"Advent Rising" #1 Grows, Two Issues For The Price of One - Jemas Talks Plans

Last month CBR News brought you the latest on "Advent Rising," the new comic based on the Majesco video game, written by Bill Jemas and Rob Worley, to be published by 360ep. The series was set to debut with a standard-sized comic in October for $2.25, but things have change a little bit and for the better. CBR News has learned that when "Advent Rising" #1 ships in October it will be as a double issue, pulling together the contents of issues #1 and #2 at no additional cost to fans or retailers. We caught up with 360ep's CEO Bill Jemas, 360ep Director of Development and Editor Teresa Focarile as well as writer Rob Worley to find out what their plans are for "Advent Rising" #1 and to see how they came to this idea.

"What we want to do is get as much of this content as possible into the hands of as many comic fans as possible because we think the content is good, strong and fun and we think the best way to build the franchise is to have people read this," Jemas told CBR News late last week by phone. "I don't think there's a comic book company worth their salt that doesn't feel that way about their best projects."

Originally the plan was to offer "Advent Rising" to retailers with an alternate cover. If a retailer buys five copies, they get one alternate cover free. "Retailers like that because those alternate cover books tend to sell at a high margin and give you a couple of facings on the book," explained Jemas. "On reflection and internal discussion, we felt that wasn't as strong an offer as we should make. It doesn't show really that 360ep is really putting our money where our mouth is."

So, the minds at 360ep mulled it over some more and worked up some new ideas. One possibility was for each comic a retailer bought, they'd receive an alternate cover free, but the feedback they got from retailers they surveyed said it would backfire on them. "Retailers like that the second book is a bit more rare and sells for a higher margin," said Jemas. "We also had some nervousness in what you end up doing with alternate covers is you basically sell the same content to the same person twice."

Along the way Worley finished the second "Advent Rising" book, which Jemas and company really liked. "So, the group got together and figured out that it would be fun to take the first issue and make it a double issue," said Jemas. "So, for $2.25 we're offering 64 pages. Not to bore you with detail, but that's 57 pages of content and these books have extra content anyway. What the offer boils down to is 'Advent Rising' #1 is 64 pages for $2.25 and the alternate cover offer for retailers is still in effect."

Worley explained that if you look at the originally intended first issue, that was only half of the first act. "Taken by itself, it probably doesn't hook you as well as the first act as a whole," Worley told CBR News by phone last week. "So, what we're giving everybody is the first act, issues #1 & #2, as a whole, which really gets all the players into place and puts everything into motion. That should get people hooked into the story. If you look at the 'X-Men' movies, where the first movie was all set-up and the second movie was all action, we're sort of giving you the set-up and the action in the first double-sized issue. And hopefully people will like it and want to see what happens in the next one."

"We're working real hard not to need a skip month and to actually keep to our original, or darn near close to our original schedule," Editor Teresa Focarile explained to CBR News. "As planned, a month after this first, now double-sized, issue comes out the second issue will be out as well."

Despite publishing the first two issues as one, "Advent Rising" will still remain a six-issue mini-series. A sixth issue of story content will be added to the end of the series, details of which are still being worked out. Regardless, taking your first two issues of a book and collecting them as one, with no additional increase in price, is a substantial financial hit for a company launching their first comic book. "A lot of bad things happen financially in the short term," explained Jemas. "The margin on the first issue disappears and then there's no second issue. Then we told Majesco that we're going to do a one-shot issue at the end of the series, so come hell or high water this will go from being six individual stories that made a whole, but now it's going to be seven individual stories that make up a whole. So, if you do the math small, you wouldn't do this. But frankly, if you do small math you should stay out of the comic book business. You do this because you love comics, but you also do it to make money. If you're not making money, it's because people don't like your books. But you also do this because you love the property, the concept, the writing and the people you're working with. So, I think in terms of that math-- build a big property and content you're all proud of-- I think this is an aggressive, but well warranted decision.

"We're in an industry where standard operating procedure doesn't work very well," continued Jemas. "I don't know DC's finances, but my impression is that standard operating procedures don't work very well for anybody except Marvel. That there's not enough single copy issues sold in the comic book marketplace to make the investment in doing single copies a rational financial investment use of funds. So, what we're trying to figure out is whether a little bit more investment spending on behalf of publishers would make the business make sense to the publisher.

"The best example of that at Marvel was we decided to invest a little more money to build our graphic novel business. That was an investment no previous management at Marvel was willing to take, even when the previous management was rolling in dough. There was a ton of money out there and no one was willing to invest it in the graphic novel business. They wouldn't invest in extra editorial time, in upgrading to the type of writers that could handle a six-issue arc, nor would they invest in the inventory level and product placement in retail. So, Marvel changed the comic book business model enough so that it pushed the investment against the initial content against an entirely different distribution channel. Spreading that six-issues against an additional revenue stream made the math work. It was the additional investment of cash that made the original investment more valuable and have a greater chance of return. I think that's what's going to happen here. Someone, through experiments like we're talking about here, will come up with a good way to make the investment work, provided the property and content is good."

In terms of cost to the retailer, Jemas doesn't believe there should be much, if any, additional shipping cost that'll be picked up by the retailer. Maybe a tiny increment, but nothing material.

One popular option explored by publishers these days is to offer the first issue of a new series for only $.25 cents or less. "We looked at doing the first for $.25 cents and price the entire line at $2.99," said Jemas. "We had a couple of conversations with retailers and distributors and their recommendation was that customers would more appreciate the $2.25 price point and retailers would appreciate an alternate cover. That $2.25 price point and alternate cover gives the retailer a chance to make money where the $.25 cent issues don't."

Essentially, with a $.25 cent issue both the publisher and retailer end up making no money, whereas in this case only the publisher takes the hit and that's an investment Jemas is willing to make. "On some level that's what we had to come to grips with," explained Jemas. "Small comics publishing is a series of unfortunate investments, followed by the occasional blockbuster movie. We would like to be able to hold our head above water in the comic industry without the big, blockbuster movie. Maybe the way to do that is to open up our wallets a little more and invest in the comic book channel.

"I think the best idea that came down the pike, which we may do with our next series, is to say buy the first issue and get the second issue for free as a separate, second issue. But, we were way too late on that because you had to find a way to communicate that properly to retailers where they understand they're giving away the second issue for free as opposed to selling it, whereas just putting it all together in one, bound up cover made everything easy and you still get a nice value at 64 pages for $2.25."

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