Hey Kids! Comics! Hey Parents! Free Comics!

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For me, it started when I was young.

My parents would occasionally buy me a comic book from the convenience store. On grocery shopping trips, if I was particularly lucky, my mom would let me buy one of those grab-bags of comics that bundled 3 or 4 books together. The colorful, fun stories captured my imagination, but it wasn’t until I was 6 that my passion for comics developed. It was in the aftermath of “The Empire Strikes Back” that I realized the Star Wars comic was more than just a gathering of short stories. It was a series, each issue building on the last, and the more of them that I read, the richer the tale became. By the time my Dad took me to my first comic book store, so that we wouldn’t have to chance missing an issue, the love of reading had taken me completely.

As my tastes have changed over the years, so have comic books. I love the fact that I can walk into a comic shop and find titles that are dramas, superhero adventures, funny animal stories, relationship tales, crime noir and everything in-between. Somewhere along the way however, the comic industry got so fixated on keeping the older readers that it forgot it needed to keep wooing new ones. Free Comic Book Day is a great way to attract new fans. For retailers, at least those who choose to participate in the event (and use it effectively) it can also be a boon.

Free Comic Book Day, as the name implies, is a day that anyone can walk into a comic book store and get a free comic book. Each individual store runs the event in a way they see fit (some do handle the event as Free Comic Book With Purchase Day), but ultimately what it should amount to is giving away a free sample. As in years past, dozens of comic publishers are providing books for Free Comic Book Day. What is noticeable this year, is the increased number of kid friendly and all-ages comic books.

“This year I think they took a step in the right direction with adding Bongo Comics [The Simpsons], and a couple more kid friendly comics to the mix,” says Tony Hazzard, owner of Cover to Cover and The Bookshelf in Winnipeg, Canada. “It also makes people realize that there is something different for everyone out there.”

Once the kids have found a book they like, the reaction from both them and their parents is great – “It’s free? Really?” This “Free? Really?” moment is a key opportunity to overcome one of the major obstacles for the comic industry – the perceived value of the books. Considering that many parents of younger kids remember the comics they bought as falling in a 30 to 75 cent price range, $2.25 to $3 (a least) can seem steep for what amounts to approximately 30 minutes of reading. What the free book does however is eliminate this sticker shock. The smart retailers are leveraging Free Comic Book Day beyond just the designated single day. Many over-order on Free Comic Book Day stock, as so to create an inventory for the rest of the year. As they continue handing out a free comic book to kids through the year, they become known as “the store where you get the free comic.” 

The entire retail industry is realizing the importance of taking a holistic approach to customer service. Customers, specifically parents, aren’t solely concerned about price.  What they want is value. For many children who typically don’t like to read, comic books can be a good entry point. For generations children have been attracted to the bright, friendly panels of comic books. With the proliferation of all-ages titles this year, the event is providing stories that will appeal not only to the child, but to the parents as well.

“I work hard to make sure the Owly stories work on multiple levels,” elaborates Owly creator/writer/artist, Andy Runton. “These are just the kind of stories I always wanted to read, with characters that are easy to relate to and themes that speak to everybody. But it's a very natural and organic process, there's no age marketing here. All of the stories, cartoons, and movies I grew up with and loved, were written by young-at-heart-adults for everybody to enjoy.”

The next time a child picks up a comic, the parent’s first thought might be of how much the child enjoyed reading their comic. It eliminates the question of “what am I getting for my money?” In doing so, the comic industry creates a bond with both the child and the parents, which can help ensure the fanbase grows. 

“Parents like the idea, some use comics as a reading tool to get there kid into books,” explains Hazzard. They also like the idea of getting something for nothing.”

The days of 25-cent comics on spinner racks at the corner store are over. It’s no longer easy for comic books to find their way into the hands of every kid in the nation. 

“I think that these events really help to get people into the stores,” continues Runton.  “That's the most important role they play. The direct market is our link to the customers and any way we can make that link stronger is going to be good for comics.”

Free Comic Book Day may not be the answer to all of the comic industry’s woes, but it is a step in the right direction. Free Comic Book Day can be the first step to creating not only a love of comics, but also a love of reading.

- Fletch Adams

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