Do Kickstarters Sell at Retail? How About Miniseries?

Brian Hibbs makes a very smart point I hadn’t thought about:

Speaking as a retailer, there is not a single book that has been “kickstarted” yet that went on to sell a meaningful number of copies at retail for me. I’m at try #9 or 10, I think, and 10 and 20% sell-throughs are just death for us. …

Someone, eventually, will crack the code on how to KS something that leads to long-term, lasting, and meaningful sales in a variety of markets, and I hope Rucka & Burchett are the people who can do so, but as the market stands this instant, KS-ing a book marks it as “super risky” in the retail market.

Personally, I’d rather buy through a shop or bookstore, because it provides more protection for me — I’m able to see the work, I can purchase using a method of my choice, I know the book will appear — but the Kickstarters I’ve purchased are titles that I’m not sure will ever appear there. Maybe it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Maybe the dedicated customers have already bought the comic. Or maybe the creators using Kickstarter aren’t thinking about the long-term, about making a series instead of getting their book printed. And some of those that are looking to serialize seem to think that they can just Kickstart issue after issue, which doesn’t seem like a viable strategy, since there’s likely to be a significant dropoff. You can’t keep going back to that well the same way.

But I digress. Doing marketing to achieve a successful Kickstarter is a lot of work, and doing it all again to sell a project into the direct market may seem like too much effort for too little reward. I think creators should print more than they’ve presold, so there’s an option for customers who didn’t happen to hear about the Kickstarter in time or to build awareness or growth, but going through Diamond may not make sense for them. Kickstarter is another, parallel market, not a comic store feeder system.

Then again, the Diamond system, with its order minimums, isn’t particularly friendly to some kinds of print projects. Here’s a story of a miniseries that was cancelled due to declining orders and delayed releases.

Orders for issue #2 dropped dramatically. Some of this is on the publisher and creative team. For various reasons, we weren’t able to keep a monthly, or even bi-monthly schedule. And I do believe that hurts you in the direct market—hell, in any market. Consistency and regularity, a pace that matches the frequency of the overall market and the expectation of the paying customer—that’s valuable.

They’re going to digital issues with an eventual print collection. I know Hibbs and other retailers will disagree with me, but I don’t understand why anyone would do a print comic miniseries today. Sell me a book. They’re easier to ship, you get more money for them, and they’re more rewarding reading. The only problem is keeping everyone fed while the pages are made. And that’s where the Kickstarter comes in — instead of selling lumps of story, you sell merchandise or art.

Digital isn’t an automatic fix, either. It’s as easy, these days, to get lost in the ComiXology search screens as it is in the Previews catalog. The smart creators and publishers realize that getting into the venue is only the first step. There’s still a lot more work to be done in selling to the end customer, because the distributor and/or the retailer won’t do it for you.

5 Responses to “Do Kickstarters Sell at Retail? How About Miniseries?”

  1. Caanan Says:

    I put Max Overacts in to as many stores as I could myself (Using Diamond would make me no money) and had varying levels of success. It all depended on the people at the store though. I had a local Calgary store do well with it, (and another not so well, and one who completely ignored me) a shop in Edmonton, Strange Adventures in Halifax, my old local in Toronto, and my even older local in Melbourne, Australia (who bought 15 copies and sold them all.)

    In some cases, the retailers already knew me, and in others they knew the comic. But they all didn’t just put them on the shelf to get buried under the technicolour yawn that is a comic shop, they actively sold them, which makes all the difference.

  2. Brian Hibbs Says:

    (I have NO idea why this JUST pingbacked to me, but here we are six months later, and….)

    “but I don’t understand why anyone would do a print comic miniseries today”

    Well, I wouldn’t do a MINI, in any event, because unless you’re a “name” author, minis sell poorly, and one-off graphic novels (which is what minis make as books) don’t sell (as a pair of general rules) — but the reason to serialize, in print, is to get the market to be *aware of who you are* and *why they should care* about your book format work.

    The problem with ANY media today is that creators are now competing against (As Patton Oswalt put it) Everything That Ever Was, Available Forever.

    ETEWAF changes the game, considerably, and I no longer think that “good enough” is Good Enough — to reduce it down in comics terms your new GN is competing for shelf space against WATCHMEN and SANDMAN and MAUS and SAGA, and things that actually sell, and sell themselves.

