TwoMorrows’ New Sources of Income

TwoMorrows, publisher of comic fan magazines like Back Issue and Rough Stuff, has announced that it will be selling online editions of its magazines. Half the price (which makes them $3), with the added bonus of illustrations in color instead of the black-and-white used in print.

They’re also pushing subscriptions instead of store sales:

As a special bonus, subscribers to our printed magazines will get FREE access to the digital versions of the issues in their subscription, which will generally be available 2-3 weeks BEFORE copies are even printed. So if you’ve hesitated to subscribe because our mags show up in your local comics shop before they’re in your mailbox, you can now see the whole issue digitally (and in color) weeks earlier, for no extra charge!

Isn’t this what the Comics Journal is doing? Only TwoMorrows adds a helping of guilt:

We’re offering these digital editions as a test to see if there’s a market for it, not a way to do away with printed magazines. But we’re relying on the honesty of our readers, to NOT share their digital editions with others.

The publisher is also selling its Free Comic Book Day edition for the bargain price of $5 PLUS shipping. The justification? “[N]ow that the event is over, we’ve got to recoup our printing costs for that special publication” … because the idea of a publisher spending money for promotion and marketing without making it back immediately is apparently strange.

Update: Publisher John Morrow expands on his comments below in a new post elaborating on his rationale.


  • Believe me, we spend plenty of money on marketing and promotion, without expecting to directly make it back. But yes, we’re selling the remaining copies of our Comics 101 publication. Sorry, no apologies here. Guess I should’ve worded it that we’re “TRYING to recoup SOME of our printing costs”; my bad. After moving thousands of copies through comics shops on FCBD (with the small fee retailers paid not covering the printing costs for those), and giving them away on our website for the last several weeks (only charging enough to cover shipping), I honestly feel we’ve given everyone ample opportunity to get a copy for free; we’ve been plugging our website freebies for weeks leading up to FCBD, plainly stating that the price would go up after last weekend, and got a very healthy response (those copies went in the mail a couple of days ago).

    Yes, we’ll be giving away still more copies at places like BookExpo and the ALA Conference. We also gave several hundred to a children’s charity; some went to schools that teach comics courses. While we’ll hopefully see some P.R. benefit from these copies, all those copies, and our remaining ones, are money out of our pocket. So I hope people will understand if we’re trying to cover some of our overhead on the project.

    Last year, Johanna took us to task on this forum for our Free Magazine Day promotion, where we gave away a couple thousand copies of our various magazines through our website on FCBD; we even paid the shipping costs on those (as we have on three giveaways since then), because whe all’s said and done, that’s still probably cheaper than taking out a couple of print ads in Previews, and will likely yield better results. Johanna seemed to feel we weren’t getting into the true spirit of FCBD by not driving customers to stores by offering a separate publication for shops, so we gave it a shot this year. But we’re a small publisher, and have to make ends meet to stay in business. So now, the event’s over; if you still want a copy of Comics 101, and don’t want to pay for one, your best bet is to hit us up at one of our convention appearances this summer; if we have some left, you can likely talk me into one; I’m usually not too hard to talk into giving stuff away. :-)

    As for pushing subscriptions, sure we are. Always have been; they’re more profitable than store copies. We’re also pushing retailers to carry more of our mags, and have been for years, with little success. With the exception of a handful of the top stores in the country who actually stock our stuff (and achieve pretty nice sales by doing so, thank you very much), our experience is stores, if they carry our magazines at all, only order enough for their pull lists, without a single extra copy on the shelf for a potential new reader/customer to discover.

    Over the last three months, we did a mass mailing to over 1500 comics shops, offering a free TwoMorrows Sample Kit, with a free copy of each of our mags for them to display, to see how they sell. You’d think a lot of stores would jump at getting $40 worth of free stuff to sell, no strings attached. Exactly 60 of them took us up on the offer (that’s less than 4% of shops). In 2006, we did a similar offer by phone, calling 500 shops, and got 18 stores who wanted the freebies (3.6%).

    Hopefully those will result in some new regular customers for them (and us). But if less than 4% of the country’s comic shops display our wares, we’re never going to increase our circulation that way. Diamond, with rare exceptions, won’t fill retailers’ reorders for our magazines, due to Diamond’s seemingly arbitrary dollar order minimums (I still can’t get a straight answer out of anyone at Diamond as to what those amounts are on our magazines.) So we have to get creative in finding other ways to build our audience.

    That leads us to digital editions. We’re going to try it as a test from July-December, to see if it hurts our print sales, and how it affects profitability overall. I have no interest in going to digital-only mags, so if we see our print numbers drop, we’ll end the digital versions most likely. But hopefully, the lower price of digital editions (and the addition of color, which our print circulation isn’t high enough to allow) will lead some new readers to give our mags a try.

    And our long-suffering subscribers, who’ve stuck with us for years of seeing our mags show up in comics shops while they’re still waiting on them to hit their mailbox, deserve a break. So print subscribers will get free access to the online editions, so they can, if nothing else, thumb through the issue while waiting for it to arrive. But comics is still a paper medium, at least to me, so I’d be surprised if we saw any kind of mass exodus of print readers to digital, even if it’s cheaper. Once you factor in the discounts most comics shops offer their customers, the digital version isn’t that much cheaper. And the digital editions could go a long way toward helping us reach new markets, particularly getting more readers in Europe, since they won’t have all the extra postage costs involved in mailed copies.

    As for the guilt factor of sharing digital editions without paying for them, again, no apologies here. I don’t want to have to add onerous Digital Rights Management features to our downloads, that’ll make readers jump through hoops just to view a file that they paid good money for (and then not be able to move it from their work computer to their laptop). So yep, we’ll be constantly asking downloaders not to share their files. We’ll be on the honor system, and I’ll take every opportunity to remind people of it. :-)

    The digital stuff is an experiment, and we’ll be closely watching all the ramifications of it. But it’s not an attempt to circumvent retailers, or eliminate the need for Diamond (if we had to hand-mail all the print copies that Diamond carries, we’d never get our issues to press!). It’s an attempt to grow our readership, when the conventional Direct Market route has stagnated for us. We’ll see how it goes between now and December; time will tell!

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