Confessions of a Comic Book Guy is a weekly column by retailers Steve Bennett of Mary Alice Wilson's Dark Star Comics in Yellow Springs, Ohio. This week, Bennett talks about upselling in the context of editorial events.
Lately I've written some snippy things about The Marvel and so, giving credit where credit is due, at Dark Star sales of Civil War have been nothing short of spectacular, exceeding all expectations, with sellouts being inevitably followed by reorders which are then followed by still more sellouts. And while the whole 'Unmasking of Spider-Man' didn't get a tenth of the mainstream press DC's lesbian Batwoman received, it generated a lot more sales. Thanks to Civil War we've had casual readers become pull file customers, and I know this sounds like the start of an urban legend, but recently we had a woman in her early 70s came into the store asking about Civil War #2 (for herself, mind you) and ended up buying both it and #1).
So far fan satisfaction has been high with zero grumbling over all the ancillary crossover titles. Frankly the Civil War house dress (a solid block color sometimes obscuring sometimes more than half the cover) looked pretty ugly -- at first. But when these comics were put together on the racks they made for a nifty point of purchase display which made still more comics disappear.
Of course both fans and retailers were promised that Civil War: Front Line would be the one and only Civil War spin-off, but this month alone we'll be getting Civil War: X-Men and Civil War: Young Avengers & Runaways.
I can, won't and don't blame The Marvel though (they saw probable profits and dove for them), but it's a perfect example of the downside of upselling. Say Fan X just loves Civil War, so you the retailer might suggest he might want to try Civil War: Front Line as well. And if he isn't already, at least for the foreseeable future he should probably also get Amazing Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Wolverine, etc. And if Fan X has to drop other comics from his weekly pull to afford it, well, that's just too bad... for DC.
So far as it goes it's a grand theory and I just hate to be the one who complains about success, but unfortunately it ignores the cold equations governing the current direct sales market. Ordinarily I say it's a closed system, but something like Civil War was designed from inception to draw in new readers; that's why we keep seeing the ratcheting up of ever higher high concepts almost guaranteed to give the companies and their comics plenty of free publicity -- given a slow news day. This is why so many people surmise before the end of the summer DC will announce Lois and Clark are expecting.
But these readers aren't no how permanent; they're 'drop-ins' stopping by to check out what all the noise is about, and sure, we'll happily take their money, but chances are they won't be around that long. So the success of events like Civil War rests squarely on the shoulders of theoretical Fan X. The thing is, he's already buying plenty of super-hero comics as is, and the more you sell him the higher the chance of consumer burnout.
I know I've complained, sometimes entirely too bitterly, in past columns about how Marvel and DC seem determined to deny fans what they want, but there's definitely a danger when you do. OK, say it's the 1990s and you can't get enough of the Punisher, not even with three monthly ongoing titles (Punisher, Punisher War Journal, and Punisher: War Zone), various mini-series, the Annuals and half a dozen 'Specials' (including Armory, Christmas, and Back to School). You love it when he meets Batman and don't mind so much when he meets Archie, but eventually it becomes hard affording all his appearances when he starts being cover featured on more Marvel comics than Spider-Man.
Then with so many comics coming out the quality started to go downhill, as did the sales, and to counteract this more and more outrageous stunts were attempted, like for instance, the time he was black. Or the time Marvel, convinced NBC was interested in a prime-time Punisher series - if the Punisher were a woman, presented his faithful fans with... Lady Punisher.
And so inevitably (to use a Joe Quesada term) the character became so 'radioactive' it took nearly a decade of inactivity for him to cool down enough for anyone to care about him again.
My point being no matter how powerful the devotion, fatigue inevitably sets in. Getting someone already buying lots of super-hero comics to try one more (no matter how 'different' it supposedly is) can be hard. But your customer might be up for something else, which is why when it comes to upselling I'm more likely to recommend copies of Jonah Hex or Claw the Unconquered than Civil War: Young Avengers & Runaways. At least you know they're not already getting those.