This Free Comic Book Day post was originally much, much angrier.

§ May 5th, 2008 § Filed under free comic book day Comments Off on This Free Comic Book Day post was originally much, much angrier.

I am not terribly happy about what I’ve been hearing about how some stores treated their Free Comic Book Days. Way to make a sow’s ear out of a silk purse, guys.

Really, people, it isn’t all that difficult. Free Comic Book Day attracts a lot of media attention This is the day that people…people aside from your regulars…might actually seek out a comic book store. This is your chance to make an impression, to expose these newcomers to what comics have to offer, to demonstrate that a comic book store can be a friendly, fun place, that we’re just normal people trying to make a living.

A lot of stores did it right. We did. Chris Sims’ store did. I’m sure The Isotope did, since James Sime is a smart, happenin’ guy (not to mention a snappy dresser). Carla did the right thing, too. Brett‘s local store had it goin’ on as well.

Unfortunately, however, too many comic book stores suck. This post of mine didn’t come out of nowhere, after all.

A lot of people going to comic shops for the first time on Free Comic Book Day saw dirty, disorganized stores with indifferent, if not outright hostile, employees, only the barest acknowledgment that FCBD even was happening, and a pathetic selection and distribution of free books. (EDIT: A friend just reminded me of his local shop, which SHUT DOWN in the middle of FCBD so the employees could go see Iron Man. LAME.) The person who described his shop’s method of display as basically being just piling a couple of random stacks on a counter, and making you search through them for the ones you want…that just blew my mind. It really doesn’t take much to make the day a special event. Retailers were even offered preprinted BALLOONS for use in the shops, for God’s sake. Nothing says “festive” like balloons!

Okay, I didn’t remember to put the balloons up in our store. I was busy, and totally forgot. But by God, we were festive anyway.

I was going to go through and list, point by point, all the crap things I’ve been hearing about how some stores treated their FCBD event. In particular, if your treatment of customers on FCBD, a day specifically designed as customer outreach, causes you to lose those people as customers, you’re doing it wrong.

But, instead, let me, yet again, go through and tell you what we did. Maybe we can lead by example:

  • Divided up the FCBD comics into three age-appropriate bags: one for kids, one for teens, one for adults. If you got all three bags, you got one of each FCBD book, while supplies lasted.
  • Cleaned and vacuumed.
  • Set up large tables at the front of the shop, where we laid out the prepackaged bags of comics, as well as stacks of extra books in case people just wanted a few, and not the whole enchilada.

    We also set up a small shelf with selections of FCBD books from previous years.

  • Made sure the table was monitored at all times, so that we could maintain the only limitations we put on the distribution of the comics: one of each per customer, and no age-inappropriate books for younger readers. (We would occasionally let some people slide if they wanted an extra copy or two of something for somebody who couldn’t make it…hey, so long as they weren’t grabbing 25 copies of say, Hellboy, it was fine.)
  • In response to Rocco‘s question: we just put a few of the Heroclix and Star Wars figures out at a time, and made sure that each customer got only one of each. (They went over well enough…I didn’t think the Iron Man Heroclix were as appealing as previous years’ offerings…the sculpt seemed a bit rough…but hey, people wanted the Iron Man stuff.)
  • Had in-store sales: 10% off graphic novels, four for the price of three on manga. 10% doesn’t sound like much, but even a little break like that encouraged sales. And during special events, I’ve noticed, particularly at ones where folks are having a good time, people feel a little more free to open up the pocketbooks. Not that that was my ulterior motive for making sure people were enjoying themselves…I want people to like coming to our store, especially if it’s their first visit. I can always shake them down when they come back.

    But encouraging extra sales on a day when you’re giving away hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars’ worth of product is a good idea, and not that hard to do. Even a small discount, like I noted, can help. In our case, the sales on graphic novels alone that day more than paid for what we spent on the FCBD books. And we had a lot of the FCBD books.

    By the way, pal Sean came in, swearing up and down he was only at the shop to get the free books, and had in fact promised the wife he wouldn’t spend any money.

    He ended up buying fifty dollars’ worth of books. SUCH IS THE POWER OF FREE COMIC BOOK DAY. (Sorry, Yvonne…it wasn’t my fault, I swear!)

  • We were attentive to customers…answered questions, showed folks around the shop, were very, very patient with one or two people, and just generally tried to be friendly with everyone. Well, we try that every day, with varying degrees of success, but with new people coming in, you want to impress, right? Once they get used to us, then the abuse can begin.

    Anyway, there was a great deal of laughter and happy chatter going around, particularly with the Iron Man high most people were on, having either seen the film prior to coming to the shop, or they were on their way to the film, or perhaps between multiple viewings. The excitement over the Iron Man film really did help.

  • And there are some things that we didn’t do this year, but have done in the past, like having in-store signings or distributing coupons in the FCBD baggies.

Ultimately, the success of a store’s Free Comic Book Day is in treating the day like a special event to be enjoyed, and not just a burden to be endured, like I’ve heard about too many stores this year. Yeah, I know I grumble a bit about preparing for it here on my site, but it really is a fun, if enormously busy, day. And while the long-term effects of FCBD are still being debated, whether it really does increase readership and attract new customers, it’s not as if there’s too much of a downside to having a bunch of people come away from your store happy, with an armload of free comic books that you’ve given them.

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