Monday, February 20, 2006

Have You Fallen For It?

Two of my favorite creators, Writer Warren Ellis and Artist Ben Templesmith (yep the guy who did the cover for my IDW Novel Wasting the Dawn) have teamed up to deliver a very cool, very unique project, Fell.

From the Solicitation:
Detective Richard Fell is transferred over the bridge from the big city to Snowtown, a feral district whose police roster numbers three-and-a-half people (one detective has no legs). Dumped in this collapsing urban trashzone, Richard Fell is starting all over again. In a place where nothing seems to make any sense, Fell clings to the one thing he knows to be true: Everybody's hiding something. Even him.
Why do I say unique? Well if you'd already read it you'd know, right? Well maybe, so I'll tell you what, if you haven't read it and you can't rush over to Comickaze to pick up a copy, click here to read it for free over at Newsarama, then hurry on back.

Done? Good! Nice read, eh?

So besides the unique take on crime and horror, notice anything else? Well you got to read it for free but the folks who actually bought it, didn't pay much more. Ellis, in order to entice readers who may be on the fence about his work or just a little to strapped to add another book to their reading list has slapped a paltry $1.99 price tag on it. Great deal eh? Or is it? Personally, I found the read satisfying and definitely worth $1.99 but look again... Fell is only 16 story pages vs the normal 22-24 found in most comics, so 2/3 the comic for 2/3 the price. Those of you who bought it, did you even notice? Is that a deal?

For better or worse, at Comickaze not many have noticed the price or the length without prompting. Fortunately all 3 of the issues that have shipped so far, are selling well but based primarily on the reps of it's creative team. But what does this mean? Should comics downsize, like candy bars and tuna fish, ever smaller packages to maintain an attractive price point or are we willing to pay a fair price increase to keep our comics at full length? And let's face it, if you're still willing to pay $1.99 for a book then $2.50 or $2.99 really isn't going to affect your quality of life and if it would, then perhaps buying a comic shouldn't be high on your list at any price (although if you're anywhere near San Diego, stop by Comickaze and you can wash some windows or slap together some bags and boards to get that out of reach $3 book. ;)

Over on The Engine Ellis has confirmed that this package has been ordered in significantly higher quantities than any of his other "creator owned" books (qualifier his) but a quick look at order numbers on ICv2 show estimates that peg #1 at ~30k in sales including reorders and 2nd prints. Not bad, it broke the top 100 but not great either. Ultimate Secret #4 (also an Ellis book) more than tripled that, Red Sonja #2 almost doubled that and Mutopia X #3 (a failure of a title) initialed at 130% higher than the combined estimate for Fell #1.

Oh one more thing I forgot to mention... Image offered retailers an extra 10% discount on issue #1 if we ordered in the same amount or more than we ordered for Spawn #150. A great idea as it enhanced the likelihood that we would order a lot more up front instead of waiting to re-order at a later date. Lots of #1 on the shelves means lots of potential sales but with that incentive removed from issues 2 & 3 and no way to know how #1 would sell when orders for #2 & 3 were placed Sales on #2 dropped 25% and #3 another 10% despite still being $1.99. They still sold out but only because Image obviously dropped their print runs to mirror retailer orders, so the subsequent reprinting is not all that impressive.

This to me indicates (as I've mentioned elsewhere) that the qualified "success" of #1 is due more to the incentives that got retailers to go heavy on #1 and have it on the racks and not the price. If #4 initials exceed those for #2 & #3 that would clinch that for me.

Ordinarily I wouldn't concern myself overmuch about this but there is a lot of buzz about the "success" of the format and with Casanova by Fraction and Ba to ship shortly I'm bracing myself for the rush of imitators who think people will line up for their books just because it's $1 cheaper than most others, the way so many publishers thought the key to Manga's enormous popularity was it's pocket size and not it's content.

So far 0nly Ellis and Image can say if this exercise has been a financial success for them. For Comickaze it's done OK but has cost us a few hundred dollars that it would have generated at the usual $2.99 for most Image books (heck, that's a part-time employee for a couple of weeks). Were this generating new customers searching for inexpensive entertainment and not just selling to the existing comic readers, I could applaud the effort but I have to wonder, with the market still as depressed as it is, what kind of promotional campaign could have been generated with a little more thought. So here comes the first of hopefully many....


The book would have been priced at $2.99 (with additional content) and the retailer incentive would have been extended to the first 3 issues with the 10% extra discount being contingent on orders being maintained at at least 90 % of #1 levels. This is important because it rewards only those who support the book at a level that benefits the publisher and creator. But lest you think I'm just a greedy bastard reaching into your pocket just to line my own, I'd use the extra $30k+ (at wholesale) that would have been generated on the 65k units sold (#1-3 so far), for advertising in areas outside of comics like Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, Crime/Horror magazines... to bring new readers into the market. The fact that both Fell creators also have a huge body of collected work make them ideal to pitch to curious book readers.

In fact this would have also been a great opportunity (which is still possible) for Ellis/Image to sign on retailers for a co-op campaign highlighting his other works as well as the first Fell TPB. Similar to the discount incentive, there would be a buy-in target that would garner the retailer's inclusion in book market advertising.

That's how it would be, IF I WERE IN CHARGE!

Next week: What can the fans do?

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