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Interview With ‘Free Comic Book Day’ Founder, Joe Fields | Why Freebies Work

“How am I supposed to make money if I’m paying to give something away for free?”

That’s the major question most marketing managers run into when they’re deciding whether or not to make custom promotional products part of their advertising campaign. And it’s a fair point. They say you need to spend money to make money, but there’s no charge to customers involved in promotional events like Free Comic Book Day. Say what?

Taking comics out of their plastic protective covering? Rebellious.

A nerd in his natural environment

Joe Fields, owner of Flying Colors Comics & Other Cool Stuff in Concord, CA, and founder of Free Comic Book Day sat down with this intrepid reporter – QLP’s own Lois Lane – to answer some questions on “Free Comic Book Day” and talk about what the event is doing in its 10th successful year.

What is “Free Comic Book Day?”

As the name implies, Free Comic Book Day is a single day when participating comic book specialty shops across North America and around the world give away comic books absolutely free to anyone who comes into their shops.

When is Free Comic Book Day?

Free Comic Book Day is held the first Saturday in May each year.

How did Free Comic Book Day start?

For many years, I wrote a monthly column in the comic industry’s trade magazine. One day in the spring of 2001, I was trying to make my deadline; I looked out the front window to my store and saw a long line forming to get into the Baskin Robbins store next to Flying Colors Comics. The line was for B&R’s “Free Scoop Night.”

I thought if an ice cream store could draw a crowd for a free scoop, then we could sure draw a crowd for a free comic book because comics are even cooler than ice cream! So I wrote out the idea to make my deadline and had the foresight to send the column around before it got published so industry reaction could be published alongside the article. With tons of positive feedback from all facets of the comics business, FCBD took off!

What is the goal of FCBD?

There are three goals with Free Comic Book Day:

1) To invite new people of all ages into our stores to get something for free and to hopefully discover titles and characters they’ll want to come back to again and again.

2) To call back former comic book readers to reignite their love of the comics entertainment medium.

3) To thank our many regular comic book readers and give them a party with the coolest party favors ever!

That sounds amazing! FCBD is a promotional event that invites new clients, wins back former clients, and thanks loyal clients all in one go. The social aspect of telling friends about the event also helps numbers multiply. Retailers can prepare for the biggest percentage of new customers walking through their doors, because they plan the day themselves. Who runs and funds FCBD?

Diamond Comic Distributors, based in Timoinum, MD, is the #1 distributor for English language comics in the world, so they are the coordinators for FCBD. The promotion is funded by retailers by buying the special edition FCBD comics to give away for free on FCBD. Diamond and publishers also kick into the funding, too.

How has FCBD changed the way people get interested in and buy comic books?

In the last ten years, comic book culture has seemingly taken over all entertainment media. Look at the biggest movies, the best-selling video games, look at advertising, TV, magazines, the internet— comics culture is everywhere. I do think FCBD is part of that since the first Saturday in May is not only FCBD, but it also is the launching date for big comics-related movies each year.

The timing at the beginning of summer movie season – a part of the year often filled with comic book adaptations – is a strong choice for appeal to people at a time where the general population is excited about the films based on these comics. This summer, there’s Thor, Captain America, Green Lantern, and X-Men: First Class. What has been the overall response to FCBD?

I just did a quick Google search for “FCBD.” I came up with 1,630,000 hits! That’s pretty good response, don’t you think? FCBD is covered by media all over the world and especially in North America. An estimated 300,000 to 500,000 people visit stores on FCBD making it the single largest event in comics every year. I think it should be a holiday!

I agree! Free comic books promote the comics industry and local comic shops. The Google results are impressive, but how do you promote Free Comic Book Day itself?

At Flying Colors Comics & Other Cool Stuff, we have a HUGE party with more than 1000 attendees. We have thousands of comics to give away for free, we will be hosting three comic artists: Mick Gray, Jeff Bonivert and Steve Moncuse. We’ll have an exclusive print for sale to benefit the Hero Initiative charity. We’ll likely have some costumed characters around the store, and we always have refreshments, cake, and a grand ol’ time!

