FCBD Questions Unanswered

I’ve been trying to get answers since January about decisions being made in relation to the yearly Free Comic Book Day promotion.

Free Comic Book Day is a joint marketing effort among Diamond Distribution, dedicated comic book retailers, and publishers. The goal is to get new customers into stores by giving away promotional comics created especially for the day. (The retailers, by the way, pay for the comics they give away.)

This year, decisions were made to reject webcomic samplers and require the publications be all ages. I got in touch with the designed FCBD marketing contact, Elissa Lynch, to ask about these decisions. I had five questions:

  1. Who makes up the FCBD Committee responsible for decisions about the program?
  2. Who determines which sponsors will be Gold level?
  3. Which publishers, if any, applied to be Gold but were not selected this year? And why?
  4. Which publishers, if any, applied to be Silver but were rejected? And why?
  5. Why were all titles required to be suitable for all ages this year?

Based on my experience, Diamond is either unwilling or unable to answer these queries in detail. My preliminary contact email went unanswered, but I was able to get Elissa on the phone. After a brief conversation, she asked for my questions in email. I sent them. Instead of getting a response from her, I heard back from Joe Field, owner of Flying Colors Comics in Concord, CA, and according to his email signature, “FCBD Founder”. (I’m not questioning the claim, I’m just citing my source.) FCBD was his idea, which he took to Diamond to get established.

Joe answered the questions as followed:

Who makes up the FCBD Committee responsible for decisions about the program?

When the initial meeting happened prior to the first FCBD, the “committee” consisted of several Diamond management personnel and staffers, along with reps from DC, Marvel, Image and Dark Horse, and me. After the first event, although I may not have all the history memorized, reps from other publishers were added to the committee. Committee work consisted of participating in some conference calls to steer the promotion and get approvals. In year two or three, we added three retailers to the committee.

I was unable to get a definite list. I’m not sure anyone has a complete one. I did find out that press sources are also included, of which ICv2’s Milton Griepp, Maggie Thompson from Comic Buyer’s Guide, and Newsarama’s Matt Brady were the three named. No one told me which specific people from the various publishers participated.

Joe says that other publisher reps were added, but Elissa only named the four comic publishers from the front of the Diamond catalog, as listed above. Upon following up, Joe added:

What you should know is that very little participation has been required by most of those on the committee. When we’ve met in San Diego the last few years, for example, there are several participants from Diamond, DC, a retailer or two in addition to me, usually but not always Marvel, Dark Horse, Image, plus Milton Griepp who is also on the committee. Sometimes the lack of attendance is due to the crush of things getting in the way in SD. I don’t know what Diamond asks of the other participants behind the scenes. Primarily, this is a Diamond coordinated event, so their share of the work for FCBD is exponentially higher than it is for any other entity.

Who determines which sponsors will be Gold level?

The publishers all apply to participate with no guarantee of inclusion. Some publishers want to be considered for the Gold level, many others simply want to be in the Silver level. With more than 40 publishers on board, there were only 13 or 14 that were vying for the Gold designation, so the retailers on the committee voted for which publishers would be accepted as Gold level.

Which publishers, if any, applied to be Gold but were not selected this year? And why?

The determining factors that went into the retailers’ decisions on which publishers were accepted for the Gold level were things like marketability, dependability, the promotional promises of each publisher, available back-list so retailers would have a better chance at converting free comic giveaways into sales, the price of the free comics, etc.

When asked for specific publisher names, Joe responded:

I don’t feel that’s information that needs to be given out, unless Diamond wants to. All of the publishers that applied, however, are, to my knowledge, still participating in the Silver level. There are ten spots available for the Gold level…and more is required of Gold-level publishers than Silver. Retailers on the committee chose the publishers we felt would bring a lot to the table in terms of outreach and marketability.

