Thursday, March 14, 2013

How Will You Go to Market With Your Comics?

I think you all should know by now that when I post these "How to do X with your comics" posts, that the word comics could be anything -- a novel, a webcomic, a blog, a fanfiction -- anything at all! To that end, I'm going to try to cater them more towards a broader concept as I go along. Wish me luck - here we go!
To those who aren't used to hearing me talk in business-jargon-ese, when I say things like "go to market" what I essentially mean is "sell". And let me clarify even further by saying that doesn't necessarily imply that people are using money in any way to get ahold of your work. Whether they're paying for it or not, let's talk about the ways in which someone is going to read your stuff.
The thing that got me interested in writing this particular blog entry was the dissolution of JManga. If you haven't heard about it, or you have heard and just need a quick recap, here it is:
Basically, JManga was the result of Japanese publishers getting together two years ago to create an outlet for people to read translations of popular manga titles. They were an online store selling comics from Japan, in essence -- but the way they went about it was a little odd. People couldn't buy their favorite manga from JManga without subscribing. Once they subscribed, users were then given a monthly allotment of points which they could spend on digital copies of manga books. There was of course, one other stipulation -- the customers were not allowed to download the books they were purchasing. They would however, have lifetime access to them for as long as the company was running.
Well, I probably don't need to tell you what's gone on since the company has decided to close shop and thereby take everything, including all the books a countless number of people purchased, down with the ship... Public backlash is one term for it, but I've not really seen a huge outpouring of anger from JManga customers to this point. For the most part, the attitude seems to be one of "Fool me once, shame on you..."
"Fool me twice, shame on me" is how that little saying ends of course, and having thoroughly fooled its customers into buying soon-to-be nonexistent comics from them, it's likely they'll only get support in the future from terribly gullible people. The public is now aware that, without a proper contingency plan; that is, a plan of action should the worst-case scenario befall a company that doles out digital copies of its work for a fee, their money could be lost and they could be left with nothing if they choose to do their shopping with such an entity. More to the point, perhaps: because of JManga, even people like me who weren't ever customers of theirs, are going to demand the ability to download, store, carry, hold or otherwise be in control of stuff they buy, online.
So what does all of this have to do with you, the person on the other end who is creating content for the masses, rather than just buying it?
Consider the problems with JManga's business plan, of which there were many, and try to avoid making these mistakes, yourself:
  1. Don't expect people to pay you before you show them what makes your product great. This is the old "expecting fire before throwing on a few logs" scenario I always allude to. If your service is new, even if its associated products are old and familiar, people are going to want a sample of its capabilities before they buy-in. Without that, it'd be like building a car that steers more like a boat, and expecting people to line up to buy without a test-drive. People who drive cars don't know the advantages of being able to steer one as if it were a boat. People will simply think that's weird until you can prove to them that it works better. This is why we teach giving as much of your comic or story away for free as possible. It gets people genuinely interested, builds trust and word-of-mouth advertising. They'll gladly buy when they're hooked and when they know you can deliver, but don't expect it right away.
  2. Don't force a repeating fee on people. JManga required users to enjoy its comics by subscribing, and then charging a hefty fee (masked by a point system) to see content they otherwise may have been able to buy at a bookstore or, yes, download from a pirating site, for much cheaper. People aren't naturally inclined to subscribe to things period, and they certainly aren't going to do it before they know how often they'll be using the service or if they're not assured that they can't get what they want elsewhere without a subscription. Sometimes it works -- like in the case of Netflix which, I might add, gives you a month to try it for free, gives you limitless "rentals" in a month, is priced competitively and, let's be honest, is a thing many of us have been convinced we can't live without. But be warned that this business model is a hard-sell for most comic book readers who are typically loyal to a handful of books and don't care to buy comics "in bulk".
  3. Don't try to fix a problem that doesn't exist. People can go buy manga from bookstores and comic shops. There are also countless online book and comic retailers with proven business models out there, such as Amazon, which could be easily copied. Why JManga came up with a very strange system of making money and didn't partner with any of these is beyond anyone's guess. Don't feel pressure to reinvent the wheel in hopes of getting a few more bucks out of your work when there are many proven ways to get your stories in front of people that will lead to getting you a paycheck.
  4. You can't miss with a value-added service. If anything, JManga operated on a least-bang-for-your-buck premise: You had to pay for it each month, and then you had to use their points system to buy a book, and those points weren't worth the same value as the dollars being shelled out to buy them, and you couldn't download your book, and you could only read it on a computer because there was no Kindle/Nook/iPad support, and, and and... Operating on the assumption that you're the only game in town is dangerous. If anything, you should give people more for their money if you want to stay competitive. If you don't give people what they want, then someone else will, and in business it's a sure bet that someone's eventually going to come along and do something better than you can, in your market. When that happens, people won't stick around you for long. Remember to always take care of your tribe so they can take care of you.
As ever, most of this goes back to understanding your customers and all of these factors can easily be avoided if you keep the people you're writing for, at the center of your focus. Don't be the next JManga. Instead, be the author that keeps giving back to the people who invest their time and money in what you're creating.

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