Monthly Archives: May 2007

Quiet on the set…

Yeah, not many posts of late, ’cause we’re slammed with deadlines. The Image Comics book took a lot of extra TLC to get it 100% perfect (well, okay, 99.9%). I’m heading out tomorrow AM for Book Expo in New Yawk City, where, with the help of trusty companion Bob Brodsky, I’ll be hawking the TwoMorrows goodness to the legions of librarians and book buyers who descend on that gathering every year. So I’ll be out of contact for a couple of days, but back here next week for more shenanigans. Have a great weekend, and if you’re at Book Expo, stop by booth #2788 and say howdy!

TwoMorrows is everywhere

Couple of updates on where you can hear more from the TwoMorrows gang:

Bob McLeod, editor of Rough Stuff, was just interviewed at the Comic Book Bin here.

Chris Irving, who just got back from handling our booth at the Motor City Comicon, was interviewed for the SuperNot podcast.

Check ’em out!

Punisher vs. Aunt May

Who knew? We’d only asked John Romita to do 3 Punisher sketches for the Ultra-Limited Edition of his upcoming TwoMorrows book, and 4 Aunt May sketches. Since the Punishers sold out, we’ve been hit with several requests for more Punishers. So John R. has decided (since no one’s reserved any Aunt Mays yet), to do 7 Punisher sketches, and NO Aunt Mays.

So if you really, really wanted a Punisher version, order now!

Motor City Con

As I type, erstwhile production assistant Christopher Irving is in Detroit (Novi, actually) Michigan, manning our booth at the Motor City Comicon. If you’re there, stop by and say hi. Chris is nursing a bad case of tendonitis, so be really careful handing him all those big stacks of TwoMorrows books you’re buying, ‘kay?

Danny Fingeroth on MSNBC tomorrow

Write Now! editor Danny Fingeroth will be on MSNBC tomorrow (Thursday) at 10:30 am eastern time, and possibly repeated also at noon and 3:00 pm. The topic will be this sexy new “Mary Jane washing Spider-Man costume” statue that everybody’s been talking about. Check it out!

The health of the (niche) magazine market

Hoo-boy, things move quickly on the Internet, in ways you don’t imagine until you see it for yourself. Apparently, due to declining circulation at The Comics Journal (due largely to their decision to stop selling it through bookstore chains—a voluntary move made because it wasn’t selling that well there), rising postage rates, and our decision to offer digital editions of our upcoming mags, the whole world thinks comics magazines (at least the print editions) are doomed to extinction.

While I can’t speak for Fantagraphics, our magazine sales have been steady for the last two years (following a slight drop during the Recession, which, in many cases, are readers we mostly didn’t get back when the economy recovered). All our recent activity and ideas are my way of trying to reach new readers.

Part of the hubbub was because the Comic Foundry magazine was submitted to Diamond for consideration to be carried in their Previews catalog, and Diamond rejected it, apparently largely because it was in black-&-white instead of full-color. Editor Tim Leong is quite peeved that Diamond carries all our (mostly) B&W stuff, but rejected his. I dunno; maybe if we were trying to launch a Jack Kirby Collector or Back Issue mag today, it might have the same problems. But we do have the advantage of a long, successful track record with Diamond on our mags (13 years and counting), plus some healthy sales on our books as well. Plus, our stuff is geared largely toward non-recent comics; if we were to ever attempt something to compete for Wizard‘s market share, it’d simply have to be in color to have a shot at success, whereas B&W does great when we’re presenting images of original ink and pencil pages which so dominate our mags.
While our mags are mostly black-and-white, with color sections on occasion, DRAW! always has a sizeable color section. However, other than working through some small regional distributors, we’ve not attempted large-scale bookstore/newsstand distribution since the days when we were publishing Comic Book Artist magazine. Our mags are niche; we know it, and we’re doing just fine in the direct market. We also have a healthy subscription base.

So our B&W format is working great. But yes, these new postal rates are likely to kill a lot of our direct orders from overseas readers. (And we’re working on ways overseas readers can get our print editions cheaper than ordering straight from us; hopefully a little creative thinking and networking will work out a solution to this postage problem.)
My goal is to increase sales in both the Direct Market, and through subscriptions. The sizeable amount of money we put into our recent mass mailing to 1500 comics shops was part of our attempt to reach out to the Direct Market. And our upcoming digital editions are an attempt to reach people that can’t find our mags in comics shops.

