Coming Attractions: Some Constructive Criticism

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For our regular readers, you can skip on to the next post.  (You can read this, but this is directed at comics publishers.  Feel free to add your criticism and kudos in the comments below.)

Oh, and this is a generic post.  No names here, and some publishers do a FANTASTIC job of presenting their product and personnel.

To the many publishers who produce graphic novels:

Thank you.

I remember the dark ages of the 80s and 90s when one rarely found ANY graphic novels, in bookstores, libraries. or even comics shops.  We now are in Renaissance, where old masters are being rediscovered, new inspiration is found from overseas, and new technologies make it quite easy to distribute and discover new works.

However…

That new technology?  The Internet?  You’re doing it wrong.  Or you could do it better.

I spent the past three months doing something very foolish.  I tried to post Coming Attractions articles by publisher or distributor.  Normally, I would scan titles by month, pull out what was the most interesting, and do a post showing everyone in one list.  Instead, I tried to show titles which might not interest me, but which others might enjoy.

It was a lot of work.  I started with searches from Books In Print (run by Bowker, which manages ISBNs and EANs for the United States market).  Then I supplemented them with info from the Diamond Book Distributors monthly catalogs, as well as from Previews.  And then I had to format the page so it looked nice, and include links so people could click to get more information.

I try to link directly to the publisher’s website.  They deserve as much web traffic as possible, especially if they have a storefront.  As the paradigm shifts like a calving iceberg, they need as much help as possible.

I just wish it was easy to give them that help.

So, some suggestions:

CAVEAT:  I’m not a web designer, just a user.  But if I, a bibliophile and bibliovore who will dig deep to discover the rare truffle of a graphic novel, who has been using the Internet BEFORE there were pictures, before Mosaic, back when the text was only one color and one font, if I have trouble discovering your title, what does that say of the casual browser?

I hope the following suggestions help.  I am a comics evangelist, and the easier it is to proselytize and convert innocents, the better it is for the comics industry.

1)  Place a PDF of your quarterly catalog online.

Regular publishers do this.  Let people download it.  Let it appear as a window within your website.  Have it available on Issu or other book browsers.  Archive it, so people who are looking for older titles can use it.  Oh, and why not publish it as well, to hand out at trade shows and comic cons?  Of course, it just doesn’t just have to include the new titles.  You can add series and recent titles in the back to fill it out.  Oh, and place a big “ad” on your site showcasing the catalog.

The publisher can design the catalog to their needs, but one of the best is Cinebook.  Each page has the cover, the description, age suggestions, the date of publication, the barcode, sample images, and other books in the series.  Of course, that catalog page can easily become a web page.

Oh, and that link can easily be publicized, both by your Twitter and Facebook feeds, as well as by journalists and fans.  That’s right!  People will gladly link to your advertising!  For free!  What a crazy world!

2)  Give each title it’s own page, preferably three pages.

The first page is the title page which your site and catalog will refer to.  If you want to make it intuitive, or make it easier to find, use the following URL:

www.comicspublisher.com/9789789789788

Where the thirteen digits are the EAN/ISBN-13 of the title.

It should contain the full bibliographic information, a cover which can be enlarged, and a sales blurb.

The EAN should have two versions presented.  One with hyphens, one without.  Why?  Because Google treats each as a different access point.  Some people will search with hyphens, some will search without.  Yes, most people don’t search via EAN, but it is a serial number for your title, and is the easiest and least error-prone way of finding a title.  There are no subtitles to stumble over, no foreign diacritics like Töpfer or Angoulême or 手塚 治虫, or even incomplete contributor information.  (Yes, many publishers will use “various” or “and many more” or “and others” in contributor listings.  I’ll let others discuss if this is disrespectful of contributors.)

It can be bare bones, it can even be embargoed if the publisher does not want it known, or if the schedule is tentative.  Of course, if people are searching, they’ll probably find it elsewhere, since Books In Print sends automated feeds to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Baker & Taylor, Ingram…

The second page is created when the publisher officially announces the title.  It can include the press release, it SHOULD include the press release, since that announcement will contain the bibliographic data.  (And if it doesn’t, fire your publicist.  Really, how difficult is it to include the copy from the sales catalog and the website?)  Include some preview images, so news sites can link to your site.

This page resides on your company’s blog AND news page where press releases are stored (to make life easier for journalists…more below).  It contains a link to the first page, your permanent title page.  The second page also includes either a comment thread within the page (to make it easier for people to read and comment) or a link to your message board.

At this point, your first page goes “live”, and it gets updated with its final layout, containing previews as well as “buy now” buttons which direct to your webstore, or to retailers off-site.  You can also include a “related articles” section of links, featuring the creators, the series, the characters, imprints, creators websites…

The third page is also posted to your company blog, when the new releases are announced.  (“Available this week”)  That would be a simple listing of that week’s titles, with thumbnail covers.  Each title links back to the first page, allowing people to learn more about the title.  If you send this out as email, then those embedded links will work when other sites reprint your press release.

Of course, you have an archive for your New Releases posts, so people who are looking for new stuff can click on those links.  A link to your PDF catalog will also be found here.

3)  Your home page should be uncluttered.

android21 homescreen 180x300 Coming Attractions: Some Constructive CriticismI’d suggest you make it no bigger or longer than a monitor.  Why?  Cellphones and tablets.  Less data to send means the page loads faster (and costs the user less on data plans).  It also makes it less troublesome for novice users.  A menu bar up top, preferably with your social networking buttons, is standard.  I like publishers who place their blog on the front page.  Those which have a slide show of the most recent news is also nice.  I haven’t seen it, but wouldn’t it be interesting if the page was just icons, like a smartphone touch screen, with each button linking to a different section?  Ideally, I’d love to see a screen which is:

Graphic  |  Search bar |  section buttons

No menu bar, the buttons replace that.

