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5 Questions: Do You Retail?

In many ways, webcomics are primarily online (I mean, hey, it's right there in the name). The comic's there, interactions between creators and fans are there (though offline, too), revenue is generated by ads, even the physical products are sold online. As a consequence, a lot of webcomics tend not to have a physical presence beyond merchandise and con appearances.

Though we're well into the transition to a digital-first entertainment world, that webcomics are primarily online can cause some problems for growing readership. There's still a non-trivial percentage of comics fans who don't read comics onscreen, due to personal preference, eyestrain, older computers, or other reasons. As a result, webcomics can miss out on some of the readers they might otherwise garner.

When I realized that Split Lip was missing out on potential readers, I decided that I needed an offline strategy. Cons were part of that plan (though there were always in the cards, even before I spotted the potential disconnect; speaking of, I'll be at Baltimore Comicon this weekend, table A177. Come say hi), but putting Split Lip where print adherents were seemed smartest. And that meant comic shops.

I brought Split Lip around to maybe a half-dozen comic shops and comics-friendly bookstores in Rhode Island and eastern Mass. I printed up some shelftalkers to promo the book in case the retailers felt that would help.

Every story I went to took at least one copy, with one regional chain taking 10. A few stores bought the books outright, but most took them on consignment; I'd only see any money if they sold. Now, about a year later, I'm checking in on those consignments. The sellthrough rate looks like it's going to be about 33% for this year. Which makes me wonder if there is indeed an audience waiting in comic shops or if my audience is really online.

Given this experience, webcomics creators: do you offer your merchandise (books, shirts, whatever) through retail channels? If so, do you do well with them?

Readers: Do you look for merchandise from your favorite webcomics in comics shops (assuming you go to them) or do you simply default to buying direct from the creator online?

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