Several years back I was doing some consulting work over at Pepsi HQ in Purchase, NY. Every day I would come into work and outside the palatial properties of Pepsi HQ was this Mom & Pop country store that had the biggest Coke machine out front that I had ever seen in my life. One day I asked the gal I was working for about it, and she responded that when she first arrived at Pepsi, in Marketing, her boss had her contact everyone in a 50-mile radius that sold soda, and try to get them to exclusively sell Pepsi.
Want to know why? Apparently it had nothing to do with the quality of the product, or whether or not their own customers wanted Pepsi, it had to do with the extremely high level of service that they received from Coke. That’s right, Coke was far more concerned with servicing their needs than was Pepsi, so they simply stopped carrying Pepsi.
What’s my point? Well — in part — it is about service. That is to say it is about keeping a pipeline open to keep your product flowing through to your customer base. To do that, you need to make sure that the people who carry your product have a good relationship with you, and that you are sensitive to their needs.
Another important point is that you can actually get your product into the hands of your potential customers. Marvel’s publicly-stated reason for the Mephisto-engineered dissolution of Peter & MJ’s marriage was that if they got divorced then it would make Peter too “old” for the targeted reading audience. This — I believe — is a load of whooie. I say this because one just has to look at Marvel’s practices. They continue to churn out variant covers (clearly target for collectors), Max/mature content books (again for an older audience), and yet, whenever they have books for younger audiences (Mini Marvels, Marvel Adventures, First Class) they are not only not properly promoting them, but not properly distributing them to kid-friendly locations.
Now I’m not certain how widespread this is, but the Barnes & Nobles, Borders, and Stop & Shops in my area that carry comics don’t carry any of these kid-friendly comics (which I do find in the comic shops close to me). The problem is that young kids generally don’t tend to frequent comic shops, and those that do, are already part of the audience. What Marvel (and other companies) need to do, is expand the audience, not just steal readers from other comic publishers.
This can be done by publishing, promoting, and (properly) distributing kid-friendly comics. Like I said, Barnes & Nobles, Borders, and Stop & Shops in my area that carry comics tend to carry the “standard” comics — the ones that require decades of foreknowledge of intricate continuity, rather than any one of the previously-mentioned kid friendly books where all that is required to read them is a passing familiarity with the character and a desire to be entertained.
As a kid, I (and most of those from my generation) started with comics like Archie, Harvey, and numerous small publishers, only there doesn’t seem to be many of those kind of comics these days. You would think that a company the size of Marvel would be able to successfully market comics to kids. Most of the folks I know who read comics started reading them as kids, not as adults, so it would only make sense to make more comics that appeal to kids.
Next, the comic book industry is the only industry that only markets to itself. Think about it, you never see ads for comics in magazines targeted for kids, or in mags targeted to parents of young kids. Simply advertising and promoting comics in magazines that are only sold in comic shops to people who are already reading comics is like only advertising movies in movie theaters to people who are already at the movies. Why would you do that?
Companies that publish comics need to bring new people into the industry. Marvel has made a big deal of the fact that they have hired film and TV and major prose writers to pen some of their comics, but (to my knowledge) they haven’t done anything that lets people outside the industry know that. I mean, why hire Joss Whedon, J. Michael Strazinski, Stephen King, Orson Scott Card, and others but not cross-promote that these folks are writing comics in their original venues. How screwed up is that?
I personally don’t understand why comicbook companies don’t have (or hire) PR people whose job it is to promote comics outside of the field of comics. Sure, sure the fanboys working at Wizard and all the comic-geek pod bloggers are going to hang on every word you say, but you guys need to spread the word to those outside the community. Comics used to sell in the millions. In the ‘80s, any comic selling under 100,000 was in danger of being canceled, now there are a number of “top-selling” comics selling 20 or 30,000.
We are seriously in danger of becoming marginalized in our own industry. If we can’t grow the number of people comics reading comics, we could seriously fade into oblivion inside a generation.