Much of the popularity for famous comic book characters doesn’t happen because people read comics. Only a small percentage of the people who are familiar with Spider-Man, Superman and the Hulk have ever been inside a comic book store. A lot of exposure comes from licensed media (TV, film and video games) but just as much of it comes from merchandise (clothing, skateboards and toys0. In the past, only the major companies could support a merchandising program. But times are changing. Is the independent comic book industry ready for independent merchandising?
The key elements of a merchandising program are:
- Distinctive and popular images or characters
- Design and Production
- Marketing and Advertising
- Distribution and Fulfillment
- Revenue Collection
With an independent merchandising plan, the independent creator owns the characters and images. They decide what products fit their plan. Design and production, distribution and fulfillment can be outsourced to custom merchandising companies that can produce a wide variety of goods on demand without the need for warehousing or creating bulk orders. Marketing and advertising costs can be scaled to budget, with much of the main outreach occurring online or offline at conventions or local shops. Revenue collection can be funneled through a variety of sources including Amazon, Paypal and Kickstarter. The increased exposure of the underlying property supports the comic and vice versa. Ultimately, a larger licensing company could see the potential in your work (based on the sales) and provide you with a much larger platform (and potentially much more revenue).
There are two main problems with launching your own independent merchandising program; time and expertise. Many independent creators have day jobs, families and they spend what little free time they have on their craft. There is no extra time available to decide on the cotton weight on a T-shirt line or whether iPhone cases need to be part of the product offering. Even if they did have extra time on their hands, few of them would be interested in dealing with the legal, financial and marketing duties that come with managing a merchandise line. They want to spend their time creating the next great comic.
I was once the general counsel for a Japanese animation company called Central Park Media. After that, I was the international publishing manager for Marvel. Since then, I have been advising private clients for publishing and new media contracts. Finally, I have also run my own independent publishing company called Nightlife Publishing for the past six years. I think the combination of my skills and the current level of DIY technology creates an opportunity for independent creators to make money from the sale of their merchandise. The main question now is ‘does anyone want this service?’
What do you think?
Would you be interested in selling a line of clothing, posters and tech related merchandise based on your comics? I am in the process of developing the business model now, but if no one is excited about the idea, I might have to sit on the idea for a while.
Let me know what you think in the comments section.