It all works together. Frankly, I wish Diamond didn’t force us to stick our magazines in the “Magazine” section of Previews, and then our Books in the “Comics” section. It’s hard enough to find us in Previews; now people have to look in both places. But that’s their policy, so we’re stuck with it. Until an alternative to Diamond comes along, there’s sadly not much any of us can do about it.

Back online with new rates

I spent the last two days doing nothing but poring through the US Postal Rate Changes that took place yesterday. After having to take our webstore offline for a few hours today, I’ve finally got all our prices updated.

US and Canadian back issue and subscription prices stayed basically the same (and with the addition of free downloads of our upcoming digital editions, they’re an even better deal than before) However, we saw big postage jumps for Surface and Airmail (which are now officially called International First Class Mail and International Priority Mail, but we won’t be changing the wording on our site for a few weeks). I’m really, really sorry about this, overseas readers. I know that these rate increases will eventually mean fewer overseas orders, but there’s not anything we can do about the rate increases.

However, with our upcoming digital editions, overseas readers will be able to download our mags for a fraction of what the print editions cost. And we’re also looking into some other options that will hopefully make things more affordable for our overseas fans. I’m determined to find ways to get costs down for our non-US readers, and I’ll keep you all posted here as we find ways to make that happen.

Ultra-Limiteds going fast!

We just sold out of the Gwen Stacey and Spidey Headshot versions of our Ultra-Limited Editions of John Romita… And All That Jazz.  And we also just sold out of the Thing version of the Ultra-Limited Edition of Brush Strokes With Greatness: The Life & Art of Joe Sinnott. These 52-copy editions each have a custom pencil drawing by Romita or Sinnott, and you can choose from the list of available characters that are left. But other sketch versions are going fast, so get ’em while you can!

Ultra-Limited Editions for Romita and Sinnott!

We just posted ordering info for Ultra-Limited Editions of two pending books:

JOHN ROMITA… AND ALL THAT JAZZ! (by Roy Thomas and Jim Amash)
BRUSH STROKE WITH GREATNESS: THE LIFE & ART OF JOE SINNOTT (by Tim Lasiuta)

Like we did with our book on Gene Colan last year, we’ve commissioned John Romita and Joe Sinnott to do (52) custom pencil portraits of their favorite characters, numbered (or more accurately, lettered) “A” to “Z” and “AA” to “ZZ”, and we’re gluing them into the front covers of 52 copies of each book, to make each a one-of-a-kind collector’s item!

Other than the addition of these custom 5″ x 8″ pencil drawings, these Ultra-Limited Editions are the same as the regular edition. We will honor requests for which character will be in your volume (your list of choices is on each book’s detail page; see the links above), on a first-come, first-served basis. These Ultra-Limited Editions are only available at www.twomorrows.com, so if you’re a big fan of either of these artists, get there soon!

sinnottcover.jpgromita.jpg

More on Digital Editions

We’re already getting some response to Wednesday’s announcement that we’ll be trying out online editions of our mags starting in July. I’ve heard from quite a few people who say they welcome the opportunity to get our stuff in digital form, since it’s cheaper, easier to store, and more fun to read on a computer laptop. Me, I’m a paper and ink guy, so I think I’ll always prefer the traditional way, but I’m always open to new venues for our publications.

Our friend Johanna Draper Carlson raised some concerns on her wonderful Comics Worth Reading blog that, by giving our print subscribers free access to the downloads, we’re trying to push subscriptions at the expense of retailers. First of all, we love retailers; without the Direct Market, we couldn’t survive. But as for pushing subscriptions, sure we are. We always have been; they’re more profitable than store copies. We’re also pushing retailers to carry more of our mags, and have been for years—just with little success. With the exception of a handful of the top stores in the country who actually stock our stuff (and achieve pretty nice sales by doing so, thank you very much), our experience is most stores, if they carry our magazines at all, only order enough for their pull lists, without a single extra copy on the shelf for a potential new reader/customer to discover.

