people’s minds. Once the habit formed, it was easy enough to nudge the right people into the stores. For the most part, new and lapsed readers walked in on their own volition, having been fed the information they needed and given the tools to at least try to get into something new. But now, that torrent is gone, replaced by the old trickle of articles – and once again retailers are left to their own devices. A shop has to sell books on their own, without much help coming from elsewhere.
Now I know a lot of people are resigned to the fact that the big hit that came with The New 52 will be something that will never be repeated – and for the most part, they are right. After something big like that happens, if it were to be tried again, the law of diminishing returns would set in – but more to the point, something like The New 52 will never happen again because retailers are far too lazy to make it happen again – because it’s not that there isn’t enough product to support a New 52 style promotion. In fact, in the current order book, there are approximately 38 different titles that will be launching or relaunching that month, and well over 25 others that will start new story arcs. And that’s after a cursory count. If I were to go about this process with a fine tooth comb, ravaging the internet for more information on story breaks and what-have-you, I’m pretty sure I would find quite a few more to add to that list. But let’s think about this for a second. There are 38 different titles that will be starting from square one in March. At least 25 more will be offering decent jumping on points. That’s a total of 63 books that can be sold to customers, new and old, in March alone. 63. The fact that they are from different publishers, feature different genres and different characters means absolutely nothing. The only thing standing in the way of every month being a month of New 52 style sales is the fact that your customers (potential or otherwise) are not aware of the new books – and making them aware is just so ridiculously simple. Seriously, all you have to do is engage every customer who walks in through the door, and ask them what type of stories they like. Chances are, something exists in your catalogue for them.
Let’s use March as an example. March will see the launch of several amazing looking books, each running the gamut of genre, style and taste. Vertigo will be launching four new books in March. The easiest to find a customer base for would be Fairest, a spin-off of the popular Fables series. Chances are, you already know who wants to buy this book, and with a modicum of effort, you can produce respectable numbers for that series. The other books in the mini launch will be a little harder to sell, without an already successful concept to pin themselves to, but they should be easy enough to sell with a bit of work. Saucer Country features writing by Paul Cornell, who is currently writing Demon Knights for DC proper. New Deadwardians is being written by one of the writers of Resurrection Man. Chances are if a person is enjoying those books, they will at least want to check out these new offerings by them. That’s a customer base to chase down even before you start selling towards the kinds of stories being told. With Saucer Country, you have a heady mix of The West Wing meeting with a bit of sci-fi alien screwery. That right there is a concept that’s quite easy to sell. Yes, you will get some eye rolls when you attempt to explain the book, but you will also get emphatic enthusiasm when you hit upon someone who would love to read a book like that. Approach anyone who you know was into Ex Machina. Or hell, start from sci-fi and work your way in. Unless you run one crazy anomaly of a store, there will be some sci-fi fans that frequent your aisles, and they are chomping at the bit for a bit of sci-fi strange in their comics. Offer this book to them.
Now with The New Deadwardians, you’ll have to get creative. The takes place in post-Victorian England and follows a murder mystery in a world where the rich voluntarily become vampires to escape the zombie hordes that trundle about the streets. It’s a period mystery with supernatural dressings, and it’s not quite like anything on the stands, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to sell the book. Do you know people who are into the supernatural? Hell, do you know people who are into Supernatural? How about period dramas. Generally, if you find a nerd who is into period pieces, they are also into neat mash-ups that are taking place within those time periods – a bit of fiction splashed in with the non-fiction. Approach customers. Have literature about new books ready to produce on the spot. Talk. Make things work.
Admittedly, not every book will be an easy sell. I’m still trying to wrap my head around selling Dominique Leveau: Voodoo Child. It’s a voodoo book (obviously) dealing with supernatural threats, set against the vibrant backdrop of New Orleans. Could be interesting, but the writer comes from outside of comics, and the artist is known mostly for ancillary superhero fare from the 80s. That doesn’t exactly spell a sales juggernaut, not without the ability to taste the wares. Luckily, there’s already a Dominique Leveau story available to the read. If you have a copy of The Unexpected one shot they put out in the fall, it’s there. You can use a copy to try and sell the book to potential customers by allowing them to peruse a store copy. Hell, you can get a gauge as to who you can sell the book to by just giving it a read through yourself, and matching the book up with prospective readers. It’s not a hard thing to do, but again, it takes a bit of effort.
In addition to those four books, there’s a ton of others that will be easy enough to sell. Brian K. Vaughan is returning to comics with Saga alongside fantastic artist Fiona Staples. There’s a preview of the book inside Previews and located on the internet, and it’s a damn fine looking book. Vaughan already has a built in audience, one that voraciously ate up Y The Last Man and Ex Machina (disagree with me if you will, but compare the sales of those books to others of its kind on the stands right now). It’s a new sci-fi epic that would be perfect for Vaughan fans, for Star Wars fans, for people who want to be taken a new, epic journey to strange new worlds. Talking about it on Twitter pushed my own sales up to a level that I would be happy with were the book to star Daredevil or The Punisher, and that’s before it hits the stands. Those are pre-sells. The Manhatten Projects is a new ongoing from the creative team that brought everyone The Red Wing last year. You might recognize it from the mad scramble you made when you were reordering the book for customers who kept asking for it the day it hit the stands. Remember? You were sold out. Don’t make that mistake again. Start with a base by telling you Red Wing customers that the book is on its way. Then spread out to people who are enjoying Hickman’s Fantastic Four run. Or Secret Warriors. Or Ultimate Comics Ultimates. Or show people the preview pages. Or just yell the words INFINITE OPPENHEIMERS and see who does a double take. There’s no reason this book shouldn’t have phenomenal sales, given the potential audience – and that only applies to those customers who are already in your stores. There’s a great big world of people out there who don’t know how much they love comics yet. All those people, all that untapped sales potential. And are we chasing it? Do stores advertise? Do they advertise in ways that appeal to those who aren’t already in on the joke, so to speak? Generally speaking, this is not the case. And again, this is a problem – but one to discuss in another column.
For now, I urge all retailers to take a look through their order catalogue, and search for the books that are falling by the wayside, that for whatever reason, aren’t crossing people’s radars. Don’t keep them hidden – push them for all they are worth. If the industry is going to survive, we all need to e proactive. Hell, if your business is going to survive, you’re going to have to be proactive. Because let’s face it – if you tank, yes, it’ll affect the industry, and it will affect your customers – but more than anyone, it’s going to affect you quite personally and financially in a very negative way. Don’t let this happen. Do what you got into this business to do.
Sell some comics.
You’ve been reading Me vs. The Angry Mob – Issue 2012.01