Why are Indie Comics so Difficult to Sell?

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IMPORTANT:  Book Expo for the weekend of 8-9th Oct has been cancelled, folks. Tickets will be refunded – it’s sad, but unfortunately it’s no longer happening.

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Hello all, since I’m nearing the end of my “Fabled Kingdom” series (book 3 will be finished after 2 chapters), I’ve started thinking about marketing myself and my work. As a result, I’ve decided to address a common topic as part of my research, but from a perspective that may not be common in artistic circles.

I’m writing this because “Why are indie comics so difficult to sell? is a question that is frequently bandied about on forums by comic book artists, but few can provide a good, straight-forward answer to it. I’m going to try to answer it from a different angle: through a business investment approach.

 

Why Fiction is Hard to Sell

You may be wondering what I do for a day job – I’m actually an investor, which is the family business. For that reason, I like to look at questions like “why is product X not selling?” from a business perspective, because it’s a perspective that would benefit artists a lot by understanding.

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Before I continue, I should clarify something. The title for this post was originally “Why is fiction so hard to sell?“, because most indie comics also count as “fiction” even though that term is rarely used to describe comics. However, both fictional comics and fictional prose are subject to the same problems, so perhaps this article may be useful for looking at all works of narrative fiction, including movies or games.

Here’s the truth:  Fiction of all kinds, including indie comics, are a “WANT”, not a “need”. As a “want”, they are also a NON-FUNGIBLE PRODUCT.

That’s just ONE reason why they’re difficult to sell in a general marketplace, but an important one if you want to understand how to market an indie comic.

 

What is Fungibility?

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“Fungibility” is the property of a good or a commodity whose individual units are capable of mutual substitution. In other words, the likelihood of a consumer to buy one brand over another brand, because in the consumer’s mind, there’s not much difference between them. Fungibility is a spectrum, and it measures how mutually interchangeable a class of products are.

For example:  If I go into a supermarket and I need some apples, I’m going to buy Pink Lady apples. If I can’t get Pink Lady apples, then I’ll buy Red Delicious apples, because I need apples, and I’m not too picky. If neither are available, maybe I’ll buy Granny Smith.

In that scenario, apples are fungible. If I want apples, I’ll buy whatever brand is available. Likewise, so is peanut butter, eggs, a pair of shorts, shampoo, pencil lead, notebook paper, etc. Most perishable items and mass-manufactured household items are fungible, because most people buying them will end up buying one anyway even if their first choice of brand isn’t available.

 

But Fiction Doesn’t Work That Way

bookexchangeIf I go into a bookstore wanting to buy “Dr Sleep” by Stephen King and they don’t have that book, I’m not necessarily going to buy a Dean Koontz book instead, even though both Stephen King and Dean Koontz are both blockbuster horror writers. Likewise, I’m not suddenly going to buy “Carrie” either, even if it’s also by Stephen King, because I’m not interested in that story.

This is an example of how fiction, even well-known fiction, isn’t fungible.

Authors/artists may act as brands in fiction, and genres are used to direct customers to their favourite type of book, but neither of these actually make fiction fungible.

Books that are by the same author aren’t necessarily fungible, and sometimes, not even books in the same series is fungible. For example, if I want to get into the “Harry Potter” series and the bookstore doesn’t have book 1, I’m not going to go and buy book 6.

There is an important distinction to make, because fiction is different to non-fiction. Non-fiction is easier to sell than fiction, because non-fiction serves a practical, functional purpose in many people’s lives. If I want to learn how to play a guitar, or how to bake a pumpkin pie, two how-to books on the same subject is the same to me so long as they teach me what I want to know. Conversely, fiction doesn’t have the same function.

 

So How Do you Sell Fiction?

bookmarketingThis is a question that many people, myself included, struggle with. In the next article, I’m going to look at some marketing ideas, particularly passive marketing ideas, that can help sell fiction better.

Keeping in mind that fiction is a non-fungible product, there are actually advantages that fiction has over more fungible products – the key is to figure out what that is.

Chapter 14-15 of “Fabled Kingdom” is out now!

