You can only attract new readers if they know about you.


I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before on this site, but after reviewing IDW Publishing’s Ghost Whisperer #1, the idea has bubbled to the surface once again, “Why aren’t publishers advertising their wares on television?”

1960UncleScrooge30.jpgIn 1960, Uncle Scrooge comics sold over 1 million copies, and was the top selling comic for the year (Superman by the way came in at number 3 with 810,000 issues sold). Now if you have already whipped out your calculator and divided that number by 12, you might be thinking, “Pfft, that’s not that many comics a month.” Throw this in your blender and see what you get; Uncle Scrooge was only printed four times that year, meaning each issue had on average 250,000 copies sold each quarter.

Compare that to more recent data on a monthly basis. Uncanny X-men sold 154,400 copies in January 1998. One year later, that number would slip to 139,000 copies, while January 2000 would see Uncanny X-Men slump to 113,700.

Top Titles for the Month of January

1998 – Uncanny X-Men #353 – 154,400
1999 – Uncanny X-Men #366 – 139,000
2000 – Uncanny X-Men #378 – 113,700
2001 – X-Men #110 – 101,000
2002 – Batman 10 Cent Adventure – 702,100*
Wolverine: origin #6 – 179,300
2003 – Batman #611 – 129,400
2004 – Ultimate Fantastic Four #2 – 126,700
2005 – New Avengers #2 – 153,400
2006 – Infinite Crisis #4 – 182,600
2007 – Civil War #6 – 259,300*
2008 – Hulk #1 – 133,895
Source: The Comics Chronicles

With the exception of a few big events (Batman 10 Cent Adventure, and Civil War #6), titles have held fairly steady from year to year. According to The Comic Chronicles, 2007 showed a 4% increase in single copy sales, but to date for 2008, single copy sales are down -2%.

sdcclogo.jpgLarger comic book conventions, like the San Diego Comic-Con, have sold out in the last few years, and it looks like 2008 will find even more cons selling out. The San Diego Con ushered in 125,000 comic and pop culture fans; a fraction of the readers around the United States. In an age where comics have become a cultural phenomenon, why then aren’t comic sales through the roof?

Yes, you could argue it is due to the economy; rising cover prices mean readers have fewer dollars to spend. The haters of the world would try to convince you it is because the stories being told today are not as well written as they were in the good old days, but opening a page from the Silver Age quickly dispels that argument.

Another group would argue it has to do with availability, as the rise of the local comic and the decline of comics in traditional stores (drug, convenience, department, and so on) make it harder to find a place to buy their favorite title. These people might be on to something. I would argue it isn’t availability, but rather visibility.

Circulation of glossy tabloid publications have skyrocketed in years, not because we are all dying to know if Britney remembered to wear panties, who caught a STD from which skank, or what Jessica Simpson is up to right this minute, but rather those publications are right in our faces as we wait in the checkout line of the local store. It’s inevitable then that people are going to pick up and read, and eventually buy those issue when they reach the checkout.

So how do you make comics more visible to the general public?

Let’s take Hollywood for an example. The people with the power have long realized that if a television show or a movie is to be successful, they had to get it in front of those who would spread the word, go crazy, and get their friends, family, and everyone else in earshot to see the program. This isn’t a new idea. In 1977, 20th Century Fox promoted Star Wars Episode IV at the San Diego Comic Con believing the attendees were the primary demographic – if only they had know what kind of success they would have.

Today, comic fans bemoan the fact that San Diego welcome H’wood with open arms, turning their special get together into an event focused more on movies and television shows rather than comics.

