web analytics

The Failure of Licensed Comic Publishers

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.

In theory.

That is, unless you are a modern comic book publisher.

Modern Licensed Comic Book Publishers are failing horribly with online marketing of their licensed properties.

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.

Licensed publishers like Ape Entertainment, IDW Publishing and Boom Studios are missing out on thousands of sales by mis-managing their internet presence.

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.

-Mat Nastos

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!
Mat Nastos
TV, Film, comic book, fantasy & steampunk writer/director, known best for bad horror movies about giant scorpions, killer pigs & dinosaurs in the sewers. You can find his work on Smashwords or at his Amazon Author Page.

8 Responses

  1. Nat Gertler says:

    You’re complaining about the books being sold only to those who are already buying comics, but you’re using the Diamond single issue sales chart to judge how they’re selling? Diamond charts will only show you how they’re selling through Diamond to the direct market. It won’t show you the sales of individual issues of Angel in Borders, nor the sales of Toy Story trade paperbacks in Toys R Us, nor the sales of True Blood comics through the iTunes store, or any other way that they try to reach the fan of the source material beyond the comic shops.

  2. Mat Nastos says:


    Thanks for the note.

    I do think you COMPLETELY missed the point of the article. That being: online, the titles are all nearly impossible to find for a fan or someone who doesn’t already know about them. What we’ve got with those publishers is a complete lack of ability to market online and that’s what the article was talking about.

    Specific sales numbers aside, we do know comparatively that, for example, Angel will sell considerably less than the Marvel titles above it on that Diamond list. We’ve got a title that has millions of fans having no way for those fans to find out more about that title (or any of the others in the post) online…with the Internet being the main way the majority of the country (and world) does its research these days.

    Those companies (and most comic companies) are sorely inadequate when it comes to online marketing.

    -Mat N

  3. Dallas SEM says:

    Thanks for this AWESOME article! I will definitely have to use this in my blog!


  4. Robert Scott says:

    Thanks for adressing something that I’ve been complaining about for quite awhile.

    Maybe hearing it from a non-retailer will give it more traction than I’ve been able to get.

    I refer to it as Underpants Gnomes Marketing, after the South Park Episode featuring a group of Gnomes who steal underpants “for profit”. How? Step 1, steal underpants. Step 3, Profit.

    For publishers it is Step 1, buy licenses (steal underpants). Step 3, Profit.

    And when you ask about step 2? They just stare through you.

  5. Mat Nastos says:


    Thanks for the comment! I doubt my post is going to help all that much, unfortunately. I’ve talked to a couple of publishers and for the most part they aren’t really interested in hearing about this stuff.

    Glad to hear you enjoyed the post, tho!

    -Mat N

  6. Sam says:

    Thanks for the input Mat. I have enjoyed reading the majority of your articles. Reading your articles has definitely given me a few things to think about and areas for my own publishing company to look into in the coming months as we are about to launch our first two titles. Keep up the good work.

  1. November 18, 2010

    […] true for licensed comic book publishers (although, I’ve already talked about that in my “The Failure of Licensed Publishers” article, so I won’t waste our space […]

  2. November 26, 2010

    […] Recent Comments Mat Nastos on Comic Book Market Analysis — Why the hell aren’t you already doing it?Christine on Comic Book Market Analysis — Why the hell aren’t you already doing it?Tweets that mention Comic Book Market Analysis — Why the hell aren't you already doing it? | The Official Mat Nastos Website — Topsy.com on Comic Book Market Analysis — Why the hell aren’t you already doing it?Tweets that mention Google Yo' Bad Self – The Importance of Online Branding in Comic Book Marketing | The Official Mat Nastos Website — Topsy.com on Google Yo’ Bad Self – The Importance of Online Branding in Comic Book MarketingGoogle Yo' Bad Self – The Importance of Online Branding in Comic Book Marketing | The Official Mat Nastos Website on The Failure of Licensed Comic Publishers […]

This site is protected by wp-copyrightpro.com