Hard Lesson 14: Inside the Wannabe Press Revenue Numbers from San Diego Comic-Con

July 29, 2016

Let us end these Comic-Con special episodes with a complete look at our financials for this year. I will state for the record that I only have rough numbers for 2015, as I didn’t start keeping detailed financials until this year. However, I can tell you that in total we sold 350 units last year and made a total of $5250 in revenue.

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That roughly broke down to 153 copies of Ichabod Jones: Monster Hunter, 75 copies of Convenience Store Diet, and an assortment of Paradise, Gumshoes, and The Little Bird and The Little Worm which equaled the other 122 units.

I want to go into a detailed analysis, but before we go further let’s look at the side by side comparison for both years.

Total books sold

2015 = 350

2016 =247

Difference = -103

Total revenue

2015 = $5250

2016 = $3473

Difference = -$1777

These are the two numbers that I want to look at closely throughout the rest of this article because selling over 100 fewer books and making almost $1800 less revenue seems bad. It seems really, really bad.

And it is bad, but it’s not all bad. So let’s explore some of the reasons behind these two phenomena.

Why total books sold were down this year

1. We didn’t have a $5 product

Last year we had Paradise #1, which was the first issue of Paradise and it was only $5. We had 81 copies of those last year, so just those alone accounted for almost all of our item losses. This year the lowest price point we had was $10. However, Paradise cost $2.50 make, so this is a very low margin item which is why we did away with selling it at shows.

2. We didn’t bundle as much or make our bundles as low

Last year we bundled up to three books for $20. We would give Paradise, Ichabod, and possibly a children’s book for only $20, whereas the cheapest books were this year were 2 for $30. That means a lot fewer products sold, but far more profit on those books. Since Paradise and our kid’s book cost $2.50 each and Ichabod cost $6, we were only making $9 total on that sale, which is a very low margin for a con. By doing away with those bundles, we sold less but made more on each sale.

3. We moved from an exhibitor table to small press

The traffic from last year to this year was less than half. At the exhibitor table we were at last year we had a corner table next to the main aisleway. This year we were in small press and there was often no traffic at all through our row. I think Long Beach had more traffic than SDCC at some points, and Long Beach has a fraction of the attendees. If you believe, like I do, that sales are simply a product of a funnel, then fewer people going into the funnel means fewer sales.

4. We didn’t have any original art

Last year I made 60 pieces of original art and sold it for anywhere from $5-$20. A lot of our bundles also included a piece of original art. Having the original art really helped get people to the table and make sales. This year we had none of that.

5. We didn’t discount our books nearly as much

Last year we discounted Ichabod down to $10 during some hours of the con, which really helped them fly off the table. This year, we didn’t do any of that. We kept the price point $20, or 2 for $30, which meant that the lowest we sold the books for was $15, almost 50% more than our lowest cost last year. However, if we sell a book for $15 instead of $10 we can sell 50% less and still make the same amount of money.

The reduction in book sales, came down to several factors; we increased the price of the items at our table, didn’t bundle or cut rates of our books as much, moved to a less trafficked location, and didn’t have original art. None of this would have been so bad except that total revenue was down drastically from last year.

If we able to keep revenue up and increase prices, this would have been a fabulous year. However, we weren’t. So let’s visit the reasons total revenue was down this year.

Why Total revenue was down this year

1. My artist only ordered 100 books instead of 200.

The artist I brought with me to the cons ordered 200 copies of his books last year. This year he only bought 100, which means that right off the bad we were going to have $800 less revenue than last year.

2. Our booth costs were less than last year, so I received less revenue from that.

Last year our book costs were $250 more. Since I split costs, that meant I received $125 less in revenue. So far, just this alone accounts for $925 in less revenue. Which means that only $852 is unaccounted. Where did that other $852 go?

3. Location

As I mentioned, the location could have accounted for fewer sales because there was vastly less traffic than last year. This means there are fewer people at the top of my funnel and could lead to fewer book sales.

4. Fewer people buying our big books

At the end of the day, 42 fewer people bought our large titles than last year. In 2015, 153 people bought Ichabod. This year 111 people bought Ichabod and Katrina combined. That 42 fewer people is exactly $852 in lost revenue. I think the reason fewer people bought those books was the choice of multiple books at my table. I love having a lot of books on my table, but it meant decision paralysis for a lot of buyers.

5. We weren’t offering a good enough deal

People are Comic-Con are looking for a deal. Last year we had great deals. If people bought our books then they paid less for them or got exclusive stuff. This year, we were very stingy with our deals which helped profit margin but didn’t help overall sales.

Had we taken the 42 main books we sell and bundled it with the 61 books we were short this year (for a total of 103 books), we could have potentially made up that revenue, but at the expense of profit margin.

Why it’s not so bad

In the end, if you just take into account the overall figures above, things would look miserable for us. However, that’s not actually the case. In truth, last year was a horrible show for us financially. We got barely 50 people on our mailing list and lost $1,000 when all was said and done. Yes, we made more money, but it was a horrible marketing effort.

This year, in contrast, we had a 500% increase in making list sign-ups and made money. That’s right, we were in the BLACK for SDCC for the first time. I don’t have exact numbers yet, but we spend about $2,000 on expense, which means that we made a profit or right around $1500, or a change of $2,5000 in one year.

Why? Because we worried more about profits and margins than selling every book we could. Last year our margins were so razor thin that we had to sell thousands of books just to break even.

Remember, every book costs money to print, so if I bundle three books I have to factor in all those costs to my final profit and loss statements. This year, we had healthy margins and turned a profit at the show.

Still, it would be nice to increase revenue AND profit, right?

How do we fix this going forward? Clearly, we need to rethink the deals that we offer if we want to increase revenue. The more you can pile on to a deal, the better chance you have of closing it. We don’t want to increase revenue at the expense of profits, though. So we have to find a high margin item to throw into a deal.

So what did I think on the whole? Overall, this was a vastly better experience than last year. Our mailing list numbers were up AND our profits were up. Even though revenue and sales were down, I am pleased with the results.

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2 comments on “Hard Lesson 14: Inside the Wannabe Press Revenue Numbers from San Diego Comic-Con

  1. Amazing stuff, a lot of things the average person wouldn’t normally think of. A lot of people are just concerned with the profit number, but thanks to these insights, when I start tableing next year I’ll know how to plan and what to account for. Thanks!

    • noheltyr@gmail.com Aug 2, 2016

      I’m glad you got some use out of it! Hopefully you listened to all the SDCC episodes b/c there were a couple about con marketing and sales.