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The Sad Tale of a Comic Book Publisher’s Failed Product Launch

I was speaking with an editor from one of the larger comic book publishers recently (no, I’m not going to name “Who” this time around) about issues they had been having with one of their licensed comic book properties. A quick break down of their situation, as I understood them:

The publisher has access to a huge property with a lot of history to it and a very large fanbase — a fanbase that includes movies, games, video games, previous comic series, novels and more. Absolutely huge property, fantastic built-in market and, more importantly, a market that intersects nicely with the medium of comic books.

To take advantage of the monstrous fanbase, the publisher’s plan was (is?) to put out at least three titles, based on various portions of the license. Definitely a good number to start with — enough material to reboot the property in comic book format and get some good sales, but not so much as to dilute or over-expose it.

Absolutely idea set-up for the publisher. I can’t stress that enough: all factors were in place for this to be a killer comic book in terms of sales.

And that is precisely what it looked like with the release of their initial issue of the first series. Big numbers. A definite hit for the publisher and a fantastic lead in for the premiere of the second series.

Unfortunately, that is where things went terribly wrong for the publisher. You see, in spite of a big launch for the property in the form of the first series, orders for the second series were…how shall we say…uninspiring. A better word for it might have been disheartening.

The question the editor asked me was, “How did it happen? What did we do wrong?

To be honest, I’m sure the editor thought he was asking me a rhetorical questions — one not really asked for the purpose of me answering. What he didn’t know was, well…me. When I stumble across a mystery such as this, my inner Scooby Doo comes out (or is it my inner Velma?) and I need to get to the bottom of it.

Why does a product launch fail? It didn't take a bunch of meddling kids to figure this one out!

Luckily, in this particular instance, it didn’t take the entire gang of Mystery Incorporated to figure out the answer. You see, it was all fairly obvious once I took a look at what the publisher was doing in terms of promotion and, more specifically, internet marketing.

After poking around online for a bit I discovered quite a bit of information and reference to the first series and its release. The publisher had done a decent job at building up hype for it in a number of ways:

  1. Doing interviews and press releases aimed at the target market — not as much as I would have liked, but enough to get some word out and some interest in place.
  2. Released a preview issue, which was available for free at a number of outlets and given away at convention appearances by the publisher. This was a fantastic, and surprisingly aggressive, move by the publisher.
  3. Had references to the series on various company-related websites BEFORE the comic come out and, I believe, before it was available for pre-order in Previews.

In my mind, they could have done more, but at least there was something there for the built-in audience for the property to latch on to. They put information out in advance and gave the audience enough time to discover it. B+ job and nothing to scoff at.

Training my razor-sharp senses on the second series, fully expecting to find the same care and promotional force being exerted on it. The promotional force being exerted on that second title, I very quickly discovered, amounted to almost nothing.

Well, to be honest, it amounted to nothing without the almost.



That’s right. The company who had done so well with the release of the first issue was dropping the ball terribly.

During my searches on the Internet, using every variation I could think of for the new comic, up to and including making use of the publisher’s name, I found no references to the new title at all. A title that had just been in previews and had been around long enough for the publisher to have received its initial orders through Diamond. No reference at all on all of the Internet.


In the eyes of the Internet (and the entire world, really) this new series — based on one of the top licenses you can imagine and having more than 30 years worth of hardcore fans — did not exist.

Here is where the most interesting part comes in to play. When I mentioned this fact to the editor to whom I had been speaking, and asked what they were doing to promote the third series (which was due in Previews within the next month or two and would be getting orders — or not getting them — very soon thereafter) in order to avoid such an occurrence from happening again. What were they doing to make sure they didn’t kill this monster of a license in comics for the foreseeable future?

His non-nonchalant remark not only surprised and startled me, but also spurred me to write this article, was, “It’s still a couple of months away…we haven’t even started thinking about it yet.”

