I am an unashamed comic book nerd. I saw The Dark Knight at midnight opening night, I own tons of superhero t-shirts, and I’ve gone to the Chicago Wizard World Comic Con for the past four summers. Dutch humanist Erasmus said that if he had any money, he bought books; if he had any left over, he bought food and clothes. That’s basically how I feel about books as well, especially comic books. My heating bill may not get paid but I’ll be damned if I’m not keeping up with the Blackest Night arc from DC comics.
Comic books (or graphic novels, if you prefer, but let’s call a spade a spade, shall we?) can be read in a few different ways. The traditional release method is in monthly (or biweekly, or whenever writers and artists feel like meeting a damn deadline) installments. These run between $2 and $5 and tell a segment of the story with tons of advertisements in between. After these have been on the shelves awhile, they are collected into trades. These are large trade paperbacks that contain multiple issues, zero advertisements, and cost between $15 and $20.
Say an average trade paperback collects six issues and costs $18. Say each of those issues runs about $4 a pop in the monthly form, which ultimately costs $24 for the same amount of story, plus you have to wade through advertisements. The trades are looking pretty good, right?
Now, monthlies do have some advantages. First, you stay current with what’s happening in the arc. Also, you have the flexibility to jump ship if things get crappy (I had to do that with Spider-Man after the clusterf**k that was Brand New Day. I still love my nerdy webslinger, but I didn’t want to invest any more money in that particular run. However, if I hear it gets good again, I might add it back onto my subscription list and pick up trades to figure out what happened in between. But I digress.).
However, with the economy sucking the big one and people chopping off luxuries like comic books, it can be difficult to convince even the die-hards to hang in there when they know they can pick up a trade that will cost less and not shove ads in their faces.
To solve this problem, DC Comics came up with a freaking brilliant marketing plan.
They are currently releasing a kickass run of Blackest Night, which is a story focused on the Green Lantern Corps, an alien-run organization that assigns sentient life forms to protect the universe (The movie is going to star Ryan Reynolds, who is so smokin’ hot, and I don’t know WHY more girls aren’t into comics). This whole story line has been foreshadowed for decades and includes characters from all over the DC universe. The main Blackest Night storyline is being released in 8 issues over the course of nearly a year. But because so many other characters play a role in what’s happening that don’t necessarily have as much “screen time” in the main arc, there are certain “tie-in” issues of side characters in their regular starring titles (like Booster Gold and the R.E.B.E.L.S.).
Those tie-in issues are where both dedicated and casual comic book collectors might cut corners. After all, these extra issues are not required to understand the main storyline, and the smaller side characters may not be of particular interest. Fans may not buy them and profits may be limited.
But DC Comics has found a way to solve that with the magic that is promotional products.
The Green Lanterns get their strength and abilities from a power ring that is – you guessed it – green and has a lantern on it. The Blackest Night arc includes Lanterns of other colors which either provide support or obstacles for the Green Lanterns.
DC Comics has decided to release a different colored Lantern ring along with each of the tie-ins. By collecting the seven tie-in issues (and being lucky enough to snag a Black Lantern ring at Comic Con last summer), collectors can get the entire arsenal of rings at their fingertips. Well, they’d be closer to their knuckles, but you get the idea.
Personally, I could not give a crap about Vril Dox and his involvement outside the main arc of Blackest Night. But the promise of getting an Indigo ring definitely has me mentally spending my Christmas money on those comics. And who knows? Maybe I will end up liking R.E.B.E.L.S. and continuing to pick up the title. For the tiny investment of a little plastic ring, DC Comics will likely boost my spending with them every month from merely exorbitant amounts of money to a truly outrageous sum.
Bottom line: DC Comics took advantage of us nerds and our love for collecting stuff and turned it into a brilliant marketing campaign. The rings were likely ordered in such large quantities that they probably cost almost nothing. But getting people to spend about $30 more each? Brilliant.
DC Comics used a promotional product not only to boost my spending in the short term, but also to hook me into a long-term continuous investment in their products.