Well, well. This has arrived quicker than I thought. I’ve powered into book 3 of “Fabled Kingdom,” and I have about 6 chapters to go. I’m halfway through Chapter 16 as we speak. SInce book 3 is due at the end of this year (December 2016), I’ve certainly got plenty of time to do the book. Books 1-3 of “Fabled Kingdom” is a self-contained story, so it’ll be neat to get it done and out!

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Chapter 14-15 of “Fabled Kingdom” is out as a PDF: You can buy it on Smashwords. It’s an odd book because Chapter 14 belongs to book 2, while Chapter 15 belongs to book 3. Either way, it doesn’t matter. Interestingly enough, SW has also upped

Working the Self-Publishing Tutorials: I’m SLOOOOWLY getting this done, and SLOOOOWLY putting up a bunch of tutorials on DeviantArt. I’m doing a self-publishing workshop on Saturday the 13th February 2016 for the Sydney Comics Guild, which is from 11:30-1:30pm at ArtSHINE gallery near Central Station. It’s an “Intro to self-publishing” workshop, so it’ll be pretty basic, but valuable to those who may not know much about the subject.

Attending ACAF: As you may know, I’m currently working on an online retail hub for comics, and I’ll be showing the system off at the Australian Comic Arts Festival. The ACAF is at the Novotel Canberra, and runs from the 20-21st February. I’ll be there talking on a number of panels, but most of all showing off the BentoNet, the name of my system.

Fabled Kingdom – Chapter 12-13 and Smashwords

Hi all! Fabled Kingdom book 2 is still waiting on its proofs, but I have chapters 12-13 up already on Smashwords. It’s US$1.59 to buy these two chapters, while I wait to release the full version of book 2 in print and ebook.

This 2-chapter ebook will not be released on any other platform besides Smashwords. I have also withdrawn all of the “Fabled Kingdom” books distributed through Smashwords, and they should ONLY be available on SW (though it’s unlikely). I’ll talk more about it below.
 

As you may have noticed, I re-designed the covers:

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The main reason, apart to make it less “busy”, is due to the font. The original font I used was a fan-made font for the “Lord of the Rings” community (Ringbearer), which is rather inappropriate to use for self-publishing. I couldn’t secure permission for the creator to use it, so I used a paid font (which I bought the license to) called Mantinia instead. It’s an obscure font, but looks a lot like Ringbearer, so it sufficed. It’s important to own the rights to fonts and images you use in your work, folks!
 

About Smashwords:

I may have mentioned before that I’ve soured on SW as a distribution system, but I want to make it clear that this has nothing to do with SW itself, which I still think is a great platform. Instead, the reason is rather complicated – it’s due to the consolidation of the book market, and problems with SW’s downstream distributors.

There’s been a whole bunch of news reports lately about the e-book market stabilising to around 30% of total book sales, but much of it is misleading. First of all, these figures don’t distinguish between fiction and non-fiction books, but that’s not the main issue – the main issue is that while the e-book pie of the market isn’t growing as explosively as in 2008-2012, the number of new e-book selling platforms entering the e-book market has increased. This means that an increasing number of e-book sellers are fighting over a pie that isn’t growing as quickly as new sellers are entering.

Obviously, this leads to companies going bust, or being bought up by other companies. E-book selling in 2015 is a hot mess, with Amazon dominating everyone by far. This means that it’s become impossible to keep track of which e-book companies are still in business – including those which SW distributes to.

Hence, the problem with not SW, but the platforms SW distributes to. I know SW sells my books, but since SW also distributes to iBooks, Nook, Kobo, and other places, do I know who these platforms distribute to? Apart from iBooks (Apple ain’t in the e-book distributing business), the answer is NO. There’s currently no way to track which e-book platforms that, say, Kobo is distributing to, or whether these platforms will still be around in 2 years time.

This means that there’s a potentially infinite number of dead e-companies out there, with nothing to show for but large data warehouses full of e-books they may not even have the rights to distribute. Does this bother everyone? No, but it bothers me.

Hence, why I’ve decided to stay off SW’s distributors for a while. I’ll be posting the rest of the “Fabled Kingdom” series up, but that’ll be about it. After I finish book 3, I shall remove “Fabled Kingdom” from that platform until things settle down. It’s not a huge deal, but I don’t want to be caught in the cross-fire of Amazon and internet e-book companies when they start dying (which they already are).