As we approach Free Comic Book Day 2007 (see 'Retailers Gearing Up for FCBD'), we caught up with Joe Field, the originator of Free Comic Book Day, to get his perspective on this year's event. 


Do you have any reflections on the sixth year of Free Comic Book Day, as opposed to past years?

Obviously, it looks like we're getting more participation, especially on the publishers' side. I think that's a positive. It's showing a wider diversity of stuff available.


I'm always a bit surprised at how strong this promotion is year after year. I don't think most promotions last two years, let alone six. It's nice to see that this has been successful enough for everyone concerned that it keeps on going strong.


You mentioned increased diversity of Free Comic Book Day comics.  Did you mean there were more publishers, or that the offerings appealed to a wider demographic than past years?

I think there are 41 publishers involved this year with special edition comics. That is up from the low 30s last year. Obviously with more titles out there, there are more flavors for new and returning readers to sample. I think that only speaks to the wide range of stuff that's available for people when they come into the stores on free comic day.


One of the things that's happening this year is that Free Comic Book Day shares May 5th with National Cartoonists Day, and we have a book like Fantagraphics' Peanuts collections.  The strip is still in 2000 newspapers, I think there's a huge market for us to reach there.


In addition to that, some of the largest publishers -- Marvel and DC particularly -- are now looking at this as not just something to promote their kids' lines, they also have other titles that are going to reach a different demographic. If you look at publishers from A through Z, I think we really do cover the gamut of good stuff that's available in comics today.


Do you have any advice to other retailers on keeping it fresh?

Each event takes on a life of its own. The things that I would recommend would be to always be looking for new ways to reach out into the community--whether that's through publicity or whether it's through taking the books out to different venues and trying to call those people into the store for Free Comic Book Day.


The thing that I keep on hearing from retailers and people in the industry is that Free Comic Book Day has become a holiday for comic books. I think to keep the thing fresh, we need to keep it as festive as possible and as happy an occasion as possible.


I've been advocating for retailers to actively manage the event more. Instead of putting up the rack of the free comics and leave it to a feeding frenzy when people come in the door, to actively manage the event by targeting books to specific readers, to specific tastes. So there's a better chance of retention for those readers as repeat customers after the event.


I definitely see the good retailers doing that. They're standing there and asking them what they're interested in.

Yeah, it makes a big difference I think. On top of that, it's a way to manage the inventory of the event. Retailers are paying for this inventory, even though we're giving away the books for free. I think it's critical for the success of individual retailers to make sure that they're getting the most out of the inventory that they're bringing for their stores to give away.


Did you have any other comments?

I think when we look at the numbers when we're all said and done, we're probably going to have more stores involved with it this year than last and slightly more books given away in total. There are some comments that there are too many comics being offered, but I think this is really a situation where we have to let the market decide whether 40+ publishers' offerings is too much, or whether we need to take a look at what it takes to become a Free Comic Book Day publisher.


You mean it's an issue in terms of the amount of support retailers have to put into it, how much money they have to spend?

Yes, it's some of that. On top of that, I believe there are a number of publishers, particularly, some of the smaller publishers that may not be publishing a whole lot throughout the rest of the year, but use Free Comic Book Day as a way to get their name out there, whether they're selling Webcomics or the occasional comic book or graphic novel. I think those publishers really need to be taking a look at how much they're putting into the promotion, and how much their retail partners can reasonably expect to get out of it with their titles. If that's not a balanced situation, then those publishers need to find a different way to promote their line, or they need to spend a whole lot more money into promoting their specific titles so people will come in specifically for it, and hopefully create some new customers for retailers.