Comics & Games Retailer
The Parent TrapBy Oliver Chin
Despite notable objections to the contrary, attending trade conventions can be beneficial. Not just for providing fodder for a monthly column but also to provoke new ways of thinking about and doing business. In this spirit, I had an epiphany the other day while at the Book Expo America (BEA; formerly known as the American Book Association or ABA) in Chicago.
Many comics publishers had booths, ranging from DC to Sirius, all trying to expand their graphic novel sales in the book market. My revelation dawned on me after 3 days of booth duty, responding to the umpteenth request by a middle aged housewife greedily taking a any available freebie from our table. Who would have thunk it?
Make me a Hero
First the bad news. They grabbed the sticker, thinking P-chan was a Pokémon. They took the button, thinking Yamoaka (Eagle) was a Pokémon running for President. They mistook Ranma for Misty, the Pokémon trainer.
Next the good news. They bought a hundred Pokemon 2000 poster calendars the first day (we're in June, remember). They recognized Goku as one cool hombre. They begged, again and again, please give me something related to Pokémon take back to my eight year old waiting at home.
Now I do realize that the "P" word is less of a phenonmenon for comic retailers than it used to be. But that doesn't mean it still isn't popular elsewhere. Or that other series won't become so (since DBZ and Gundam are rising fast). But at BEA, the scales fell from my eyes.
- Talk to parents.
- Understand the grandparents.
- Sell to uncles, aunts, and godparents.
It became clear, as person after person, man and woman, approached us with the same plea: make me a hero.
It wasn't Christmas. It couldn't have been every kid's birthday. We weren't in the thick of mass hysteria. People wanted to appease their still fanatical tykes. Conventioneers quickly explained their predicament with tales ranging from a terrible two who inexplicably could recite all 151 characters (old news, I know) to the Disney executive who needed to bone up on the material.
They were open to the possibilities. They were aware of their children's interests and were eager to keep up. They were surprised that anime and manga meant more than Pikachu. The clouds parted...and I saw opportunity to make these people and their children happy.
Now book publishing is a stable, serious and often staid industry. It is an environment that prizes the word before the image, the thought before the emotion. However, I witnessed how our booth images provoke positive emotions. More so than ever before. With more recognition. With more curiositiy from more types of passersby, both American and international.
Adults now get it - they understand that their children like these television programs, toys, or merchandise, without knowing their legacy or category or comic/book equivalents. Definitely anime and manga are foreign concepts. But adults are willing to learn just enough to satisfy their kids, and maybe just a little bit more to avoid feeling completely out of touch.
It is completely apparent to me that all parts of the comics market, publishers, distributors and retailers have to take advantage of this situation. While serving the core customer, we must also address new audiences both young and old. In fact, the young are converting the old on our behalf. Kids are forcing their parent and grandparents to educate themselves on the lingo, stories, and visual style of anime and manga by default. If it is what their children watch, play with, and wear, adults are as exposed if not more primed to purchase these items; often simply ahead of time to sate their kids' incipient and ongoing demand.
Thus, we must consciously be ready, able and willing to speak to parents. To explain why kids like these products in terms adults can comprehend. To provide a background to why parents can appreciate these products for their own reasons (if it helps them to be "cool", so be it). To guide them through the universe and history of the products, and help them anticipate what is to come (the latest hottest show or a title which could expand their entertainment horizons).
Where can I find the rest?
Now this dynamic surely does not exist for all comic series or characters. But it is a unique example of how the market can evolve, broaden, and therefore survive. Anime and manga now have the ability (or the luxury) of having a voice to speak to young readers and mature influencers, instead of just post-adolescent buyers.
Who knows how long or large this window of opportunity will last? All I realize, after witnessing this humbling pattern of floor traffic, was that we have to seize this day. We have to create the distribution to bring products into the mainstream. We have to build the awareness by marketing to a general public to draw consumers into the store. We have to change our practices and vocabulary - we must cross sell by comparing comic titles to larger cartoons and movies which the average adult can appreciate. The world is a big place and we must look outward, with both eyes open in all directions.
I came back to the office and got a call today. It was a parent who bought the Dragon Ball Z comic at Toys R Us, and called me because he didn't know where to turn and saw my phone number listed on the contents page. Uh oh. It turns out, his son loved DBZ and wanted to buy the entire series up to date, but they didn't see the rest of the comics at the store and didn't know where to find them. I breathed a sigh of relief and was happy to oblige.
Then it struck me. This was just the beginning. Many more parents yearn to be heroes and need our help.