[taps the “Doing this for 33 years” sign again]

§ May 7th, 2021 § Filed under retailing § 5 Comments

Whenever I extol the virtues of Free Comic Book Day, I am frequently asked questions lke “what good does it do?” “Does it really help your business?” “Do you ever get regular customers out of it, or do the new faces just show up to load up on freebies?”

In the simpler, easier-to-quantify short-term benefit, a Free Comic Book Day event makes my store a great deal of money. While the “free” comics I give away cost very little per individual unit, en masse, particularly in the quantities I traditionally purpose…well, it ain’t cheap. However, it’s always a worthwhile investment in that it attracts a lot of people to my shop for that day, most of whom take advantage of the store-wide discounts on products I’m actually selling. Along with the handfuls of free comics, many also walk out with stacks of graphic novels or back issues that they’ve also purchased. As I often say, I have never lost money on a Free Comic Book Day.

Aside from the financial considerations, there are the emotional ones. Free Comic Book Day makes people happy. Yes, happy that they’re getting free stuff…but they’re happy to be getting comics, they’re happy to be at the shop, it’s a big event that’s very exciting and cheerful.

And now we get into the long-term benefits. People will remember that happiness. That there was this cool shop in town that gave away a bunch of free stuff. That the Free Comic Book Day promotion itself caused them to find out if there was a comic book store in their area, who then sought out and visited my store for the first time. And now, those first-timers now know where to go for comics should they ever need any again. Plus, they’ve got friends they can tell about their experience…a little good word-of-mouth advertising is always welcome.

I don’t think anybody expects Free Comic Book Day events to create new weekly New Comics Day regulars, snapping up a dozen or so books every Tuesday/Wednesday. That habit is…kind of a lifestyle choice more than anything. But it does generate returning customers. I have had people specifically cite Free Comic Book Day to me as their reason for returning to the store to pick up something or ‘nother. I’ve had them tell me “I was going to buy this on Amazon, but I remembered getting free comics from you, so I’d rather spend my money here.” Yes, really.

So no, Free Comic Book Day doesn’t immediately convert all new faces into weekly visitors. But it does positively promote the store, either informs or reminds people that a comic shop lurks waiting in their midst, and that my shop is a nice, clean, and friendly place to go if comics are needed. It is a long term gain.

And thus it is the same with Batman/Fortnite.

The big problem is supply. Even I, who ordered much higher numbers on this than I would have on a typical Batman mini-series, still sold out quickly. So, unlike Free Comic Book Day, where everyone who came to the store left with what they wanted — free comics and discounted goods — many B/F seekers left without the item for which they were hunting.

In that circumstance, it may seem like it’d be difficult to put a positive spin on the shop for the disappointed customer. However, friendly service, an offer to hold future issues, and just generally offering as good an experience as possible, all things considered. I can tell you I didn’t have one angry, or even all that disappointed, customer after learning I was out of B/F. Well, okay, I had a couple of folks grumble at me because I wouldn’t let them buy a half-dozen copies of it for flipping on eBay, but that’s not the sort of customer I’m worried about here. Even if I didn’t have the product, I want new customers to know that it’s a nice store with a fella behind the counter what’s trying to be as helpful as he can manage.

On the other hand, what of the people who were lucky enough to get a copy at my shop? They were certainly happy to get a copy, at cover price, and like the new faces at Free Comic Book Day, they’ve learned there’s an inviting comic book store in town.

Again, no, they’re not likely to suddenly become regular visitors to the shop outside the B/F context…but you treat them well anyway, and, whether they were able to immediately fill that B/F need or not, they are more likely to remember you when they need something comic book-y for whatever reason. Even if it just another Fortnite tie-in comic book.

And rest assured, Batman/Fortnite is essentially like printing money for DC. There will be more of this sort of thing. And when the time comes, and, I don’t know, that Superboy and the Ravers/Fortnite crossover comic is finally released, where will the customers for that be more inclined to go? The comic shop that screwed them over by jacking the price up to $30 or whatever the last time a Fortnite comic came out, taking advantage of an excited kid or a desperate parent? Or the shop that sold ’em for cover price when they had it, and offered to save future issues and reprints of issues they missed? The shop that made you feel bad about buying a comic, or the shop that made you feel good?

I don’t buy the excuse that the inflated prices on Batman/Fortnite are no big deal given the money gamers usually spend on their game-related products. So what? Just because you can get away with something doesn’t mean you should. There’s no legal reason to not charge whatever you want on a comic book…otherwise, the back issue market would be markedly different, wouldn’t it? But a brand new comic, literally the day of release…for me, that’s an ethical consideration. It’s…well, it’s scummy, is what it is.

Robin #1 and Star Wars: War of the Bounty Hunters are a couple of recent hot comics that got the speculators all hot and bothered lately. What if on the day of release I bagged ‘n’ tagged them with $25 price tags? You know what that would make me? An asshole with unsold copies of Robin #1 and Star Wars: War of the Bounty Hunters on my shelf, that’s what. Would some people still buy them? Probably…$25 is probably a small investment after getting their copies in those CGC coffins and up on eBay for $200 or what have you. But the folks who just wanted to read the comic, and maybe don’t have the budget for those obviously smartly market-valued collector’s items? Well, fuck ’em, right? Gotta grab that cash while the grabbing is good!

Sorry, I want to sleep peacefully at night. And I want people who come into my store to leave with happy thoughts about their experience, making them more inclined to return, or recommend me to others. That is the long-term gain from treating people well, and not taking advantage of them when their need is great and you hold all the cards. As reader John said, “Don’t Be A Dick,” because folks will remember if you are one.

I look forward to seeing at least some of these new customers back in my store in the future, after this Fortnite comic thing is done. Because experience tells me that I will.

5 Responses to “[taps the “Doing this for 33 years” sign again]”

  • The “Superboy and the Racers/Fortnite” joke made my day. Thank you.

  • Brian Cronin says:

    You obviously shouldn’t ever sell non-ratio variant cover new releases for higher prices on the week of release at your store. That’s just Comic Book Retailing 101. Anyone who’s doing that is just a fool.

    The more difficult question is whether you should feel obligated to sell your entire stock at the store.

    And yes, that Superboy and the Ravers joke was excellent.

  • Randy Sims says:

    Mike Sterling: Class Act since 1969

  • ExistentialMan says:

    Mike, I wish the Eisner’s offered a “Retailer-of-the-Year-All-Around-Humanist-Award”. You’d be a shoe-in every year.

  • Hey, everybody. Being in Chicago, FCBD also means warmer weather, or it used to since now our summer seems to be June-October. But BluesFest is the big thing at the start of June, but FCBD was great because of *when* it was set into place.

    Talking about B/F, I(was at that comic shop I mentioned that was around in 1980, All-Amercian. I picked up Batgirl#50, I didn’t even know it was ending. I was just trying throw some more money at Carl the owner. Then we talked a bit, as old men do.

    Some young as in 30-sh dude comes in and *only* buys BATGIRL#50, the last three, claiming his wife was in the car, motor running, she wanted one, I swear to Springsteen he said his little daughter wanted one. No more on the shelf, otherwise he’d have more kids.

    I slid mine across to him, quite pi$$ed, and said “Here, take mine, Mr. Flipper.” Now you have them all.
    The guy ended up putting one back on the shelf. And the two copies was all he bought, never looked around the store.

    After he was gone, Carl pointed out a sign that had a dolphin and that line through circle thingie for NO FLIPPERS and he said he’d still sell the book in an hour. I loved shaming him, which I wouldn’t have done if there were more copies.

    So Mike, you are indeed the exact opposit of Mephisto and The Spectre.