Thursday, March 19, 2009

After Watchmen: the DC marketing blitz

There is no question that DC Comics and Marvel Comics have finally broken a lot of the stigma of the "comics are crap" tag that was stapled to the American public's mind for so long. Not only are the books in more book stores than they ever used to be, but we have a number of very successful movies that have faithfully adapted the stories that we loved into all ages entertainment. So wither the comics? What did Marvel do the capitalized on the success of 3, count 'em, 3 successful Spidermen films? Or Iron Man? How could Marvel have let the Iron Man collections not be in the warehouse to ship out when the film broke (because they didn't!). There have been any number of us comic bloggers that were ready to rake them over the coals for not having a single marketing initiative in place when those films opened.

Now DC has finally put together a 32 pamphlet, that takes me longer to read than your average comic book by the way, directing people to other books that they may want to read. To which I say:


It is marketing 101. And while it may be a small campaign (as I've not been privvy to whole scale of where they're putting it out there, although I'm damn curious), at least they're doing something. And, for some reason, Tucker Stone has a problem with that. Perhaps we're just looking at it from different angles.
Every comment section I've ever seen that follows the question "What should I recommend to my friend who just read ____ for the first time?" detoriates into the same thing: the answer is nothing, because the answer is everything.... That's not really the way you want a recommendation to work. It's the equivalent of going to a music store and saying "I really liked John Coltrane's Giant Steps. Where should I go next?", only for the clerk to smile and say "Buy anything in the store! They're all awesome and spectacular in their own way!"
And that is completely opposite to everything that I've seen in the last 25 years, and certainly now more than ever. First off, I love the music analogy, which is a perfect example. If someone I know admires Giant Steps in my CD collection, then I'm loaning them A Love Supreme and Miles Davis' Kind of Blue and some Brubeck and sending them on their way. For the rest of the decade of the '80's the answer to Watchmen was Dark Knight and then... nothing. Believe me the answer was not Camelot 3000 or Justice League Europe. Perhaps Ronin, but Ronin was a bit more genre soaked. Now? The answer, if you're forming one to stock up for party talk in the future should be fairly short (just like my jazz recommendations) so that they don't get overwhelmed. Here's mine: Sandman: Doll's House, Why I Hate Saturn, Blue Pills, Signal to Noise or Violent Cases. I'll pick 3 and put them out there. You may have your own choices, but the answer is not "everything". The answer is be selective and don't limit them to superheroes. I've blogged before about the number of Doll's House trades that I lost in the 80's and 90's to women who would never have read comics and who fell in love with Sandman.
It's unlikely that anybody at DC took the time to ask any decent swath of retailers what they thought about After Watchmen in the first place.
And that, sadly is probably quite true. DC and by extension, Time Warner, have their own little feifdoms of marketing that i doubt talk to each other that often since that is so very corporate. Bringing in new readers to direct market shops that are damn near impossible to find is going to be very hard, although i have no doubt that Watchmen will certainly result in at least some new lookers at comics, if not new readers. Thats good, we'll take them. But lets put Tucker's comment in a spin: specialty comic shops, used to doing their way of business for last 30 years, may be the last place you want ideas on where to get new readers. You may want to go as far away from them as possible so that you really do get to a new audience. After all, if they're going to the comic shop to begin with, aren't they already coverted?


Tucker Stone said...

Here's a list of some of the various comics that showed up in posts titled "After Watchmen, What Next?" from various comics websites, all of which are from the last three weeks.

Sandman: Seasons of Mist
Midnight Nation
Walking Dead
The Pride of Baghdad
Astro City: Life In The Big City
The Golden Age
Sandman Mystery Theater
New Frontier
Kingdom Come
Y: The Last Man
Ex Machina
All Star Superman
Starman (James Robinson)
Justice (Alex Ross)
100 Bullets
Batman: Long Halloween
Superman: For All Seasons
Final Crisis
The Nightly News
Sleaze Castle
Superman: Red SOn
Superman: Secret Identity
Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures In The Eighth Grade
Madame Xanadu
Adventures of Luther Arkwright
Tale of One Bad Rat
Alice In Sunderland
Animal Man
Uncle Sam
Seven Soldiers
America's Best Comics
It's A Bird
Tom Strong
Secret Six
Swamp Thing
Shade The Changing Man
Green Lantern: The Sinestro Corps War
The Authority
Alan Moore's WildCATS
Point Blank/Sleeper
Joe Casey's WildCATS
Adam Warren's Gen 13
The Monarchy
Automatic Kafka
Ice Haven
Spider-Man: Kraven's Last Hunt
Jack of Fables
The Goon
Elektra: Assassin
Give Me Liberty
Top Ten
Squadron Supreme

Jason Thibault said...