2007 San Diego Comic Con Programming Targeting Film, Television, and Games

  • Comic-Con Film School 101—Preproduction and Screenwriting, and Production Part 1
  • Spike TV’s Scream Awards: Frak the Oscars!
  • DVD Sneak Peak 2007
  • G7 Animation and Bernie Wrightson: Biker Mice to Freak Show
  • Nickelodeon: Making Fiends
  • Storyboards: Motion in Art— Mark Simon
  • Richard Hatch: Battlestar Galactica Forum
  • Cartoon Network: Ed, Edd & Eddy: True Tales from the Cul-de-sac
  • Star Trek, The Original Series: As You’ve Never Seen It
  • VIZ Media Anime and Manga
  • Blade Runner and More
  • Paramount Pictures
  • G4: Code Monkeys
  • BBC America: Torchwood
  • Hanna Barbera Retrospective
  • Starz Media: Hatchet and Harryhausen Returns
  • From Art to Art: The Challenges of Translating Comic Book Figures to Film Icons
  • Animation on a Shoe String
  • Lionsgate Special Preview Panel
  • Spotlight on George A. Romero
  • Cartoon Network Sneak Peek
  • Lost Season 4
  • PC Gamer and Maximum PC: How to Play a Better Game
  • Sony Pictures Imageworks: Spider-Man 3 Triple Play
  • Comic Book Podcasting: One Year Later
  • UPA: Mavericks, Magic, and Magoo
  • Living Long and Prospering: Celebrating 40 Years Of Star Trek
  • FTW!: Breaking into the Video Game Industry
  • The Pixar Story: To Infinity and Beyond
  • World Premiere! Superman Doomsday
  • Star Wars Day: Great Star Wars Books and Book News
  • The Art of Adapting Comics to the Screen
  • Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles
  • Pixar Animation Studios’ Short Films Collection: Volume 1
  • Comic-Con Film School 102: Production Part 2
  • Fallen: Q&A with the Actors and Author
  • The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy: The Final Goodbye
  • Star Wars Day: LucasArts
  • Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends
  • Sony Pictures Television/Kids’ WB: The Spectacular Spider-Man
  • Trailer Park
  • Joel Silver: Return To House on Haunted Hill and Moonlight
  • Stargate Atlantis
  • First Look at Nickelodeon’s The Mighty B!
  • 24
  • Harry Potter/Spiderwick Chronicles Fan Group Meeting
  • Halo Universe
  • New Line Cinema: Shoot ‘Em Up
  • Filmation DVD Spotlight: From Isis and Jason of Star Command to Bravestarr and Beyond!
  • Dimension Films: Halloween and The Mist
  • Chuck Screening and Q&A
  • Warner Bros. Home Video: 300 and Blade Runner Final Cut
  • WOW! It’s World of Warcraft!
  • Marvel Video Games
  • Comics to Film: TATUA
  • American Dad
  • Production Designers Guild
  • Warner Bros. Animation: The Batman/Legion of Super-Heroes
  • The Jim Henson Company: The Skrumps, Puppet Up! Uncensored, and More
  • Treasures from the ASIFA Vault
  • The Boondocks
  • PC Gamer and Maximum PC: How to Play a Better Game, Part 2
  • Pitching an Animated Show
  • Stargate Offworld Fandom Gathering
  • Ray Harryhausen and 20 Million Miles to Earth: 50th Anniversary Edition
  • Babylon 5: The Lost Tales
  • Building Entertainment Intellectual Properties
  • The Chiodo Bros: Stop-Motion Animation in the Computer Age
  • Simpsons Fan Group Meeting
  • Doctor Strange World Premiere Screening and Panel
  • SCI FI Friday Night: Eureka and Superhero Screenings
  • The Dead One: An American Legend—El Muerto Screening
  • Worst Cartoons Ever!
  • Spike and Mike: The Gauntlet
  • Pushing Daisies Screening and Q&A
  • Bionic Woman: Exclusive Pilot Screening and Q&A
  • Who Wants to Be a Superhero?
  • Into the Fire Nation: Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender, Season 3 Sneak Peek
  • Animation Writers Caucus: Holy Bleep, Batman! or Censorship and Animation
  • Comic-Con Film School 103: Working with Actors and a Crew
  • The Simpsons
  • BET Animation
  • TV Guide Hot List
  • Cartoon Voices
  • Bigger, Better, Bolder: Nickelodeon’s New CG Comedies
  • Heroes: Exclusive Volume II Clip and Q&A
  • Gumby!
  • Family Guy
  • The Lost Podcast with Jay and Jack
  • Podcasting 101
  • Battlestar Galactica
  • Disney
  • Mattel: Masters of the Universe DVD release!
  • Lost Fan Summit
  • Cartoon Network: Class of 3000/My Gym Partner’s a Monkey
  • Supernatural Screening and Q&A
  • Futurama
  • Re\Visioned: Tomb Raider: A GameTap Exclusive Animated Series
  • Marvel Studios
  • PC Gamer and Maximum PC: How to Play a Better Game, Part 3
  • The Sarah Connor Chronicles Screening and Q&A
  • Columbia/Screen Gems
  • Introducing The Film Crew: Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett
  • The Pitching Hour
  • Troma’s Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead
  • The Animation Production Process
  • Smallville Screening and Q&A

Yes, there are quite a number from the list that tie directly to a currently published comic, but look at the number of networks and studios present hyping shows that were “coming soon”. In the case of Pushing Daisies, which isn’t tied to anything comic book related, it received a huge welcome from the attendees.

The truth about San Diego is this; it is no longer a comic convention – San Diego has become a pop culture event.

Time To Turn The Tables
So why aren’t comic publishers turning the tables? Why don’t we see commercials for comic titles running during television shows or as trailers leading into some of the biggest motion pictures of the summer?

