Having recently done a mall show with a non comic targeted crowd, I found it quite interesting how people outside the regular comic demographic view comic books today. Some of the observations have a definite tie in to the current DC digital initiative while others are downright troubling when it comes to selling comics.
- The Kids Don't Care - so, here we are in the middle of a major metropolitan mall over the course of three days, and I can count on less than two hands how many kids under 12 came up and started looking at the books of their own accord. Most of the time, they went for the action figures first and had to be pointed to the comics by their parents. Additionally, kids do not like to dig in the boxes, so the "joy of discovery" was a non factor.
- "Hot" or "Not" - I had at least five adults who stopped by who identified themselves as former collectors, but they had not been following the books for a couple of years. When I started talking about Secret Invasion, World War Hulk, and Blackest Night, all I got was blank looks. Upon further investigation, a couple of years really meant the late 90s! Even with everything done in the past four years or so to gain media attention, people still remember the Death of Superman and Mutant Massacre storylines. I had one person (ONE!) ask if I had any of the new Death of Spider-Man issues (as one of the other dealers asked "Spider-Man died?"). As I tried to explain some of the recent big events, the dominant reactions revolved around the size and accessibility of the storylines. The Big Two talk about attracting new readers yet these huge storylines appear to scare them off.
- Signs, Signs, Everywhere There's Signs - Call it the Wal-Mart syndrome. If there is not a price directly on the box that comics were in, I was consistently questioned on how much the books were. Nevermind that there are 12 boxes with "Comics - 2 for $1" signs on every three boxes, if they were looking at a box between the signs, people had to ask how much it cost. I even had questions about the post it notes on the action figures asking what the number meant (Um, that's the price). After doing so many shows, this really brought home how much I was used to the usual nomenclature and signage of the comic book show. "Normals" did not have the same assumptions or base concepts.
- Scary Comment of the Day - From a passerby - "Comic books. They still make those?"
Bottom line, despite their own insular best efforts, the scope of the comic book industry has greatly decreased. The characters are known, but the individual stories and issues are not. I picked up nearly 500 issues, all DC and Marvel, from the past three years from one person for a sad 0.25/issue. Considering the average $2.99 cover price, that is even a worse return on investment than the stock market for the past few years. Moreover, there is no interest to pick up the stories even by casual fans EVEN AT A BARGAIN PRICE POINT! So, I will have to save these books for the next true comic show.
DC has realized that they will have to do what the rest of the print industry has been in the process of doing the past few years - "Change or Die". If they cannot bring in the younger readers or the casual readers, then our industry, our hobby, our passion, is on life support, no matter how much we may want to deny it.
Marvel needs to get on a similar path as their continual churn of "The Next Big Thing" and "The Next Big Death" is only cannibalizing long term sales for short term spikes. Marvel is trying to replicate the speculator frenzy of the 90s by creating events and hoping readers stick around. We have been down this path before, and we know how it ends (hello, Wizard). Instead, if they could use their big multi-media properties, movies, and TV shows, to promote the books and have more of an integration between the platforms, that would drive more sales. The current new Wolverine and Iron Man series are great examples of this, yet I have not seen one single "Read the Book" ad on any of these shows. Hopefully, DC's new promotions, even as limited as they are, will spur some action over at the House of Ideas.
While the sales from the mall show were nowhere near expectations, the experience was illuminating. For the various retailers complaining about the DC digital initiative, they should try setting up at something similar to this and see how the world beyond their "Wall Books" views their product and presentation. The occasional customer looking through the lines of boxes could very well be a preview of their own future.