Tagged: Rob Salkowitz

Ed Catto: Our Own Worst Enemy

Much has been written lately about the recent Marvel Retailer Summit and the unfortunate public relations debacle that followed. As you may know, Marvel had arranged to speak with and listen to leading comic shop retailers following a difficult downturn in their comic sales. The fireworks really started in the subsequent ICV2 interview when Marvel’s Senior Vice President of Print, Sales and Marketing, David Gabriel, summarized the retailer conversations, and the reasons behinds the sales slump in an awkward, clumsy fashion that ignited a plethora of heated conversations.

And then United Airlines’ corporate blunder dominated the headlines so outraged fans and consumers could focus their anger towards that brand instead.

But as the pundits reviewed Marvel’s missteps, there were a few topics missing from these conversations and analyses. Maybe these issues were just pushed into the background, but they are important puzzle pieces necessary to understanding Geek Culture’s retail landscape. And by not focusing on these issues, Geek Culture becomes its own worst enemy and just fights itself.

In fact, on John Suintres’ excellent Word Balloon Podcast, last week’s guest, industry expert Rob Salkowitz, talked about how retailers can often feed a false, or skewed, vision of reality to publishers. And as this vision can ultimately hamstring the longer term success of both retailers and publishers, I think it’s important that these trends also be considered:

Card Stores Shaking Off Comics

Attending last month’s GAMA trade show gave me a unique perspective into one particular group of the stores: retailers who are doing well but have walked away from comics.

At this trade show the focus was on games and gaming. Many card and comic shops are blended entities, where Friday Night Magic: The Gathering events are just as important as Wednesday’s New Comics Day. Of course, at a trade show like this there were many retailers whose personal passions lie in card games, and it’s difficult for them to understand comics. On the other hand, the show also hosted many comic retailers who see the potential in card games.

But there was a big contingent of card stores who have walked away from comics. It’s not that their hearts weren’t in it, it’s that they couldn’t figure out how to keep selling a sufficient amount of comics to their fans.

That’s a shame. They have the platform to make it work, they have an account with the distributor and there’s usually a lot of overlap. But for whatever reason, they chose to stop selling comics.

Diversity May Not Need Comics

A more even-handed headline would be “Diversity Doesn’t Only Need Comics, Per Se.” One of the shifts that we’ve been seeing amongst the best comics retailers is less of a percentage of sales from weekly ‘floppy’ comics and a more diversified merchandise mix. And that’s positive and robust for all parties.

It’s not hard to find a huuuuge fan of a particular character (Batman, Deadpool, Harley Quinn, Green Arrow – you name it) who does not read the comics featuring that character. They can probably recite the character’s adventures in the movies or on TV. They might spend hundreds of dollars in character merchandise. They might be wearing apparel that reflects that character or they might even cosplay the character. I know one college student in particular who has Batgirl images on her dorm room wall but is unlikely to ever read Batgirl’s adventures in comics.

The cold hard fact is that it’s unlikely you’ll ever convert this fan into a comic reader. You can convert her or him into a Geek Culture retailer customer, but not a reader. And that is surmountable for the industry.

YA Wants To Join The Party

Some of the hottest comics aren’t published by Marvel or DC – they’re published by Scholastic’s Graphix imprint and by Raina Telgemeier.  And there’s a lot of them. The Young Adult (YA) genre is hot and creating new readers every day.

I stumbled across a prose Black Widow book, Forever Red by Margaret Stohl, at my local library. I’ve always liked the character ever since her reboot in Amazing Spider-Man & Amazing Adventures. (In fact, there’s a Gene Colan-illustrated shower scene that’s seared into every middle-aged comic fanboy’s’ adolescent memory.) And I’m really enjoying the current Black Widow Marvel comic series by Chris Samnee and Mark Waid.

But when I read the book, I soon realized that the entry point for the author, and her readers, was so different than my own. These fans know Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow, from the movies. She’s been on screen for half a decade and that version is their heroine. Who needs musty old comics? Who needs floppy monthlies as an onramp? I did, but they certainly don’t.

•     •     •     •     •

And that’s the tyranny of it all. So many times the insular industry that is Geek Culture is talking to itself, or even fighting against itself. The experts are knowledgeable and loud, and dominate the conversations in such a way that’s difficult to discern the other voices. It’s tough to hear the lapsed retailers or the comics-character fans who don’t read or the up-and-coming YA crowd that wants to read more. I look forward to when Geek Culture focuses more on pitching bigger tents and focuses less on fighting against itself.

Ed Catto: Geek Culture Grows … and Grows!

Cosplayers at Long Beach comic Conjpg

You don’t have to explain what a comic convention is to most people anymore. They know that these conventions are a celebration of geek culture, that they are places to sell comics and collectibles, and that a lot of people attend these things. Some people might know that the San Diego Comic-Con is the grand-daddy of them all, and generally considered to be biggest and the best.

But that standing is rapidly changing. Recently, New York Comic Con published some astonishing attendance numbers. As it has been each year, this was another record-breaking year as they counted 167,000 attendees. That’s a lot of people.

NYCC10crowdGeek Culture business analyst and author Rob Salkowitz sees different strengths for each. “NYCC strikes me as a great way for brands to reach influential audiences in the New York area (including a lot of media and publishing elites), whereas SDCC is still the only truly global fan event in North America.”

So while every major convention might have a distinct flavor or purpose, I feel the strong attendee and revenue growth across the board seems to speak to both the rise of Geek Culture and changing consumer habits.

Remember just a few years ago when Target was a “cool” place to shop? Everyone even pronounced the name as “Tar-jay” with a half-jokey attitude. Since then, big box retailers like Target and Wal-Mart (for the first time in ages) find themselves struggling and falling short of expectations. So many Americans feel that if you just have to “buy something,” it’s easier to just order it online and have it delivered.

MK-CI051_TARGET_G_20131121200203But if there’s an experience involved, it’s a different story. If you need an expert to help you plan your bridal registry, for example, you definitely want to go to visit a retailer. Or if you want to meet a favorite author, you’ll visit a bookstore for an autographing event. And if you want to celebrate your fan passion, you probably want to visit your comic shop every Wednesday or attend one of the country’s many comic conventions.

That’s where you can see you’re part of something big and exciting. There’s so much to see and learn about – it’s not only about acquiring stuff. Now it’s about acquiring stuff and experiences.

And with the rising tide of Geek Culture and comic cons, everyone seems to have a vision of how they should all work.

I shouldn’t have been surprised to read Alisha Grauso make her case in The Wrap (a news portal that covers entertainment news with a generous dollop of Hollywood insider insights) that movie studios should focus their efforts on promoting at New York Comic Con. For the industry, it’s been “understood” that Hollywood likes to participate in San Diego Comic-Con because it’s fun and it’s an easy economical trip. In her article, Ms. Grauso pointes to several important economic reasons to consider shifting Hollywood’s marketing focus away from thw San Diego Comic-Con and to the New York Comic Con.

I’ll admit it, in my role as a marketing guy we were recently suggesting to a client that they focus their efforts on other conventions rather than San Diego. And this choice makes sense for that particular client, and it also makes sense for more and more brands.
“Fan events… are big business,” said Lance Fensterman, senior global VP of ReedPOP. “It is where brands and media companies can connect directly with fans… passionate, passionate fans. These guys are rabid consumers of content, they have heavy social media presence, and they’re savvy. These are people that marketers want to reach. With that in mind, an important part of our job is to ensure this is done the right way and isn’t too overwhelming or distracting to the fan experience.”

The reality of the situation is that there are now so many venues for marketers to choose from. And that’s great for fans and great for brands.

Long Beach Comic Con