Thursday, August 20, 2009

On the use of brightly colored plastic objects to attract comics fans

I think it's safe to say that of all the books DC is doing right now, the one experiencing the most hype and success is Green Lantern. Riding a wave of growing popularity since the Rebirth mini-series, kicked into overdrive by the Sinestro Corps War, it's now cashing in all that geek capital with the DC event Blackest Night.

The concept in a nutshell is that as opposed to the Green energy used by the GLs, there are seven OTHER color-coded corps out there, powered by seven other emotions, that have been collecting for as long as there has been sentient thought. Some have been hidden for a long time, some have only just started getting used recently, mainly as a reaction to the other corps appearing. Not an eighth corps has appeared, powered by death itself, which is bringing heroes and loved ones of heroes back to life, and generally spreading chaos everywhere.

This is a storyline which Geoff Johns started laying the base for in the second issue of the Rebirth mini series, almost five years ago now. Geoff Johns plays a VERY long game in his books. He'll set up threads so subtle you won't even notice them, until he pulls on one and they all collect into a big bow.

Now, to be fair, this emotional corps thing is something brand new, and does make some percieved changes in the history of the Corps. It was long assumed that the power that the GL Corps used was just some ambient cosmic energy that the Guardians collected and stored in the central battery, and Willpower was needed to USE and shape the energy. now, it's more that the energy is pure willpower itself, or the energy createdwhen will is used or felt. It's a subtle change, but it's such a good idea that it works. Sure it's gotten its share of jokes - a google image search will reveal any number of photoshopped care bears with Lantern costumes on, but any idea will have its detractors.

Comic crossover events have gone through a great number of transformations since the days of Crisis on Infinite Earths. Back then, damn near EVERY title had a tie in issue or two, and in a lot of cases about the only thing that actually seemed to tie in was in one panel someone would notice that the sky was all red as if there were some major event happenes far FAR away from the place we were reading about. Indeed, the term "Red Sky Crossover" survives today, to refer to a book that is marketed as tying into a major event but in fact has almost nine at all.

For a while they tried the "Annuals plus Bookend" model - a book would come out setting up the plot of the event, the story would run through all the Annuals of the regular titles, ending in a final issue tying it all together. I rather liked that format, as it allowed all the titles to get a piece of the event pie, but by putting it in the annual, didn't result in them having to bollix up any storylines they had runing in the books. Armageddon 2001 was done this was, as was Marvel's Atlantis Attacks, if memory serves.

In recent years, they've started the idea of an event made up of several mini series. Civil War had the Front Line mini running parallel to it, as did WWHulk. It allows them to tell stories with their main characters, but again, not requiring them be shoehorned into the regular run.

Blackest Night is picking from a number of trees for its layout. It's an eight-issue main series, with two sets of three three-issue mini-series running parallel to issues 2-4 and 5-8 of the main series. The minis deal with the actions of specific heroes and teams who are fighting this menace. There's also a number of one shots peppered throughout the run as well. The sum effect is that assuming everything stays on schedule, there's not a week that passes where you won't be able to pick up at least one chapter of the ongoing storyline. That's brilliant scheduling - like trinity and 52 (and like was supposed to happen with countdown) the goal is to create a reason to hit the comic shop EVERY week, not just the weeks your regular titles come out.

As is of course true, no one's requiring anyone to buy every single issue of everything, but comics fans being what they are, many complain all the books they "have" to buy now. It's always fun at conventions when DC's Dan Didio assures fans they don't have to buy every book, and VP of Direct Sales Bob Wayne moans and gets a look on his face like Dan just told Bob's wife where he stashes his porn.

Blackest Night has been underway for two months now, and the latest round of solicitations for November reveal what the back four months of the eight-issue mini will kick off with. First off, the Big Bad of the series has been revealed - Nekron, Lord of the Unliving, EXACTLY who I (and a large number of old-school GL fans) guessed it would be from square one. Also, they've announced a number of tie-in issues to the book. Black Lanterns will show up in such titles as Booster Gold, R.E.B.E.L.S. and Adventure Comics. They're all quite logical connection to the series, and all sound interesting to me.

The news that really has fans vibrating is the news that to help push the tie-ins, DC will release replica rings for EACH of the corps, to go with the Black Lantern Ring they released last month with Blackest Night #1.

Like the growing number of variant covers that are returning to comics shop shelves, the rings will be tied to purchases of the seven tie-in issues - for every twenty-five copies of each they buy, they'll be allowed to buy a bag of fifty rings of whatever color is connected to that issue.

That's not too unreasonable a demand. Considering how well Blackest Night is doing, it's more than reasonable to assume that sales of these tie-in issues will rise, so overpurchasing them is not as risky a move as it might seem. Personally, I think it's a much neater idea than variant covers are. I talked about them in a past post, but basically people who buy multiple covers are paying full price for a cover, something I find bewildering.

The big thing being talked about already is the assorted ways stores will distribute the rings. Some believe they'll be charged for, some think you'll be "forced" to buy the comic, and all sorts of other theories.

DC isn't making ANY requirements, other than tying the right to buy the rings to how many copies of the books you buy. If they didn't, I'm sure there would be speculators buying them in massive numbers for ebay-ification. What the stores do with them is entirely up to them. Some will make them free, period, some will tie it to any purchase, or any BN book, or each with the BN book it was connected to. Some won't bother getting them at all. These will be the same stores who don't participate in Free Comic Book Day either, the type who think owning a Comic Book Shop would be great if it wasn't for all the friggin' customers. The short-sighted store will sell the rings for five bucks a throw, put the rest on ebay, and think they did well. Until next month.

Here's the question - how did your local comic shop handle the Black Rings that came with BN#1? Odds are that's exactly how they'll handle these rings. Great mystery solved.

They are promotional items, designed for DC to get more talk going about their event (mission accomplished) and for the LCS to get more (and maybe even new) customers. How they do that is entirely up to them.

In the last couple year or so, comic shops have had more opportunities for new customers to come through their doors than they've had in many years previous. The death of Captain America, the Obama/Spider-Man issue, events that had MASSIVE mainstream PR attention. Some stores just saw immediate dollar signs, jacked up the prices, and in some cases set up special registers so the new people wouldn't even have to enter the store. Some did everything they could to make the new customers feel welcome, make sure they see the other things that are available, and maybe made a coupon for x% off your next visit. Some stores had a good day, and some are having better sales ever since. As Brian Hibbs and many other store owners will tell you, the key to the success of a promotion is not how many people come into your store the day of the event, but how many come BACK another time and buy something else.

Assuming a store takes full advantage of what they could buy, they'll end up with twice as many rings as they have tie-in issues. Now that sounds like opportunity to me. A lot of ways to make those hunks of plastic work for you.

Yes, you could make up sets of rings and sell them.

You could also, I dunno, donate them to the local children's hospital, along with the stuff clogging up your quarter boxes, and get yourself a nice plug in the local paper as well as a nice tax write-off.

You could do a fundraiser for the Hero Initiative - put together a big care package of books, a set of the rings, and see if a creator or two will donate some original art or signed books. (Almost everybody is available on facebook or twitter - it costs nothing to ask) Raffle it all off and send the proceeds to the Initiative.

I was amazed to hear people DREADING the new customers coming through their doors for the Obama comics. These are the same people who complain when they hear Marvel plans to expand its digital comics business, or that DC will sell more trade paperbacks in mainstream book stores than they will in comic shops. No desire to do any marketing for themselves, no desire to deal with competition.

Well, here you go. A thing you won't be able to download from a link on 4chan, something you won't be able to get at Barnes and Noble. Here's the ball. Run with it.

No comments:

Post a Comment