BOOM! STUDIOS: Too Many Comics in Direct Market, 'Publishers Need to Earn' Space on Shelves

BOOM! Studios logo
Credit: BOOM! Studios
Filip Sablik
Filip Sablik
Credit: BOOM! Studios

In front of a crowded room of retailers at today's ComicsPRO Annual Meeting, BOOM! Studios' President of Publishing & Marketing Filip Sablik and Retail Sales Coordinator Morgan Perry and said there's a problem in the marketplace: there's "too much stuff in the Direct Market." It's something BOOM! has acknowledged for years, even cutting their line in 2019.

This echoes what Image Comics' Publisher/co-owner Eric Stephenson told Newsarama earlier this year.

And now BOOM! is driving that message even further, with Sablik telling retailers "Publishers need to earn their space on your shelves."

Here is Sablik and Perry's full speech to retailers, published here on Newsaraam with their permission:

FILIP:
Publishers need to earn their space on your shelves.

MORGAN:
You know BOOM! Studios believes that. We’ve given comic shops worldwide brands bringing in and keeping customers for years with Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dark Crystal, and Firefly.
 

Morgan Perry
Morgan Perry
Credit: BOOM! Studios

It’s not enough to rest on past successes, so every year we give fans and retailers exciting new spins to create the best new stories. You’ve seen it in series like Mighty Morphin Power Rangers with first appearances of exciting new characters like Lord Drakkon and Ranger Slayer and events like Shattered Grid, Necessary Evil, and our crossover with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. In 2020, we have incredible plans for our Teenagers with Attitude.

It starts in Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #50 in April with the reality-shattering return of a fan favorite character that requires a final page triple gatefold reveal and who brings with them grave warnings of the biggest threat the Power Rangers have ever faced.

Then in June, Dan Mora returns to draw an oversized Ranger Slayer special where the dark Kimberly Hart from Drakkon’s universe assumes a new identity. This first appearance is one that you and your customers will not want to miss. We’ll follow that up in July with a prestige limited series revealing an untold story from Lord Drakkon’s homeworld never previously revealed. All of this builds to the biggest shake-up in our Power Rangers publishing in October, Unfortunately I’ve been sworn to secrecy...for now. Power Rangers architect Ryan Parrott will be here later today and throughout the conference to sign your exclusives and maybe you can pry a few more details out of him. Power Rangers is going to earn its spot on your shelf in 2020!

FILIP:
Last week I went to the supermarket because I needed BBQ sauce. But I was overwhelmed with all of the different brands of BBQ sauce. I stood there frozen in place, trying to figure out which brand of BBQ sauce I was going to buy. Fifteen minutes later after unsuccessfully trying to figure out the best one to buy, I gave up and left. I went to another store, but which store I went into I’m not going to reveal to you right now.

Finishing the story is important, but what I want to focus on for the moment is what I felt. I was overwhelmed and confused. Those feelings are familiar for many of us in the direct market.

At BOOM! we knew that there was too much stuff in the Direct Market.  As we were building our publishing slate for 2019, we were excited. We were proud. 2019 was going to be a banner year. We believed we had the best slate of creator-owned books the company had ever published. How would we make our mark?

But great comics aren’t enough when the market is flooded with product. Retailers are struggling to rack all the different series coming out and even then, sometimes series are only displayed for a week before they’re moved off the shelf and put away, losing their moment. How would we rise above the herd?

We needed to earn our space on the shelf.

MORGAN:
First, we studied what the retailers had been saying. You are our partners in business and a cornerstone of any partnership is listening. You said too many series were being published. So we cut our line back by 12%. We believed fewer titles would mean more foc no us from retailers and readers on the projects we did publish. We took a risk cutting the line and it paid off for all of us.

FILIP:
We had our first hit of the year with FAITHLESS. We took superstar Brian Azzarello and paired him with the bold Maria Llovet. The combination was an electrifying MUST READ comic. We surprised the market with sexy, provocative variants in blind bags.  We believe exciting, engaging marketing adds sizzle to MUST READ content. We blew through 37,000 copies of #1 and started the year with an unqualified success.

MORGAN:
And at ComicsPRO last year we announced Once & Future. We told you it would be our biggest series of the year. A MUST READ series. And it was. Listening to retailers, we heard over and over again that publishers should minimize risk. We were already the market leader when it came to returnability. So we decided to reduce risk even further and be the first in the business to make the first six issues of a series returnable.We decided to top that and be the first in the business to make collections returnable through affidavit. We launched the biggest, most comprehensive retailer support program of the past 5 years. We wanted to earn our spot on retailers’ shelves.

