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7 Great Strategies to Sell More at Comic Cons

by philhampton on 7 July 2012

As we’re in the midst of comic con season, with San Diego around the corner, I thought I’d share some effective strategies for selling your merchandise at comic cons.

Last week I read a tweet from someone who was berating the fact that he’d taken 100 copies of his comic to sell on his table and only managed to sell one copy.  It’s unfortunately a very common occurrence, but these 5 strategies will help you ensure that you leave the hall smiling and with a much lighter load!

1. Grab attention

This sounds obvious but it’s amazing how many comic creators try to leave their table do the talking, and that table only displays one or two items.  If you’re sitting in Artists Alley, surrounded by competition, it’s easy to be ignored by the hoards of passers-by.

There are a number of ways to grab people’s attention – either through your actions, or your props.

Props are things like banners and displays behind your table, displaying your artwork, your logo, possibly some testimonials. You can buy displays that roll up for easy transport.  You just email your design to the manufacturer, and they’ll send you the display. Type ‘Banner Displays’ or ‘Roll up Banners’ into Google to find local and national stockists.

Just check out this picture of webcomic creator Dawn Griffin’s table at Wizard Comic Con. How difficult is that to ignore?!

Your demeanour is also a powerful tool for attracting people –  or for repelling them!  Ever walked past a comic creator or a celebrity who was sat down looking miserable because they weren’t selling anything, wondering why they had even bothered showing up?

On the other hand, how easy is it to simply walk past someone who is standing, smiling, and says ‘Good morning’ to you?  You at least have to acknowledge them or else risk looking rude.  And that acknowledgement is your cue to strike up a conversation.

Over in England, we have a strange ritual called a car boot sale, where you drive to a crowded field and sell your unwanted household stuff to bargain hunters.  I go to one a couple of times a year to help tame the mountain of junk in our garage, and I make sure that I stand, smile and say ‘Good Morning’ to everyone that passes.  Everyone.  Some Neanderthals choose to ignore me and walk past regardless, but I have sold everything from rugs to plates to keep fit equipment to people who would simply have walked past had I not wished them a good day. I never walk away from a car boot sale with less than £150 for 3-4 hours of an enjoyable, sociable experience.

2. Give away freebies

Another effective prop is a tub of sweets on your desk (ideally wrapped sweets so that you don’t put off those obsessed with hygiene!).  Just put a clear sign by the tub saying ‘Free Sweets’, and you’ll more than double the number of people passing by.  This is especially powerful if your comics appeal to kids.  If a child stops their parent at your table to pick up a sweet, this gives you a chance to talk directly to the child about your comic, and hope that ‘pester power’ gains you a sale!  Giving away colouring-in sheets of your characters for free also helps to attract kids.

Give away button badges or stickers displaying your characters or logo, and this will act as free advertising for your stall.

Offering things for free utilises the Rule of Reciprocity.  In other words, if we are given something by someone for free, we often feel indebted to repay the favour, and this could result in additional sales, easily covering your costs of the freebies.

3. Find a hook

Once you’ve got someone’s attention, start a conversation initially focused on them.  Ask them questions such as – Are they’re enjoying the comic con? Have they bought anything interesting so far? What kind of comics do they read? What kind of comics do their kids read? What are their favourite genres? And so on.

The trick is to find a ‘hook’ that will lead you onto your comic or merchandise. For example, if they enjoy sci-fi, talk about the sci-fi elements within your comic.  If they’ve already said that they’re interested in that subject, it makes it more difficult for them to then say that they’re not interested.  This is the Rule of Consistency in action – we all have a desire to be (and appear to be) consistent with what we’ve already done.

If someone asks you directly what your comic is about, you ideally need to be able to describe it in a couple of sentences (like an Elevator Pitch). Use known, popular, references to form an effective picture in the person’s head, for example ‘The Terminator meets The Big Bang Theory’.

4. Touching leads to buying

A study in 2008 showed that people who touched an item before bidding at auction for it ended up paying more than those who hadn’t touched it.  Basically, touching an item forms an ‘ownership’ link in your mind, thus making you more likely to purchase the item.

Encourage people to have a flick through your comics, or pick up and evaluate your merchandise.  Don’t try to be pushy with it, else you could jeopardise the sale.  Also, it makes people stay longer with you, and the more people you have looking at and picking up your stuff, the more people will be attracted to your table, simply by looking popular.

5. Display a high-ticket item

A high-ticket item is basically a piece of merchandise, or a service, that is so high-priced you don’t expect to sell any of it.  So why would you want to offer it?  Okay, here goes.

Let’s say you are trying to sell a $3 comic, and that’s all you have for sale.  People may question whether or not the comic is worth $3, as they don’t have a frame of reference.

Now, suppose you also offer a signed, limited edition hardback version of the same comic at $25.  Suddenly $3 looks like a great deal.  Just one or two high-ticket items (which can also be things like full-page sketches or a book of scripts), will help you sell more of your low-priced items.  And if you sell a high-ticket item, you’ve earned yourself a nice bonus!

6. Upsell

This is a simple marketing strategy used by everyone from McDonalds to electrical stores.  Basically, agree to buy item 1 and be offered item 2, or an improved version of item 1, sometimes (but not always) for a reduced price.  For example, ‘Do you want fries with that?’ or ‘Buy two, get a third free’.

Here are some examples you could use:

‘Buy 2 comics and get a free head sketch/poster etc.’

