Free Comic Book Day

This May 6th will be Free Comic Book Day. This is a national event that has been taking place in comic book retail stores for the last few years. I believe this is the fifth year it has been a nationwide, Diamond supported event. Here’s how it works: people can just walk into a participating comic book retail store and pick up free comic books. Easy as that! Different stores might do different things, but that’s basically how it works. It’s a great day for fans and for people wondering about comics because they can all get comics free. Parents love to come in and stock up on summer reading for the kids. There are even people who love Free Comic Book Day so much that they will travel from store to store picking up books (even though we all choose from the same selection). You might even have participated in a Free Comic Book Day yourself. Here’s your chance to find out what Free Comic Book Day is like for the comic book retailer, weather you wanted to or not.

First, while Free Comic Book Day might be free for you, the reader, it is not free for the retailer. The “free” comic books have to be purchased by retailers and then given away. The publishers take on some of the cost, the retailers pay a portion, and supposedly even Diamond Distribution shares some of the costs too. In order to qualify as a “Participating Retailer” a store has to purchase a minimum of $5 for each of the ten “Gold Sponsor” comic books; which is a $50 minimum investment just to be listed on the Free Comic Book Day web site: The average price for a “Gold Sponsor” comic is about twenty cents, so that is an average of twenty five comic books for each title. There are eighteen “Silver Sponsors” as well, and retailers can order those titles in any amount they want. The lowest Free Comic Book Day comic this year was sixteen cents, and the most expensive was fifty-nine cents. (The ironic thing about this is that the this fifty-nine cent book is made available by a company called Comic Genesis, a web comic service that offers creators a free web site and links web comic readers to their free comic books.) Depending upon the size of one’s comic book store, and the anticipated turn out, stores can easily spend over $400 to get the “free” comic books. This year they also advertised some other “exclusive” items that would be available at stores for Free Comic Book Day, including Heroclix Wolverine figures (retailer cost of $21.25 for 50) and a Stargate O’Neil action figure (retailer cost of $25 per bundle of 10).

Retailers who want to maximize Free Comic Book Day market the event, usually in a number of ways. Sure, there are stores that just hang up the posters that are given free if you participate. But many of us work really hard to make our communities aware of Free Comic Book Day. My store, Neptune Comics, is running a TV commercial, doing a mailing, hanging posters in local businesses and libraries as well as our own store, and putting information about it on our web site. We’ve also sent out press releases to the local media in the hope that we might get some news on the event. Some of this marketing is free, but most of it is not.

Events like this, when properly marketed, can bring in a lot of people, so the investment is usually worth it. Some comic book stores do book signings or character appearances along with Free Comic Book Day to make it an even bigger draw. There are all kinds of cool things comic book stores have done in the past to really make Free Comic Book Day fun for everyone involved. But of course, there are stores that just stack the books up and let people come in and take them and that’s it. We usually have a cake and a great table set up with the free books, staffed by two people who can help everyone choose their free comic. Then, if people want more than just one free comic, they just need to bring in a non-perishable food donation, which we give to the local food pantry afterward. We have free prize drawings throughout the day, usually some great sales, sometimes we do game demos, and we always have plenty of comics and graphic novels (that aren’t free) for people to check out and purchase if they feel so inclined. Our turnout last year was great, we were busy all day giving away comics, selling more comics, and collecting food for the hungry in our area. It is a day we look forward to and plan for during those long, cold winter months.

The credit for Free Comic Book Day goes largely to Joe Field, owner of Flying Colors Comics in Concord, California, referred to by those of us in “the biz” as “the nicest guy in comics.” His goal was to have a day that would help grow comic book readership by bringing people into their local comic book stores to receive free comics. Notice that I said, “by bringing people into their local comic book stores.” This is a key point, because this event is for “brick and mortar” retailers, not for internet sellers. It is a nationwide event that should benefit local comic retailers by helping them grow the comic readership in their areas with the help of participating publishers and Diamond Distribution. My store was not yet open when the first national Free Comic Book Day occurred, but I have heard that the selection of books was quite small compared to what it is now.

This year there are twenty eight books to choose from in a variety of genres for children and adults. Some of the comics look really good, while others were a disappointment. I can’t figure out why Dark Horse is doing a combination book of Star Wars and Conan. DC was originally only offering a reprint of their all age comic Justice League Unlimited #1, but after retailer outcry, also added a reprint of Superman/Batman #1—another reprint, so both are disappointing in my opinion. But Marvel created a new Runaways story just for Free Comic Book Day that looks very good. Tokyopop offered free samplers two years ago, while this year they were a Gold Sponsor and the samplers were twenty two cents. Thankfully Viz is offering their samplers for free. Personally, I would have liked to see a few more all-age comics because I firmly believe that if we don’t start getting more kids to read comics now, we won’t have a market for comics in 20 years. But I know that there are plenty of retailers who feel differently, especially since there are plenty of adults with jobs that are not yet comic book readers and apparently these adults want more mature subjects rather than all age material. But either way, there are comics for a variety of audiences.

Here’s where you come in, oh loyal reader. Be sure to visit one of your local stores on Free Comic Book Day. If you don’t know of one, check out the link I had at the beginning of this column. Obviously you already have an interest in comics, or you probably wouldn’t be visiting a comic book discussion web site. So, please don’t go to the comic book store alone. I have no doubt that you know someone who doesn’t yet read comic books. Bring them with you, kicking and screaming if that’s what it takes. Don’t worry, they will thank you later. Even if they don’t become a regular comic book consumer, they will have been given the chance to check out something new and different, and maybe they will pick up a graphic novel from time to time, or maybe they will just tell someone else about the cool comic they read, and this other someone will become a comic book enthusiast. While you are there, pick up something for yourself. After all, we retailers need you visitors to spend money in order to help us cover the expense of hosting the whole thing. Besides, if you are getting something free, it is only polite to buy something too. If you REALLY want to help grow our circle of comic book readers, and earn yourself some brownie points with your local comic book store at the same time, go to their store a week or so after its over and volunteer to take some of their extras (if they have any left) to your hair salon or dentist or library. Just a few minutes of your time will help spread the goodness of comics! Let’s all chip in to make comic book reading a more popular hobby here in the United States (we’re way behind Europe and Asia in terms of comic book reading population) by taking advantage of great tools like Free Comic Book Day.

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One year after our first wedding anniversary, to the day, my husband and I picked up the keys to a 1000 square foot store front in a strip mall in suburban Waukesha, WI. Two weeks later that spot would become Neptune Comics, our very own comic book store. I grew up in Slinger, WI, the child of entrepreneurial parents who owned their own dog breading and boarding kennel. The first in my family to graduate from college, I earned a BA from St. Norbert College. Prior to becoming a comic book retailer I was a stock broker, and then gave up that stress to own my own house cleaning business. Comic books were a small blip on my radar before I considered opening a store -- I did not have a collection stashed somewhere. But jumping into comic book retailing has been a great crash course in the ups and downs of the comic book industry. Being a woman and a comic fan, rather than a collector, I have no doubt that my opinions won’t always be that of the majority.

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