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03 May 2012 @ 11:39 am
Everybody Wins  

The short version is that the Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo kicked all kinds of ass. I brought a slew of Skullkickers and sold out of it all by Sunday afternoon, giving me a few hours to browse the show riding a wave of good feelings and enthusiasm long after my weary head wanted to lie down. Also, money.

The long version is that the Skullkickers webcomic initiative (man, that sounds too formal) is working.

It’s not pageview numbers versus print numbers. It’s much bigger than that.

I’ve effectively created a whole new audience for Skullkickers. After exhibiting at 4 conventions over the past 5 weeks, I can see already see the trend because of it. There are two audiences now.

Skullkickers is a moderately successful Image Comic series. We’ve shipped 13 issues (our 14th arrives next week) and our monthly sales numbers keep the series very much alive but aren’t anything to write home about. We do much better in trade, where our value-priced $9.99 softcover volume 1 and new hardback volume 1 & 2 combo book (dubbed ‘Treasure Trove’) are doing quite well in comic and book stores.

Skullkickers is now also a webcomic. I started serializing our early issues, one page every weekday, so that readers could discover us, start from the beginning and grow attached to the series, giving us outreach far past comic shop shelves and retailer ordering concerns. I’m thrilled to say that over the past 3 months we’ve generated 1.7 million+ pageviews to 96,000+ unique visitors. That is about twenty times our monthly issue audience and reaches people in places that don’t have comic shops at all.

So, reaching people is great and all but how does that translate to actual sales? If most are getting the milk for free, will they buy the cow?

Good news: Serializing the issues hasn’t negatively affected our sales one bit. Our trade sales through comic and book stores are up, steadily climbing. Making more people aware of the series has made them want the current material more, not less. Quality and good word of mouth is helping build our readership in shops bit by bit.

Better news: At conventions I’m selling a lot more. I’m not twice the sales person I was last year, but I’m selling more than double the number of books since we started serializing online. 9 times out of 10, I’m selling it to people who read the series online. I asked almost every person who came to my table if they’d heard of Skullkickers before. No word of a lie, when they said “yes”, 90% of those folks also said they were reading it online. It shocked me.

Some people were surprised we were being published by Image or that there were physical books at all. Most didn’t care that the comic is put out by the third largest comic publisher in North America. That had no bearing whatsoever on their purchase. They read the series online, enjoyed it, I was at the show, they bought books. Done, done, done and done.

The people who buy Skullkickers in comic shops buy every issue. It's their little joyful adventure hit every month. They bring the issues up to be signed when they see me at shows. Signing 13 issues in a stack is a thrill and I add a little note or joke statement to each one to make them extra special. I usually end up chatting with our comic readers about other creator-owned books they should be buying or upcoming Image titles that look exciting. Our print readers are very valuable to me. I don’t want any of things I’ve said above to give people the impression that isn’t the case.

The comic shop audience is not the web audience. Those two audiences don’t seem to mix much at all. They’re two distinctive audiences and they’re both valid, especially when they’re both growing. One group spends money every month on issues and some in trade, the other is larger with patrons who almost exclusively spend money on collections over a longer period. Putting content out to both doesn’t cannibalize either audience.

The bottom line is quality and availability, not web versus print. The more platforms, the more options, the better. People read comics and support creators either way.

Everybody wins.
Curmudgejohncomic on May 3rd, 2012 04:46 pm (UTC)
This would all be true for more of us, if more of us were putting out work this solid. I guess that's the “quality” part to which you allude.
Mike KitchenUltraist on May 3rd, 2012 07:40 pm (UTC)
Very interesting. Blair and I have been talking about this for quite a while now, though for us it's been theoretical since we don't have a proper webcomics presence. Soon enough SPY GUY and THE POSSUM will get their comics online. Possibly next issue.
Shawn RichisonShawn Richison on May 5th, 2012 01:58 pm (UTC)
Jim, this is something I've believed for a long time - add to that, if you (and your artist) started developing future installments of SK to work similar to the thrill bent model, then you're not only serving different markets, but providing different content - giving people who read online a secondary experience when they pick up the print edition. Thanks for posting this. What a great observation.
Pj PerezPjPerez on June 25th, 2012 11:41 pm (UTC)
Great point. I know that, as a consumer, there are webcomics I only buy in print, and comics I only read online but wouldn't buy in print. There are series I've discovered at conventions that have lured me to become either a fan or a customer.

And as a producer, I've noticed the audience for my webcomics is not necessarily reflective of the audience for the print collections. People buy the print comic who have no idea it's online, and even those who KNOW they can get it for free online still buy it in print. What you've stated is the truth: Digital is not going to kill print; it's a companion piece to the content delivery system.