NB: While the title states ‘Zimbabwean’, I will make reference to other African countries.
While creating comic books is a whole host of tasks in itself, selling/marketing the comic book is the real challenge. After all, a million dollar idea that no one sees is worthless. They key items observed here are value, cost, price and margins. These elements inform pricing strategy and affect the overall publisher’s business models.
DigiArt Studios is one of the main creation houses for comic books that have become the backbone of the comic book events and daily discussions about where to go in the industry analyzing where we have come from over the years. The studio has published several titles since its first publication circa 2014/5. Each book has been made available for free online. One would assume with the low turnover time of local comics, the sheer labour hours that are poured into 24-32 page books that this is not viable. The value of the hours poured into the book don’t translate to the $0 price tag. However the studio at conventions, comic book days and other events sells posters, bookmarks and other collectibles with a favorable turnover.
The studio is making use of the ‘freemium’ pricing strategy that follows an online/digital product revenue model. This model attracts the highest number of customers, allowing them to experience the product at no cost and so increasing their purchasing bias for collectibles and other subsidiary products.
This works extremely well in Zimbabwe, where comic books are new and there is a reluctance by consumers to pick up new products or in this case books. It clears the doubt about the products by offering them the source material, available to them at any time. A hurdle from a seller’s stand point has been attempting to sell your comic, as well as other promotional goodies when the customer is unconvinced as to the quality standard of the book. (There is an unshakeable notion that anything that is made locally is of lesser quality)
Similarly in Nigeria, Comic Republic has their comic books available for free on their website – the crucial difference between them and DigiArt in Zimbabwe are the presence of ads. Using the ad revenue business model the company offering anything for free tends to generate more traffic and interest, which is what leads to higher-earning potential with advertisers. On top off the product, merchandise and collectible sales benefit that they receive they earn from the adverts placed within their pages.
In the same vein but leaning away from the model is the stand alone title produced in South Africa, Kwezi. The strategy to get Kwezi the impressive visibility that it currently holds was to use a ‘Product Sample Strategy’. The purpose of a free sample is to acquaint the consumer with a new product, and is similar to the concept of a test drive, in that a customer is able to try out a product before purchasing it. Although an expensive method of targeting customers, conversions to sales can be as high as 90% making it one of the main marketing strategies for certain markets.
Kwezi did this buy publishing the first issue of the series for free online, and then proceeding to sell hard copies of issue 2 onwards. The success of this can be seen as Kwezi is moving onto its fourth collected volume sold in bookstores. (Something that is uncommon among the comic books across the continent).
The final entry in this article follows a different route altogether. Rather than targeting maximum profit, Afro Tokyo targeted maximum sales. The intricacies of this difference become very technical, but to summarize the effect of this difference for them is that rather than focus on the long run – they are working on clearing their comic book stocks, with staggeringly low predatory prices, making as much return as possible in a short amount of time.
The business of selling your comics is a tricky navigation if you don’t have a background in commerce or a knack for marketing and sales. As all of the individual comics and publishers grow, it will be fascinating to see their respective approaches to the industry.