4)  A robust search function

Yes, there are some sites without search functions.

Yes, there are some sites with wonky search functions.

Frequently, I’m using Google’s site-specific searching to find the correct page.

Search term site:sitename.com

Yes, even for those sites which are powered by Google searching!

If your site contains a plethora of information, then have an advanced search function, where users can limit results.  This is VERY important  if the publisher uses the same title for comics as well as graphic novels.  Many will publish miniseries and then collect it into a graphic novel.  Imagine searching for a paperback title, and there are six listing for the comic book issues, and one listing for the book.  Or there are a hundred issues of the comic books, twenty graphic novels of various bindings, and you’re looking for just one specific title.

The search should index:

  • EAN/ISBN-13  (It should strip out hyphens when they are entered.  If your site has indexed the URLs, it will find that simple link I mentioned above.)
  • Title
  • All creators (and all should be listed)
  • All characters mentioned in the blurb.
  • The volume number.
  • The edition (comic book, trade paperback, hardcover, special edition, variant)

5)  Specific pages for specific users

Websites are advertising.  The most effective advertising is directed at a specific demographic.  So  publishers should have pages (and sites) for:

  • Children (a separate site)
  • Parents (and other gatekeepers)
  • Journalists
  • Booksellers and retailers
  • Librarians

The last three pages should also have instructions on how to access previews and galleys.  There should also be downloadable art.  The parental site should have shorter previews.  All would have an specific email newsletter which is sent out periodically.

6)  Chronology

I want to be able to click on a calendar and see new releases for each week.  I want to be able to search forward two months from today to see what to expect.  I want to scroll backwards five, ten years to search for older titles I barely remember.

Or I can search for a specific month and year, which would help narrow searching for ongoing series.

Here’s an example.

7) Conclusion

I’m not complaining, because I know publishers have finite resources.  (Just as I have finite resources to blog here.)  I’d rather publishers spend money on publishing great titles, and if anything is left over, funnel some of the advertising budget into the website.  I could talk about how the website influences how people view the company, but I think most publishers realize that.

And for those who recently updated and redesigned their websites, an extra special thanks!

Comments

  1. Oliver says:

    Great advice -and will certainly use! Been meaning to update the site for some time now. And thanks for turning me on to Cinebook! Didn’t know about them. They have great titles: such as “Lucky Luke” and “Iznogood”! Really excellent!

  2. Great suggestions, Torsten. Some, I suspect, are fueled by the same frustrations many of face when looking for information on a specific title and its availability. As for previews of every title, some are limited by licensing agreements with the original creator. That’s why not every book has a Look Inside feature on Amazon.

    I, too, would love to see more publishers update and improve their websites, but also know from experience some of the obstacles faced when undertaking such an endeavor. No publisher wants to shut down their site for remodeling until it’s absolutely necessary nor do many want to put the money or tech resources into a rebuild unless they can clearly see that increased profits will be generated by a rebuild. It can end up as a Catch-22 where a site isn’t performing up to expectations, but can’t meet those expectations without a rebuild, but the potential profit isn’t there because the website isn’t performing up to expectations.

    What would be on my wishlist for improvement? Logical URLs for ALL websites (URL squatters should have to relinquish URLs that they’re not using and have no intention of using. That particular land grab is over and done.) and complete contact information for journalists, including phone numbers and a real person’s email, not an email drop box. This is the age of information, after all.

  3. One more thing: A Myspace page is NOT a substitute for a website! I’m looking at you, local convention organizers!

  4. Kat Kan says:

    As a librarian, and especially as a collection development librarian specializing in graphic novels, I heartily second everything in this post. I spend way too much time trying to hunt down info on one specific title. Considering that I list anywhere from 270 to 320 recommended titles each month, that’s a heck of a lot of time.

  5. Charles Knight says:

    “I’d suggest you make it no bigger or longer than a monitor. Why? Cellphones and tablets.”

    em.. that’s like saying “I suggest you make it no bigger or long than a piece of string”. Also why are you suggesting an impoverished desktop experience rather than suggesting a proper mobile site?

  6. One other reccomendation, for sellers of digital comics (comixology, iverse) a subscrition function. Make it easy for yourself to get in my pocket.

  7. Torsten Adair says:

    Charles, I’m only suggesting the home screen be the size of a monitor. Many times, items “below the fold” are not noticed. The rest of the site can use the infinite canvas of the Internet.

    DC Comics has a great one-screen layout on its homepage.
    Dark Horse almost does (they place sitemap links below the fold.)

    Both offer clean web searching, and almost-perfect layout, even though both publish a lot of titles each month.

    Most publishers do not have a mobile site… again, it’s a matter of resources. (Even megamedia DC Comics doesn’t have a mobile version.) Instead, when I visit a site, such as this one, the webpage is adjusted to fit the width of the screen, which can be very tiny. Even when I rotate my phone sideways, I still have to widen the zoom to remove the right column.

    My Android phone is 1/12th the area of a monitor. So the width is reduced to 1/3 of the monitor. 1/2 if I ignore the right column of ads.

    Google Reader does adjust RSS feeds for my phone, so I can read publisher blogs. But for basic websites, it can be a chore to read and navigate.

    Will HTML5 allow for greater flexibility? I have no idea.

  8. Allen says:

    The GCD (Grand Comics Database) has added some functionality in the past year or so for ISBN, so that you can now search for specific numbers there, such as http://www.comics.org/isbn/9780785145905 . Another resource you can use (if the graphic novel or collection has been indexed there).

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