Elissa did say that Gemstone was one of two voted down to Silver but didn’t respond when asked who the other was. Note that her numbers equal twelve, 10 selected for Gold plus two rejected, while Joe says 13 or 14. That is another indication, I feel, not of misrepresentation, but of how no one’s really paying attention to the details, or perhaps how the process appears different to those in different roles.

Which publishers, if any, applied to be Silver but were rejected? And why?

While retailers on the committee had the option of turning down any of the applications to FCBD, we did not turn away any publisher for which we had an application by the due date. We opted to let all retailers make that choice with their orders.

When I pointed out that this directly contradicted what Keenspot, a webcomic publisher, was told by Diamond, Joe responded

Their situation was one I was not involved with. … As I understand it, Keenspot (and their two other publishing entities) were late in getting their applications in and it was Diamond executives that made the call to disallow their participation. Retailers never saw the Keenspot application.

Why were all titles required to be suitable for all ages this year?

That’s a question more for Diamond than for me. I know I’ve heard comments from retailers on both sides, some wanting more mature content in FCBD silver level titles, others wanting it to be an “all ages” (which doesn’t mean “just for kiddies”) affair all the way through.

I asked Elissa again for followup on these questions, but I was unable to get any further answers.

Do I think anyone was lying or being malicious or secretive? No. I suspect that I’m seen as small potatoes, and it just wasn’t important to get back to me. There’s a lot of management necessary for a project like this, and different people will have different impressions based on their level of involvement and perception of the process.

Obviously, I don’t care that much about it either, because even after Diamond stopped talking to me, it took me another month to put this up. Partly, that’s because “I couldn’t get complete answers” is something of a non-story. It’s not unusual for decisions associated with comics to be made in back rooms, anyway, and for no one to be interested in going public with the details.

There are bigger questions unanswered that I don’t even know who to ask. Like “does the event still work?” Does it attract new customers, or just existing customers who want special edition comics of titles they’re already interested in? Does it turn into sales for the participating publishers, or for participating retailers? Additionally, I am concerned that this event risks becoming more irrelevant as it becomes more institutionalized and loses its specialness. If it’s a yearly routine, then it has no punch.

It’s becoming a moot point to me, too. I won’t be able to do my early reviews this year, since I won’t have access to the publications. (The store where I used to help out told me that my assistance won’t be needed since he’s cutting way back on his plans.) As an existing comic customer who is more interested in shopping at bookstores than direct market comic retailers these days, I’m almost the direct opposite of the target audience, anyway.


19 Responses to “FCBD Questions Unanswered”

  1. Alex Cox Says:

    “Like “does the event still work?””

    Yes.

    “Does it attract new customers,”

    Absolutely.

    “or just existing customers who want special edition comics of titles they’re already interested in?”

    I guess a few. Maybe one in thirty at our shop last year.

    “Does it turn into sales for the participating publishers,”

    Oh yes.

    “or for participating retailers?”

    Very much so.

  2. Bill Williams Says:

    Has anyone confirmed the ‘fact’ that the Keenspot application was late?

  3. Adam_Y Says:

    I just think FCBD is suffering from an identity crisis… I mean it is set up to promote the form, content and diversity of comics, but at the same time it is run on a purely financial basis which contradicts with the core aims…

    … I don’t think anything sleezy is going on, just that the different horses are trying to pull in different directions at the same time.

  4. Kevin Huxford Says:

    Hard to see how diversity is being promoted when all participating titles have to be all ages accessible.

  5. Bill D. Says:

    I always assumed this year’s “All Ages” rule was to help prevent something like the Gordon Lee thing from happening again.

  6. Kevin Huxford Says:

    Gordon Lee happened long ago and really has little to do with how FCBD was administered at the top.

  7. Johanna Says:

    Alex: It’d be nice to know so, though, with figures instead of relying on anecdotes.

    Bill W: No.

    Adam: Not quite. FCBD is to promote comic book STORES in particular. Which, yeah, does sometimes result in conflicts.

    Bill D: Common assumption, and I think you’re probably right.