I also celebrate FCBD via social media by staying in touch with what’s happening at other comic shops all over the world. That’s a lot of fun!

How do you use social media (Facebook, Twitter) to get people interested in comic books/FCBD?

At FreeComicBookDay.com, you’ll see a live Twitter feed on FCBD to get reactions from store visitors and owners and participating comic book artists and writers. Flying Colors has an active Facebook Fan page and an active blog, plus we utilize Constant Contact to get the word out.

Sounds like you’re reaching out to fans both in person and online. What do you want people to know about FCBD?

If every regular comic book fan brought in a friend or two on FCBD to introduce friends to the sublime pleasure of comics’ reading, it could be a remarkable boon to everyone who loves comics. When more people are buying and reading comics, there’s a better chance the prices will remain stable, the business will attract even more great talent, more comic specialty stores will open and it’ll be a good thing for everyone!

There you have it! What do you think of “Free Comic Book Day”? What other promotional products can these retailers give away to stay on new clients’ minds? Sound off in the comments below!

Until next time, keep expanding your brand!

Jana



Jana Quinn

An old ‘G’ that’s been working for QLP since it was in Bret’s basement – Jana has been writing since she made up a story about a Jana-Tiger that liked rocky road ice cream and got straight A’s. She enjoys writing about marketing and pop culture, posting a ‘Die Hard’ article as often as she’s allowed. She is inspired by the articles at Cracked and frequently wears a Snuggie in the office. You can also connect with Jana on Google+.

Comments

  1. Jill Tooley

    Wow, cool! I love Free Comic Book Day! Thanks, Joe Fields, for making FCBD possible for fans everywhere.

    Working with promotional products has helped me understand freebies so much more. I used to be confused by the concept of spending money on something, giving it away, and then making money from it. But what people don’t realize is that those freebies make an impression on the recipients and give them a taste of what else is in store for them, urging them to come back and check out different products. Mr. Fields is absolutely right…if an ice cream place can do it, then why can’t a comic book store? Independent comic shops in my area have lines around the block on Free Comic Day, so I can’t even imagine how nuts it is in bigger cities!

    I’d love to be a fly on the wall at FCBD’s exclusive party! Can you imagine how much fun that would be?

    • Jana Quinn

      I had the same thought process when I started in promotional products, too. I mean, it’s not like giving someone a promotional product FORCES them to come back and spend the money you invested in the product. However, it’s this hands-off you’re-a-big-boy/girl-you-make-your-own decisions approach that I think really helps out.

      5 more days!!

  2. Amanda Sneed

    I have not read a comic book in my life. But I think it’s awesome that FCBD can bring people together to appreciate comic books! I love that this was inspired by Baskin Robbin’s giving out free ice cream scoops! It is essentially the same thing! What a great way to bring in more people and customers! =)

    Awesome post Jana!

    • Jana Quinn

      You’ve never read a comic book? Wow, if there were only a way for you to try out the genre without having to invest any of your money up front…

      Hm…. ;)

      • Amanda Sneed

        ahahahaha sounds like FCBD would be a perfect day for me to try one out. Do any places around here participate? I wouldn’t know where to start….

        • Jana Quinn

          Lucky for you, the FCBD has a store locator on its website!

          Check out:

          http://www.freecomicbookday.com

          You should be able to put your zip code into the store locator on the left side of the screen and see what places near you will have it!

        • Jana Quinn

          I’ll also look at my own collection and see what I can do to get you hooked. This simply must be remedied.

  3. LK

    I had never heard of FCBD before! That is a great way to get people in and interested in your product, or to thank loyal customers. And I LOVE that it was thought up because of Baskin Robbins Free-Scoop day. I think everywhere should have a “Free -Something- Day”!

    • Jana Quinn

      Ooh, think of the possibilities: free massage day, free haircut day…

      FREE PUPPY DAY!

