Saturday, March 09, 2013

The Only Thing Wrong With Free Comic Book Day (And How To Fix It)

Free Comic Book Day is great.

If you haven't heard of it, it's a once a year celebration of all things comics, when a bunch of comic book stores give a way a bunch of free comic books.  And some comic book stores go all out, hosting massive events with costumes, comic book creators, and other fun stuff.  My local comic book shop, 4 Color Fantasies in Rancho Cucamonga, goes all out. Here's a video the amazing Kurk Kushin shot a few years back that will give you some idea:

Looks amazing, right? Bounce houses, free hot dogs, kids in costumes. They've even had "pro" style wrestling exhibitions. My kids almost always dress up, and deciding what to wear is a bigger deal than Halloween.

And Free Comic Book Day is doing its job--I've brought friends and family who otherwise hadn't set foot in a comic book shop, and gives the kids a gateway drug to the comics.

So there's no reason not to go. You should go. It's always the first Saturday in May, the day after the premiere of that year's first big comic book related blockbuster movie. Seriously, go here and find out where your local comic book shop is, and put it in your calendar today.

So if I'm telling you that you have to go, whats the problem?

The problem is that the books aren't really free. Not to the comic book shop. Or to the publishers. And that means there have to be realistic limitations on how many comics each person can actually take. And that can be disappointing.

Go here and you can see all the comics that are supposed to be available this year. As of this writing, there are 52 comics that are available. They cost the comic book store owner around 12 cents to 50 cents per copy. So if the shop were to get everybody all 52 issues, that would be at least 10 bucks a person. For a shop getting a couple thousand vistors, like 4 Color, that would mean at least $20,000 in costs that day. Add in the free hot dogs, bounce house rental, the cost to fly in the visiting talent--yeah, you just can't give everybody everything.

There's an article about the difficulties FCBD costs can have for shop owners here.

I've seen every possible way of handling this by comic book shops.

One shop in Riverside limits to two per customer, with a rule of "I get to pick one and you can pick the other." In some ways this is silly--since "the one I I get to pick" is always the same book, a family of four, like mine, leaves the shop with four identical copies of one title, which does not actually increase his chances by four times that my family will end up buying that title. It just means he missed an opportunity to market us a few different titles with free copies of another book.

Other shops just put a limit of, say, five books per person, and I consider that pretty reasonable. It's all "while supplies last" so if the 500 people who came before you all got the copy of the Star Wars comic you wanted, you're going to have to settle for something else. I mean, since I'm being given the comics for free, I have absolutely zero right to say I'm being given free stuff wrong.

(And that goes for the guy in Riverside, too. I honestly should just shut up and say thank you.)

Now, obviously, not all 52 of those comics are going to appeal to everybody. But there are a few, shall we say, crazy people who are going to want nearly all of them.

Yes, I fall into this category.

Some comic book shops have found ways to take advantage of this to good effect. For example, 4 Color teamed up with a G.I.Joe cosplay group call the Cobra 3rd Nightwatch last year to host a Free Comic Book Day blood drive, and everybody who donated got to get "all" the comics as a reward. In this case, "All" just meant one of every comic on the table when you finished your donation which, isn't really "All." (Again, I hope I don't sound like I'm complaining about this. This is the best Free Comic Book Day offer I know about in SoCal, and I hope they do it again this year.)

There should be a way for folks who want to "try" all the comics to be able to "try" all the comics. And it shouldn't have to cost the retailers extra.

So what's my idea?

The Free Comic Book Day website should sell the free comic books to the public.

Not "sell" in the traditional, charge full price sense. But it should cost a little more than it costs the retailers.

And it should be treated exactly like it's treated with the retailers.

Say a teacher wants to get 30 Smurfs comics to give as "presents" to their kids. Let them buy 30 if they pay 20 or so cents an issue plus shipping.

Say a parent wants to throw comics in to all the presents he gives away at all the parties his kids get invited to. Let him buy 50 issues at 25 cents a pop, plus shipping.

And if some crazy guy wants to try them all, let him order all 52 for like $25 plus shipping.

The publishers get what they want--more books in more hands, and at less risk. These books were specifically asked for, unlike the books that some retailers get stuck with, which can sit in boxes at the retailer's location because nobody wanted them, even though the publisher printed them at a loss.

More people get to try more comics, and, if they like them, more comics get sold.

In this case, the "shipping and handling" would have to be bumped up a little to include some money to pay for the boxes, labels, and some temps to fill the boxes. But that's the nature of "Shipping and Handling" anyway. (Actually, in most cases, Shipping and Handling also includes the cost of manufacturing the product.)

So give it some thought, comic book world. Let's get more comics out there and more kids reading them.

Because, in the end, that means more kids reading at all.

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