Comic Book Daily: (Canadian) Retailer Roundtable #2 – Free Comic Book Day (and conflicting events)

Scott at Comic Book Daily asks: Free Comic Book Day is now a huge event and one no retailer can afford to skip, but how well does it work for you?  Does its benefits outweigh the costs, since the event is in no way free for you?

Participants: Chris Butcher (the Beguiling), Marc Sims (Big B Comics), Jay Bardyla (Happy Harbor), Jenn Haines (The Dragon), Bruno Andreacchi (BA’s Comics) and John Tinkess (Another Dimension) participate.

Of particular interest is the discussion that results of the Beguiling’s decision to hold TCAF on Free Comic Book Day this year and plans to do it again in 2012. Click the link above and read it all the way through. There’s some interesting points being made.

My op/ed  after the cut:

As a person who has worked on conventions here in the GTA for nearly a decade, I can tell you that one of the golden rules of promoting comics events is that you don’t counter-program Free Comic Book Day. It is a day for retailers to promote their stores to the general public — and since most other comics events (particularly conventions) rely on retailer partners to support and participate it’s a no-brainer: stay away.

Now Chris is in an interesting position, the store he works for is the only retailer at TCAF. So if he and Peter and their TCAF admin group feel that FCBD is no big deal and they can skip it, and let’s face it… not many of the creators and publishers who are the stars of TCAF are really doing much with FCBD anyway… nor are they getting the support for their products from the comic book retailers other than at less than a dozen stores across the country like the Beguiling, Strange Adventures, Legends, Planete BD and the Dragon.  So really, I can completely understand why it’s no big deal for most people at TCAF to not care about FCBD unless they have to leave their local (supportive) store to do it. Does that mean that they should counter-program against it?

Every other store in the GTA does not ignore FCBD and participate to the best of their resources, and they tell us that they are annoyed and we did see that some fans are a little put off — there were quite a few “I wish this wasn’t on FCBD” comments this year on Twitter and a few blogs, including our own. They accepted a one time conflict was unavoidable.

Let me make our position clear: we don’t want TCAF on the same weekend as  FCBD. We support and promote TCAF here because it is a community event, and it makes us uncomfortable to do so when it is at odds with and/or foils or restricts the FCBD plans of comic book retailers.

The retailers I’ve heard from personally, (and they don’t want to be named because no one stands up for themselves in this community) were annoyed for 2 reasons: (1) TCAF is more sexy to the media — again, kudos to Chris and his crew for putting on a media friendly event — where any attention other retailers might have gotten for FCBD events gets lost in the 500 National Post articles, the Star articles, the Globe articles, etc. and other soundbytes about TCAF and (2) although Chris probably doesn’t intend for it to be so, there’s no way to escape the decision from coming across as arrogant — “you need this, and we don’t”. It’s the scarred side of the confidence coin. Again, neither of those reasons need to matter to Chris or his staff, but it is something they should be taking into account and not assuming everything is rosy.

Other retailers don’t want to support and promote TCAF because of this, and that may be no problem to the organizers, but if this is a true public arts festival and not just a single retailer’s event, then it can’t be as community alienating (or isolating) as it is community-building. We spend a lot of time hyping all kinds of Canadian comics at the blog, and we want those retailers to become aware of and push the great material coming out of the non-mainstream publishers.  An isolated TCAF means parts of our community actively dislike it and would like to see it disappear because it sucks attention away from them on what is supposed to be their one day a year (sad I know), and that is not beneficial to the great event that TCAF has become.

A store like the Dragon is annoyed because they can’t get the TYPE of guest that they want for their event – they don’t want the superhero artists that Chris suggests they book because those aren’t the books they are trying to promote and sell. They are a store that works as the Beguiling does to promote kids comics and indie/artistic comics and small press creators. That may be a meaningless issue for stores that are superhero centric – and let’s face it – other stores like Paradise and Stadium Comics tend to book those GTA superhero creators Chris mentioned.

I know it’s tough to select weekends that don’t conflict with other events, but there is a reason why there isn’t anything else on FCBD weekend.


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