With full, no strings attached, affidavit returnability on 6 comic issues and 2 collections or graphic novels every single month, the BOOM! Guarantee is the best returnability program in the business. On top of that, our Guarantee comes with a free 6 pocket floor display, monthly posters and point-of-sales information, and exclusive promotional material. What’s more, BOOM! makes at least the first two issues, and often 3 or 4 issues, fully returnable on our new series to truly allow you to discover your sales ceiling. Last year, we increased the number of accounts in the program by almost 40% over 2018 and now service stores in 48 states and 13 countries worldwide.

How many of you are members of the Guarantee? Do your fellow ComicsPRO members with their hands down a favor and talk to them about signing up for the program today.

Once & Future was a smash hit. We sold over 51,000 copies of the first issue, our highest launching original series ever.

FILIP:
As we were rolling out our slate in 2019, we heard from retailers that publishers were dumping too many first issues targeting the same audience in the same month. At BOOM!, we made sure that we didn’t launch series on top of each other, which would make them fight with each other for your customers’ dollars and cost you money. So we gave James Tynion IV and Werther Dell’Edera’s MUST READ hit Something Is Killing the Children the proper space to breathe and didn’t launch it on top of Kieron Gillen and Dan Mora’s blockbuster series Once & Future.

We thought the year couldn’t get bigger until Something Is Killing the Children  launched at 50,000 copies! The collection became our best-selling “Discover Now” edition of all time. Something Is Killing the Children was a slam dunk.

But publishing too many comics and dumping too many new #1s into the same month aren’t the only problems facing the business. Retailers complain series run late. When comics ship late, they kill your cash flow. Some fans, disappointed their favorite series isn’t shipping, wander away from comics altogether and never come back. So we rededicated to shipping product on-time. In 2019, we raised our on-time shipping rate from 96% to 97%, the highest rate among the top 4 publishers. We wanted to earn our spot on retailers’ shelves.

That consistency builds trust between us and our retail partners and your customers. Trust that launched the biggest MUST READ Matt Kindt book ever with Folklords at 25,000 copies. Folklords with artist Matt Smith sold over 50% better than any original Matt Kindt series before.

MORGAN:
Overpublishing and late books are not the only problems facing the market. The problem is also that there aren’t enough strong reads in the market. We need more MUST READ comics. You know the kind -- comics for the top of your weekly pile. Comics you can’t wait to tear into. Series that compel you to go into the shop week after week. So we launched a slate of new creator-owned series that would command readers’ attention and become MUST READS for the top of their pile.

We finished our 2019 slate with our first MUST READ series from Jeremy Haun and Danny Luckert. The Red Mother launched at over 25,000 copies and the first two issues going are back to press next month.



FILIP:
Because we cut our line back, made sure we didn’t dump too many #1s into the same month, shipped 97% on-time, marketed our comics and focused on MUST READ books our creator-owned launches went up by 63%. Other publishers saw their creator-owned sales numbers drop by as much as 49%. We finished #4 in market share. We had our best year with comic shops ever. At BOOM!, we’re not afraid of challenges. We knew the year would be difficult, but we believed in our creators, we believed in our content, and we believed we could connect to retailers and readers.

So we’re calling our shots again in 2020. We’re here to earn our space on your shelf. Here is our 2020 MUST READ list:

The first MUST READ is Si Spurrier and Chris Wildgoose’s Alienated. The readers of Folklords and The Red Mother will love this dark story of three teenagers who find a seemingly harmless alien in the woods.

The first issue launched 69% higher than Spurrier’s last series Coda, has already sold out at Diamond, gone to a second print which has also sold out, and a third printing will be available on FOC this coming Monday.

MORGAN:
The second Must Read of 2020 is the sequel to the smash hit from last year’s Must Read list - Brian Azzarello & Maria Llovet’s Faithless II. Faithless II takes Faith down an even darker path as her, Poppy, and Louis travel to the center of black magic, Turin, Italy. And for fans of the erotic covers, this series will feature 6 connecting erotic covers by the amazing Tula Lotay. Faithless II arrives in stores in April.

FILIP:
Our third Must Read of 2020 will arrive in August. It will be the first original series from the writer of one of the top 5 selling comics of 2019, DCeased’s Tom Taylor.  Tom is going to be working on the X-Men this year as featured in Marvel’s Free Comic Book Day release, which will make his profile rise even higher.

A quick tangent -- we had great success last year with Once & Future, taking fan favorite Dan Mora, who had been an artist on Go Go Power Rangers and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and increasing his profile by launching Once & Future with him. The result made Mora a superstar.

So we’re doing that again with the artist of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers - Daniele Di Nicuolo!

MORGAN:
The series is called Seven Secrets and it will be the Once & Future of 2020. I guarantee it. Tom is one of the most commercial Big Two writers in comics and we’re incredibly proud to be the partner he’s chosen for his first original series. And just like Dan Mora before him, we’re taking Daniele off one of our biggest licensed titles and onto our biggest original series of the year. Get ready to watch him become the next Direct Market superstar.

