Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Top 10 Tuesdays – 10 Ways to Improve Trade Collections

A lot has been said about trade collections of comic material in the recent weeks, with much discussion about Marvel's inability to keep material in stock, or DC cancelling out proposed and solicited collections before they are even released. I have been thinking about it quite a lot, and I would like to suggest ten ways to improve the way we approach comic collections. The ideas range from the commonsensical to the innovative, and from the easily-enacted to the radical. Hit the jump to see ideas.

1 – Keep your Readers Informed

Let's start off with one of the simplest and easiest way to improve the way companies approach collections. As much information as possible must be easily available when making a purchase, and that includes all creators and collected issues. For best effect, these must be placed in an easily readable part of the back cover and (perhaps more importantly) in the product description of the item. Retailers normally provide this information when shopping online, so this would the easiest way to ensure that every time you look for a collection on any given website, you will find all the desirable information. Companies already do this, but not in an evenly or reliable manner (particularly with creators), which is disappointing. I've often been looking at collections online and I fail to find such information, forcing a prospective buyer to go and try to find something so basic as the issues it contains from some other source, adding an unnecessary step to the whole process.

2 – Extra-er Material

It's obviously not uncommon to find extra material in the back of collections, particularly hardcover editions and big ticket items such as Omnibuses and Absolute editions. However, a lot of the times the extra material is very basic. Alternative covers and artist sketches are fine, but you can always go the extra mile and add some more erudite and original material. Scripts and original pitches for series/arcs are the kind of thing that people seem to really enjoy, and something you don't easily find online. You can also include original material, such as essays and analysis on characters featured on the collection, annotations or the always crowd pleasing introduction-by-other-creators. Like I mentioned above, a lot of collections already do very well on this aspect (Phonogram comes to mind), but it seems to be the realm of creator owned comics where this excels, and companies could learn from this extra material, which makes the collections more appealing to buyers. Remember that the idea is also to make the single-issue buyers want to go double dipping, offering them something they don't normally get month to month.

3 – Out with the “Out of Print”

We all probably know which company this applies to, but it really is imperative to keep trades in print. This is especially the case when there's other volumes from a series that are still very much in print (For example, Volume 1 and 3 in print, but 2 out of print). Some people like to buy whole series at a time, and if they see that parts of it are not in print, they may not even bother. I know these things take time to organize, print, solicit and release but there really is no excuse for the second hand market to thrive with inflated prices sometimes over three or four times the regular price. If there's enough demand to drive prices up so much, then there's money not being earned by the company. Of course, it may not be viable enough to create a whole new print of a collection (and we'll see more of that later), but in that case what could be done is release a digital collection to at least temporarily satisfy the demand for this (hopefully, temporarily) out-of-print collection. Also, while we are here: if you call your books “Essentials”, letting them go out of print is perhaps sending mixed messages to the readers.

4 – People Must Sample

It's the traditional drug dealer tactic: the first one is free, the second one isn't. If you get people hooked on your series, they are more likely to come back for more. Releasing the first chapter of your collection online for free is already done sometimes, but not in a consistent manner. Obviously this wouldn't have to be permanent, only for the time leading and shortly after the release of the trade in question. It's not just putting this first chapter for free, but also making sure that the people reading this know that the collection is out and available for purchase/pre-order, with in-house ads placed in the digital comic. Another way in which to encourage sampling of new series is to price the first paperback collection of a series at a lower price than the rest of them. Once you get them the first taste for cheap, readers will be more willing to pay a normal price for the rest of the stories. Vertigo series like Scalped have done this to success.

5 – Let go of Old Traditions

Here's a question for you: why do companies release hardcover editions and then, months later, the paperback one? As far as I know, this is because books originally did it this way, and no one has bothered to really change the way we approach this. Waiting months to release the collections is another one of those traditions that only seem to remain in place because that is the way things have always been. How about releasing paperback trades one month directly after the story it collects concludes? Time it properly with the release of the next issue (for example, trade collecting 1-5 comes out on the same day as issue 6) and you have even better chances of getting an ongoing reader. This also gives the opportunity to readers to switch freely from one format to the other. Leave the hardcover collections for later, collecting bigger chunks of story, as the luxury items they normally are.

6 – Trades go Digital

I mentioned already above, but I think it is worth expanding over. There is no reason why there shouldn't be more collections available to be purchased on digital services. Having all the 60 issues of Amazing Dude Guy is all good and great, but it also looks like an eyesore and may deflect potential readers away when they see the sheer amount of things they have to purchase (it doesn't help that as things stand now, the digital services don't seem to have a line-wide “basket”, which forces readers to buy issues one-by-one). A more manageable 12 digital collections would look more appealing, and gives the opportunity of offering them at a discounted price for buying the comics in bulk. To make this really work, though, you would have to offer the same collections in physical and digital form, with the same number of collected issues and even name. And, just like companies are doing now with single issues (such as Avenging Spider-Man), you could even offer digital codes for redeeming a copy of the collection in a digital bundle pack.

