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Reader James sent me this question via the emails:
“…My question is, what does FCBD cost a retailer to do? How much does it cost you (roughly, broadly) to pull it off? I’m sure you make up that cost in other sales (it sounds like you did great, so congrats), and I’m sure it’s different for every retailer, but what kind of expenses go into FCBD?”
Well, it mostly depends on how many of the FCBD comics you order. They average about 25 cents apiece, and I ordered several thousand comics, so you can work that out. On top of that, there’s the cost of advertising (like the ads I ran in the newspaper, coupon flyer, etc.), and the cost of paper ‘n’ ink printing out little flyers to give away in the shop, and the cost of the preprinted FCBD merchandise bags, the tchotchkes (like the FCBD keyrings) and so on. I don’t particularly want to get into exact numbers here, but it probably cost me an amount equivalent to one of my higher weekly Diamond invoices.
As I noted, I may have spent a little more than necessary as I overordered a bit on the FCBD books this year. I keep feeling defensive about the leftovers, because I still have a table sitting out with the freebies for the customers and it almost sorta looks like I didn’t give anything away. I did, plenty more than last year, but that remaining 10 or 15% is still a good chunk’a books. (Which are quickly thinning out anyway, so it looks like I’m not going to have too much leftover stock after all!) Next year’s orders will be normalized a bit, so those costs will be down slightly.
Now you don’t have to be a crazy person like me and order boatloads of FCBD comics. I like to make it an event, with sales and guests and such, but it’s probably possible to have a low-key FCBD event and not go so overboard on the book numbers, keeping your costs down and rewarding the regular customers with some free stuff. I remember hearing in the early days of FCBD about the shops that would just have a small box filled with the free books sitting on a table, with nothin’ going on to indicate that anything special was happening, which seems like it would be a little too low-key.
I like having the big FCBD event, which means spending more money, but I’ve been fortunate enough to have that investment repeatedly repay itself year after year, both at the previous place of employment and at my new shop. It was a risk that, so far, has always paid off and is not so much of a risk anymore. I know that may not be the same result for every shop, but thankfully that’s how it’s been for me. And I realize I keep talking about making money on the whole deal, simply because there are some folks out there how find it hard to believe that a comic shop can pull a profit on giving away free stuff. What’s best about Free Comic Book Day, however, is seeing the tons of kids pile into the store and happily coming away with a stack of comics they can’t wait to read. That’s the real profit, if you’ll excuse that brief moment of cheesiness.
• • •
Okay, now next Monday I’ll get back to your questions. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you then.
Here are a couple more shots from my Free Comic Book Day, taken by my dad…here’s pal Dorian at the right of the image supervising the shenanigans and goings-on in the shop:
And here’s another pic of Sterling Silver Comics‘s Dark Avenger of the Night:
I had a question or comment pop up in the comments that I wanted to address, such as pal Rob asking me:
“…What kind of impact do you think that Jaime Hernandez had on the turnout for the day?”
You know, it’s really hard to say. I know I had several people very excited about his appearance at the shop, so I’m sure it encouraged some good measure of traffic. But, as you saw yourself when you were there, it was very busy, particularly just as I opened, so it’s hard to say when dealing with this number of people how many were there for the free comics and the deals, how many were there just for Jaime, and so on. I did see a few people make a direct line right from the front door straight to Jaime, so those folks I can probably count in the “we’re here for the Love and Rockets guy” camp!
• • •
“I’ve done a few FCBD events over the years and no shop I’ve worked with has ever had any leftovers, whether they had a limit per customer or not. […] I think a limit per customer is exactly in the spirit of the event, personally.”
Earlier in this site’s life we had plenty of back-and-forth in the comments about “limits” or “no limits” on FCBD. I am very firmly in the “no limits” camp, as in “take one of each if you’d like” (so long as they’re age-appropriate, of course). (And even then I might let the “one of each” thing slide if they’re taking copies home for sick kids, or friends who couldn’t make it, or whatever…just as long as they’re not grabbing the entire stack of Suicide Squad #1.) However, I do understand stores that put limits on how many different comics people can take, whether it’s to stretch out stock because they could only afford to order so much, or, you know, whatever reason it might be. Every store is different, with varying needs and customer demands and so on, and what might be right for me may not be in the next retailer’s best interest.
