Comics Marketing is Dead. Long Live Comics Marketing.

On marketing in the direct market, and why it might be time to rethink how it’s being done.

If you ask one person about the state of comics marketing, they might say it’s thriving.

Ask another, and they could say it’s struggling.

Typically, this might be reflective of the divisive culture we live in, where no matter the subject, there’s a line drawn in the sand with legions on each side. And maybe it is. But in this situation, I’m not speaking hypothetically. I know this because I asked. And then they told me.

“There’s never been a more exciting time in comic book marketing because there’s never been as many opportunities with the variety of distribution channels and, as a result, even more competition,” Arune Singh, the Vice President of Marketing at BOOM! Studios, told me. “Comic book marketing feels more targeted and purposeful than ever before as companies develop material for underserved or new audiences, meaning we need to reassess every aspect of what we do. 1 Challenging norms through that kind of self-reflection can only lead to more new ways of marketing comics that break through to broader audiences.”

That’s a rosy perspective on the state of things, and it’s understandable Singh would think that. BOOM! is arguably the hottest direct market publisher of 2020, and its marketing team has generated huge hits the past couple years. But if you ask David Hyde, the head of publicity and marketing shop Superfan Promotions, it’s a different tune altogether.

“I’ve been doing book publicity for twenty years. This is probably the low water mark I’ve seen for book coverage,” Hyde told me. “That unfortunate reality is driven by the economy and the layoffs that have impacted so many news outlets. COVID and the ensuing furloughs and additional layoffs has only made a bad situation worse. There are less outlets covering fewer books.”

The bizarre thing about those two opposing perspectives is they’re likely both correct at the same time. It is an exciting time for comics marketing, but also an incredibly challenging one. There are more diverse options and opportunities than ever, each of which comes with increased competition and a fanbase that is tired of the usual tricks of the trade. That means success can be found, but it’s a minefield getting there.

Part of the problem lies in the fact that the playbook, in many ways, is much the same as it has been for decades. Comics marketing in the direct market 2 feels like it’s stuck in the middle between the way things were and the way they work now, at least in part because it’s caught at the intersection of the overall comic book ecosystem. Marketing isn’t an independent aspect of the way these publishers and creators operate; it’s an interconnected element with ties to publishing, editorial, distribution and everything else. That means certain practices are adhered to, just because they seemingly have to be. So how do we get to where comics marketing needs to go?

By rethinking how it’s done, and finding new answers to old problems.

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  1. He specifically cited the words we use – like trade paperback, when that term can mean something else for non-comics fans – to what they value as consumers.

  2. For this piece, I’ll be focusing on the direct market. The book market definitely seems to have things a bit more figured out in this regard.