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Indie Insights: On Marketing Mix

Written by Ken Eppstein, Outhouse Contibutor on Friday, September 16 2011 and posted in Columns

Ken Eppstein returns with a look at how to market an Indie comic book!

Ken Eppstein is the publisher and editor of Nix Comics Quarterly, a small-press comic based out of Columbus, OH.

I'm told that my last article on pricing your self published comic book was a big hit, getting something like a bub-billion hits.  I guess you guys are hungry for some of this business planning type stuff.  That's cool.  It gives me faith that there'll always be some print comic books floating around somewhere.  

So what should I follow up with?  Hey!  I know!  Lets talk about dated marketing philosophies that still apply to self published comics since they're a dated medium! (I suppose I should say comics are not as random or clumsy as an E-reader, but an elegant format for a more civilized age.)  

Anyways, in the sixties, before there were easy Star Wars references to drop and companies relied on sharp dressed men who drank and smoked too much to come up with sizable chunks of their business plans, marketing gurus framed their pitches with a set of four elements that they referred to cumulatively as the Marketing Mix.  Being snappy writers and fond of alliteration they used four words that all start with the letter P to identify each of those individual elements.  

Product:  Referred to the design aspects of manufacturing and packaging.  For a comic book, product would refer to things along the lines of quality of the cover art, number of pages, whether its black and white or color, etc.  The marketing goal of the Product element is two fold: draw people in with visual appeal and then to impress them in some fashion with the quality of the craftsmanship.

At first glance, as a self publisher, a lot of Product seems largely dictated by budget and time.  Its the reason that so many indie efforts look similar:  Color cover, black and white pages, slick or glossy digital printing stock with a garish and artistically intrusive print to order company's ad.  

Screw that.  I hate having stuff dictated to me, so when I was looking around at options for printing, one thought gelled in my head in terms of Product: I didn't want Nix to look like most other indie books.  I wanted a more classic comic book feel...  Glossy cover but matte interior pages.  Color all the way through.  Letters and ads that looked like comic books from the days of yore.

One difference from ye olden comics, though.  I wanted a small masthead without a huge banner title.  I figured more room for my cover artists to play could only lead to a little more "pop" on the shelf.

Price:  You'd assume this has to do with calculating the cost of Product.   Its not.  Marketing peeps don't care about that junk.  Price in terms of Marketing Mix actually refers to the cost of the product to the consumer and in relation to similar competitive products.  

As I've more or less stated in previous columns, I'm actually not a big fan of modelling price based on what other companies are doing in the market.  Its a set up to get slapped down by the bullies on the block with deeper pockets.  Best to determine price from a cost model.  That said, once I did finish up with all of that math, I did peep in on what companies like Fantagraphics were charging for their stuff.  While I think my book is dissimilar enough from what DC and Marvel are offering, the mid size indie publishers of an artsy-fartsy bent are reasonable enough points of reference.

Placement:  Placement is mostly about distribution of the product, but also includes aspects of display and in-store positioning.  Its one thing to get your book in stores across the country, but it doesn't mean much if you're relegated to the dark corner of the store reserved for indie comics and books that have no pretty pictures.

I think the biggest mistake self publishers make is limiting themselves to comic venues.  Comic shops and cons. Cons and comic shops.  QUIT IT!!!!  Indie comics need to branch out and find new venues. Mark Twain once said that if the world was coming to an end, he'd move to Kentucky because everything happens there because everything always there 20 years later than everywhere else in the world.  Well the comic industry is the Kentucky of mass media.  Right now they are finally going through the flux that started with the movie and music industries in the early 90s.  Who knows how it will shake out for them?  The smart money is on trying to stake your own claim and open up new avenues of placement for yourself. You know what local dealer consistently sells out of Nix?  My barber!

Promotion: While it would be easy to define Promotion simply as advertising, in fact it encompasses all outgoing communication. From print ads to presence in social media. From quality of customer service to special offers.

Pretty broad eh?  That's one of the reasons why the notion of the 4 Ps is a little dated.  You have three fairly straightforward elements and then this one that feels like a big fat "miscellaneous file."  So far the best way of wrangling this beats of a P has been setting some rules for myself

People have evolved to their reading and web browsing habits and strategies to the point that they ignore most conventional ads, so no print ads or banner ads. Exception to that rule...  I take out the occasional conventional add to help support a friend.  (So I took out print ads in the last two issues of Roctober magazines and at one point had a banner ad on, without expecting much out of either source of advertising.)

Not being a fan of conventional advertising leaves me with the guerilla style. Fortunately, I'm of the opinion that the worst place copies of Nix can be is sitting in my basement collecting dust, so I've given out a lot of gratis copies. They've practically been my business cards. Nix is a pretty good looking book, so its its own best spokesman.  So I gave out copies to all of my fellow exhibitors at S.P.A.C.E. and everyone who wanted one at the Columbus Zombie walk.  Mailed them out to my personal pantheon of celebrities as I can afford.  Given away free copies with record auctions on ebay.  Anything to get the book out of the basement and into the hands of someone who might buy a future issue.

Of course there are plenty of types of Promotion that cost only time and effort. Writing this column?  You guessed it, it falls under the aegis of Promotion.  (You didn't think I was blabbing away about self-publishing out of some altruistic desire to see the medium continue to grow as a vibrant and vital part of our culture, did you?  Hell no.  Never mistake a sales pitch for altruism and remember that anyone who claims to be an altruist is selling something!)

So, what do Marketing Mix and its 4 Ps really mean to me and Nix Comics?  The honest answer is that I'm not sure.  Like a lot of us out there, writing a comic is the fun, and therefore easy, part.  The hard part is figuring out what I need to be doing to not only get the book into the hands of customers, but also what I need to do to turn those customers into fans.  Its a little like having a recipe for delicious chocolate chip cookie, but the recipe's author left out the measurements...  I know what all the ingredients are, I just have to keep making cookies making educated guesses at how much of each ingredient to use, what order to add them together in and how long to bake the whole mess.

Go ahead.  You have my permission to make jokes about me being half baked.

Written or Contributed by: Ken Eppstein, Outhouse Contibutor

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About the Author - Christian

Christian is the exasperated Abbott to the Outhouse's Costello. When he's not yelling at the Newsroom for upsetting readers or complaining to his wife about why the Internet is stupid, he sits in his dingy business office trying to find new ways to make the site earn money. Christian is also the only person in history stupid enough to moderate two comic book forums at once.


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