Online Graphic Novels Make Great Reads, Cost You Nothing

Northwind 01 Page 03 Online Graphic Novels Make Great Reads, Cost You NothingThat’s the title of a feature from Wired.com which gleefully states:

I’m a huge fan of free things, especially free entertainment — really, who isn’t? Daily Bits has combed through the web, turning up a treasure trove of 17 graphic novels, all available for download.


We’re sure every comic book retailer reading these words is going kerplotz right about now — that is after the tempest that erupted after Boom Studios announced they were giving away the entire first issue of their new book NORTH WIND on MySpace.

Now first issue sampling online is pretty much accepted fare these days; even DC does it. So why the hue and cry that erupted on the private CBIA retailer’s forum, with store owners vowing to stop buying Boom books and all support of the company? Well, a couple of things. The online freebie was available at the exact same time as the first issue went on sale, and Boom had neglected to warn retailers about it.

NORTH WIND itself is a fairly entertaining yarn of struggle in a Santa Monica frozen solid after the advent of a new Ice Age.It’s written by David DiGillio whose other credits include the TV show TRAVELLER. While Boom head Ross Richie and marketing guy Chip Mosher struggled on CBIA to explain that they were only trying to promote the book, or as an article at CBR explained Boom believe online sampling works:

There’s evidence to support that having something available online for free leads to both increased awareness of the physical product and, ultimately, increased sales. “CrossGen basically did the same thing with their ‘Comics on the Web’ initiative, seeing re-orders increasing 54% and orders for their whole line increased 30% a week after they went live,” Chip Mosher told CBR News. “DC just had a massive hit with the ‘Heroes’ hardcover collection and all that material is all online [for free]. Then there are the collections of online material that have recently come out, from ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ to ‘Girl Genius’ to ‘The Perry Bible Fellowship: The Trial of Colonel Sweeto’ which is listed as #98 in all books on Amazon.com. That’s not just in the Graphic Novel category, that is in all books!


Retailers weren’t having it. Or as one put it, “Boom has been recoded for prepaid preorders only for now; I need to invest shelf money on companies who want to help me sell books.”

Ouch!

While Boom — which has hitherto gotten almost universally good press and retailer reaction — surely made a mistake by not properly warning retailers of the move, perhaps the biggest question of the era is: can you still sell it if you give it away for free? The evidence is mixed, but one case ripe for inspection was covered yesterday in Vulture, namely Radiohead’s IN RAINBOWS:

Following yesterday’s news about Radiohead’s In Rainbows topping the album charts, the New York Times marvels this morning at the fact that 122,000 fans paid full price for the record, even though it had been freely available on the band’s Website for the three previous months. To what can this seemingly inexplicable success be attributed? The Times’ Jeff Leeds asks a record-store owner who speculates it was that consumers wanted “a physical, archival high-fidelity master recording,” instead of the medium-quality MP3s that the band distributed in October, even though retail versions of In Rainbows ripped in full lossless audio have been circulating on file-sharing networks for over a month. Also shooting holes in this argument is the that, astonishingly, 28,000 people bought the album on iTunes, which sells files of an even lower bit rate than the ones originally offered by the band.

So, who really did pay retail price In Rainbows last week? TVT Records president Steve Gottlieb points to whom we suspected all along: old people who’ve never heard of BitTorrent.


As of now, the promotion has been declared a success; Boom seems to be trying to make things right with retailers by promoting their MySpace pages on the download page for the second issue of NORTH WIND.

You can see the trailer for NORTH WIND here.

Comments

  1. There are loads of free comics on WOWIO including the Alan Moore/ Chris Sprouse SUPREME comics, Gold Key STAR TREKs and the entire Crossgen catalog. I have put our books and comics by Bill Willingham, Matt Sturges and more online there and they have been doing very well.

    The publishers that have a hard time getting covered in the media or carried in stores are finding that ad supported free comics are profitable ventures. There are even a few free digital- only comic- publishers out there now.

    In practical terms as a publisher, WOWIO has brought dead product back to life. Some time later this year, we will hit the point where we will have more digital comics in the hands of readers than we hit with the print versions. With the novels, that is already the case.

    I think that in the long run, free downloads bring in more new fans than they lose. But every publisher has to make their own decision before inviting the wrath of the retailers.

    Bill
    Lone Star Press
    http://www.wowio.com/users/searchresults.asp?nPublisherId=81

  2. It’s not really about bringing in fans, losing readers, fear-of-the-new, or any of that.

    It’s about a publisher making something available for free to consumers after retailers have committed to paying for it, with no prior warning.

    The Radiohead example would be more apt if they had pre-sold all of their albums to stores, and then put the album up for free on the day of release.

    In the end, I don’t think it’s going to matter much or effect sales. It’s just one of those things you wish had been on the table when you cut the check for the books you ordered.

  3. Torsten Adair says:

    Boom can make amends by making the issue returnable and by offering the Free Comic Book Day title for free to retailers.
    Were I comics retailer, i would have links to every free webcomic on my site. print a coupon from that web comic, get a discount on the paper edition. With the website, i could track interest and possibly offer events if there was interest, or sponsor a strip in the college paper.

