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Drawing New Customers

Comic Book Publisher Finds Payoff in Selling a Special Edition Online Only

April 08, 1998|KAREN E. KLEIN | Karen E. Kline is a freelance writer

Brad Foxhoven was just out of college and looking for a job in the entertainment licensing and marketing field when comic book creator Marc Silvestri hired him to work for Top Cow Productions Inc. Although the comic book industry has slumped recently, Top Cow's six fantasy/adventure titles have proved popular with 14- to 34-year-old males, a group that also spends a lot of time on the Internet. This year, the company decided to produce a special edition available for sale only on the Web. In two months, the comic book sold out its limited edition of 140,000 copies and generated nearly $500,000--as well as a database of new customers--for the company. Foxhoven, the firm's president, was interviewed by freelance writer Karen E. Klein.

When we started back in 1994, we had one comic book, a couple of rooms and one computer. Now we have 29 full-time staffers and about 15 freelancers, and we have just moved into a new, 10,000-square-foot office facility.

The idea for the special edition came about when Keith Boesky, the president of Eidos Interactive video game company, came to me and proposed a crossover comic book to be called "Tomb Raider/Witchblade," in which their hottest video game character, Lara Croft the Tomb Raider, would meet our hottest comic book character, Sara Pezzini/Witchblade, in a special edition.

The idea was a no-brainer. We knew it would do well, and our artist, Michael Turner, was willing to draw a 32-page, full-color special edition. But we like to gamble when gambling makes sense. I came up with the idea of trying something else that had never been done before--making the book available for purchase only on the Internet.

It was a big risk because we just weren't sure how willing our customers were going to be to spend money online. We worried that a lot of people might still be apprehensive about that and we would lose sales by not putting the book in regular retail outlets. Some people speculated that we'd be lucky to sell 20,000 copies--about half of what the average comic book sells. But we knew we had a strong product, and we figured this was the one to take a chance on.

Also, we knew that with the Internet venue, we would attract a whole group of customers who would not otherwise go into a hobby store and pick up a comic book.

Our overall goal was to get these people interested in the comic book and get them into the stores to buy our other comic books too.

The big trick was getting people to go online and buy the book. The best advertising we did was a double-page ad in the booklet that came with the "Tomb Raider II" CD that debuted in December. Before the book was even ready to ship, we had people bombarding us about how they could get it.

We also ran ads in our comic books and in industry trade publications and sent direct mail out to 250,000 customers of AnotherUniverse.com, an online comic book catalog. Both Top Cow and Eidos had ads for the special edition on their Web sites.

Our sales really skyrocketed with this edition, and now we have a database of all the consumers who play the video game and who we hope will now become consistent comic book readers. We've found that there really is a community out there that is willing to buy products online, so that really expands our customer base.

But we are not trying to bypass the 5,000 retail outlets nationwide that sell comic books. Nothing can replace one-on-one contact with the retailers. What we wanted to do was to support the retailers by creating some excitement that would drive people back into the shops.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

AT A GLANCE

Company: Top Cow Productions Inc.

Owner: Marc Silvestri

President: Brad Foxhaven (pictured)

Nature of business: Comic book publisher

Location: 10390 Santa Monica Blvd., Suite 110, Los Angeles

Founded: 1994

Employees: 29

Annual Revenue: $13 million

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If your business can provide a lesson to other entrepreneurs, contact Karen E. Klein at the Los Angeles Times, 1333 S. Mayflower Ave., Suite 100, Monrovia 91016 or send e-mail to Kklein6349@aol.com. Include your name, address and telephone number.

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