Tim Davis, president of Alternate Reality, Inc., Chicago, IL
Just thought I'd check in with you about Free Comic Book Day as it hit my little corner of the universe. I ordered approximately three comic boxes full of stock and gave away about two and a half boxes by the end of the day. I did impose a limit of '3 for free' to any one person but I kept 14 different titles on display all day long so people had a selection from which to choose. If a family of 4 came in they could have walked out with up to 12 books ranging from Archie to Spiritus Sancti. I did segregate the latter titles, Queen and Country and Stray Bullets/Matrix from the rest because of their content (I didn't want little Johnnie picking up both Ultimate Spider-Man and Queen and Country). FCBD was a chance to put our best face forward, why piss off parents with 'surprise content issues'.
Business was brisk from the time I opened until about three hours before closing. I saw 3 to 4 times the number of bodies that I normally see on a Saturday (which is usually the 2nd busiest day of the week). However, at the end of the day my cash register was only an extra 10-15% larger, WHICH IS OK. The people that did come in were a mix of my regular customers, former customers I hadn't seen in years, and a lot of the general public who heard about the day, saw my signs and came in. I am very hopeful that future sales will come out of all the increased traffic I saw on FCBD because the majority of the 'newbies' who stopped by didn't just grab the comics and run but instead stayed, browsed the store and in many cases made purchases. The most important thing is people came into the store, liked what they saw (hopefully), and will be back in the future (again hopefully).
As a sort of industry calling card to the community I'd have to say FCBD was a big success. I assume the next question will be should it be done again? My answer is a wholehearted yes. In my opinion, this has turned out to be an excellent promotional tool for comic/pop culture stores like myself. The amount I paid for the 'free' comics (does that make them an oxy-moron?) I can chalk up to cheap store advertising. In fact, I think for the return I received, it's incredibly cheap store advertising. If the different comic companies look at what I think the nation-wide response will be, they should also find it incredibly cheap advertising. Most ads either for 'Alternate Reality' or 'Marvel Comics' cost a hell of a lot more and produce results that are problematic at best. So if future FCBD's are structured for retailers along the same lines as this one, well that'll work just fine for me.
The question for me is not only should there be another FCBD but how many should we have? I think once a year/every year is a goal the industry should set for itself now, no question about it. Beyond that I have thought maybe twice a year to hit both summer and Christmas. These are the two heaviest sales periods and a promotion like this could help kick-start both. Especially at Christmas-time when most folks are at the indoor malls and not at shops like ours (I'm assuming the majority of pop culture shops are storefront operations and not indoor malls). November is usually dead in terms of retail sales, so perhaps a FCBD just before Thanksgiving or on that holiday's weekend (the start of the Christmas shopping season) would work.