My jaw hit the floor. For anyone aware of putting together a product launch, “a couple of months away” means it is time to kick things in to high gear. It is time to get to work, to start building interest in the new product and time to do everything humanly possible to make sure you, as a publisher, are going to get as many sales as you can.

While I assume they had someone on staff who knew what a “product launch strategy was,” I came to one very sobering conclusion. They may have known the term but they didn’t understand what it meant.

What they didn’t seem to understand is that a successful product launch is as much about the countdown as it is about the take-off.

For a successful product launch, the countdown is as important as the take-off.

For a proper product launch, something I’ll go in to more detail on later this week, you need to connect with your target audience. You need to entice them, intrigue them and seduce them. You need to slowly give out tiny bits of information on your product, a little at a time and over a long period of time in order to catch as many of them as possible. You want to frame your information releases in a way that each and every member of that fanbase is convinced they are part of a secret club. That they are special and that the product is for THEM.

This publisher, one whom I have a huge amount of respect for (and whose product I tend to enjoy), make the mistake I’ve complained about in this space so many time before. They made the mistake of assuming “if you build it, they will come.” They assumed producing a comic based on a giant property was going to magically cause customers to appear and buy their product.

What was even worse, at least in my mind, was that they were completely unaware of their grievous mistake. A mistake that might cost them tens of thousands of potential sales AND kill of one of their anchor properties.

Later on this week I’ll be giving you, my loyal readers, a whole slew out tips on how to do a proper product launch — the techniques and strategies I’ve used to help clients earn millions of dollars in sales over the years. Stay tuned.

Hopefully someone in that publisher’s office will be paying attention this time!

-Mat Nastos, Super Genius

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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.

6 Responses

  1. Rick Cromack says:

    What goes for publishers / content creators can go for retailers, too. As important as a first at-bat of the inning is, it’s pretty much wasted without a SECOND at-bat, and a third. Even if you get on-base. ESPECIALLY if you get on-base.

  2. Ray Long says:

    That’s got to be the DnD comic right? That is a huge waste of a license. I was at the WoTC booth at PAX and there was no presence of it. It was in the bag but no info at the booth regarding what’s coming up and no one knew anything about it.

    I think some of the problems are the writer keeps writing them as modern characters. Some of the dialog is straight out of an 80’s movie’ especially the rogue character.

    Also, there’s no presence in game stores of this comic; no ads on the WoTC websites or Hasbro etc.

    There’s also little respect paid to the mechanics of the game with people doing things willy-nilly; it’s like the author read the class/race descriptions from the PHB, looked at the pictures and his research ended there.

    There are thousands of fans out there that could write and guide this property better than the current team. I know some of the writers in the game industry that could write better narrative than this and would do it with reverence and respect for the source material.

    Don;t even get me started on the mundane and paint by numbers artwork. The art in the DnD books is really well done and the art in this comic is so mundane it’s ridiculous! DnD is a fantastical world rendered by mediocre talent.

    Get with the program people, this should be selling 6 digits!

    • Mat Nastos says:

      Not to pick on IDW, but I do think some of their titles aren’t targeted at the most obvious of markets — the fans of the properties themselves. It does seem like they tend to put comics together that are aimed at standard comic fans and then limit those fans by going specifically for “comic fans who happen to like XX property.” To me, it’d be more effective to start with fans of the property, build a sales foundation there and then use whatever comic sales come in as icing. But that’s just me.

      I also agree that D&D comics could/should be selling BIG numbers.

      -Mat N

  1. December 14, 2010

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mat Nastos and Mat Nastos, James Ninness. James Ninness said: RT @niftymat: New Post – The Sad Tale of a Comic Book Publisher's Failed Product Launch http://bit.ly/evuAjR […]

  2. February 3, 2011

    […] about how the recent IDW D&D comic book series has been completely botched up from the start. The Sad Tale of a Comic Book Publisher's Failed Product Launch | The Official Mat Nastos Website How to keep IDW Publishing from losing their shirt on the Forgotten Realms, Part 1: Building a […]

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