BOOM! Studios caused an amount of distress in the comics retailing community last month when the publisher released the entire first issue of "North Wind" for free on MySpace Comic Books. As the online promotion launched simultaneously with the traditional print release, some retailers on the Comic Book Industry Alliance message board – a private forum of comics store owners discussing retailing issues-- responded in the resoundingly negative, saying that BOOM! was undercutting their sales. Compounding the matter for some retailers was the fact that when they placed their orders for "North Wind" #1, they were not informed of the MySpace promotion's existence, saying if they'd known the product would be available for free at the same time it would be on sale in their stores, they may have proceeded differently.
However, in an interview with BOOM! Marketing & Sales Director Chip Mosher, he told CBR News that other retailers had contacted BOOM! and pledged support for the simultaneous free MySpace release, saying they believed the promotion increased awareness of the post-apocalyptic ice age epic by Traveler creator David DiGilio, and ultimately contributed to selling more copies of "North Wind" #1, not fewer. Indeed, "North Wind" #1 did go into a second printing to meet demand.
With orders now in for "North Wind" #4, CBR News caught up with BOOM!'s Chip Mosher for an update on the health of the series vis-à-vis its simultaneous, free-of-charge releases on MySpace, and to glean some insight into BOOM!'s ongoing dialogue with retailers.
"We did see a bump [in sales for 'North Wind' #4]," Chip Mosher told CBR News. "But let me put this in perspective for you. We usually see a dip of 10% or more between issues #3 and #4 for any of our series. That said, we saw nearly a 20% increase in orders between issue #3 and #4 of 'North Wind.' An increase like this has never happened in the history of our company. Never. Bottom line - we are talking about a total 30% increase over the norm."
As some comics readers may know, orders for issue #4 of a new title are generally submitted by direct market retailers a short time after issue #1 of said series goes on sale. As such, "North Wind" #2 and #3 were ordered before the MySpace promotion was announced and before issue #1 was delivered to stores. The 30% increase reflects the initial orders for "North Wind" #4, not readjustments.
"As a publisher, the orders you get for issue #4 give you a good idea on the reception of the series in the marketplace," said Mosher. 'Between this increase from 'North Wind' #3 to #4, the reorder activity on all the issues so far, the sell out and subsequent second printing of #1, the response to the promotion has been tremendous!"
Given the plainly positive direct market performance of "North Wind," it would seem that some retailers' fears of lost business have been assuaged. "We've certainly spent time checking in with some retailers who were really unhappy with the promotion," said Mosher. "Interestingly, we've found some who have not only subsequently sold out [of 'North Wind' #1], but also ordered second prints. They refuse to go on the record, fearing a response from the more militant retailers. Meanwhile, the guys that have gone on the record like Atomic Comics in Arizona, Ultimate Comics in North Carolina, and Meltdown in Los Angeles continue to be excited and supportive.
"I think there are some store owners out there who are worried that they are the next Tower Records," added Mosher, referring to the music retail empire that collapsed earlier in the decade due in part to what it cited as internet piracy, or, in other words, free music online. "I understand why [comics retailers are] concerned. But I really think that it's apples and oranges. Music is an intangible product. Comic books and graphic novels are collected. When people enjoy a story, they're prone to want to buy a book and put it in their collection. I think comic shops are a unique retail experience that's totally different than the music business.
"At the end of the day, we are all on the same team and all looking to sell more comics to more people. That is what this [MySpace] promotion did and I am sure some of the naysayers will look at the results and change their minds and some won't. And that's fine, that's the way most things go."
Philosophy aside, BOOM! intends to make sure retailers aren't similarly caught off guard again. Retailers are our partners; their concerns are very important to us -- when they do well, we do well, stated Mosher. Some retailers have done very, very well with 'North Wind,' as the numbers for issue #4, the second printing of the first issue, and the #1 sell-out show. Now that we know that this type of promotion has the capacity to be an issue for some [retailers], we'll do our best to give everyone the heads-up so they can bump up or bump down their orders in advance. The great thing now is that everyone has this promotion to use as a yardstick of success."
By virtue of the retailer controversy, "North Wind" received perhaps more attention than it may have otherwise, even with the comic available for free on such a hugely popular website as MySpace (the MySpace Comic Books portal currently boasts nearly 160,000 friends), raising even more awareness of the book. While the MySpace promotion will continue to run the five-month length of "North Wind," Mosher admits it's difficult to determine conclusively whether the MySpace partnership or the retailer outcry contributed the most to the title's increasing success. "In all honesty, I don't think that we'll know for sure which factor had more of an impact than the other," said Mosher. "But whatever happened, it triggered a massive sales upturn for us not only on 'North Wind,' but we saw increased sale activity on other titles like 'The Foundation' #1 that sold out too!"
Despite the favorable results of the MySpace promotion in the direct market, BOOM! has no plans to implement the scheme with other projects – for now. "This ['North Wind'] promotion was something special, and if we expect to replicate its success, we need to make sure if we do it again that it's special," Mosher explained. "The results are encouraging, but it's also a continuously evolving process. If we do it again, is it less newsworthy? If we do it again, do we have a chance to build on 'North Wind's' success? Perhaps so, in either case. Hard to say.
"We're the little guy. We're not Marvel or DC. So we have to innovate. You can certainly put money on the fact that BOOM! will have the most aggressive marketing operation in comics publishing. BOOM! will be doing whatever we need to do to increase sales and drive more people to buy comics. So, yes, expect the unexpected when it comes to BOOM!"
CBR Executive Producer Jonah Weiland contributed to this story.
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