Free Comic Book Day, an industry-wide promotion originally proposed by Concord, California retailer Joe Field, is gaining strength as more publishers have agreed to participate and as the promotional heat picks up. This promotion, which is designed to draw new customers to independent comic stores, involves the distribution of free comics to consumers that visit participating retailers on May 4, 2002, the day after the nationwide release of the Spider-Man movie. Diamond Comic Distributors is coordinating the promotion by soliciting for the comics being produced for the purpose by its suppliers.
All of the top four comic publishers and a host of smaller companies are producing special edition comics for retailers to give away on this special day. From the top four are Star Wars Tales: A Jedi Weapon FBCD Edition #1 from Dark Horse, Justice League Adventures FCBD Edition #1 from DC, Tomb Raider #1/2 from Image, and Ultimate Spider-Man FBCD #1 from Marvel. All of these will carry a cost of $.12 to retailers except for the Image book, which is priced at $.02 wholesale. Since Image Publisher Jim Valentino had previously announced that its book would be free to retailers, this may be a Diamond charge to help support a portion of its costs of handling the book.
Publishers are subsidizing the project by providing their products at below cost, in some cases producing free p.o.p. posters to be distributed with the free comics, and by promoting the event. Other publishers involved include Oni, Keenspot, Tokyopop, Antarctic, and many more. A Website -- http://www.freecomicbookday.com --has been established to promote the event. Eventually, this site will list participating retailers, as well as providing information about the publishers and comics involved. This site has a more complete list of publishers as of last week.
Here at ICv2, we remember how hard it has been to get the wildly independent members of the comics industry to cooperate on anything in the past. The only long-term successes have been programs to support sales in chain outlets: rack programs for the mass market and the Comics Code. Even the Comics Code has recently been deserted by one of its largest participants (see 'The Industry Reacts as Marvel Drops the Code'). The comic stores that provide the bulk of comic publishers' sales and profits (see 'Marvel Direct Sales Over 90% of Single Copy Sales') have been the site only of a short-lived program to support racks organized by a distributor organization some years ago. That program took years to implement amid fractious debate. Efforts to organize industry-wide ad and promotional programs in the past have collapsed due to the inability to agree on much of anything.
The beauty of Free Comic Book Day is its simplicity, the incorporation of the most powerful word in the marketer's vocabulary, the ability of all levels of the industry to participate, and the difficulty any company involved has in coming up with a reason not to participate. The credit for that goes to Field, who was inspired by an ice cream giveaway at a store near his in Concord and originally put forward the concept in his column in Krause's Comic and Game Retailer.
This is also a time when the fact that there is a single dominant distributor for comics to specialty stores makes a difference-Diamond Comic Distributors is serving as a central clearinghouse for information, hosting the Website, and coordinating the efforts of its suppliers and customers.
If this promotion achieves even a small percentage of the size the opportunity appears to be, it will be a major contributor to continuing the momentum of a re-awakened comic industry (see 'Top Comic Stories of 2001'). And the coupling of the event with the release of the Spider-Man movie gives local news editors in every community a local angle for what is going to be a major entertainment story in 2002. This event deserves the support and participation of the entire industry -- let's make it a great day!