In my case, my belief is that FCBD is for letting people get exposed to as many new comics as possible, so not limiting their choices is my preferred, and so far successful, strategy. If I had to have limits, what I would probably do is not include the Big Ones in the limit count…like, order tons of the Marvel and DC freebies which everyone will want, and don’t count those toward whatever limit you set.
I noted during my Twitter comments on FCBD that, even though I didn’t have a limit on the number of different FCBD comics you could take, most people didn’t take one of each of the 50 different titles that were available. Yes, of course some people did, but just as many people just took one or two comics, even after being reassured they could take more if they wanted. This has been my experience the entire 15 years I’ve been doing Free Comic Book Day. Even early on at my previous place of employment, where we prepared prepacked bags (divided by age-appropriateness) and people could get every FCBD book if they took each of the Kids, Teens, and Grown-Ups bags, not everyone did. A limit didn’t have to be enforced, because, well, it all evened out in the end, more or less.
As far as leftovers go…like I said Monday, at the old shop where I had the numbers down, we had barely any leftovers at the end of the day. And last year, the first FCBD at my new shop, by some miracle of guesstimation I ordered pretty close to exactly what I needed, leaving me with only a relative handful. This year, not knowing how much extra traffic I was going to get, I overordered by a pretty good amount, and even though I did give away a lot more comics this year, I still had maybe about 15% or so remaining. Which is okay…I’ve already reduced that by quite a bit by leaving a table out and continuing to give them away to people who didn’t make it that Saturday, and donating some to that school. And as I said, this will help me gauge my orders for next time.
• • •
Andrew wondered about my reaction to this FCBD article, in which retailers express their feelings, positive and negative, about the event. Well, like I said above, each retailer’s needs will be different, and FCBD can been a boon to some, a burden to others. All I can tell you is that I’m glad, at my previous position and at my own store, that I’ve been able to take extreme advantage of it to great personal benefit and profit.
Someone always asks what the long term results are from Free Comic Book Day. In the short term there are of course, if you’re able to manage it, the significant one day profits from the huge amount of increased business. But, as the person in that linked article noted, folks who come in just for the freebies aren’t going to turn into weekly customers. And that’s okay. It’s enough to remind your local community that, hey, your store exists, and comics exist, and that they’re their own thing and not necessarily just R&D for the movies you like. And maybe down the road if they find they do have a curiosity about comics, or if they need to buy a comic-related gift for someone, maybe they’ll remember that nice store that gave them some free comics that one time.
And if you have a good enough sale that day, you can clear out some old stock and make room for new stuff. …Sorry, as a retailer, I gotta think about that stuff, too.
…And so it did come to pass, with pal Nat commenting upon the momentous occasion thusly:
I did take a few more photos, but actually not that many more as we were enormously busy right as the doors opened and I was too tied up at the register to whip out the ol’ smart phone and commence with the snapping of photos. You can see a couple I did take right here at the official store site (that store being Sterling Silver Comics, in Camarillo, CA) along with a couple of photos contributed by my customers, including the one of our young friend Teddy at the very top of that post there. At the very least click over to see that picture…that is the happiest Free Comic Book Day kid I’ve ever seen.
I may have other photos coming from other sources, so as I get ’em I’ll post ’em.
You’ll also see in the photos there pics of our pal, Jaime Hernandez, artist of the Phantom Girl entry from DC’s Who’s Who as well as some comic about rockets or something. I was glad to see a steady stream of folks chatting with him and getting their comics signed, and speaking of which….
Now, I can only imagine that the influx of all the Free Comic Book Day books at the distributor, that all need counting out and packing, is akin to the arrival of a natural disaster. Especially since they still have to do the regular weekly packing and shipping of the new comics. It’s only natural that errors creep in, though in my particular case one of the errors that occurred was, of course, receiving less than half of my order of the Love and Rockets FCBD comic. Since it seemed like they might not have been able to come up with replacements, I called up the comic’s publisher, Fantagraphics, and was able to purchase copies directly from them…so good ol’ Fantagraphics saved the day! Phew!
