Thoughts on Free Comic Book Day

I ran free comic book day events at the shop for three years – between 2012 and 2014 (we closed April 30th 2015 so our participation that fourth year were simply books dropped into the packages for delivery the following week.

I think it’s a great idea – new people do come to your shop, and generally it showcases your store and it’s a positive sales day, often it was my best sales day of the year. The more you showcase your retail shop by bringing in guests and having sales in various departments the bigger your traffic and sales potential.

Yesterday I decided to visit two Greater Toronto Area stores on FCBD. One did not partipate in FCBD and treated it like a normal Saturday.

For the two hours I was around the non-participating store I saw steady foot traffic and regular sales on normally priced items. The owner did nothing special to mark the day, but being downtown in a high traffic area on a beautiful, sunny Saturday afternoon people were there and in the mood to spend some money. I certainly was and picked up some figures I was interested in adding to my collection. The FCBD model doesn’t really fit here, the majority of the store stock of comics were manga, and there’s very little FCBD material that fits or serves this audience.

Quite randomly as I was getting in my car to head home, Mike B. who used to work for me at the shop was walking by. He decided to join me on a drive out to Mississauga for what was definitely the biggest FCBD event in the city with multiple big name guests and a great selection of talented local artists.

Since my last visit this retailer doubled his floor space by renting the adjacent unit and opening up the wall between. It gave him floor space to add a large events area where the guests were sitting and new revenue streams like a candy shop, better displays for clothing, action figures and framed artwork. The store was packed when we got there (and things they say were even busier in the first few hours). The line-ups for the cashiers were long and people seemed to be buying. The artists all had great things to say about the day and were happy with the art commissions and sketches they had done.

Reading friends walls who live in the downtown core detailing their own FCBD adventures I was struck by something which did bother me a lot as a downtown Toronto retailer. While I think it’s great that people do the store crawl thing in the downtown core and visit multiple shops, it struck me as offensive (to me, as a consumer I understand why they don’t care) that people would go to comic shops to pick up the FCBD books (in the number allotments determined by each shop), but then would go and rave about the great deals and money they spent at the downtown discount semi-used bookstore chain.

I shop there from time to time, and I have many friends that work there, I’ve even offered them grading and pricing advice from time to time. But the discount semi-used bookstore chain (I say semi because one location has a Diamond account) was directly responsible, in my opinion for the decline in new book sales in the core shops after the Bloor Street location opened. I understand people want to pay the lowest price, but it is impossible to compete on new product sales when this store marked the same books down to slightly above cost. It meant reducing orders dramatically and lessening the risks. It forced us to specialize more on what did sell, and on the material the loyal customers wanted.

So to read people preferred spending money there after visiting comic book shops and taking the Free Comic Book Day books offends me as a former retailer. At a time when comic shops are struggling, that’s like a slap in the face in the retailers who spent time and money organizing FCBD events at their shops. It says we’re not competitive enough to be a proper alternative to the Amazons and discount book shops. People will come and take the free product you bought to get potential customers in the door, but they are walking out and buying discounted product at your non-FCBD participating competition.

Thankfully the stores I went to were clearly unaffected by the trials and tribulations that their downtown comic book store peers are facing. The first shop doesn’t sell the same material that the discount chains sell, so it remains a destination for people who want what it does have to offer – it doesn’t need the FCBD gimmick to draw people in. It has a devoted audience and they are coming anyway. The store that went big is in an area that doesn’t have the discount chain and has diversified – I’d still say trades and books were probably their slowest moving product line – with singles, toys, statues and candy being the prime movers. It also saw more families.

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