And as we did with Something Is Killing The Children in 2019, we’re following up with our fourth Must Read of 2020 in September. We’re thrilled to be the home of the first original series from another of the industry’s biggest writers - Al Ewing! Al had THE breakout book of 2019 with The Immortal Hulk. His breakout book for 2020 will be We Only Find Them When They’re Dead.

FILIP:
I just talked about how we intentionally built Dan Mora’s profile on Power Rangers and Buffy before planting him on mega-hit Once & Future and how we intend to do the same Daniele Di Nicuolo. Well, we’re doing it again with Al’s book, pairing him with the artist of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers/ Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Simone di Meo! Simone stunned the industry with his beautiful visuals in MMPR/TMNT. We believe Simone is a superstar as well.

MORGAN:
Our fifth and final MUST READ of 2020 will arrive the month after that in October. This entire project is top secret, so I can’t even tell you the creative team, but I can tell you that it will feature a creator that will not only surprise and delight you, but will absolutely drive new customers into your stores.

FILIP:
We’re calling our shots with our MUST READ books again in 2020.

Every single one of those books will be a hit in your store. That’s not a promise.

That’s a guarantee.

Because BOOM! STUDIOS HITS ARE GUARANTEED.

MORGAN:
But you can’t guarantee your hits if you don’t have the basics down.

A focused publishing line. 97% on-time shipping. Marketing and sales support. We earn our spot on your shelves.

And once you nail down those fundamentals, you have to remove risk for your partners if you want them to bet on your new projects. The BOOM! Guarantee program does that better and more consistently than any other program in the industry.

These fundamentals are what make BOOM! Studios your best partner. The trust we’ve built has led to the hits that drive sales and excitement into your stores.

And because of that for the second year in a row, BOOM! Studios had the largest proportionate market share increase by units and the second largest increase in dollar share in the industry.

FILIP:
Remember the story I shared at the beginning of this presentation, the one about going to the grocery store and getting overwhelmed by a wall of products? I got confused and left. I told you that I’d reveal to you what store I ended up at. I drove to Trader Joe’s.

If you don’t know, let me paint you a picture of Trader Joe’s - they’re small, the aisles and parking lot crowded. The staff wears Hawaiian shirts. The stores look like they’re designed by a pirate or beach bum. It’s not much to look at. But it’s the most profitable per square foot grocery store. Why?

Because they give their customers less choice. They only have one or two options. You want frozen pepperoni pizza? There’s one. Cinnamon raisin bread? There’s one. Frozen peas? Yup, just one. The attitude at Trader Joe’s is that they’ve already selected the best product for you as their customer.

I left happier because I wasn’t overwhelmed and confused.

I don’t need to explain that going into a crowded supermarket overwhelmed with 20 different kinds of BBQ sauce is like Direct Market comic book shops. We all know it. What I do want to do is challenge and encourage all publishers to learn from our successes and be more like Trader Joe’s. Know who your audience is for your new original series and how you’re going to reach them. Don’t solicit 4 or 5 or 6 or more new number ones in one month. Reduce your output, call your shots, and give your retail partners your own Must Read list.

Earn your space on their shelves. Your business and the industry will be better for it.

We publishers need to do a better job being selective about what we publish. Until we all do no comic shop has to carry everything publishers offer. If a publisher can’t clearly tell you why a book is worth reading, who the audience for it is, deliver it on time, reduce your risk with returnability or other incentives, and support it with marketing, publicity, and sales resources, then that title hasn’t earned a spot on your shelf.

Don’t order it.

On the other hand, as a retailer, growing your business requires engaging with your publishing partners and searching out the best product to put on your shelves. If a publisher reaches out in a timely manner and in good faith to share a new project they are excited about, to send you an advance PDF, to reduce your risk and support you - you should engage by reading it so you can stock and sell the best product.

And yes, you may miss out on the occasional impulse purchase off the rack for that customer who wanted the book you didn’t have or the customer who shops at your competitor because you don’t have everything they want, but like Trader Joe’s you’ll trade that missed opportunity for something much more valuable - trust and loyalty from customers who know that when you offer a book, it’s the best one you could find for them.

You don’t need to be the place that sells everything comic publishers offer - many of you already aren’t. But if you are still trying to be the “everything store” then your competition is Amazon. If your store is a reflection of you, your staff, and the customers you want to fill your store with, then you won’t have any competition, because that’s a community only you can create. And community is the most powerful reason for customers to shop at a comic store.

If publishers and retailers both act a bit more like Trader Joe’s we can continue to grow this amazing dedicated market for comic book fans.

That’s what BOOM! did in 2019 which is why BOOM! STUDIOS HITS ARE GUARANTEED.

Thank you very much for your support for BOOM! during 2019, a historic year for the company, and believe that 2020 is going to be even BIGGER.
 

ComicsPRO 2020 BOOM! Studios Retailer Presentation
Thursday, 2/20, at the ComicsPRO 2020 Conference in Portland, OR
 

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