I did a lot of pushing of my Free Comic Book Day this time around…nagging you all on the social media, Tweeterings and Facebookings, and I even ran a print ad in the entertainment section of the local countywide newspaper. Yes, actual ink on actual dead trees you could hold in your hands. Those things still exist, and there are people who still look at them, so hopefully that helped get the word out as well. There were a lot of new faces in my shop this time, I noticed, as well as a handful of folks from the old shop who finally made their way out to see me! You may also be glad to know that there were loads of kids, young boys and girls, getting themselves some of that ol’ time funnybooking.
You may recall that last year I had some worries/concerns about Free Comic Book Day, as 2015’s event would be the first one at my new store. I had no ability to gauge what local demand would be like, no past FCBDs to base my orders on. As it turned out that year, my orders were pretty spot on, if perhaps a bit low-ish, running out of a few titles maybe just a little too quickly, but still enough to have some giveaways remaining at the end of the day for stragglers to pick up. This year I ordered a bit heavier, so I had a wider range of giveaways still on the tables as the end of the day approached. If anything, I went maybe a little too heavy, but still, on Sunday I kept a table out for anyone who couldn’t make it Saturday and gave away even more comics, so the load’s been lightened a little. Prior to Saturday, someone from a local school called and asked if she could get any leftovers for giveaways at a school carnival…and she picked them up on Sunday, reducing the extras even further, so, you know, I’m doing okay with these.
And by the way, Jaime was good enough to sign an extra stack of the L&R freebies, so I’m still giving away autographed copies, while supplies last!
So anyway, my first year I may have been a tiny bit low on the orders, my second year I was a tad high, so my third year my orders should be spot on, right? Well, maybe, we’ll see, but I seem to recall going through this very same learning process at the previous place of employment, and I eventually started nailing the FCBD numbers there and I’m sure I will here, too, sooner or later.
Trafficwise I definitely noticed an increase, particularly at the beginning of the day when perhaps the store was a little too full of people, but that crowds scaled back to reasonable numbers soon enough. We had a good steady stream of customers all day, with only a handful of brief lulls before the store’s population would surge again. In terms of actual business, spurred on by storewide FCBD-only discounts on graphic novels and back issues and so on, I saw about a 30% increase over how I did last year, and last year’s results were way above and beyond what I was expecting, so I’m very happy with how things turned out this time around.
I saw I had a question or two about FCBD left on recent posts…I’ll try to get around to those soon. In the meantime, let me thank my dad, my girlfriend Nora, and pal Dorian for helping out on this very successful Free Comic Book Day. And speaking of pal Dorian, he once again in his own inimitable fashion reviewed all the offerings this year (at least, all the ones I could get…never did receive my Pink Panther order, darn it), and he swears this is the last time he’s letting me talk him into this. We’ll see.
Thanks of course to all my customers for making this event as swell as it was, and thanks to all of you for putting up with my blatant capitalism over the past few weeks. And thanks to Mark, who may or may not have had something to do with a certain Caped Crusader visiting my store.
One more FCBD in the books. Can’t wait to see what happens next year.
…So get yourself to a participating funnybook store (preferably mine) and get your mitts on some swell freebies!
REMINDERS: If you can, try to drop a few dollars to help your local retailer (preferably me) cover costs. But you’re under no obligation…it’s free comic day, after all!
However, if your local retailer makes you buy something in order to get free comics (definitely not me)…thaaaaaat’s not how it works.
Anyway, I didn’t spend a lot of time this year discussing Free Comic Book Day, but you can always peruse this category and see what I’ve said about it for the last decade or so.
Have fun, everyone, and we’ll meet back here in a day or two for the post-FCBD debriefing! GET YOUR BRIEFS READY
Turning out to be another Low Content Mode week at the ol’ site, due to other plans and Free Comic Book Day prep and so on. Sorry about that! One of those plans involved a family member buying me and the girlfriend tickets for Captain America: Civil War for a Thursday night viewing, so I’ll be rushing out of the shop and straight to that this evening. I’ve been hearing that it’s almost as good as Batman V Superman, but I guess I’ll see for myself soon enough.
I’ll probably get back to your questions starting next Monday, but in the meantime, remember to attend Free Comic Book Day this Saturday wherever you shop or bank, but try to come by my shop and meet ME ME ME and oh also Jaime “Love and Rockets” Hernandez, who’ll also be there, I guess. “Love and Rockets” is his actual middle name, by the way. I wouldn’t lie about that.
