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Comics Buyer's Guide: An advertiser's remembrance

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

by John Jackson Miller

The 4th issue had ad rates on Page 1.
It only took four days for last Wednesday's post about the closure of Comics Buyer's Guide after 42 years to become the most viewed article in this site's history. That response, and the comments received, were gratifying to those who worked on it for many years.

One response received yesterday came directly from Bud Plant, one of the longtime advertisers in CBG and its precursor, TBG — and I thought I would include it here:

I really enjoyed reading your overview--amazing what I'd forgotten about the many changes in CBG over the years. You brought back some happy times, with the columns and news that I very much looked forward to each week.

I was one of the every-issue advertisers from one of the first issues, moving over from ads in the Rocket's Blast ComiCollector. TBG was absolutely essential in helping me to reach new customers and to build my mail order/catalog business through the 1970s, so that I could first produce flyers, then full catalogs, and have a list to mail them to.

The typeset issues were quite handsome, but the cost of advertising did become very expensive. That letter-writer was right, you could judge a dealer's aptitude when you saw exactly what their ad looked like. My early ads were always worked on quite hard and it helped me to learn proper layout and marketing to design them.

I kept doing ads there as I moved into distribution in the 1980s, but I remember having to think long and hard about how to maintain my presence. Like Chuck Rozanski, I found ads in Marvel Comics (in my case, on the back cover of Savage Sword of Conan) became a better way to reach new collectors. That was the bargain basement of Marvel, $250 for a back-cover ad on their magazines!

Towards the end, it was Michelle Nolan's column that was my first and favorite place to turn to in CBG. Chuck Rozanski's was also frequently fun. But sadly I found it wasn't that hard to let my subscription lapse, as it has been for the last couple of years.
Thanks for your part in all of that, and for your fine work on Comics Retailer — this also managed to hang on a lot longer than I would have expected it to. Both publications were integral in growing novice fans into dedicated collectors, and in educating retailers.

TBG #22's cover led with an auction.
I greatly appreciate Bud's sentiments, and it reminds me of something I didn't pay as much attention to in my piece as it deserved: the ad staff. Their work, bringing all that material together, filled up three-quarters of the issues for years, and it was an often difficult and unsung job.

My wife was an ad rep there for less than a year in the late 1990s, and I got to see some of the pressures of the work from her — as well as what I saw in the office over the years. It wasn't just the cold calls that presented the challenge — ad staffers also helped to corral a vast amount of materials, funneling it from the advertisers to the designers in the production room. Materials were coming in from hundreds of vendors each week; just managing the traffic was a monumental chore. But for years, many in the business knew to expect their weekly call from staffers including John Diser, Jim Felhofer, Jim Owens, John Hammond, Cheryl Clementi, Norma Jean Fochs, Tom Polzer, Amanda Wild, Steve Madson, and many, many more. I would also single out for note Shannon Piotrowski, who handled the calls solo for much of the 2000s, and Lori Hauser, who handled traffic for the ad office for more than 20 years.

One of the last ad rate cards, 2009-10.
There was always a tension between advertising and editorial, each pushing and pulling the magazine toward something that more closely served their needs. One year at San Diego, The Comics Journal read "indictments" against various entities in the industry, including one saying that CBG's editorial staff ran too many articles just to satisfy the ad staff. "Any objections?" they'd asked after reading the charge; no one said anything. Hearing later of it, ad rep John Diser said he would have loudly and vociferously objected. "I'd have told them you don't run nearly enough!"

But several of the ad staffers, including John, were comics fans themselves — and in the end, we all had the same interest, which was putting out the most successful magazine we could, despite the challenges facing the business model. The magazine that started out almost entirely as advertising may have ended life almost entirely as editorial content, but there's no understating the role that advertisers and ad staffers alike had in between.

A quick note for TBG fans: Russ Maheras has this week picked up where his TBG index on the CBG site left off on his Facebook page.

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