Dear publishers: A rant about websites

I spend a lot of time skipping around publishers' websites, and lately I have been surprised at how difficult it can be to find even basic information about a comic. As a comics blogger, I naturally use these sites a lot, but it also seems to me that comics readers are an independent lot and providing them with as much information as possible would be an excellent way to market your book. And yet...

So for the benefit of any publishers (or would-be publishers) that are out there, here is what I really, really want to see on your website. And I'll finish on a positive note, I promise, with an examples of websites that get it right.

A catalog page for every comic you produce: That seems obvious, doesn't it? You would be surprised how many websites don't provide that, though. Just working on this week's Food or Comics post, I looked for and couldn't find pages for individual comics from Archie, IDW, and Top Cow—in some cases there was a page for a series but not an individual issue. A catalog page doesn't have to be an elaborate thing—just a cover image, basic information like authors, price, and ISBN, and the blurb from the back cover. It's enormously helpful to journalists like me, who like to check their facts, as well as to readers who want to know what they are buying. Also—this is another simple thing that lots of publishers overlook—the catalog page for a single issue or volume should include links to all the others in a series.

A way to find that catalog page: That means having an index or a search engine on your site, preferably both. I'm going to call out Image Comics on this one, but in a nice way, because I have talked to their people and I know they are working on improving their site. At the moment, they have neither an index nor a search box, so some of their comics are simply invisible to the reader. There's no point in putting up those catalog pages if no one can find them.

Related: If I Google the title of your comic, your site should show up on the first page of results. It almost never does.

A straightforward home page and easy navigation: Fine, put up a big ol' banner image of your latest zombie space aliens epic, but keep it confined to one area, please. Put links and navigation in decent-sized type and make them easy to find. Tokyopop, despite some improvements in this area, still wins the prize for busiest publisher site. Admittedly, they are aiming for teenagers, who apparently like information overload, but I wish they had a site for grownups as well that didn't have the Flash and polls and social media links.

Information on next week's comics: Don't hide them! Some of us like to plan ahead.

Links that work: If I click on the cover of a comic, send me to the catalog page for that comic, not back to the home page or off into 404 limbo.

Tidy URLs: Fantagraphics, D&Q, I'm looking at you. A URL should not be a paragraph long and contain long strings of apparently random letters and numbers.

Flash intros: The Oatmeal sums this up nicely:

Don't. Just don't.

A decent-sized cover image that I can grab: I want to write about your comics, and readers want to see what they look like. I want to take the image from your site, so I know it's correct. (It's an occupational hazard with manga that an image search on a book turns up all sorts of foreign and bootleg editions, and it's easy to put up the wrong picture.) Don't put the cover up in some Flash interface that won't let me grab it, and don't tilt it at a funny angle. Sometimes simplest is best.

A working "Contact Us" form: Because you know what really pisses people off? Taking the trouble to fill out a form like that and getting an error message when you hit "submit." And it's nice to be able to find address and phone information on a website as well.

Regular updates: The most recent comics on the First Second site are from Spring 2009. More recent books appear on the MacMillan website. I know that because I'm a comics blogger, but most people wouldn't think to look there. Not updating the website is usually the first sign that collapse is imminent, although I don't think that's the case here.

Some nice extras: Previews, character and background information, links to reviews and articles about creators, all add richness of content and make the site more interesting. I'm more likely to visit and more likely to stay.

OK, who gets it right? Dark Horse provides a lot of information on past and upcoming books, along with plenty of bonus content, including previews and a well written blog. That's the gold standard for comics sites. Tokyopop's main site may induce seizures, but the website for their yaoi line Blu Manga, has a lovely design and straightforward navigation. Boom! Studios also has a lot of content on their site, although the design is a little busier and sometimes I have to resort to the search engine to find a comic. The manga publisher Vertical has good information and previews as well. And indy publishers Oni Press and Top Shelf both do a beautiful job of presenting all the information with minimal fuss, and in the case of Top Shelf, a pretty impressive slate of webcomics as well.

OK, my rant is over. Readers, do you have any complaints or compliments to add?

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