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Retailer reactions to BOOM!’s Hexed promotion

by  in Comic News Comment

Earlier this week BOOM! Studios announced a promotion with MySpace where each issue of their new mini-series Hexed will pop up in full on the popular social networking site the same day it hit stores. The first issue is up there now.

When they did this last year with North Wind, they received mixed feedback from retailers on the concept, and generally negative feedback on the lack of communication about it before orders were due for the book. I collected some responses I received from retailers in a post on Blog@. Although this time around I haven’t heard much about retailers reacting to the promotion, but I thought it might be worth talking to a few to see what they thought, so I emailed about 20 or so yesterday afternoon.

Many thanks to those who responded, whose comments are collected below.

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James Sime, Isotope Comics in San Francisco:

In general, what are your thoughts on companies putting their comics out on the Web for free like this? Do you think it ultimately helps or hurts sales (or neither)?

It’s the industry’s new business model! It’s pretty clear from all the fat sacks of cash we retailers made off books like Perry Bible Fellowship: The Trial of Colonel Sweeto and Other Stories and Achewood: The Great Outdoor Fight and Freak Angels that even us brick and mortar shops benefited from those creators building a fanbase on the web with free content. If it’s good work, people will either buy themselves a copy of the non-virtual version or they’ll seek out more works by that creator. Warren Ellis’ massive body of published comics work has started selling even better in the past few months at my shop than it did before Freak Angels… it’s easy to see he’s gotten new fans and has managed to reinvigorate the Ellis vets into searching out his more obscure works. Now if only I had 25 more Nick Gurewitch and Chris Onstad books!

Did you order Hexed #1? If so, how has it done?

They just came in yesterday so it’s really too early to say on just one day of sales. It was a week of some amazing releases RASL, Blue Monday, Buffy, Walking Dead, X-Men Noir, Universal War One, Secret Six, Haunted Tank … hell there’s even a Sandman on the new arrivals rack! So yeah, Hexed #1 did pretty well. I think the cover did more to sell it than anything else.

Have any of your customers who bought the book mentioned the MySpace promotion?

No.

Has the MySpace promotion affected how you plan to order future copies of the book?

No. But it may affect my orders on the inevitable collection. At my shop that’s definitely the preferred format for the kind of books BOOM! makes, so that’s actually where I think this kind of promotion will benefit my business.

What was your reaction to how the promotion was communicated, via the video from Mark Waid?

I’m just really happy BOOM! is promoting their books. I don’t really have much to say about the video itself except that super cheesy male model shot of Mark taking off his glasses and giving the camera the eye? That was hilarious!

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Carr D’Angelo, Earth-2 Comics in Sherman Oaks, Calif.:

In general, what are your thoughts on companies putting their comics out on the Web for free like this? Do you think it ultimately helps or hurts sales (or neither)?

There are different versions of this promotion, so the answer is, “It depends.” DC has lots of first issue samples on their website, usually of books that have trade paperback collections. Image regularly releases first issues on the web through various sources, sometimes a few issues into the series or when the first issue has sold out. Both those options are done with the marketing goal of giving a taste and hopefully driving the reader into a comics shop to follow up on the rest of the story. BOOM! is releasing the online comic free day and date with the in-store release. It’s a little scary in that it’s not illogical to fear that some customers may read the book online instead of buying it in the store. But I don’t believe BOOM! is trying to thwart sales. They believe the internet-wide promotion of this book will let more people know about it.

Will it help or hurt sales? The jury is still out as the book only went on sale yesterday. Certainly it would be dangerous for Marvel or DC to release the new issue of their big event at the same time we are trying to sell it, but BOOM! is in an underdog position. Trying something different to get attention. Fact is, their books have the potential to appeal to readers outside of the existing market. So getting a new supernatural adventure comic in front of lots of people who read only Buffy or may not be reading comics at all–that can be a good idea.

Did you order Hexed #1? If so, how has it done?

We had seen early previews of the book and liked it, so we ordered slightly above what we ordered of similar titles. Even though we didn’t know about MySpace, it was clear that BOOM! was giving this book extra marketing elbow grease. We sold most of our order the first day, which is not what you expect, so I would say it has sold well. BOOM! also provided extra overship copies, which means we still have plenty in stock and are not scrambling to reorder.

Have any of your customers who bought the book mentioned the MySpace promotion?

No. But most peole don’t tell you why they are buying a book. The fact that a significant number of people picked up this book on new comics day means they heard something about it.

Has the MySpace promotion affected how you plan to order future copies of the book?

