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Some Comic Book Products Are Just Hard to Sell – the iHero Product Review

Since I first began posting comic book marketing articles here on MatNastos.net back in October 2010, I’ve had quite a few companies ask me to take a look at their products or websites and give my thoughts on sales/marketing. The most famous of these were the ones I wrote at Andy Schmidt’s (from IDW Publishing) request for me to look at their Dungeons & Dragons situation (or check out “The Sad Tale of a Comic Book Publisher’s Failed Product Launch” for a bit of background).

Since some of these product/market analysis articles can take a long time to research and put together, I don’t do very many of them.  However, I was recently contacted by iHero Entertainment publisher, Frank Fradella, to check out his new “I, Hero” superhero prose magazine.  They had tried publishing their magazine a few years back and were looking for a way to take things to a new level this time around.

iHero Entertainment published I, Hero Magazine and I take a look at the commercial viability of their product.

Before I get to the response I sent the iHero guys, I have to mention how tough this sort of a post is to write for me.  It really is difficult to take a completely cold business eye to a product where its creators have put a lot of work in to and the result just isn’t quite marketable or commercial enough to work with.  It’s a hard fact to realize there are just some products, regardless of the quality or skill behind that, that are not viable in the marketplace.  This is one of the reasons I talk so much about researching your market BEFORE you produce your product to keep from wasting a lot of time or money on something you can’t sell.

Anyway, on to my response for the iHero guys.Frank Fradella:

I’ve had a little bit of time to ruminate on iHero a bit. What I’m going to do here is send you the same kind of note I’d send a company that was trying to hire me on for a project. These tends tend to be completely honest, upfront and blunt. They’re also my opinions based on my experience.

To be totally upfront, if you came to me with this project and asked to hire me based on the product you’ve shown, I’d pass. The reason being, I don’t feel like there is a huge amount of commercial potential in what you’ve shown me. If I was forced to make a guess on what you’ll sell, I’d say a few hundred print copies — if you push a thousand, I’d be surprised.

This is not a comment on the technical abilities of the writers or graphic designers or from a perspective of taste (I’m one of those people who goes out of my way to read superhero prose).

First up, your cover is not something that will jump off the stands as people walk by. Really, if it were me, I’d spend $500-$1000 and get a name artist of some sort to do a cover for you that will pop AND be of interest to potential readers. I’d also try to get a higher end, cover quality colorist. The cover is your first impression and your way to capture attention.

The cover to I, Hero magazine by M. Asrar.

Beyond just the art, I’d think about the design of the cover itself. Right now it looks like there is a ton of wasted space on it — if only looking at the green bar and ISBN barcode. Why the barcode wasn’t turned vertically to show more art is a mystery to me. I like the iHero Entertainment logo, but think the “I, Hero” magazine logo is weak.

Normally I wouldn’t talk about the art next (it’d be 4th or 5th on my list), but your interior art is also very weak. It really and truly looks amateur — I’d say either really good fanzine or 1990s RPG work. If you’re doing a superhero based product, you’re competing with the visuals and art of Marvel, DC, Image, etc. Unfortunately, the stuff doesn’t hold up well at all and really brings the level of the magazine down. This is especially true in the sequential art section.

The graphic design on the magazine interiors is fine.

My next big concern would be twofold. You’ve got no hook or anchor for the magazine itself. It has a bunch of unknown (and that’s not meant as an insult) writers and artists, working on characters no one has ever heard of. Those two things, individually, would be a big problem, but together are a killer.

I would immediately try and address one or both of those: bring in some writers/artists with a fanbase and wider fan recognition, and give them properties to work on that people are already familiar with. Keep in a few pieces dealing with the iHero-owned properties and written by the team – heck, that can even be the bulk of the work — but those are marketable things at this point.

Right now, you’ve got a product aimed at a very small market (people who buy superhero comics and are open to superhero prose AND are open to work by new creators AND are open to work featuring completely new characters – you can’t get much smaller than that) and what you need to do is find ways to open that tiny market back up a bit.

Completely off the top of my head thoughts might be (some of these are un-gettable and are only used as an example to get you thinking):

Mike Allred Madman
Steve Rude Nexus
Robert Kirkman/Josh Howard Invincible or Astounding Wolf-man
Anyone doing an Image superhero book
Tie in to someone doing a series on MTV Geek’s site
WildCards – get one of the WildCards authors to write a story based on the character(s) they own.

Stay away from people whose names or work won’t give you a boost in potential sales/interest. And don’t focus so much on the properties you own/control — it is harder to sell a buyer on a new property than it is to get them to spend money on one they’ve bought in the past.

If you don’t have the budget to pay for material, then “sell” it to creators as great advertising for whatever they have going on now.

I love the idea behind what you’re doing, I just don’t think it is a commercially viable product the way it is right now. I do, however, think it could become one. Once you get it to that point, I can throw out ideas on how to increase sales.

Update your blog or give visitors the impression of a deserted or abandoned website!

On a side note about the iHero site. If you have a blog on there, make sure it is active or it will make your entire site look abandoned. I notice the blog hasn’t been updated since summer 2010, so that makes me feel like nothing is going on with it as a casual Internet browser. Same for anything that says “coming soon.” If you have no content for a section, just leave it off. Fans seeing a “coming soon” for any significant amount of time will get the impression the site is inactive.

I hope that stuff helps!

-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.

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