Who Is Free Comic Book Day For?

Graeme McMillan at the Newsarama blog (no longer available) points out that DC Comics is promoting their Free Comic Book Day issue as important for readers of the DCU and particularly the Justice League. He says:

DC New 52 Free Comic Book Day issue

On the one hand, it makes FCBD more of an “event,” with more reason for “regular” fans to go and support their stores on the day, and it also gives readers who’re picking up the DC FCBD book cold more of a sense of “something’s happening!” when they look inside. And yet… It also risks making the DC FCBD book more of a commodity to be hoarded, speculated on and sold on eBay for ridiculously high amounts of money, thereby defeating the “come one, come all!” nature of Free Comic Book Day itself.

But that’s completely missing the point! (DC, not Graeme.) I know FCBD has become the national comic book holiday, but the purpose of FCBD is supposed to be to get new customers into comic book stores. If you’re already buying comics there, then the day is Not For You. (And before you get upset, regular customers, please realize that your feeling of being neglected can be a learning experience, since in some stores, some shoppers feel like that All The Time. Particularly the female or non-superhero-fan customers.)

(Although note that many stores have attempted to get more bang for their marketing dollar by offering sales and signings aimed at all readers, whether existing customers or not. Which is fine, too.)

Comics as an industry has a long history of having trouble attracting new customers. Too often, publishers try to increase their market share not by bringing in new buyers, but by taking buyers from their competitors. (Which helps them, but not the industry, since instead of raising the boat, that approach just bails the leaky water from one end to the other.) Free Comic Book Day was one of the few ways stores had to interest the “civilians”, by making it clear that this was a time to sample without worry. If you’re putting out a comic that existing customers see as a “must-have”, then you’re not doing FCBD right. That’s just trying to poach buyers into your market share dinghy.

Also, if you’re not welcoming to new customers, such as by only giving out FCBD comics with a purchase, then you’re also not doing it right. But that’s a store problem, not one for publishers.

7 Responses to “Who Is Free Comic Book Day For?”

  1. James Schee Says:

    Yeah I never really got the whole “this is supposed to be for civilian readers, but we’ll put new stories in them that the regular customer will want too.”

    That’s not just DC though, Marvel, Dark Horse, heck even small press and indy titles do this. (Love & Capes for instance) It just never made a lick of sense to me.

    None of the retailers in my area participated much in it, they just had no interest or said they didn’t any return out of it.

    I hope with digital being so big, that the publishers eventually put them on there as the free downloads have become sort of scarce on the aps lately.

  2. Johanna Says:

    Love and Capes would make the FCBD issues available for order as standard issues, though, so anyone who wanted them could get them.

    Making FCBD issues available digitally is a great idea for publishers, but it again gets away from the point of the event, which is to drive customers to stores.

  3. James Schee Says:

    Yeah that’s good of L&C, I just picked it because it was the one every year I always wanted but never saw. Yet while I haven’t shopped at a retailer as a pull customer in nearly a decade, I’m still not the target audience for FCBD.

    I think FCBD will eventually (if it isn’t already) be something different from its origin. Given that there are only 2000 (less if you believe Mark Waid) actual comic stores left with Diamond accounts.

  4. Joe Field Says:

    Remember the (really) old Saturday Night Live TV ad parody “Is it a floor wax? Or it is a dessert topping? It’s both!”

    Free Comic Book Day is FOR YOU! For new readers, for returning readers and for long-time fans. That’s what I originally proposed 11 years ago and that is still the goal each and every year.

    To say that the event is “Not For You” is wildly inaccurate. Free Comic Book Day — with more than one million people visiting stores in 2011, is the comics’ holiday for everyone!

    In less than three weeks, with more than 3.5 million comics available to be given away, 2012 looks to be even bigger than last year.

  5. Johanna Says:

    You are such a good representative for the holiday, Joe! Hearing you talk about it always amps me up for the day and its potential. Thank you for the correction.

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