Screen Shot 2016-05-05 at 7.59.31 PMShop Tries Free Comics Giveaway in the Local Paper

by BK Munn

What do you do when over half the people in your town have never heard of your business? My friends Jenn and Robert Haines, the owners of The Dragon comic shop in Guelph, have that problem and came up with a unique solution I think is actually newsworthy, or at least as newsworthy as the usual publicity stunts that comics publishers try to pass off as “news” every week on comics blogs and, increasingly, in mainstream media venues.

The Dragon is a large family-friendly comics shop located in downtown Guelph. They have a healthy clientele and the shop even won an Eisner a few years back for its many merits. But! Because half the people in town don’t know they exist, they came up with a very unique promotion to lure people into the shop. Guelph is divided roughly in half, North and South. North of the Speed River is the traditional “downtown” and its older suburbs. South of the river, stretching almost to the 401 Highway leading to Toronto, is an ever-growing sprawl of new developments, condos and suburbs. It’s very rare for people from “the South End” to venture downtown unless they have to pay a parking ticket at City Hall or watch the hockey game at the big arena.

Luckily, The Dragon is located right next to the arena and they do a bang-up business on game nights. Not so luckily, that only accounts for a small number of Guelphites discovering their shop. How then to spread the word? Free Comic Book Day is one answer. The giant line-up and tons of new faces on that one day every year gave Rob and Jenn an idea: Just like with their regular weekly offerings, the big US comics companies offer incentives for ordering huge numbers of the FCBD freebie comics. The Dragon placed the biggest order (thousands and thousands of copies) for one title from DC Comics, and by spending the most money, they got the privilege of plastering their own store logo over half the cover.

They gave out a ton of theses comics on Free Comic Book Day this past Saturday. Today they are giving out even more by inserting them into the local newspaper and distributing one to every household in the South End of town.

According to The Dragon owners, buying the “ad” on the front of the comic, a kid-friendly adventure about Supergirl and her friends, was super-expensive, but the cost of inserting the comic in the newspaper, delivered free twice a week to all the homes in Guelph, was very reasonable. Much cheaper than actually buying a half-page ad inside the paper, for instance. And with newspapers and actual ad venues drying up, and print newspaper readership going down, this seems like a viable solution: deliver a hefty sample of your product right to your potential customers.

Of course, the comic will be bundled with a bunch of flyers and ads that most people immediately throw out. But some people actually cut out coupons and read all the ads for tanning salons, grocery stores, and real estate brokers that come wrapped around the Guelph Trubune in a big log of newsprint and slick paper, stuffed in a plastic bag. And maybe some of these people, or their kids, will discover the free comic book waiting for them in the bundle, and that will lead them to The Dragon. That’s what Jenn and Robert are hoping, anyway. Quite the gamble.