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Once and Future: How to Change the Future

Want to change the future? Read on to find out how.

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by Richard Early

Earlier this year, Boom! Studios came to comic retailers with an idea. What if we could change the future? For 8 years, the same 5 publishers have been the top 5 publishers through Diamond Comics, even as retailers were reporting downturns in sales and complaining that business practices by publishers were in no small way responsible.  In Boom’s eyes, we were not voting with our dollars for change. And they challenged us to stop talking and start acting.

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I was extremely moved by their presentation and was lucky enough to see it in person at this year’s Comics Pro. I bought in. What they wanted us to do was buy a book they were publishing some 6 months later while they designed everything about that book to meet our complaints. They hoped that if we did this, if we put this book in the top 30 for sales for the month, that we could send a shot around the industry about what we want from publishers and even more about the results. I walked out committed to this plan.

That book was Once and Future #1. We had an idea thanks to Boom and now we needed a plan for Paradox. I told our customers on podcasts and live streams and in person that we could be the customers and shop that changes the future. I told them every change can start with one person, one store, and one book. I told them we were going to change the future.

Here’s what I offered, crafted by me and my staff:

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We made Once and Future #1 fully returnable to us, taking the logical next step that Boom was offering. But we had to change the message. Customers don’t need to hear about the end of the industry or the nuance of publishing problems and how those may be stifling industry growth. That’s an abstract message that isn’t their problem. That’s where change the future was born. We told them to imagine a future where they could try a wide selection of diverse titles because of returnability. We showed them how Marvel dominated our shelves and why. We asked them to help us change the future simply by buying this one book and taking a chance. We told them that the worst case for them was they were pre-paying for a book they would come back for in a week and we asked them to help commit to a world where that was a regular occurrence.  We added ultimately a coupon on the reverse side of the return form stating that if they kept the book they could use the coupon to buy any one item in the shop for 25% off and not to forget to subscribe to the rest of the series.

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I personally dedicated my time to make videos and social media posts and hype the week of the book. I also dedicated my entire day to being on the front lines talking about this book and putting it in customers' hands.

I ordered 350 copies and placed one copy in every subscriber’s box. I put additional copies bagged and ready with coupons on the shelf for sale as well. I did analysis of other independent titles that I’ve been ordering. My typical risk on a book is 10-20 copies.

The results? I think pretty amazing. As of Monday August 19, 5 days after release, we sold 76 copies in the shop. At absolutely no risk. With lots more waiting in boxes. But that isn’t all. Some of you won’t like this next part and that’s fine but here’s what happened. We saw the secondary market demand on this book and we took advantage of our situation. In that same 5 days, we sold another 50-60 copies on eBay for an average of $10 a copy plus shipping costs to the buyers. This was the perfect marriage of returnability, a customer promotion, and the ability to take advantage of speculator demand without jeopardizing anything offered to customers in the shop. I have seen the future.

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And it's so bright we've gotta wear shades.

That combination won’t happen every time but I am immediately instituting a recurring return book program. I do not know exactly what that will look like but i know it will involve a similar guaranteed return comic combined with a big push, and the first one will likely loop back to reference the success here so customers know that what they did mattered. I am interested to see what happens when I put a DC book in a box or an Image #1. Much like Comics Omnivore, we will vet the books and make sure they are from partners we are committed to. Almost certainly, we will rarely have the secondary market opportunity. But once we are in the routine, we will be cycling through the cost of this. It’s an up front investment to front load the money but once you are in the return cycle you will reguarly be receiving credit as well. Our customers absolutely loved it. They loved our enthusiasm. They ended up almost universally loving the book. Oh, that reminds me, as of today as I write this I have not had one copy returned.

That’s how we executed one of our best comic promotions. That’s how we accepted the challenge that Boom gave us. That’s how we made progress towards changing the future.

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