- Posted by Johanna on March 25, 2008 at 7:09 am
- Category: Comic News
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:
- Who makes up the FCBD Committee responsible for decisions about the program?
- Who determines which sponsors will be Gold level?
- Which publishers, if any, applied to be Gold but were not selected this year? And why?
- Which publishers, if any, applied to be Silver but were rejected? And why?
- 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.