Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Well, duh - Beka must not be an Action Hero

Tim Liebe's comment over at designated sidekick reminded me that we really need to look no further than the way White Tiger has been treated to realize that Marvel is so scared and clueless that all they're really doing now is shooting themselves in their collective foot.

One online columnist recently pointed out that the only visible marketing for WHITE TIGER comes from my co-writer Tamora Pierce’s website!

Tamora Pierce is insanely popular among teen girls. She's one of the authors that the kids come in raving about and asking when her next book is coming out without any prompting from parents. The idea that one would not use the opportunity of a new superhero comic featuring a female hero co-written by the current Queen of female action heros in YA lit in order to try to expand your base is just.....seriously, I have no words.

I had assumed that some smart person had at least put ads in Teen People or something similar, as DC apparently did with Minx. How expensive would it have been to put up banner ads on myspace or google searches targeting people who listed or searched for Tamora Pierce or any of her other works? Her most recent hardback, Beka Cooper - which has been out since before Christmas - is listed at #7,180 in books. That's not that far behind the slightly more recent release of Vol. 2 of Runaways at #6,253. (For further comparison, the most recent Gossip Girl is #309 and the one that came out at the same time as Beka Cooper is now at #3,309. Both are paperbacks and cost much less.)

I wonder, if they even bother to come out with a trade edition, are they going to limit the run to those cheap digests and not even bother to do a dump for it? A co-written comic may not sell as well as her novels, but it will sell to teen girls - if Marvel makes sure they know it exists in the first place.


Lyle said...

You might be in a position to know, but I'd think Marvel would get a bigger bang-for-the-buck spending their marketing dollars on bookstore managers than on consumers, since the bookstores can be convinced to stock up and put a White Tiger collection on endcaps and display tables, which (if its anything like grocery stores) that'll move more product than a print ad in a magazine.

(Which isn't to say that consumer marketing isn't important, it just is usually a secondary concern after making sure consumers can get to your product easily.)

Do you get to see that kind of marketing efforts and have DC/Marvel put any coin in that direction?

Mickle said...

When it comes to the big two (the other big two), such decisions are made by top reps from the respective companies - all those displays you see are generally paid for through deals made at corporate.

And yes, very recently, Marvel has done so with Dark Tower and Dark Horse has done so with Buffy.

Which, after having seen how well they sold, I agree, it would have been a great idea. Seriously - those things flew off the shelf. They were there one day, gone the next.

But actual comics in a bookstore is a novel enough idea that I can forgive Marvel for not doing it with White Tiger - this time.

What I'm still trying to figure out (and I need to remember to ask this of someone who works in receiving or with mags next time I"m in) is what we do with the excess. Because the whole set up of direct market is really making it hard to gain new readers. Well, that and the death of local stores in general, so that people are less likely to shop for anything in local specialty stores, even if it's hard to get it anywhere else.

The catch is that bookstores just can't make money unless they can get credit from the publishers for unsold items - especially when it comes to periodicals. Everyone has been losing sales in periodicals - except for BN, for some reason. And even though I work there I don't have the first clue as to why. Maybe we just have better buyers? Who knows....

The few times DC and Marvel and just about any direct market publisher does try to make stuff that has wider appeal, they have no real way of connecting it to that market. And while the arguments that it's not cost effective to sell to women, regular people, minorities, etc. are mind-numbingly dumb, it's not cost effective or practical to expect their current retailers to change overnight. If comics wants to grow again, they need to find a way to put comics in the bookstores, switch from a periodical to a trade paperback format, or be willing to initially lose a decent chunk of money on newer comics until they can get the compilations into the bookstores - and spend money on marketing them.

So I'm really curious as to whether or not BN was allowed to send back any excess issues of Dark Tower or Buffy because that will make a big difference in how willing BN is to do it again on a regular basis.

(And thus who have a large chunk of my "opinions from a newbie to comics post that blogspot ate several months back).

(Second side note: blogger's spellcheck does not recognize "blogspot" or "blogger's" for that matter)

Lyle said...

I've been a bit swamped today but just wanted to pop in and say thanks for explaining this side of things. I'm very curious to how much DC and Marvel are doing on that end. (At my former company, we ran consumer promotions that was really incentive to get the displays.)

If Marvel is dumping the White Tiger comics on the market, it very well may be that they're looking towards the later digest release. Live Wires and Spellbinders were treated that way in the Direct Market, though they weren't treated well as digests, either.

Still, you'd think Runaways Marvel's top GN would get a "more of the same" mentality going.

Mickle said...

can I second the Runaways comment with a "hell, yes"?

And I think that's what makes me so mad about all this. I get that there are some really big obstacles from Marvel and DC's pov regarding expanding the comics market, but...

They've been handed a big opportunity with the success of Runaways (Marvel esp.) and the critical aclaim it and several other comics have gotten in recent years. Everyone knows about Fun Home, but this year's Printz award winner was a graphic novel as well. It may not have been a superhero comic, but it has some superhero elements to it. And yet I don't see Marvel or DC reaching out to groups like the YALSA the way Graphix and Tokyopop are. (but then, I work in a tiny library....)

What is the point of making a comic like White Tiger if you aren't going to put some effort behind matching it up with the obvious audience? If you know that's your biggest obstacle to making money, then why not have a plan?

And if they have a plan, and it just involves the digest edition, why don't Tammy and Tim seem to know about it? I know that authors are often out of the loop but, if they do have some big grand plan, it seems a bit beyond normal for the authors to not even be sure if it's coming out in trade at all*, which I believe Tim has stated somewhere. Especially in this case, since I'd imagine a good marketing person would be smart enough to take advantage of their passion about this issue and already have some events/signings tentatively set up for when the digest/trade does come out.

*The impression he gave is that it's because of sales - but again that just proves the point. If you are going to insist that a limited run with a largely non-traditional target audience be published as a traditional comic at all, you need to bite the bullet and accept that no matter how bad direct market sales are, they mean jack shit when it comes to how well the comic will do in mainstream bookstores.

Lyle said...

Yeah, I totally share that annoyance with Marvel's cluelessness. They've had some real successes with the digests and sometimes they do it right (putting out another Sentinel digest, moving Emma Frost to that line without the porn-y covers) but other times it becomes apparent that all their successes have been through dumb luck.

Additional annoyance: The Live Wires digest didn't take any of the smaller captions into consideration, shrinking them down to unreadable size. Sigh.