To be completely honest, I was originally going to title this “An Exploration of Mental Retardation,” but was advised against it by my wife. She’s a lot smarter than I am.
There is absolutely no doubt that the Internet is the present and future of any form of sales, marketing and promotion for any industry looking to reach the public and make a profit. For a comic book publisher with a small or non-existent marketing budget this is even truer. Truerer? Truerist? Whatever.
The Internet can offer a level playing field, regardless of a company’s size, budget or manpower, when it comes to having access to the hundreds of millions of people online looking for somewhere to spend their money. It can give a company almost unlimited access to potential customers, as long as they actively target their markets and let those potential customers know about their products.
For a run-of-the-mill, industry standard superhero comic, or even an original non-superhero title, figuring out that target market can be a grueling and often mind-numbing task. That is where the beauty of a licensed property comic comes in. You see, with a comic based on a licensed movie, television or video game property, you are immediately widening your potential audience to now include fans of that property. You gain access to those (hopefully) millions of people online looking for more product based on their favorite media properties. You should be achieving sales in excess of non-licensed titles in exponential amounts. You should be guaranteed to have a hit book on your hands.
That is, unless you are a modern comic book publisher.
Modern comic book publishers, in spite of going through the trouble (and cost) of obtaining a licensed property, will almost universally ignore the drawing power of that license, as well as the targeting and funneling power of the Internet. This is an extremely amusing realization for me in light of how often you hear publishers talking about how digital comics are the future of the industry or how the Internet will replace the current direct market and comic book shops.
The very same companies making these statements are some of the worst at actually understanding or using what we all accept as the future. In general, comic book publishers are actively ignoring the Internet as a selling and promotion tool…and, no, setting up Facebook and Twitter accounts don’t count. Completely ignored are market research, search engine optimization (SEO), keyword research and about a hundred other, very basic marketing and sales practices. Things that most other industry automatically do.
Where this lack of marketing and sales ability is on amazing display is with those publishers who deal with the licensed properties. For the most part, they seem to be assuming that just having a license will magically bring people in. When, in truth, their brand of marketing/sales is really just limiting their sales to current comic book fans who happen to also be fans of their licenses (versus the millions of mainstream fans who are out there on the internet looking for product merchandised from their favorite property). In other words, they are sectioning off an already too-small pool of potential customers instead of opening that pool up into the ocean.
To successfully take advantage of a licensed property, fans of that property have to be able to find it. With the Internet being everyone’s primary source of information and research, making sure your licensed comics show up when potential new customers search for the property is going to be one of the most basic, and most important, things you can do.
Going with that thought, let’s jump over to everyone’s favorite search engine, Google, and see how a few comic book publishers do with the licensed properties they have spent so much money obtaining.
(As a point of fact: I searched a number of terms for each license, including the name of the property (with and without quotes if needed), along with additional searches based on “buying keywords” I’ve found work almost universally well with all product online. I stopped my searches after page 6 because, as we all know, most internet searches actually end after page 3)
IDW Publishing: As one of the “big boys” of the comic industry, and a company whose sales seem to be based very heavily on licensed properties, I expected IDW to do very well with in the searches.
No rankings were found at all in the first 6 pages of Google (I stopped on page 6) for the following licensed titles: Transformers, True Blood, GI Joe, Ghostbusters and Doctor Who.
Astonishingly, I did find them pop up for Star Trek in the middle of page 5. Even more surprising, they don’t even rank on page 1 for their own “30 Days of Night” comic. That’s right, they come in on the middle of page 2. Well, at least they rank well on “IDW Publishing.”
For Boom! Studios: Boom is a smaller publisher who seems to be trying to use licensed titles as a way to move up in sales and market share.
No rankings were found in the first 6 pages of search results (again, I stopped after page 6) for the following Boom! Studios licensed comics: Farscape, Muppets/Muppet Show, Uncle Scrooge, Donald Duck, Disney Cars/Pixar Cars (Cars by itself is a worthless search term and an impossible one to get a high ranking on for small websites), The Incredibles/Disney Incredibles/Pixar Incredibles, Toy Story, Mickey Mouse, Finding Nemo and 28 Days Later.
The Uncle Scrooge results gave me a chuckle. You see, on page 2, we find a link to an old Dark Horse offering. So, I’m guessing that Boom feels you should buy Dark Horse before buying Boom! In this case.
Darkwing Duck, a term with very little competition and one that should be easy to dominate the results with, barely makes page 5 of Google. You can, however, find some fanfic of the character on page 2.
Walt Disney Comics as a complete term, does rank towards the bottom of Google Search Engine Results page 2 for Boom, but the link itself goes to a blog entry and not to information about the comic itself. I’m glad to see them rank well for at least one of their many licensed titles, especially one like “Walt Disney Comics” that has almost no competition.
For Ape Entertainment: These are little guys in the world of licensed comics, but they have produced some high quality non-licensed books in the past.
No rankings…yadda yadda…first 6 pages…yadda yadda…you know the drill: Black Dynamite, Shrek (they do get a page 5 ranking if you search for “Shrek Comic), Penguins of Madagascar and Megamind.
I did go ahead and do searches for Richie Rich and Strawberry Shortcake, but didn’t realistically expect to find anything since Ape had just announced acquiring those licenses. Still, would have been nice to see well-written press releases pop up during my searches.
What I very quickly discovered was that all of the publishers were completely missing the point of their licenses and, in all honesty, are all completely wasting whatever fees they paid out for those licenses. The question I have for all of the companies is: If you’re going to pay for a license with wider recognition and accessibility, why ignore those two very important factors and just limit your sales to the comic industry itself. That is exactly what they are doing – people who are fans of the True Blood TV show have almost no chance of finding out about the IDW True Blood comic books, unless they are already exposed to comics and are already at a comic store or searching on comic book specific sites.
If a company isn’t using the potential of its license and the power of the internet to grow their sales and market share, then they are absolutely wasting their time, their manpower and their money.
What’s even worse is the nature of a licensed property – that nature being: the comic publisher doesn’t own it. That’s right, at least with a low-selling company-owned comic you’ll still own the property in a few years. With a licensed property, at some point, those rights will revert back to its owners and all you are left with are memories of a product that didn’t sell well and a lot of time wasted on it.
To close out, I’m going to end things with a list of sales estimates for licensed comics from earlier this year:
From August 2010 Diamond Sales Estimates:
True Blood #2 26,000 (best seller of the bunch!) – somehow, one of the hottest properties and shows on the planet is selling fewer copies than the 4th issue of Zatanna.
Angel #36 16,000 – 5 seasons of Angel and 7 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, countless BtVS conventions, fan groups and more, and it sells less than a Booster Gold comic.
GI Joe #157 14,000 – the best selling comic book of the 80s, one of the greatest cartoons of all-time and a property supported by both toy and cartoon interest. What’s worse is the rest of the GI Joe titles all sell under 10,000!
Doctor Who #14 6,500 – no clue what to say about this one. This property has been around for almost 50 years, supports its own conventions, has its own dedicated international magazine, is incredibly hot on TV and has had an amazing amount of press this year. Yet, it isn’t selling much over five thousand copies.
Darkwing Duck #3 6,300 – I think this was the higest ranked Boom title after Irredeemable this month. You’d think a company basing itself on licensed titles would be able to muster a few of those titles up over 10,000 in sales.
From there things get really depressing. How depressing? Donald Duck & Friends sold right at 3,000 copies. Something is very wrong here.
Licensed comic publishers, you really need to get your sh!t together. If you’re selling product based on a popular property, get a marketing plan together and start actually trying to sell it instead of sitting back and hoping for the best.