‘$3 per comic or two for $5’

‘Regular cover $3. Variant cover $5’

‘Buy any comic and get a mousemat for just $1, saving $2′

Fast food restaurants often just break even on their regular meals.  They make their profit on the upsells.  Ignore them at your peril.

7. Use scarcity

Research shows that, if something is freely available, humans are less likely to value it than if it were scarce.  The very fact that only a low number of something is available makes us want it more.  We feel that we have acquired something of value, or we worry that we might regret not buying an item when it is no longer available.

Let’s say that creator #1 has printed 100 copies of his comic to take to a comic con. He displays all 100 copies in a pile on his desk and advertises it for $3.

Meanwhile, creator #2, who has also printed 100 copies of his new comic, only displays one or two copies on his desk and advertises it as a ‘Signed, numbered edition, limited to 100 copies only – $3’.

Chances are, if the comics are of equal quality, creator #2 will have the greater chance of selling out by the end of the comic con, especially if he regularly updates a sign on his desk showing how many copies are remaining.

If you’re attending multiple comic cons, you could sell the same comic, but with a different cover, at each comic con.  It may cost you slightly more in printing costs, but you are more likely to sell out if you make it clear that this version of the comic has been created exclusively for that convention, and sign and number each copy.

If you’re going to be selling at a comic con this year, I hope that’s given you some food for thought.  Let me know how you get on!

And remember, each comic con is good real-life training to help you sell even more next time.

If you’ve enjoyed this article, or know of anyone who would benefit from it, please help spread the word by using one of the social media buttons below, or leave a comment.

To your creative success,

Phil Hampton

The Comic Academy

Phil Hampton founded The Comic Academy to help comic creators and publishers to build their fanbase and sell their work. Get 32 inspirational articles with hundreds of valuable tips in ‘The Comic Creators Handbook’ – just $5! 

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Max West July 7, 2012 at 12:18 pm

Wow…some of these are so obvious but I never actually considered them. Thanks, Phil! I’ve got to try these in the future.

NoemZ July 7, 2012 at 1:06 pm

I’ve found that people take fright and keep walking if you are sitting there staring across the table at them. If you’re drawing, they can browse freely (even though you’re watching them furiously from your peripheral vision). If they looked as though they were about to leave, I’d shoot out my arm and give them a free comic (with my URL on it). I also had a giant puppet that I waved around and it got a lot of attention!

Chris Tuner July 7, 2012 at 11:35 pm

Totally agree with Max. Some are obvious & other tips I never thought about but even the way you break down the obvious tips makes me more likely to re-examine the way I implement these strategies at my next convention. Thanks for writing this!

philhampton July 9, 2012 at 9:15 pm

Thanks Max – glad you found it useful.

All the best,

Phil

philhampton July 9, 2012 at 9:18 pm

Hi Naomi,

Thanks for the great tips. We’re much more likely to buy from a comic creator who’s clearly enjoying themselves than one who’s depressed because they’re not selling!

Phil

philhampton July 9, 2012 at 9:20 pm

Thanks Chris,

Good luck at your next convention!

All the best,

Phil

dgriff13 July 10, 2012 at 1:16 pm

Terrific article Phil! Thanks for mentioning me! If anyone would like to know my secrets- where I order my stuff from, here’s another great article:
http://www.webcomicalliance.com/conventions/dawns-convention-resource-guide/
dgriff13´s last blog post ..Off-Season Check-In: Week 1

Danny July 10, 2012 at 8:43 pm

Hey, thanks for the great read! we do apply some of these tactics. But the High Ticket one? Gonna have to try that this weekend at a con! I’ll be back to let you know how we (http://www.uproarcomics.co.uk/) get on!

philhampton July 13, 2012 at 4:37 am

Thanks Dawn! You’re welcome.

That’s an excellent resource for anyone selling at comic cons.

All the best,

Phil

philhampton July 13, 2012 at 4:42 am

Thanks Danny,

I’d be very interested to know how that one works for you. Good luck with ‘Zombies Hi’!

Best wishes,

Phil

Shane July 19, 2012 at 12:32 pm

This is excellent advice, and mirrors the advice I read in the Artist Alley Survival Guide before attending my first ever con in March. I followed these rules (in particular, #1 and #4, saying “How’s your weekend going?” to everyone, and saying “Would you like to take a look?” while holding out a copy of my book.)

I sold everything I took with me.

I wrote in more detail on my blog: http://shanewsmith.com/blog/2012/04/my-oz-comic-con-experience/

Just wanted to comment to say that this is advice worth following, and this man knows what he’s on about! Thanks again for posting.

Nana October 6, 2012 at 10:38 pm

Hey Phil!

Good advice here, I used some of it in my first convention appearance long ago, and it helped. Good to see that those skills are reiterated here! If I ever attend another, I’ll try the high-ticket strategy, and improve the others (greet everyone, upsell, etc.)!
Nana´s last blog post ..Chapter 3 – Page 35

Van Allen Plexico December 8, 2012 at 3:58 pm

I offer 3 separate TPB volumes in my series for $14.95 each– and then a huge thick omnibus of them (with different cover art) for $21.95. I rarely fail to sell out of all copies of the omnibus. Whether they originally “really” wanted to buy something or not, when they realize “I can get the same $45 value for only $20,” they quickly snap up the omnibus. (I usually offer it marked down to a flat $20.) Every now and then someone wants to just “sample” the series and buys vol 1 alone, so in this strategy you also need to bring extra copies of that one. Only a handful of copies of 2 and 3 are needed, which saves money on supplying your table.

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