As always, the goal is to reorder what you can sell. I want to make sure I have enough of the upcoming issues to meet customer demand.

What was your reaction to how the promotion was communicated, via the video from Mark Waid?

It was a good way to get a message out. It’s more fun to click on a video starring the writer of EMPIRE, KINGDOM COME and some of the best FLASH stories ever than to read a press release. It had an in-your-face quality and it addressed all the key issues. Retailers get nervous when publishers experiment if the results of the experiment mean the retailer is stuck with comics they can’t sell. But BOOM! listened to retailers through message boards, e-mails and in discussions with ComicsPRO members. That’s the Comics Professional Retail Organization, and we represent probably 25-30 percent of the top 500 accounts BOOM! sent the extra five copies to. So they made a real effort to make this promotion retailer-friendly.

The key for me is returnability of the product. That shows me the publisher is standing behind it. They think their efforts will sell more copies, so they are willing to say, “If we’re wrong and you lose sales, we will take the books back and you don’t have to pay for them.” When a publisher shares the risk and gives you a money-back guarantee, I am very supportive.

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Brian Hibbs, Comix Experience in San Francisco:

In general, what are your thoughts on companies putting their comics out on the Web for free like this? Do you think it ultimately helps or hurts sales (or neither)?

In general, I think that same-day release of digital and hardcopy isn’t the best idea. There’s no evidence yet as to the sales results, but I have a slightly difficult time believing that free full-copy releases is going to spur many (any?) people to rush into a store to buy the same object they just read for free, and it MAY cause someone who would have bought it to not do so. Or it may not. There’s not enough evidence to cogently argue it either way.

Did you order Hexed #1? If so, how has it done?

Yes. I ordered two copies, and received another five as a “Top 500” account. We’ve sold two.

Ask again in a month for a real answer, as it hasn’t even been 48 hours yet!

Have any of your customers who bought the book mentioned the MySpace promotion?

No.

Has the MySpace promotion affected how you plan to order future copies of the book?

Not directly – if we don’t sell another copy, I’ll order two copies of the next solicited issue. If we sell more, I’ll order the appropriate number of copies.

What was your reaction to how the promotion was communicated, via the video from Mark Waid?

Mark hit the right notes, but I always think it is a bad idea to do what is intended as promotional efforts without informing retailers FAR ENOUGH IN ADVANCE that we can make adjustments one way or another. I can visualize some stores ordering MORE copies if they had known that the publisher was behind it.

If anything, it reminds me a little of the promotions for the Ultraverse line of books – they spent tens of thousands of dollars in taking out construction site advertising, etc., but never bothered to tell stores who were located in impacted cities that it was going to happen. What few consumer requests that were made couldn’t be acted upon in a timely fashion, because no one bothered to inform us.

The BEST promotions are ones where the retailer can REINFORCE the publishers message. That really can’t be done with 24 hours notice.

Having said THAT, making the book be fully returnable at least addresses a good deal of the risk calculation that was the failing of the North Wind version of this plan. So, yay for BOOM! on that one at least.

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Randy Lander, Rogues Gallery Comics & Games in Round Rock, Texas:

In general, what are your thoughts on companies putting their comics out on the Web for free like this? Do you think it ultimately helps or hurts sales (or neither)?

I don’t think it hurts, in most cases. I think it can help, although I think that it helps more in the case of books that build buzz online and then translate into graphic novel form (Dark Horse has been particularly good at this with their webcomics collections and MySpace collections). I’m not convinced that it works to put single issues online simultaneously. But BOOM! has sales figures to back up that it *did* for North Wind, and I’ve got anecdotal evidence from my mid-sized shop in Texas, so… grain of salt and all that.

Did you order Hexed #1? If so, how has it done?

We did order Hexed, and the sales have been a bit on the slow side, thus far. But several of the staff enjoyed the book, which will definitely help hand-sell it as time goes on.

Have any of your customers who bought the book mentioned the MySpace promotion?

Nope.

Has the MySpace promotion affected how you plan to order future copies of the book?

Nope. When it comes to ordering books, I have a pretty simple rule: If it sells, I’ll order more, if it doesn’t, I’ll order less (or none).

What was your reaction to how the promotion was communicated, via the video from Mark Waid?

Well, I was in with the retailers who had no problem with the North Wind promotion, so I really didn’t need my hand held on this one, either. To be honest, I didn’t watch the video… I heard all I needed to hear from the press release. But I thought it was a smart business decision and a classy way to handle what can be a prickly group of customers.

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If you’re a retailer with an opinion on this, feel free to leave a comment or drop me an email; if I get a few more in, I’ll run another post.