Source Comics and Games usually does a stiff business on Saturdays. But this weekend, owner Bob Brynildson is bracing for hourlong lines outside of his Roseville shop.
"I hire additional staff for security because it’s impossible to keep an eye on everything going on," Brynildson said, adding it might take about three hours to get through the store.
So what's the deal? Those additional customers will be queuing up for the 15th annual Free Comic Book Day, an industry holiday and celebration of comic book culture. This year, over 2,300 participating stores will give away an expected 6 million free comic books, according to Time.
Michael Harmon, the general manager of Hot Comics and Collectibles (which has locations in Richfield, New Hope, and Jordan) said it is "without question, our single best sales day of the year."
It's a chance to draw in new customers
Minneapolis' Mead Hall Games hopes to reel in some new blood. Compared to industry veterans like Hot Comics and Source, the 4-year-old Loring Park store is relatively new, but manager Eric Haugen says his shop still sees an uptick in business from Free Comic Book Day.
"It’s definitely a good way to attract people that aren’t your regular people, or your regular subscribers that come in." Haugen says of the event. "So if maybe people haven’t been to our store, they get their free comic books then and we can be like 'Hey, we have a bunch of other stuff here that you might want to come back for again some time.'”
Founded in 2002 by Diamond Comics, the world's largest distributor of comic books, Free Comic Book Day has grown into an international campaign. In addition to titular giveaways, many comic book stores will use Free Comic Book Day as a launch pad for other events and promotions to try and draw in new readers and casual customers.
"It’s a day that gets the word out about comic books, it gets people excited about them, and it hopefully brings in some new readers," Harmon said.
His Hot Comics holds a storewide sale, and also hosts child-friendly events like sketch artists and a kid's drawing contest.
"Our key demographic is still mostly folks in their 20’s and 30’s buying for themselves, but we do see a noticeable increase in kids and families in general coming in," Harmon said of how his customer demographic shifts that day.
Source meanwhile is promising each customer a bag of free comic books rather than just a single issue, and divides their giveaways into "Adult" and "Child" varieties.
"You don’t want your 5 year-old seeing somebody’s head coming off," Brynildson said, chuckling.
So is it worth it?
That bump in business is definitely a boon to brick and mortar stores, but according to Brynildson, it doesn't come for free.
"If you put the event as a single day, you’re probably not looking as good as you’d hope to be because the expense of comic book day is enormous." Brynildson explains, " I pay for those free comics, they’re not free to me. The shipping alone is $1000."
He says it's helpful that major brands like Marvel and DC use Free Comic Book Day to kickstart new series that will keep customers returning.
And all three shops said in the end, the benefits outweigh the expenses.
"What we want is two or three new customers," said Brynildson. "If we get them then the event will pay for itself over the year."