13
Dec
06

Backlist

It’s very difficult to keep sales steady on backlist titles. Sales on even the most popular titles fizzle by month four. My distributor unfortunately does not have a good system in place to keep our backlist alive. Coming from the comic book side of the business they have a ‘new releases are all that matter’ mentality. They have done relists of some of my titles in sales catalogs. They also keep my books listed in Star System. It doesn’t result in significant sales.

The marketing efforts we make to drive backlist sales do not boast sales in a meaningful way either. Advertisements generally do not result in a sales boom on the consumer level. They’re only benefit is as part of sales kit ammunition to generate store buyer interest. ‘Buy this book because we’re advertising it in Newtype.’ If the stores stock our books, they almost always sell well. Advertising backlist titles is money thrown away for the most part. Even in retailer guides. If the distributor doesn’t put the title in the buyer’s face, they don’t buy. The distributor does not push our backlist. I understand why. They can’t possibly push every book published by every publisher. They have to narrow their focus, and that means to focus on new releases. (Please keep in mind, I gave all sales rights to the distributor. I can market, but I can’t sell, so I’m not able to push the backlist to buyers myself.)

There are only two effective ways to generate backlist sales that I’ve found. The first is extremely effective. The second is hit or miss.

The first and best way is to have multiple volume series. The Yaoi Hentai series was an eye-opener for me. When Yaoi Hentai 2 was put in the face of buyers, sales of volume 1 went from fizzle to boom. I had to scramble out a second printing. Now with volume 3 coming out in January I see the effect again on volume 1 and 2. I saw this with Saihoshi the Guardian also. The release of volume 2 generated enough sales of volume 1 for a second printing on that title also. This is more significant than usual, because I took a gamble with the first printing of Saihoshi volume 1 and printed twice as many books as I normally do. The second printing was three times as many. It wasn’t done on speculation either. I had outstanding orders to justify that run.

Multiple volume series effectively remarkets your backlist to buyers. I will not forget this lesson. The German rights for ‘The Aluria Chronicles’ are currently being negotiated. The German publisher has sought the rights to do a volume 2 of this series. To my amazement the artist for volume 1 wants to draw volume 2 for them. I will publish volume 2 if it actually gets created (working out whatever agreement I need to with the German publisher) because it’s going to push sales of volume 1.

The second way to generate backlist sales is for the creator to do something new, and to have their former works referenced in the marketing some way. This can take the form of something as simple as their name becoming a clickable link on Amazon. Someone liked one thing the creator wrote or drew and buys their prior works. Stallion got a sales boast when Saihoshi 2 was put out. It was marketed in the sales kits as the creators’ prior works. New work by the same creators can remarket your backlist to buyers. Even if it’s with other publishers. Especially when it’s with publishers who are larger than you. It’s the large publishers who don’t seem to care if they’re inadvertently helping your sales in the promotion of their own books. I’ve seen the sales kits for other publishers. They’re referencing ISBNs of books they did not publish, the same as I do. The more credits below a creator’s name the more reason for store buyers take notice.

The result of this knowledge is a better gameplan going forward. I’m no longer publishing one-shots of unknown creators. If their work is spectacular they need to drive value to their name by doing multiple volumes. If they have ‘name power’ I’ll always consider them. Artists moreso than writers. I work in a visual medium, for better or for worse. Dany&Dany have three one-shots coming out with Yaoi Press in 2007. Preorders of Idol are record-breaking on the direct market side. They’ll always have a home for their projects at my company.

Dany&Dany are an extraordinary example. My safest path is to continue on-going series. Yaoi Hentai will continue indefinately, so will the anthology just called ‘Yaoi.’ Treasure will go to at least a volume 3. Zesty will go to at least a volume 4. Other than Dany’s work there are no one-shots for 2007. The other license, Cain, is a three volume series. There is another 3 volume series being licensed which will start in 07 also.

I’m not encouraging new creators to submit long term projects to Yaoi Press. The truth is, in not encouraging them to submit at all. The door for new writers has been permanently closed, more or less. The only submissions I take time to look at lately are coming from a British agency. New writers have to convince an amazing artist that their writing is amazing and submit a package of both art and writing. If they’ve got such an artist, then they can propose a three volume series. If the artist has name recognition then I’ll consider a one-shot.

The other way in is by selling me the license of yaoi manga published in a language other than English. It’s complete. It’s proven its worth to the point that another publisher invested in it. It’s a bargain, because I’m only buying English/Spanish rights. Let me add a caveat to that statement. I pay six times as much to license manga in English as what I’m paid by foreign publishers to license Yaoi Press books. I know my licensing fee is more than what the creator’s were paid by the original publisher to make the books to begin with. For one studio I know their publisher paid 1/9th of what I paid to license their work in English. They had to show me their contract so I could be sure I wasn’t infringing anyone’s rights. Even considering all this, the work is still a bargain compared to paying a team to make it from scratch. Even if I don’t get backlist sales on it, the initial sales cover the investment.

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