Free Comic Book Day Links & Limits

Still planning to get back to part 2 of my Free Comic Book Day experience, but deadlines are flying hot and heavy this week. In the meantime, check out this excellent read. Retailer Mike Sterling gives great advice on how to run a good FCBD event (after bemoaning the poor experiences some had at stores that weren’t nearly prepared the way they should be).

I was going to go through and list, point by point, all the crap things I’ve been hearing about how some stores treated their FCBD event. In particular, if your treatment of customers on FCBD, a day specifically designed as customer outreach, causes you to lose those people as customers, you’re doing it wrong. But, instead, let me, yet again, go through and tell you what we did. Maybe we can lead by example.

I can’t believe (yes I can) a store actually closed on FCBD so employees could go see Iron Man. I mean, yes, it’s a great film, but geez! Here’s an example of only one of his good suggestions:

… encouraging extra sales on a day when you’re giving away hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars’ worth of product is a good idea, and not that hard to do. Even a small discount, like I noted, can help. In our case, the sales on graphic novels alone that day more than paid for what we spent on the FCBD books.

I like his conclusion, too:

Ultimately, the success of a store’s Free Comic Book Day is in treating the day like a special event to be enjoyed, and not just a burden to be endured, like I’ve heard about too many stores this year. Yeah, I know I grumble a bit about preparing for it here on my site, but it really is a fun, if enormously busy, day.

Plus, he and Randy Lander argue in the comments about whether a limit of three books per person is a good idea or not. (Randy thinks so, as a way of minimizing retailer cost.) I lean towards “not”, in most cases. With over 40 titles, many of which are aimed at similar audiences, allowing people to sample only 7.5% of the items seems to waste the potential of the event.

Even if you’re ONLY interested in manga, there were four specific titles aimed at you. Or only superheroes-with-movies, they had at least four as well. If you’re picking the best for the young ones, you can’t have Simpsons and Sonic and Disney and Kids Love Comics and Owly and Gumby… put half of those back. Such a small limit just results in unpleasant decisions, or keeping the focus on the properties who least need the help.

Plus, many of these books are aimed just as much at existing customers as new. I know stores want new faces to expand their customer base, but seeking the new while annoying the old isn’t much of a win.

That’s assuming a store carried all the titles, of course. If they only chose to stock the 15 or so that they wanted to support and thought they could sell related material for, then I can see having a smaller limit.

8 Responses to “Free Comic Book Day Links & Limits”

  1. Dan Grendell Says:

    As someone who works at Randy’s store, I can tell you that the main reason we limit customers to three (and we aren’t particularly hard-nosed about it; if someone has a kid at home, they can grab for them too, etc.) isn’t just money. It’s because experience has shown that if we don’t, most people simply grab one of each without looking, and after an hour half the titles are gone, with the rest disappearing short hours afterward. If we want anyone who doesn’t show up before noon to have a chance at having a choice at all or even having comics to take, we can either limit their options numerically or order large numbers of every FCBD title. The latter is sadly simply financially unfeasible, so we do the former, and play things fast and loose.

    My question is, which is worse? Limiting new readers to a few choices, or not having choices at all when they come in, which is what happened the year we didn’t have limits?

  2. Mikester Says:

    Johanna – The discussion in my comments section started in the comments for this Newsarama post, where both Randy and I discussed our positions and strategies re: FCBD book distribution. There was a little friction at first, but I’d like to think we’d come to a mutual understanding and an agreement to respectfully disagree.

    I wasn’t even intending to discuss the limits thing…my primary concern was about comic shops putting any kind of effort into making FCBD an event. I’d just like more shops to put a real effort into making the day something special. Once more shops do that, then we can quibble about how many books are given out!

  3. Tim O'Shea Says:

    And can I just add that I contacted (as the author of that Newsarama post) and thanked both Mike and Randy for adding some substance to the discussion while also disagreeing in a civil manner within the comments.

  4. Johanna Says:

    Dan, I agree that it’s good to make people think about their choices — but that can be done without limits. One year when I helped give them out, we simply asked people what they were interested in and steered them that way. If they asked about specific numbers (“how many can I have?”), we’d make a joke like “oh, a reasonable amount” to steer them away from taking all but without being too restrictive.

    Mike, thanks for providing that background.

  5. Dan Grendell Says:


    This year, at any given time, it wasn’t unusual to have four different families with children in front of us making their choices at the same time. Given that we had two employees stationed at the FCBD tables (the rest actually running the store or helping at the artist signing), that still means that those two were already pushed to answer everybody’s questions, help them find books they would like, and make sure people were getting age-appropriate material. A standardized limit was easily made part of our welcome to each newcomer and helped give more time for other questions. Generally, though, if someone asked for more, or was having trouble deciding, we allowed them to take a few more (that’s the playing it fast and loose part)- we’re comics retailers, not gestapo.

    I’m certainly not saying it’s the only way to do it. We have found, though, that having a limit but making exceptions to it easily helps ensure that there are enough comics for everyone, and keeps most people happy.

  6. Gabriel Says:

    We’ve been making a big event of FCBD for seven years now at DreamStrands. We order a bare minimum 10 copies of every book on the list and hundreds of copies of the more popular titles.
    The first year we tried the “no limit/steer the customers towards material they might like” approach, but ran out of books very early. For the next six years, we’ve imposed a 6-title limit. It works GREAT! Six seems to be a magic number where folks can pick up the titles they know they’ll like as well as try a couple of new things. It also lets the kids get a good variety. No one ever walks away disappointed or empty-handed even later in the day. Plus, we always have just enough books left over (usually one small box) to give away throughout the next few months at other events or just to random kids/customers who visit the shop.
    Just Thought I’d throw my 2-cents in as a shopowner.

  7. Johanna Says:

    That’s great, that you’ve found a system that works for your store. Thanks for sharing.

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

    […] some thoughts on how to run a good event, and I’ve pondered what makes for a good giveaway […]




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