Advertisements don’t need to be long, and in some cases a zero exchange of money can take place resulting in what amounts to free advertising. Let’s take The CW’s Smallville for example. While a 2.8/5 rating for a Thursday night prime time slot may not be great (only 5% of the televisions on during prime time were watching the show), it still amounts to over a million viewers checking out Clark and Lana as they stumble through their latest awkward moment. Since The CW is owned by Warner Bros. and Warner Bros. owns DC Comics, it should be very easy to replace a station ID or other CW promo with a short quick spot for a related DC title – Action Comics, Superman, Superman/Batman, Supergirl, JLA, or any other title that comes close to featuring Superman could be advertised.

15 Second Spot
NARRATOR: If you enjoy Smallville, don’t forget to check out Action Comics in stores now. Visit DC for more exciting titles.

The CW did a small campaign very much like this a few years ago. But why stop? Hyping and marketing your title should be a requirement for every pop culture television show out there. If Pushing Daisies is going to advertise at a comic convention, then shouldn’t the comic industry advertise on these shows? If only 10% of the people watching Smallville, who have never read a Superman comic book, went into the local comic shop and purchased that particular title, it equates to an additional 100,000 issues sold.

National television spots aren’t cheap, running around $300,000 for a 30 second spot running during some of the most popular network shows (CBS, NBC, Fox and ABC). 100,000 new readers would just about cover the cost of one spot. But hopefully the local comic shop knows how to sell product. If a buyer entered the store looking for the latest issue of Superman because they saw the ad on television, a good store owner would also suggest several other titles that buyer might like reader. If that buyer ended up picking up a trade and at least two other titles, sales figures go up across the board with everyone a winner.

I don’t believe there would be any conflict of interest or fear of government intervention for these types of commercial spots ala the cartoon crackdown of the 80s where shows were created specifically to sell toys (Hasbro and Transformers, I’m looking at you). Iron Man, the movie, will sell plenty of tie-in toys, but why should the Marvel title proper suffer just because there isn’t a trailer for Marvel comics before the feature begins.

If Not Them, Then Who?
If the comic publishers aren’t going to advertise, then it is up to the local comic shop to step up and buy local advertising. It doesn’t take a lot to produce a quality spot for your store, and your local television station will be more than happy to throw in the cost of production for your ad dollars.

I really like what Flying Colors in Concorde, Mass. has done with their spots.


It’s no wonder the store is rated as one of the world’s greatest comic book stores. It doesn’t do the television viewer any good if they see a commercial from DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, or the like, but don’t know where to go to buy an issue. I know in these tough economic times, scraping together the money to advertise your store on television is tough, but if you could make up that money from new sales, then it makes sense to go for it.

If the thought of spending $300,000 freaks the LCS owner out, don’t worry. Local television ad rates are significantly lower than a national campaign. Plus you can target your ads to specific times of day or programs. For example, colleges and universities have realized the best time to advertise to the high school student is between 4:30 and 7:00 pm on channels that do not run a local newscast, but rather feature repeats of The Simpsons, Family Guy, and the like.

1_JosieHo.jpgOf course not every idea is a great one, and I’m not saying this opus is the solution to the industry’s troubles. The biggest drawback to my entire argument is the decline of younger television viewers. Thanks to TiVo and other personal video recorders, viewers are skipping commercials completely. The rise of the Internet find younger viewers spending more time online (on sites like Major Spoilers) instead of sitting in front of the television. This means advertisers are going to have to find sites not only in the same realm (i.e. Major Spoilers, Comic Book Resources, Newsarama, etc.), but also those pop culture sites that pander to a much larger potential audience.

So getting back to Ghost Whisperer. I’ve read a lot of reviews, and they seem mixed. On the one hand some reviewers, who have never watched the series, are confused by the introduction of certain characters, while others think the comic is a perfect follow up to the show. A note to IDW: The Friday March 7 repeat airing of Ghost Whisperer had 6.83 million viewers. That’s potentially 6.83 million readers that could have picked up issue #1 had only there been an advertisement letting those 6.83 million viewers know there was a comic book based on the series. 6.83 million, for a 10 second commercial spot.

The Author

Stephen Schleicher

Stephen Schleicher

Stephen Schleicher began his career writing for the Digital Media Online community of sites, including Digital Producer and Creative Mac covering all aspects of the digital content creation industry. He then moved on to consumer technology, and began the Coolness Roundup podcast. A writing fool, Stephen has freelanced for Sci-Fi Channel's Technology Blog, and Gizmodo. Still longing for the good ol' days, Stephen launched Major Spoilers in July 2006, because he is a glutton for punishment.

You can follow him on Twitter @MajorSpoilers and tell him your darkest secrets...

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