  8. Chris Crosby Says:

    We at Keenspot, Blatant Comics, and Comic Genesis submitted both our “fax sheet” application and our full solicitations on time. Our applications were faxed on November 29th, a day before deadline, and our full solicitations were E-Mailed on the morning of December 20th (the due date). Our Diamond brand manager William West confirmed to us that all were received on time. There was never any mention of lateness from anyone at Diamond.

  9. Alison Says:

    My local store (in Australia) has at least quadruple the normal number of customers on FCBD, and most of those are kids and teenagers, from what I can tell. The last store I visited – it was more 30 year olds who came in a lot anyway. So maybe a lot comes down to how retailers promote it?

  10. Craig Taillefer Says:

    Well, this is only one publisher’s opinion, but my participation in FCBD last year did not meet my goals.

    Prior to FCBD, Wahoo Morris Book 1 was being carried by 111 stores. My goal was to raise awareness and get into new stores.

    695 stores ordered a total of 11000 copies of the FCBD, but my post FCBD sales were 29 stores ordering a total of 32 copies.

    The FCBD book I published may have helped the stores already carrying the book sell through their stock, but considering that stock is an average of 1.5 copies with an average .3 reorder after FCBD, I have to say that for me the promotion was a flop.

    Can’t say that I won’t do it again someday, but I took a chance by matching the price of the lowest Silver Level books investing more than I was comfortable spending in the hopes of a payoff. It was an expensive experiment for me.

  11. Johanna Says:

    Chris: Thank you for clarifying that.

    Alison: Yes, very much so. The retailer sets the tone for the store year-round and the event.

    Craig: I’m very sorry to hear that. I think that the event ends up being aimed more to big-name properties (superheroes, Disney, etc.) and much more difficult for the non-monthly, non-franchise books.

  12. Greg Hatfield Says:

    As one of the editorial directors of the Impact University Free Comic Book, we’ve been very pleased with our involvement in Free Comic Book Day, which is going on its fourth year. Our comic books include excerpts from our how-to write and draw comics, graphic novels and fantasy art, and has a nice intro by a well-known comics writer or artist, or someone involved in the business. This year it’s Orson Scott Card.

    Our Free Comic Book provides us with a great promotional tool for our books, which are sold in comic book shops, through Diamond, and traditional book stores. We also overprint and give them to elementary, junior and high schools across the country and at the comic book conventions we attend each year.

    If anything, I think we get scrutinized more by Diamond, since we’re not a traditional comic book publisher. Our content has to be good in order to attract the attention of retailers who buy the comics in the first place. They must like what they saw this year, because our orders were up over 33% from the previous year.

    So, yeah, we’re excited about that.

  13. Johanna Says:

    Glad to hear the promotion does so well for you!

  14. Bill Williams Says:

    Chris: When Diamond excluded you (for whatever reason), did you consider self-distributing the ‘free’ material to the interested stores. Something like a ‘100 books for $10.00′ promotion for the few indy-friendly stores? Bill

  15. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » Mar. 26, 2008: $50,000 a year or bust Says:

    […] Spurred on by the rejection of Keenspot’s submissions, Johanna Draper Carlson tries to get to the bottom of how decisions concerning Free Comic Book Day are made — and who […]

  16. Chris Crosby Says:

    Bill:

    That’s something we’ve considered, yes.

  17. comics212 - never safe for work. » Blog Archive » Linkblogging: Hot in Hamlet, What’s up with FCBD?, Toronto News… Says:

    […] I’m really glad that Johanna Draper-Carlson put the leg-work in to try and peel away some of t…. I’ve never understood the lack of transparency or accountability that surrounds this event, […]

  18. FCBD Followup » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] A couple of notes following up on my failed attempt to get more information about how Free Comic Book Day works. […]

  19. Free Comic Book Day 2009 » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] be too greedy. All comics should be suitable for all ages, so no fear there. Not all publishers are allowed to participate, especially if they do […]




Categories:

Pages:



Meta:

Most Recent Posts: