A special retailer event today had Marc Silvestri and Matt Hawkins from Top Cow hold an open and frank discussion with a gathering of some of the most prominent retailers to discuss their plans for Cyber Force. As you may already know, there’s going to be a Kickstarter to raise funds to release a new Cyber Force ongoing series for free. Free just like Free Comic Book Day, where publishers, distributors and retailers take the loss for the promotional benefit of giving out comics and getting people into stores. That’s right folks, a “Free” comic still costs money to be shipped and distributed, even if it is a token amount. The money from the kickstarter fund raiser will go towards funding it so that comic shops can buy copies of the new Cyber Force series, written by Silvestri and Hawkins, with art by formerly Marvel exclusive Khoi Pham. It’s a new “bio-steampunk-
The first issue of this will be solicited for an October release. It will cost retailers .25 cents an issue, which are to be given away. But unlike Free Comic Book Day, where you give away a single comic, the plan is that the next four months after that will have another issue of the new relaunched Cyber Force coming out at the same price. Free. Ideally, the kickstarter would be so successful that they will get enough money to fund an entire years worth of comics. Once the “Free Comic Book Year” ends, the plan is that the book would switch to a traditional comic that costs money, and that if even a fraction of the comic readers switch to buying because they were so hooked, it would be a success. They have no plans for what would happen if the Kickstarter will fail, because they are absolutely dead certain it will succeed. (That’s the front they put on at least. I suspect they do have plans for failure, but they’re hoping for the best.)
The overall philosophy is that this is an attempt to both try and get even a fraction of the folks who bought Cyber Force back in the day to buy comics again, as well as seeing if even a fraction of the torrenting community could be enticed to buy comics. Top Cow feels that there’s no point in trying to stop piracy at this point, calling it a giant game of “whack-a-mole.” Send one ceast and desist, another takes their place. Instead, this is a grand experiment in content delivery and seeing if they can increase the amount of people coming into comic shop. Top Cow makes nearly 80% of their profit from the direct market, not from digital comics or bookstore sales. So the discussion was meant to ensure that they didn’t alienate their primary market. There’s going to be special bonus material in the print issues, to help encourage people who may be following the comic digitally to come into a comic shop, where good retailers could then get them to try other comics. Ones that cost money hopefully.
Part of the experiment was fueled by looking at the numbers for the free digital downloads of the comics that came with the recent Darkness Video Game. 3.5% of all people who bought the game took advantage of the free comic. (Which is a pretty low number in theory,
but given the larger numbers of people who play video games, that’s probably more exciting than it would appear.) This will be put together with a plan to reissue Cyber Force trades, collecting things such as the David Finch run which has never been collected.
I asked if they could keep to a specific week each comic would come out on, as I found that DC’s policy of doing so (despite having slid
away from that a bit) helped customers. Joe Field of Flying Colors suggested that the book be relaunched with a new #1 when the book
switches to being conventionally priced. Reverse numbering like the Weapon Zero series was discarded for being too confusing in practice. The book won’t have a price point put on it, and comic shops can sell it, give it away for free, whatever they feel is necessary. The marketing will emphasize the retailers, and how they’re paying so that the books will be free. The book will be on time, which is part of the reason why Silvestri isn’t the penciller for it, but Pham who could do 14 issues in a single year. “We’ve learned the errors of our twenty-year ways.” said Hawkins.
Their hope is that the big social media push, and outreaches to the online community, and a traditional media blitz will get people to pay attention to the book. It will be PG-13 rated to help get a wider audience, especially because the torrenting comic fans skew younger. In short, they’re trying to get both the folks who used to read CyberForce twenty years ago and sold a skajillion copies which are now cluttering people’s basements, as well as the younger, entitled generation and try to get that small percentage of the torrenters who might be interested in paying for a book to do so.
Whether this grand experiment of kickstarting the money to print the comic, which is sent to stores who give it away to get people into comic shops and interested in other books will function remains to be seen.