How has the book trade impacted the comics marketplace? That was the question that Thursday’s Publishers Weekly panel at San Diego Comic-Con sought to answer. Senior news editor Calvin Reid moderated the Publishers Weekly panel “Publishers Weekly: New Publishers, New Plans” which included Ted Adams (Clover Press), Liz Francis (Street Noise Press), Tyler Chin-Tanner (A Wave Blue World), Andrew Arnold (Harper Alley, a new imprint of Harper Collins), Stuart Moore (Ahoy Comics), and Sebastian Girner (TKO Studios). Reid introduced each of the panelists and then asked each about their marketing strategies.
Adams served as CEO and publisher for IDW for 19 years. He grew tired of running a publicly-owned firm and sought a return to his small press roots. Adams left IDW and started Clover Press with IDW cofounder Robbie Robbins.
“We define ourselves in three ways: we’re going to be a progressive publisher, we’re going to be a boutique publisher, and we’re going to be an elective publisher,” said Adams. “Our ambition is to do a small number of books and to do them very well and to focus as much on the marketing and sales of those books as we do on editorial content.”
Clover Press will release The Royal Book Oz, the fifteenth book of the Oz series written by Ruth Plumly Thompson after the death of Oz-creator L. Frank Baum.
Clover Press will use a combination of direct-to-consumer channels, crowdsourcing, and reader word-of-mouth to distribute new titles. Direct marketing to comic shops and bookstores would eventually follow.
Francis started Street Noise Press to address the shock left in the wake of the 2016 presidential elections. She served over fifteen years as a book designer and art director, most recently at Scholastic.
“I fell in love with graphic novels, especially nonfiction graphic novels. After the 2016 presidential election, when our lives all turned upside down, I did some soul searching and decided to try to figure out how I could make a difference. Maybe how by my inaction in the past that I could maybe be part of the solution,” Francis said. “So I decided I needed to contribute to building a world that was better the the world that I saw around me. The only way I knew how to do that is through making books. So I started Street Noise Press.”
Street Noise Press will publish YA nonfiction graphic novels. Illustrated nonfiction books will also feature heavily in the company’s catalog.
“We’re very focused on the whole genre or human voices. We’re looking particularly to provide a platform for the voices of marginalized people so that people who share truth can build compassion in our population because I believe that if we truly know what each other’s lives are like, it’s very hard to be dismissive and to make policy that is hateful and hurtful,” explained Francis.
The Street Noise 2020 catalog will feature six titles. The first two will appear in April 2020. Francis will use traditional book distribution channels to market new titles, paying creators through a combination of royalties and advancements.
Chin-Tanner’s A Wave Blue World focuses on creator-owned projects, publishing titles digitally and through Kickstarter campaigns. The company’s growth forced Chin-Tanner to look at alternative modes of distribution. He started the Premiere Editions program, which launches a first issue of a new series and releases the remaining issues in graphic novel format. Each issue will include exclusive content, “like character design, some process stuff, to make it a little bit more fun,” said Chin-Tanner.
Additional issues will appear in digital format every two weeks and the graphic novel release following two months later. Premiere Editions will kick off with Mezo and Dead Beats. The first issues will launch in October 2019, and the full graphic novels will follow in December.
Harper Collins spun off a new imprint called Harper Alley. The imprint will focus on YA comics, although Arnold emphasized that “we like to think our books are for readers of all ages.” Arnold recently served as First Second’s art director and was tapped to lead the Harper Alley. Like Street Noise Press, Harper Alley intends to take advantage of traditional book distribution channels to market the ten new titles launching in 2020.
Moore indicated that Ahoy Comics will continue use standard comics channels like Diamond, but intended to enhance the marketing of its titles by adding outtakes and short prose to book collections that readers can tap into for free online. TKO editor-in-chief Girner confirmed that TKO will handle all retailer fulfillment.
According to Girner, “We’re doing elevated genre of fiction for mature readers.” The publishing house accepts works in any genre except superheroes and space operas. And Girner believes these two genres have become over saturated in the market.
While most of the publishers on the Publishers Weekly panel have witnessed a decline in direct market sales and an uptick in book store sales, they feel that serial comics still have a place at the table. The trick, as Reid succinctly summarized, is to find ways to tap into the different markets. Serialization still helps earn some money for its creators; but as the panelists have shown, it is up to publishing companies to innovate how they market comics to reach readers hungry for something different.