Also, I responded to the latest Question Time over at Trouble with Comics, re: my plans for convention season (do those plans involve excessive nudity? You’ll have to click that link to find out!). And pal Andrew is continuing his “Me and the Terrible ’90s” series, if you want to read good comics blogging, unlike what you’ve been finding on my site lately.
Anyway, happy Free Comic Book Day to everyone this weekend, and I’ll be back this Monday. Though I bet I’ll probably show up here before then plugging Free Comic Book Day again. Did I mention Free Comic Book Day? FREE COMIC BOOK DAY
- I’ve been putting off any kind of review of Batman v Superman: Dawn of a New Film Franchise, We Hope simply because at this point, what’s to add, really. I liked it fine: I thought it was a valid and interesting interpretation of these characters, though I do understand the larger context complaints about tone and accessibility to younger potential viewers. Just taken as a film on its own terms, outside the criticisms of “I didn’t want this movie, I wanted a different movie,” it’s no better or worse than most big-budget blockbuster films. It’s certainly better made than the mishmash of Age of Ultron, and at least seems to have a vision and a point of view. Maybe not the vision or point of view people necessarily wanted, but I think there was some depth to the proceedings that made it worthwhile viewing, at least to me.
Yes, sure, I’d love to have a bright, cheery Superman movie. At least we’re getting a bright, cheery Batman movie (in the form of Lego Batman, guest-starring Superman!). But at least I think we can all agree that Wonder Woman was pretty great. And Lex is a hoot.
Here’s a review by pal Ragnell that I pretty much agree with.
- Free Comic Book Day plans are still coming along, and if you missed my announcement about my special guest that day, well feast your peepers on this. I don’t really have a lot of prep to do, as I’m not doing the age-appropriate packaging like I used to do…just setting ’em up on tables for free perusal works fine, and stretches supply out a bit longer. I certainly don’t have the same worries I did about getting a turnout at my new shop that I did prior to last year’s FCBD, given how things worked out. If anything, I’m hoping for a larger turnout.
I am a little annoyed that the special FCBD retail shopping bags haven’t shipped out yet…you know, those white plastic bags with the logo on ’em. That was a good advertising tool, and if I don’t get them until a week or two prior to the event, a fat lot of good that’ll do me. I contacted my distributor, and even they don’t seem to know when they’re getting to me. In the meantime, I’m passing out the bookmarks and the flyers I did get, and I’ll have some specially-printed Sterling Silver Comics-specific flyers to give away as well.
Just so long as I don’t have the stoned guy cycling around my storefront chatting people up about Herman Hesse again. That’s a Free Comic Book Day repeat I’d rather avoid.
- Haven’t really done a market report of late, I realize, but did want to note that the newest Star Wars spinoff, Poe Dameron, has sold quite well. Star Wars comic sales are still very strong, though they have softened slightly, now that they’ve been around a while and the new movie’s come and gone. But, with Force Awakens now available on home video and with hype beginning to build on the forthcoming Rogue One, maybe interest will rise again. It sure did for Poe Dameron, as I said, which I’m sure probably caught some folks at Disney by surprise just how much interest there is in the character. The strong creative team (Charles Soule and Phil Noto) and the accompanying freebie buttons and lithographs didn’t hurt.
We’ll see how sales go on next week’s arrival of the long-delayed C-3PO one-shot.
So I posted my Free Comic Book Day announcement in various places (such as my store’s site) yesterday, and thought I’d post it here, too (click to super-size):
Yup, Jaime’s going to have to put up with my shenanigans for a few hours that day, but hopefully enough of you fine folks will drop by to balance out my behavior. Also, that wasn’t the first version of the flyer I posted…I originally posted my initial attempt on Twitter with the comment “I’M NOT A GRAPHIC DESIGNER,” but fortunately Twitter pal Robb stepped in and said “…BUT I AM!” and knocked everything into the decent shape you see above.
Also, I’ve contributed once again to Question Time over there at Trouble with Comics, answering the query regarding my favorite three deaths. In comics, that is. I don’t suppose any of my answers will be any surprise, though I feel bad that I forgot about the one that made fellow Troublemaker Joe’s #3.
Turns out I was doing a lot of worrywarting about nothing, because my first Free Comic Book Day at my new shop
turned out just fine. Sales goals I wanted to reach were reached and surpassed, lots of comics were given away, and lots of people came away from my shop very happy.
