Grotesque Anatomy
Monday, May 03, 2004
  He's So Grim He Makes Me Look Upbeat
Graeme McMillan (not a permalink) isn't convinced that Tokyopop's upcoming cable TV ad campaign is going to do much good.  Heck, I'm not convinced it'll do much good either, but I'm still much more optimistic than Graeme is.  For one thing, unlike Graeme, I don't think TV advertising for comics has ever been done in exactly the same way before.  Sure, I remember the TV ads for the G.I. Joe comics (ads which I believe were successful in driving up sales of the comics, so it's a strange example for Graeme to be using in support of his pessimistic position) but those were so long ago I'm not sure they have much relevance to today's market.  Tokyopop isn't selling single-issue floppies at newsstands or comic specialty shops.  They're selling digest-sized paperbacks in mass-market stores such as Barnes & Noble, Best Buy, and Wal-Mart (as well as at your finer comic specialty shops).

I agree that publicity won't necessarily translate automatically into sales, but I also think that publicity needs time to work.  The example Graeme cites of a couple of DC's new "Focus" titles receiving mention in Entertainment Weekly yet still selling abysmally is a odd one.  For one thing, I'm fairly certain that only one "Focus" book, Hard Time, has made EW's "Must List" (or been mentioned in any way in EW), not both Hard Time and Touch as Graeme suggests.  Secondly, the "Must List" recommendation of Hard Time was only a couple of weeks ago (4/23, #761), so there's no way that publicity could have had any measurable impact on sales yet.  The only sales numbers we have for Hard Time so far are for the first two issues, which both came out before the mention from EW.  And again, there's the whole apples-vs-oranges thing -- single issues sold only at comic specialty stores vs. 200-page books sold, well, pretty much everywhere.  (In fact, as Tokyopop's Vice President of Marketing John Powers revealed in an interview with Franklin Harris, Tokyopop sells their books at so many diverse locations that their ads will refer generically to their books as being sold at "Book, Comic, Video and Music Stores" so as to not slight any retailer or market.)

As for Graeme's concern that money for these ads would have been better spent trying to attract people unfamiliar with manga rather than people who may have heard about manga but aren't actually reading any, I think he addresses his own concern when he writes:
Maybe that’s the point, mind you; to pick up the people who have heard of manga but don’t know much about it and say “Hey, you know that manga thing that’s getting some buzz? Well, we make it, this is what our stuff looks like and here’s where you get it.”
I'm guessing it's probably easier to win over those people who are already familiar with (and receptive to) your product than it is to educate people who have never heard of it.  (Of course, if the ads are done well, they could probably make the uninitiated curious as well.)  Further, as Ed Cunard points out in his column on this topic, the cable TV channels Tokyopop plans to run its ads on all have (as Ed puts it) "the geek demographic that’s already inclined to sequential art storytelling."  (Franklin Harris was more diplomatic in his phrasing, referring rather to "the young, technologically savvy audience that is Tokyopop's target demographic.")

Finally, in response to Graeme's worry that print media in general haven't ever really successfully utilized TV advertising I'm just going to quote Tokyopop's John Powers' answer to a question from Franklin Harris:
Q: What was the primary motivation for Tokyopop deciding to buy television advertising, given that TV ads are a rarity even in the prose book publishing world and especially considering that this is an area from which other comics publishers, like DC and Marvel, have traditionally shied away?

A: We saw an enormous untapped potential audience begging to be reached through television advertising. Considering how naturally manga lends itself to animation, we were able to bring pages of these great stories to life through visually creative graphics that just about leap from the TV screen. We also found this a great way to "introduce" manga to those who have never seen it before.

If publishers have traditionally shied away from TV advertising, perhaps it's their methodology that should be questioned, rather than the medium.
Of course, we'll all have to wait to see how Tokyopop's ad campaign actually plays out.  For all of Tokyopop's bravado now, this could still flop spectacularly.  The talk of "bring[ing] pages of these great stories to life through visually creative graphics that just about leap from the TV screen" could end up being as cheesy as those comics on DVD.  But for now I'm just enjoying the novelty of a comic book publisher trying something other than bringing back a old character or relaunching with a new first issue or cranking out umpteen alternate covers or all the other stale old tricks to increase sales.
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