7 – Loyalty Discounts

What about the single-issue buyers? There's no reason why we should exclude them from the equation, and you could easily enact a service to encourage them to double dip by buying the trades. This one would take a bit of planning ahead, but you could include codes to be redeemed for a discount when a reader buys a certain amount of single issues. Let's say for example that a reader buys 12 issues a month from your company (or 12 issues a year, depending on how big the company is), and each individual comic comes with a unique code that you must input in your account with the company. Once you reach that certain amount (and 12 is just an example), the buyer qualifies for a discounted price on a trade collection of their choice. The same thing could even be applied to the digital comics that we buy, which would actually facilitate keeping track of how many comics you have bought, how many more you need to buy to qualify for a discount, etc. It's a great way to reward readers, and encourage more purchases.

8 – Sell it Yourself

Have you ever looked through Marvel and DC's online shop? You can buy literally hundred of items except for one single thing: comics. Arguably their main product (since everything else is derived from comics) is nowhere to find on their websites. Other companies seem to be better about this,a and they often have their own shops. This seems like Marketing 101 kind of thing, but the truth of the matter is that if someone decides to look at the latest releases on Marvel or DC's site, and they think “Wow, that sounds good, I'm going to buy it!”, there is no option to do so. There is however a Comic Shop Locator, which is admirable if perhaps a bit pointless. If a person wants to buy something, and can't find it on the website of the company that creates it, their next step is not going to be calling a number, locate a shop, drive who knows how long, and hope that they have the comic in question. They are just going to hop on to Amazon and order it from the comfort of their house. The way to circumvent this would be to just cut out the middle man and sell the damn comic yourself in your own website. Even if you don't want to worry about maintaining a stock, shipping, etc., it would be ridiculously easy to set up a store-front within your website to be handled by someone else. You can leave the Comic Shop Locator there if you want as well, but even if the company sells the collections at the recommended price (without the discounts offered by Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc.), I just don't think many people would use it.

9 – Release Everything

This one is relatively brief and simple to understand: release all the material you have in collections. No matter how obscure, strange, or even terrible a comic is, someone is a fan of it. Like a perverse Rule 34 (or perhaps un-perverse), if you can imagine it, there's a fan of it somewhere waiting for it. Sell it to that fan before it fades into the back of its mind, supplanted by other products. Now, I know that it may not be economically viable to produce large printings of certain collections, which is what brings me to my next point.

10 – Print on Demand

The three magic words that allow books to live on forever. There is no reason why comic books should be different. With digitalization for online sales well into place now, companies are on the way of having digital archives of all their comics, which would make print on demand collections rather easy to produce. Of course the prices would be higher, as it is common with this service, but that is the price for the luxury of knowing that you will always be able to buy it (and would perhaps encourage people to buy the trade collections before they go out of print). If you want to even more ambitious, you could even add more customization to it, such as allowing buyers to choose what comics to include in them, what order, and a myriad of other variations. Photographic companies (like Hofmann) are already using similar technology to let their customers print out photo albums with whatever photos they upload. Their prices are quite steep, but when you consider that the paper quality of a comic is much lower, and there aren't other costs (such as the uploading host charges they must contend with), and I think I could see them in a manageable (albeit high) price, available for anyone who wished to buy their own, one-of-a-kind collection. 


I know that not every one of these ideas is workable right now, or applicable to every company, but I still feel that the general concept of ample coverage, information, rewards, and cross-pollenation between the different ways of reading comics and collections is a noble and achievable goal in a long enough timeline. Have you got any other ideas, thoughts, or changes you would make? Let us know in the comment section below.

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Steve said...

I'm an unapologetic trade-waiter. I buy maybe 2-3 single issues a month, and anywhere from 3 to 8 trades a month. I made the switch a while ago, for two main reasons. First, the price. I buy almost all of my trades off of Amazon, which offers substantial discounts off the cover price. Second, trades take up less space and are sturdier, so storage is much easier.

Many of these points hit close to home. If I hadn't stumbled across a hard-to-find volume of Nova in a shop, I never would have read the series. It's incredibly frustrating to wait an extra 6 months to read a story because I don't want to pay extra for a "Premium Hardcover" edition. Case in point: Secret Avengers #21 came out a few weeks ago. Just today I received my copy of the second trade, which came out last week. I can finally read issue #6 of that series.