If it wasn't Sandman then it was Preacher.
Preacher would always work on the noobs. Both men and women. Garth & Steve would catch their attention with the depravity and then win their hearts with the main characters.

inkdestroyedmybrush said...

tucker - just because all those people put that on the message board, doesn't mean that YOU would recommend them all. You're a discriminating man, pick 3 according to the tastes of the readers and recommend them. Again, to your music analogy, just because they like Coltrane doesn't mean that i'd send to the Metallica bin to buy a CD. Know your audience is all i'm saying.

Brian Hibbs said...

"After all, if they're going to the comic shop to begin with, aren't they already coverted? "


I mean, yes, if they come in weekly on a Wednesday to buy the newest issue of SPIDER-MAN, but we've had scores (if not hundreds) of "civilians" walking into my store over the last few months curious about WATCHMEN, as well as what might be "next".

"converted", to me, as a comics retailer, means they're back for their third or more visit within the year.

Minimum 1/4 of my sales come from the "unconverted". A quality comics specialty store can do more to convert those people into lifelong readers better than just about any other location.

(Except maybe the library. Maybe)


inkdestroyedmybrush said...

Brian - reasonable rate of return, I agree. but how do they know to come to comics experience in the first place (given how sucky parking is on Divis?)

I absolutely agree that a quality comics store owner is going to be the best person to convert the neophyte to a regular reader, exactly what i think I've been trying to get tucker to see. The discriminating store owner can recommend enough of the right stuff for the person that they can become regulars, not for spiderman by the next adrian tomine or ben katchor or dan clowes book. The trick is just to get them into your door in the first place! That person who would never ever walk in the front door is the one that i'm most worried about you never getting as a customer.

Currently I love (sorry to bring up competitors here on you) James over at Isotope's approach with his layout. Very inviting to the neophyte.

Brian Hibbs said...

"but how do they know to come to comics experience in the first place (given how sucky parking is on Divis?)"

Well, we have good walk-by, certainly (I verbally hear "Oh, a comic book store, cool!" at least once a day from someone strolling past)

Also: google, et al., we get any number of people who find us via the web, after being intrigued by something they've read elsewhere on the web about a title or creator or or film or just the idea of it in the first place.

I mean how does anyone find anything?

"That person who would never ever walk in the front door is the one that i'm most worried about you never getting as a customer."

I guess I'm wondering why the "never ever"? Because they can't find us? Or because of some inherant bias or something?

I think there is both a general awareness of comics as a medium, as well as the existence of comic shops as a concept, so it's not like we're, dunno, poetry stores or something.

I dunno, everyone in the entire world owns clothes, and buys more each year - but I'm reasonably sure there's more general awareness about both comic stores in general and Comix Experience in particular than there are for any of the three clothing stores that are within a block of me.

Advertising is EXPENSIVE (and often ineffective on a single-store basis), and marketing is hard... but new people DO find me every day, so we must be doing something right?

Right now I'm in Memphis with 100 other attendees at a professional conference held BY the retailers FOR the retailers, so I'm not really at all worried about the health of my marketplace at this exact second -- the enthusiasm and hard work is VERY evident right now, and virtually everyone is reporting from decent to exceptional sales right now, in a very down general economy...


Tucker Stone said...

Shit, I actually left a response from work--must have closed the window or screwed it up.

Charles, I hate to do this, but I really think the problem here is within the writing of the column itself. I do think that quality recommendations, like the kind you refer to (specific to why a new reader liked Watchmen) would be far more beneficial than any random list. I don't disagree at all with a lot of what you said, and I think your "Duh" pretty much covers what I took a bunch of breathless paragraphs to say. I think this marketing plan, as flawed as I believe it is, falls on the more positive side of things. At the same time, it's been met with what strikes me as some pretty garish praise without an acknowledgement that ANY marketing doesn't translate immediately to GREAT marketing.

My only real disagreement is your statement about "And that is completely opposite to everything that I've seen in the last 25 years, and certainly now more than ever."

That's why I copied and paste all those titles above--because the ability for a new reader to navigate their way to comics they like the way they liked Watchmen is tied into whether they've got their ability to tell the difference between the recommendations of a Charles Yoakum and utahsaintsfan124, who thinks that Justice Society of America--all volumes--is the follow up to Moore and Gibbons.

That list up there--that's how comics readers (some, not all) genuinely responded to the question of "After Watchmen" on popular websites like Newsarama, Occasional Super-heroine, the DC Comics message boards, all top of google search results.

I feel like you're saying that new readers should be able to navigate their way to quality recommendations when they'd have no way of knowing the difference. How are they supposed to make it to you, or me, or the "good" comics stores? That's just as buried under a sea of thoughtless advice as good comics are buried in the Barnes & Noble shelves.

Kid Sis said...

The "Spider-men movies" made me giggle. I'm such a grammarian barbarian.

I've never successfully converted an adult. That's why I give all my friends' kids those Marvel kids books you can get at any dollar store. Teach them how to read on Spider-man and the Hulk.