  4. I’m not a big fan of the ad supported model for making comic books profitable. There are a lot of other types of books that do this, and for me it just makes it seem more like a magazine, not a book. What I am really excited for is when they begin turning the online versions into mini-flash type movies or swv files so that is a little movement to the online version. That may entice some people… perhaps follow a Radiohead model: customers can decide how much they think it is worth and pay that.

  5. I’m a retailer. Boom studios sells so few comics, that this is pretty far below the radar for most retailers. If a couple people enjoy the book on-line, then likely they will come in looking for more issues, and maybe the company will survive past the first few years. But again, this is a blip. -pete

  6. The ad support in a WOWIO book is a single page ad at the beginning of the book and one at then end. It is not like comics from the big two that are littered with 8-page comic inserts and car ads. On the http://www.WOWIO.com home page, they have a book that you can download without registration. It is an excellent version of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain.

    In terms of load times, I find the flash-based online comics pretty irritating too.

    Bill

  7. The main point of contention from retailers isn’t just that BOOM! waited to announce the promotion until the day before it arrived in the stores, but that they are going to be putting all of the issues online at the same time they are released in the stores. Putting the first issue up to get people interested in the store is great. But not all of the issues, especially after taking non-cancelable orders for the books already. But as Pete says, BOOM doesn’t sell much, so it’s not a big deal.

    Here is the press release that got retailers upset.

    BOOM! STUDIOS AND MYSPACE COMIC BOOKS LAUNCH NORTH WIND

    New Comic To Be Simultaneously Released In Stores And Online

    LOS ANGELES- January 3rd, 2008 – MySpace, the world’s most popular social network, and BOOM! Studios, a leader in comic book and graphic novel publishing, today announced a partnership to provide the MySpace Comic Book community with free digital downloads of BOOM! Studios’ highly anticipated new comic book series, NORTH WIND. Beginning on January 3rd , MySpace users will be able to download the first issue of NORTH WIND for free exclusively on the MySpace Comic Books profile (http://myspace.com/comicbooks) the next day that issue will hit store shelves. Each subsequent issue will be available on MySpace Comic Books and in stores at the same time.

    “NORTH WIND is a fantastic comic book with incredible art and an intense story. It’s a huge project for us and a real stand-out title that deserves its own stand-out marketing program,” said Tom Fassbender, VP of Publishing for BOOM! Studios. “We are huge fans of MySpace Comic Books and we are excited about working with them on simultaneously releasing each issue online.”

  8. I thought the main complaint was the ‘no prior warning’ part of the deal.

  9. In case anyone is interested, it seems I’m just one of a growing number of artists who has started his or her new free web comic. Mine’s called (RICK PARKER’s COMICS & STORIES) and it’s available worldwide to anyone with an internet connection. Sure, it takes a lot of my time and I’m making no money doing it, but it’s finally great for me to be able to use the skills I’ve acquired over the last 50 years to create something entirely of my own making and without having to submit it for approval to a potential publisher. My goal for the site and my pledge to comics fans is to add at least one new panel each day and I dare anyone to try and stop me. I invite Heidi MacDonald, and all of her readers at THE BEAT to check it out.

  10. Bill Wiliams, a lot of the free WOWIO comics seem to be limited to USA-only distribution.

    But ironically, the comic pdf entitled Connecticut Yankee WAS available for me to download.
    Maybe WOWIO will soon see international distribution as a possibility.

  11. I’m not sure about the reason for the US only distribution from WOWIO, but I think it has something to do with an advertisers desire to advertise to a potential customer. As in, I’m not sure that Verison is available in Belgium.

    And that Connecticut Yankee book is a novel with illustrations.

    Bill

  12. “I need to invest shelf money on companies who want to help me sell books.”

    Sheesh! Talk about the tail wagging the dog… I thought publishers were supposed to be primarily focused on getting their material into readers’ hands, REGARDLESS of the vehicle. Silly me.

  13. We just added you to my Music News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.
    (PS, we just pushed out BETA 2 of OUR site)
    Sincerely,
    The Songnumbers Team

  14. aiden says:

    i love graphic novel

Trackbacks

  1. […] I’m still trying to figure out the significance of the controversy about Boom Studio’s efforts to promote North Wind. On one hand, the expectations of the audience have changed, as has the nature of the industry. If retailers are interested in long-term viability, they have to start embracing aggressive and innovative (for the comics industry) marketing practices. And sometimes that means losing a little bit of money today (with a free issue) for more money tomorrow (if customers want to pick up the trade or buy the second issue). On the other, Boom handled this really poorly, especially for a company competing in a crowded marketplace. I’d imagine that retailers are just looking for reasons to drop publishers. Not to mention the fact that the percentage of the audience that is likely to check out the free preview is the same audience that is probably more likely to purchase the collection on Amazon. And I don’t know if the sell-out of the first issue really solves the dilemma, because the increased interest in the book may come from “the increased awareness brought about by offering the comic online for free”. If this becomes standard industry practice, a promotion like this wouldn’t be a story. I think that a similar dynamic applies to all entertainment industries. When a company (or brand or artist) is small, it’s a lot easier to take this kind of risk. It’s also easy if the brand is strong enough to experiment with price structures and delivery systems. But I don’t know if this model would work for other kinds of publishers, or will be as successful when it becomes more prevalent, and it kind of annoys me when commentators ignore this. […]

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