One suggestion I'd add to this list is more long-term planning in terms of trade dress. It may seem like a minor gripe, but as a collector it's frustrating to have a line of books on a shelf and for there to suddenly be a change in the color of the spine, or in the size of the logo, or to have a garish Secret Invasion scheme.

Great post, though.

Klep said...

My biggest gripe with trades is aimed squarely at DC because I haven't really noticed Marvel doing it:

If you collect a series, collect ALL ISSUES of that series!

I can't tell you how frustrating it is not to be able to buy trades of all the issues of Brubaker's Catwoman run or Cassandra Cain's Batgirl or early Birds of Prey. It's insane that DC just doesn't collect some issues in the middle of a series and picks up again later. If I could change one thing about the way trades are released, it would be this.

Addison said...

this is my feelings on the subject:

First off, I LOVE my hardcovers. I enjoy the thrill of the hunt, scouring the convention floor or LCS in whatever town I happen to be in looking for those overlooked treasures. that said, I don't buy those 25 dollar 6-issue sets. When I buy a hardcover I want at least 250+ pages worth of material. I want 10-12 issues. I want character sketches with commentary. I loved the CHEW hc with the original story pitch in the back pages. And I'm willing to pay more for the nice package. I still buy floppies but i really don't reread them or lend them out. Not only do HC's look good on the shelf, they're easy to find (instead of searching through longboxes for one specific issue) and they are sturdy enough to be reread over and over. The convenience of a HC cannot be understated. One complete story from beginning to end, or at least one major part of an overarching story.

Part of the thrill for me is the limited availability of the secondary market. Having new x-men vol 3 as an example. We as collectors love the words "limited edition", "low print-run" etc, mostly because it means more $$$ as time goes on. Also, they're useful. I'd rather spend $100 on an x-men omnibus than $500 on a group diorama that "looks real neat!" but will only collect dust; at least the omnibus is readable. the book actually contains the source material, the statue is another artist's rendition of one cool moment (but to avoid turning this into an anti-statue rant, i digress...)

I used to be a huge trade guy, and really what's not to love. Trades are cheap, they contain an entire story in one little set, and they can stand on a bookshelf. I dunno exactly when i became an elitist and made the switch to HC only, but i dont want to hate on trade waiters. I consider myself to be one, but only for HC's.

Now, the point you bring up about customizing Graphic novels REALLY appeals to me. If I could special order books grouped according to storylines, have my choice of coverart and slipcovers, select extras, etc; well, life would be a dream, sweetheart. As I say that I know it would kill the collectors/limited edition market that I have so faithfully devoted all my paychecks to over the past several years, but it is the next logical step in collectibility.

Digital comics just aren't the same as having an actual page in your hand and I feel the market will always exist, but kids these days have barely an idea what a book even is anymore. In order for the print industry to survive, they need to start making changes to give the consumer something that they're willing to spend some money on. How many times have you walked into a LCS and they have 15 copies of "Death of the Stacy's" on the shelf. A great story to be sure, but there should be an easy way for little Timmy to read Larroca's Apocalypse story from x-men without having to pay $200 on Amazon. for SOFTCOVER.

Bill said...

One complaint I've had in a couple trades: there should be breaks between the issues (ideally with the cover and issue number before proceeding to that issue).

Sometimes issues actually are written to stand alone, and putting the last page of one issue right next to the first page of the next issue is completely jarring and can be quite confusing.

The first Atomic Robo trade is the one that sticks out for me in that respect, the rhythm of the stories kind of depended on you knowing that you were in a new chapter or whatever, and the trade lacked any clear separation between issues.

Steve said...

In general, I agree with Bill's point. I do, however, think some series benefit from not having these divisions. The Walking Dead comes to mind--as much of a shame as it is to not have the covers reprinted in the trades, the stories themselves read well without breaks between chapters.

Oli said...

I like the idea of print on demand and I can't see why DC or marvel couldn't follow a kickstarter model and print new trades if they got enough funding.

My other gripe is that they don't release enough information about what editions they'll be putting out. I understand that they will only release omnibus editions if something is popular enough but I get annoyed when I buy something like Jason Aaron's Ghost Rider in trades and then it's released in a convenient omnibus format a short time later. Ditto the ultimate collections that Marvel have been putting out. I like the idea behind them but it's annoying when I own some of the trades already and don't want to overlap. Not sure how they could fix that though.

alldaycomics.com said...

I've been thinking along these lines on my own site, as well. I posted a link to this page on my site (along with some comments) - hope that's cool!

Here's a link if you want to check it out: http://alldaycomics.com/2012/02/02/more-ways-to-improve-collected-editions/

- Mike Hansen

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