Free Comic Book Day, the first-ever industry-wide promotion for comics, was held May 3, 2002 across North America and around the world. We asked comic retailers to tell us how it went, and they did!
Mark Welch, owner of Comic Cubicle, Williamsburg, VA
Comic Cubicle just celebrated its tenth anniversary a couple of weeks ago, so I have seen many changes in the industry. As much as I wished I could share the overwhelming enthusiasm of some local retailers, I found myself pessimistic about Free Comic Book Day. Don't get me wrong: I would be happy to be proven wrong. I hyped the event to everyone I could think of, talked to the media about FCBD (an article ran on page 2 of the local newspaper), and even organized a cross promotion with a movie theater in my shopping center (only six doors down!). I decided I would work hard at making Free Comic Book Day a success for me.
The folks at the theater were kind enough to let me set up a table on which I displayed copies of Diamond's Star System catalogs, a Free Comic Book Day Poster, and a special introduction-to-comics edition of my store newsletter, Comic Cubicle Chronicles, which I have published monthly since I opened (it's currently on issue #123). I made sure to mention what I call Mark's Big Ten, a group of trade paperbacks that I give a satisfaction guarantee on. I added that an additional free comic would be given to anyone coming back to the store after May 4 to tell me why he or she liked (or even didn't like) his or her free comic. There was much information to be gained from the table in the theater, but if they wanted a free comic, they had to come to the store. It was hectic running down to the theatre right as each Spider-Man show ended, barking 'FREE COMICS AT COMIC CUBICLE!' and handing out pro-comic propaganda to anyone who would take it. I really got into a groove and it became quite fun. Then I'd run back to the store and watch the frenzy. I had brought in extra help for the entire day, 'just in case,' and I was glad I did. Each of the post-movie waves represented the most people I had in the store at one time since the 'Death of Superman', and several times I was reminded of the Pokemon craze.
Most people genuinely appreciated the free book, although as always, the negatives tend to stand out. Several were upset they couldn't choose ANY free comic in the store. I'm sorry, little Timmy, but no, you can't have my Amazing Fantasy #15 as your free comic. Others, apparently unfamiliar with the phrase 'beggars can't be choosers,' were upset when I ran out of Ultimate Spider-Man and Tomb Raider and had to substitute other books. But this takes the cake: A man who didn't know anything about FCBD brought his daughter in to buy a comic. She picked one out and was presented with an additional FCBD book at checkout. At this point, Dad said 'Oh good, a free book! Now go put this other one back.' Sigh.
Nevertheless, my sales day was strong, about double a usual Saturday (one of my busier days anyway). I noted that about the normal number of regulars came in, so I can also attribute most of the additional sales directly to Free Comic Book Day.
I had a few FCBD comics left on Sunday, so I continued the promotion to the delight of some folks who wandered in upset that they 'missed' their free comic. I've run promotions in the past and been lenient about fine print such as accepting coupons past expiration dates. After all, it's all about the good will, right? Sunday's business ended up about twice normal as well.
So was it a success? Right now I would say yes, though the true test will tell in the coming weeks. I'd love to get even just a handful of new, young, good customers out of this who I can look forward to seeing for years to come. It's still just a few days after FCBD, but I have yet to see a single 'new' person come back into the store to take me up on my additional comic offer. That's a bit disappointing.
I also look at the money the movie has made to offer a bittersweet what-if: Spider-Man made $114 million opening weekend. If each person who saw Spider-Man opening weekend paid $7.00 per ticket (I'm averaging low to account for kids seats and matinees) that would be 16,285,714 people. Assume there are 3,000 comic book stores in the nation. If each of the people who saw Spider-Man bought ONE comic from a comic book store, that would be a total additional sales of 5428.57 comics per store, or (at $2.25 per comic) an additional $12,214 per store this weekend.
Depressed yet? I have to be a little, because it's frustrating to accept the fact that we are destined to never be more than a niche business. It is ridiculous that people will park directly in front of my store, walk right past my door to see Spider-Man (or in two weeks Star Wars), enjoy the film, and when it's over walk directly back to their car and go home.
Rick Newman, owner of Pet Shop Comics & Collectibles, Louisville, KY
We retailers in Louisville, KY were at a distinct disadvantage for Free Comic Book Day. Although the event could still be considered a success for us here at Pet Shop Comics & Collectibles, we thought that we should bring this to your attention.
Derby Day was also on May 4th, and as every retailer (large and small) in Kentucky knows, business is crushed on Derby Day. It is Louisville's largest celebration. Most businesses were either closed or closed early due to the proliferation of Derby parties, cookouts, etc. In short, being open on Derby Day in Louisville is like being open on Christmas Day.
We ordered 100 each of the available comics and gave away around 250 of them. We're still giving them away as of today. We advertised with the local schools, etc., and had a big 25% off everything sale. Our sales were our best ever for a Derby Day, but nowhere near what other stores from other cities did. All in all, however, Free Comic Book Day was a success, but being scheduled on Derby Day hurt the Louisville stores. I understand the reasons for the scheduling of it on May 4th, but let's have a Free Comic Book Day during the summer months or even around the Thanksgiving or Christmas holidays. Even if the rest of the industry doesn't, I'm sure that Pet Shop Comics will.
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