We stayed at the shop ’til about 11 PM the night before getting everything set up, so there wasn’t a whole lot of prep needed Saturday morning. I arrived at the shop about an hour before opening time, and there was already the beginnings of a line waiting outside, which I took as a good sign. As soon as I did open the doors, the store filled up fairly quickly, and the first picture on the page from yesterday’s post was taken just a couple of minutes after the day began. The first couple of hours were the busiest, with the store packed full of customers, though business generally remained steady throughout the day. The one time of the day there were no customers wasn’t until in the last hour we were open, and even then that only lasted for a couple of minutes before the next wave of folks hit.
So, I’d have to say, this was a very, very successful day. I have to admit, I had a few restless nights prior, worrying about how it was going to go, but it all worked out great.
As it turned out, my actual orders on the FCBD books were just about right. I probably could have ordered more of some titles, but for the most part the titles I thought would move more slowly and ordered less on did in fact move more slowly, and the ones I ordered tons of were grabbed by everybody, which was okay because, after all, I ordered tons of them. My big fear was that I would run out of everything and just have a stack of Secret Wars #0 at the end of the day — “Um, please help yourself to our one free comic” — but at the end I still had copies of about eight or nine titles on the tables, so latecomers still had a good selection of books to carry away. I do have leftovers, which is fine…those will work as in-store giveaways or donations to libraries, and stuff like Secret Wars #0 will still be in demand from customers for a while yet.
One thing I heard a lot during the day was several people telling me this was their first visit to the shop, so that was nice. I know a thing to do is to tour several shops in an area, seeing what each was offering for the big day, so folks who hadn’t been by before had extra incentive to stop in. Most of them seemed pretty pleased with my store, which was very satisfying. Plus, I heard from a handful of folks that this was their first time at a comic shop ever, so how ’bout that?
At one point pal Nat (who as I noted the other day, was there giving away copies of graphic novels he’d written, and whom you can see in the third photo) noted how it’s been said that comics shops had a dearth of women and children as clientele…and then gestured toward the customers who were in the store at that point. Customers who were almost entirely women and children.
Stopping by the shop was old pal Mathew Digges, late of Awesome Hospital, who dropped off a little bit of that comics-making fortune he’s acquired, as well as gifting me with a print copy of The Creep Crew which he’s doing with Dylan Todd and Pete Toms:
It’s pretty great. This is the kind of thing a Big Comics Publisher would pick up if they had any sense. You can (eventually) read more about it at TheCreepCrew.com
Um, let’s see…anything else? I did have to chase off one shirtless burnout on a bicycle rambling on and on about Hermann Hesse, of all things, who was bothering customers out in front of my shop who were trying to go through the bargain boxes I had placed there. He rode off, bravely mouthing off at me once he was across the parking lot. Eh, whatever, dude…I own a comic book store, so I win.
Oh, and yes, for those of you wondering: the local high school was having its prom that same day, thus explaining where those nattily-dressed youngsters in the last photo came from.
I also had my worries about customer flow through the store, since this was a much smaller space than what I was used to, and I had to move fixtures around to make space for FCBD tables. However, people had no problem getting around, and while it was crowded, there didn’t seem to be too many traffic jams in the store. I occasionally had some long-ish lines at the register but that never appeared to interfere with in-store movement.
I do wish I had taken a little more care in noting the original positions of my fixtures, because now that I’ve moved them back, I don’t think they’re in quite the previous places they were. I mean, we’re talking maybe inches off, if even that, but that’s enough to distract me. And by “distract me,” I don’t mean “drive me completely crazy,” why would you even think that. That’s not true at all. AT ALL.
So anyway, Free Comic Book Day was a huge success for me. I think I’ll do it again next year, I guess.
Thanks to all the customers who dropped by, and thanks to my girlfriend Nora, my dad, pal Nat, and pal Dorian for helping out. I couldn’t have done it on my own. Well, maybe I could have, but then that would be a picture of me real-dead at the top of this post, instead of fake-dead.
Well, let’s see how it goes at the new place. I’ll report later, if I survive.
Also, once again I managed to cajole pal Dorian into doing his Free Comic Book Day reviews.
Everyone out there have fun and get yourself some free comics!
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