Joe Field is the Concord, California retailer who originally came up with the idea for the worldwide Free Comic Book Day promotion, which was held for the second time last Saturday.  We interviewed Field to find out how the promotion fared at Flying Colors, and to get his thoughts on the promotion after its second year.


How were sales at your store on Free Comic Book Day?

It was our single best day ever, beating last year's FCBD by almost 30%. It was four times an average Saturday.


What do you attribute the change in sales to?

Having a marquee signing with Jim Lee---who was so good with everyone, from die-hard fans to first time Flying Colors' guests. And having the product to go with Jim's great talent---a new issue of Batman and the Batman Hush hardcover. I was able to arrange a consignment deal to hedge my bets on the hardcover and I underestimated how may we could have sold by probably 25%.


Did you do a signing last year, and do you think layering on promotional elements is a good way to take advantage of the day, or does it become too much?

Last year, we had the pleasure of hosting Mick Gray (Promethea) and Jason Dube (Scattered Comics). They were sensational guests and very friendly and accessible for all store guests. What was different this year was having a signing with Jim Lee and having new, fresh and very popular product to sell on its first weekend of release.


I've always believed in bundling promotions. Advertising/promotional expenses are not insignificant, so it's best to literally have something for everyone. Also, I saw a lot of long-time fans bringing first-timers with them, which is my goal for FCBD.


Do you have any demographic data yet? How did the mix change vs. last year?

I still have to manually compile the data we got. I can say the mix of demographics was very encouraging. I've always wanted a store that is attractive to all ages---and Saturday sure proved that!


How did you do with kids?

Lots of kids!


How did you do with press coverage this year vs. last?

This is the frustration for me: I've been interviewed by media all over the country, both this year and last, but I've yet to receive major coverage locally. I heard anecdotally that my release got picked up by one of the most popular San Francisco radio stations, KFOG-FM, and we did get a nice piece in the entertainment section of the Contra Costa Times. FCBD was the featured attraction in the 'Out & About' weekend entertainment guide.


Was press coverage easier or harder to get this year?

I felt it was much harder this year.


What changes in execution did you make this year, and how do you evaluate the effectiveness of those changes?

Once again, I wanted to start the free comic giveaway at Noon, an hour after we open, but the line was so long it was in danger of moving people into the rain, so we started at 11:15 instead. That was a good move on the fly because Jim's signing did start at noon--and he had another line waiting for him. So we had two long lines going at the same time. And we had ZERO customer complaints because our system worked so well. I even got an e-mail from someone who said how much they *enjoyed* waiting in line!  That's the kind of blessing we received on Saturday!


Do you have any changes in mind that you want to make next year?

Yes, but none that I want to announce yet. It's better to be deliberate about instigating change, so I want to do that quietly.


Do you have any feel for the scale of the external media attention and promotional activity this year vs. last, and of its effectiveness?

I was stunned at the number of features for a second year. What's most gratifying is that Barry Lyga and his crew at Diamond took my promotional idea and gave the right tools to retailers to make the most of the promotion. That so many retailers were able to so well with FCBD makes me very proud.


When I saw the depths that the comics' market reached in the '90s, I promised that if I ever saw the opportunity do something to help guide the market in a more positive direction, that I'd put everything I had into it.

Knowing that 2000 retailers have put their trust in FCBD as a start to the summer selling season gives me reason to believe that there are many bright days ahead for comic book retailers.


Can you attribute any changes in sales over the last 12 months to FCBD last year?

There are a number of elements to our success over the last 18 months and FCBD is a big part of that. We've become more aggressive promotionally; we've benefited from the exposure comics get from other media; we've seen more interest in comics and graphic novels from educators. With all of that, we've seen the number of customers visiting the store go up along with the number of sales transactions. Those are two very powerful trends!


It's a confluence of positive things happening that led to '02 being our best year ever, 15% higher than the previous best year. So far, '03 is up about 10% from last year. Gotta keep working, though, because sales histories are just that: history. Now it's time to look forward...