    Your periodical comic only has to compete for space against other periodical comics — and MODERN periodical comics aren’t, necessarily, of the latest timeless value that all of those book examples are. It is marginally easier to gain rack space when up against the 17th “Avengers” spin-off than it is against Garth Ennis and Warren Ellis’ entire bodies of work, if you see what I mean?

    If you can create awareness in the MUCH LESS COMPETITIVE periodical space, that opens a lot of doors when it comes to your book format work.

    Oh, and Johanna, that pull quote you pulled has NOTHING to do with “Diamond order miniumms” and EVERYthing to do with putting out a comic in a professional manner. That 17th “Avengers” spin-off may be the weak animal of the pack… but at least it is coming out every 4 weeks or better LIKE CLOCKWORK.

    One other notion to chew on: while it is very easy to get lost in Comixology and Kickstarter, to get on a store’s shelves, you really only have to convince the two-thousand-ish people who control the gateway of the Direct Market. I submit to you that it is easier to craft a pitch to those gate-keepers and to follow-through on the results than it is to nominally sell to tens of thousands using cmx or KS. YMMV.


  3. Johanna Says:

    It just threw a pingback because I updated the post just now to remove a broken Newsarama blog link.

    I agree, ETEWAF makes things very different. But from my customer perspective, all those things aren’t just competing for my dollar, but for my attention — and in that case, your periodical is competing against graphic novels (and TV shows and DVDs and all kinds of other things). I don’t just shop the periodical rack when I buy comics, since I prefer other formats — do you have customers that only buy stapled comics instead of bound ones? I know you’re referring specifically to shelf space, but the stores I shop are more flexible in their slotting than the image I’m getting from your description.

    Do you really think comiXology only has an audience of tens of thousands? I’d put it up in the millions, just at a guess. And if you only need, say, 2000 sales, getting those from an audience of a million is a much smaller percentage (and thus easier) than getting them from an audience of several thousand. Then again, if we’re talking ease of convincing, how do the handful of bookstore chain buyers match up against the 2000 DM retailers?

  4. Brian Hibbs Says:

    “do you have customers that only buy stapled comics instead of bound ones?”

    Well, yes, of course (at least if you change “only” to “usually and primarily”, rather than the absolute absolutism that “only” implies)

    CE is a BOOK store in design and function, but there’s CLEARLY a class of periodicals-only there…. and my new store (been there 19 years, I’ve owned it for 2 weeks) is 85% periodicals

    I can not say that I have ever been in a comic shop in my life that didn’t have x amount of linear feet devoted to displaying the periodicals, and y amount devoted to displaying books-with-spines — they pretty much have to be on different KINDS of racks! — and I’ve always and consistently been told that CE’s methods of interspersing at least some authors different formats to be highly unusual.

    “Do you really think comiXology only has an audience of tens of thousands”

    No real idea… but given that I’ve been told over and over and over again by the mainstream publishers that CMX isn’t sell but low double digit percentages of DM figures, I’m not at all clear on WHAT their (paying) audience is….


    “I know you’re referring specifically to shelf space, but the stores I shop are more flexible in their slotting than the image I’m getting from your description. “

  5. Johanna Says:

    Well, I meant “only”, in case there were “I only read with staples” comic buyers the same way there are “I don’t watch black-and-white movies” viewers. I know there are habitual weekly buyers who mainly stick with the issues, but I was asking if it went further than that. I imagine that even the most hard-core pamphlet customer buys a collection or three, particularly if an issue sells out — but that doesn’t happen as much as it used to, does it?

    I don’t know how to describe the kinds of racks I’m envisioning — they’re not slotted, but wooden slanted, so you can put books or issues on them so long as they’re faced out. Of course, the majority of the books are traditionally shelved, but when you want to highlight a new release or a particular type of focus area (kids’ comics) or whatever, you can cross-shelve with them. Moot point, I suppose.

    I wonder if comiXology sales work out very differently for corporate superhero publishers (who have spent decades training their customers to buy paper weekly) and others, percentage-wise. I can’t know, of course, but I suspect those who put out books of more interest to a (truly) mainstream audience may have better results, particularly once we focus in the branded properties (Transformers and such).




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