Thursday, February 19, 2009

What Would I Do? Part II

If you haven't read the first part, go and do so now. Thanks.

Now I've got my books. My central Nine Titles and the mini-series that float around them. What next? Oh yeah, READERS.

How does a publishing company attract new readers? The only way is to get books into potential readers' hands and get them interested. But that's REALLY expensive. Advertising doesn't really seem to work (not that DC does much advertising for their comic books outside of other comic books). So, as queen of DC I've got to find a way to promote the product. What to do?

Well, there's this newfangled device called the "world wide web" that seems to be pretty popular with the kids these days (sarcasm off). Of course I'd use the internet to promote! It's a no-brainer!

What's more complicated is HOW to effectively promote via the internet. Here are my simple ideas, based on the streamlining of the titles I've already proposed and my views as a fan who uses the 'net a lot.

1) The web address is the icon. Put it everywhere. Put it on the cover of every book published by the company. Put it on buttons. Put it on stickers. Put it in every ad. Put it on the bottom of the last page of every story. Make the web address seem like the company name to people.

2) Make the main page of the website friendly and usable. No Flash, no Java, no extra crap. Make it pretty but SIMPLE. The rest of the page you can jazz up, but the main page MUST be accessible when people go there. Nothing turns off a potential reader as much as something they cannot read because of technical errors (and it doesn't matter whose fault the technical errors are).

3) Promote each title on its own, bookmarkable, page. People should be able to link to a page for a title from their own blog/twitter/whatever and direct other people easily to the page. So each of the main titles needs its own page with a permanent web address. Mini-series need them too... they will eventually be collected and the page will become the promotional page for the collection.

a) Every promotional page should have some minimal information like the artists and writers, the shipping dates and price.
b) Promotional pages should also have images from the book. A small sample of interior art as well as cover art.
c) These pages should also link to full on-line stories. More on that next.
d) Promotional pages should be updated as needed, but information should NOT be removed. Original ship dates should be preserved, along with original promotional artwork. Why? Because I said so and I'm the queen of DC in this exercise (and I'm a bit of a historian, so removal of data irritates me).

4) Offer full stories on the website. Not every story, but full stories. Even better, offer stories from the catalog of backstock. Use the web to reprint stories that otherwise aren't likely to be seen.

For instance: DC has now acknowledged that Aquaman was created by Paul Norris. But, except for a recolored reprint of his first story, have fans had a chance to read stories drawn by Paul Norris? If a current Aquaman story appears in one of the Nine Titles, then at the end of the story put an ad that says to go to the website to read a classic Golden Age Aquaman tale. Put the tale up, and leave it up. Let people read it.

Some of those old stories will never been seen again unless they can be reprinted very cheaply. Except for establishing the rights, the web is probably the cheapest place you'll find to publish. And there are some truly fantastic Golden Age tales... characters like the Spectre and Johnny Quick, that new readers might just really like.

And if you put some of the stories into context, with perhaps a short history lesson about the era the story took place in and what was happening in the world at that time, you can even pretend it's an educational initiative!

But I'd also expect some new stories. From current books on the stands. Perhaps hold the final pages until the pull date, but give the readers a taste. Consider it the advertising budget. You cannot make money without spending it. This is spending, but has the potential to make a lot of money.

5) Do not try to "protect" stories on the web. It will just make it harder for people to read and won't actually stop pirates anyway.

DC and Marvel are very concerned about protecting their assets, for which I cannot blame them. But they are so concerned that they lean too far toward technical solutions to moral problems. People will be honest if given the opportunity. But if they see a story online and cannot read it because it requires them to install something extra or because their computer can't handle the DRM, they will look elsewhere. Some will find a free pirated copy of the story, but most will simply not read it and as a result, you will lose that reader. If it happens enough times, the reader will ignore your company.

As for stopping pirates... well, you can't. It's simply impossible. Oh, I grant that if you put in enough protection most pirates will go somewhere else. But as soon as you have that much protection, it will be difficult for normal law-abiding people to read it, so they will go somewhere else as well. As a company doing business on the internet you have two choices: accept reality or fight senselessly until you lose everything.

Accepting reality means, in this case, that my DC initiative would put up high quality images of the stories in a non-protected format. Each page would have copyright information (and the web address!) both on the page in a footer and encoded in the file. And that would be the extent of the protection.

It's better to have "unauthorized" copies of your work out there that are high quality with a copyright and the URL of your site than a crappy scan done by a pirate who simply wants to "honor" of being the first person to post your story to the torrents.

Again, going back to #4, I'm not advocating posting every story. But I would not object to it either. Eventually, every story will be scanned and posted anyway. Best to make official copies that LOOK right and have a copyright notice.

6) Add new, original stories to web-only or web-first format. These would be teaser stories, tales that pull in new readers. These would be heavily promoted. DC would put them on Facebook and MySpace, even encourage comic websites to put them on their own pages. They would feature main and secondary DC characters in original adventures that are done-in-one and short. The Golden Age managed full stories in 6 pages, these would be something similar. They would show off the strengths of the characters. If Batman is featured, show him using his detective skills. These would be portraits of the modern characters that both introduce and add to the DC universe.

7) Collect and publish works promoted on the web.

You'd think that people wouldn't want to buy something they can get for free. You'd think that. But the truth is, most people love having a paper copy of that story they read online. Particularly a collection. So even if you are posting things for free, and leaving up free archives of stuff: collections work. Especially if people love the work. Look at where most webcomics artists are making their money. It's not in the advertising, although they get profit from that. It's from selling collections of their work and merchandise based on the work.

I firmly believe that it would work for DC as well.

Ok, so that concludes my main changes while I'm queen of DC. I don't have any idea if my ideas would work. I do know that publishing as an industry is going through some major changes, and in a few years we'll have a better idea of what will work and what doesn't. Perhaps I'm completely wrong and this plan is a recipe for disaster. But I don't think the industry can keep on like it has been going forever while its fandom shrinks.