Industry Insight

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!