I can’t 100% blame them; with every order through Diamond being non-returnable, you’ve got to be careful not to overorder, or you’ll get stuck with merchandise you paid for in advance, and can’t sell. But there are a number of stores that keep our stuff perpetually in stock (and I mean ALL of our stuff; great stores like Midtown Comics and Jim Hanley’s Universe in New York, Golden Apple Comics in Los Angeles, and Amazing Fantasy in San Francisco, among others). These guys totally rock; if they sell out of a back issue of Back Issue, they track it on their computer systems, and send us a purchase order (since they mostly can’t get our old magazines through Diamond, for reasons I’ll explain later).But would it hurt the other (several thousand) shops to, once in a while, just try putting a copy of one of our mags on their shelves, for somebody new to discover? I mean, when you factor in the discount they get from Diamond, they’d be out a whopping $4 at most (and much less for many stores, who get better discounts) to give one of our mags a try as an on-shelf item.

Over the last three months, we did a mass mailing to over 1500 comics shops (1523, to be exact), offering a free TwoMorrows Sample Kit, containing one free copy of each of our mags for them to display, to see how they sell. You’d think a lot of stores would jump at getting $40 worth of free stuff to sell, no strings attached. Exactly 60 of them took us up on the offer (that’s less than 4% of shops). In 2006, we did a similar offer by phone, calling 500 shops, and got 18 stores who wanted the freebies (3.6%, so roughly the same percentage).

Hopefully those will result in some new regular customers for them (and us). But if only 4% of the country’s comic shops display our wares, we’re never going to increase our circulation that way. (And yes, more than 4% of shops sell our mags, through pull lists; it’s just that most of them don’t also DISPLAY copies, out in the open for potential new customers to discover.)
Diamond, with rare exceptions, won’t fill retailers’ reorders for our magazines, due to their seemingly arbitrary dollar order minimums (until they get enough dollars worth of orders for any single back issue of ours, they won’t send us a Purchase Order for it, so we can’t fill the order. So retailers constantly complain to me that they place reorders for our stuff through Diamond, and never get the books. I still can’t get a straight answer out of anyone at Diamond as to what those dollar amounts are on our magazines.) Back when FM International was still in business, retailers had another source to go to for our older stuff, without the minimum orders. Retailers can always order direct from us (we’re offering them better discounts than Diamond in many cases, and free shipping), but most don’t find it’s worth the hassle to place small orders direct, and have one more check to write each month. So we have to get creative in finding other ways to build our audience.

That leads us to digital editions. We’re going to try it as a test from July-December, to see if it hurts our print sales, and how it affects profitability overall. I have no interest in going to digital-only mags, so if we see our print numbers drop, we’ll end the digital versions most likely. But hopefully, the lower price of digital editions (and the addition of color, which our print circulation isn’t high enough to support, at least not yet) will lead some new readers to give our mags a try.

And our long-suffering subscribers, who’ve stuck with us for years of seeing our mags show up in comics shops while they’re still waiting on them to hit their mailbox, deserve a break. We delay Diamond’s copies an extra week to give us time to get our subscribers’ copies in the mail, so some will get theirs before they’re in stores, but the mail service is SOOOOO slow in some areas, that it’s a losing battle. So now our print subscribers will get free access to the online editions, so they can, if nothing else, thumb through the issue while waiting for it to arrive.

But comics is still a paper medium, at least to me, so I’d be surprised if we saw any kind of mass exodus of print readers to digital, even if it’s cheaper. Once you factor in the discounts most comics shops offer their customers, the digital version isn’t that much cheaper. Still, the digital editions could go a long way toward helping us reach new markets, particularly getting more readers in Europe, since they won’t have all the extra postage costs involved in mailed copies. And I’m convinced there are lots of untapped readers out there, whose budgets don’t allow them to spend $6.95 on, say, Alter Ego, but would consider trying it digitally for $2.95.

Johanna also raised a concern that we were trying to guilt our readers into not sharing their digital downloads with people who haven’t paid for them. And she would be correct! I don’t want to have to add onerous Digital Rights Management features to our downloads, that’ll make readers jump through hoops just to view a file that they paid good money for (and then not be able to move it from their work computer to their laptop without paying again). So yep, we’ll be constantly asking downloaders not to share their files. We’ll be on the honor system, and I’ll take every opportunity to remind people of it. :-)

The digital stuff is an experiment, and we’ll be closely watching all the ramifications of it. But it’s not an attempt to circumvent retailers, or eliminate the need for Diamond (if we had to hand-mail all the print copies that Diamond carries, we’d never get our issues to press!). It’s an attempt to grow our readership, when the conventional Direct Market route has stagnated for us. We’ll see how it goes between now and December; time will tell!