  4. Joseph Giorgi

    Free comics? Just for stopping by the store? Sounds like a pretty solid deal to me. I’m admittedly not the biggest fan of comic books (though I occasionally watch the big-budget film adaptations), but I’ll freely admit that this is one generous promotional offer if I’ve ever seen one!

    I was confused when I first started reading the interview, and wondered how the heck such a promotion could be commercially viable. But the way retailers and publishers all kick in by purchasing “special edition” FCBD comics to give away during the event makes sense. What a cool setup!

    Awesome post… and even awesome-er interview! :D

    • Jana Quinn

      I hope you realize that saying you’re not the biggest fan of comic books is the equivalent of a personal challenge. You and Amanda have just become my new projects.

  5. Juliette

    Your post just made me homesick! I used to live near Flying Colors Comics. :) And I ADORE Free Comic Book Day! Who can resist free comics just for stopping by a store. Heck, I usually end up buying additional comics just because I’m there. Definitely one of the most effective promotions I’ve had the change to participate in.

    • Jana Quinn

      That’s crazy! Did you ever meet Joe? He was nothing but kind and accomodating for this interview. It’s no surprise his awesome idea took off!

      I collect trades, mostly, but there are one or two floppies I’ll pick up when there’s a good miniseries going. FCBD is going to be fairly costly for me this year, I think…

      • Juliette

        I can’t remember if I ever met Joe or not but I definitely frequented the shop while I was living there. :) I’m a big fan of trades too (I collect the floppies mainly for the pretty cover art). Amusingly, I ended up working a promotion for a local convention at one of my favorite comic stores here in Nashville for FCBD. (Dressed as Mara Jade from Star Wars) Depsite my attempts to avoid any purchasing temptation the $0.50 comics finally did me in with the promise of free hardbacks.

        I left with a heavy box of comics. *facepalm*

  6. Bret Bonnet

    Wow!; great post Jana.

    I know you go by MANY names, but “Lois Lane”; that was never one of them. After THIS post though I think the moniker is well deserved.

    FCBD sounds AWESOME.

    It makes sense. Completely destroy the barrier to entry (cost), making comics available to EVERYONE, and more people will become interested. This is a GREAT idea so long as it attracts new buyers. As Joe Fields mentioned:

    “If every regular comic book fan brought in a friend or two on FCBD…”

    … without these NEW potential buyers of comics this promotion could end up being quite costly for all parties involved. Sure, long time customers probably enjoy being appreciated every now and then, and FCBD is part of that, but lets face it, in the end, dollars and cents is what rules the world these days and these potential new comic lovers are crucial.

    Same applies to promotional products, but I’ll save that argument for another day.

    ** EASTER EGG ALERT **
    I used to collect comic books growing up. I’ve still got boxes upon boxes of comics ranging from Superman & X-Men all the way to Alien vs. Predator. I enjoyed reading the comics, but I mostly enjoyed collecting them. Comics were like JUMBO baseball cards for me – as strange as that may sound.

    I’m also a CLOSET action figure collector, but you’ll never get me to acknowledge it for real.

    Comic books are SUCH a huge part of our culture; and I don’t know why people are more willing to embrace crap like “Hello Kitty” but things like Superman and Batman are uncool. Weird.

    SIDE NOTE: Why are there more CELL PHONE stores than comic book stores? It’s WRONG that I have to travel 20+ miles to visit a comic book store.

  7. Jana Quinn

    Thanks, Bret!

    I think that there will certainly be loyal customers who appreciate the once-a-year freebie and also newbies who wander in only to get sucked into this time/money vampire of a hobby.

    However, I think one of the biggest things to come out of FCBD is drawing back customers who used to collect and haven’t been back to a comic book store in a while. Why not wander in since they’re free today? Ooh, wow, my favorite character has a new series… and there’s an awesome figurine of the coolest supervillain…

    CHA-CHING.

    P.S. Careful with the semicolons. You’re going to put someone’s eye out. ;)

  8. mary

    I’m a teacher and my students who hate reading get hooked on Comic books. They became customers without much of a push. Everyone loves a freebie!

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