ComicsPRO '11: Speed Dating

I don't know how many of you have been to a trade show/Diamond Summit, that kind of thing? Generally speaking they're run a lot like comic cons -- there's usually a trade show floor, with normal booth setups, handing out shwag to try and get attendees' attention. There's often also a number of panels, which too often become bitchfests... especially when you get some peeps wasting the global retailer time with "last week my shipment had a 15% damage rate, what are you going to do to make me whole?!?!?!", rather than being more universal like "can you discuss overall national damage rates, and what steps you're taking to lower them?"

ComicsPRO doesn't have a "dealer's room" set up, we're more about the panels, and we try to set parameters for them, going in ("this is the time to talk about digital, this is the time to talk about physical distribution issues" and so on), but even those have morphed and changed over time. In meeting #1 we spent what felt like 3-4 hours discussing "org business", and here at meeting #5 that was down to under 20 minutes. But we still have a *few* relics of a "comic con", like putting 16 publishers up on the dais and giving them each 5 minutes to make a speech (though, like the oscars, that often becomes 10...) as they go down the line... but even that i think will probably disappear next year.

We don't have any "fans" there (well, we're all fans, but you know what I mean), nor any "pros" (Jim Lee and Todd McFarlane were there to speak as Publishers, not sign autographs -- though Chris Roberson turned up after hours on the Boom! RV), and we're not really open to the "press" (though I keep pushing every year for us to figure out a clear way to involve Heidi and Tom, at least)

(Todd, in particular, had some really terrific ideas of things the entire industry could do... and a few that were probably right up on the edge of anti-trust no-nos, but those can all be sorted through later. And Todd was especially gracious with me, despite my buttonholing him the moment he stepped into the hotel from his flight, and talking to me for about 45 minutes or so, hitting many/most of the topics he'd discuss the next day with the entire group. I *think* it was good "prep work" for him?)

But the real push, and the thing that makes ComicsPRO different from any other industry meeting is we're about DIALOGUE, not MONOLOGUE. While we haven't done formal polling, I'd guess that most attendees would say they got the most benefit from things structured around open Q&A, rather than our decreasing relics-of-how-things-are-done-elsewhere.

This year we made on SIGNIFICANT change to structure, and that's that something approaching a third of the meeting time was handed over to "Roundtables", but what is really in truth Speed Dating.

(I saw "we", but it is really clear that the overwhelming majority of  meeting thought and planning and execution squarely falls on the shoulders of Amanda Emmert, and she KNOCKED IT OUT OF THE PARK. All hail 'manda, she's awesome!!!!)

What we did was divvy the retailer attendees into groups of ~5 people, and, over four sessions, had each group spend about 10 minutes with a specific publisher. The 10 minutes were up, and, boom, we get up and move to the next publisher's table, eventually cycling through 20 tables, over two days.

The publishers entirely controlled the conversation -- they were free to use them as "pitch time", or for Q&A, or just "what can we do better/what's working well", and almost all of them used their time very very very wisely.

I think most of them filled up entire notebooks with notes of things to try, things to avoid, things to help everyone sell more comics. It worked very very well, and there was something grandly egalitarian that a smaller publisher like, say, Top Shelf had completely equal weight in this exercise to a Big Boy like Marvel.

I think we're universally agreed that this was a great way to do business, and that, time permitting, it should even be expanded next year.

The other thing that was super-productive this year was BarCon -- the hotel bar had these nice stepped terraces where you could have private conversations in a large group, and they also stayed open late "enough" -- not like Memphis where they shut down at something dumb like 11 PM. Some of my most productive time was in the 1-on-1 that BarCon can allow, breaking down opposing viewpoints to come to a common consensus and reality.

And, after that, we had the Boom! RV out in the parking lot where copious beer flowed after bar-closing time, and everyone who entered left with a big glowy smile on their face.

(though, I have to say, I think I saw more publishers getting falling-down drunk this weekend then retailers...)

(not that there's anything wrong with that!)

(And, no, I'm NOT naming names!)

I honestly and deeply believe that more real and productive retailer business was accomplished at the ComicsPRO weekend than is managed at San Diego, NYCC and Chicago, combined. We were focused in a way nothing has ever been focused before. If you're a retailer, and have only ever been to a comic book convention or a Diamond Summit, you have really no idea what the potential is. Come to ComicsPRO in 2012 and you'll really see something!

This is THE SINGLE BEST venue both for publisher-to-retailer (and/or distributor-to-retailer, and possibly distributor-to-publisher, but I'm not one of those, so I can't say for 100% sure) business in any year, and we're only getting better at facilitating that DIALOGUE.

It's also an epic event for peer-to-peer education -- there's not a single person who probably didn't walk away with twenty ideas to make their individual retailer operations better. Something I think the Summit-style fails pretty miserably at.

Its funny, we have this great weekend, and we come back home to a pair of threads on The Beat which are pretty much "The DM sucks" (though thanks to Kurt and JJM in particular for keeping the level of discourse there high), and how we're all doomed, and print is dead and whatever, but if you'd been there this weekend, you'd really see just how completely crazy wrong that all is. The DM has no where to go but UP, and with the kind of leadership and stewardship on evidence this weekend, I think we're going to get there.

Not smoothly, no... nothing ever works out exactly the way we want it to, but there's so much crazy potential that we've barely began to touch, and it's meetings like ComicsPRO that care going to make these things happen.

More in a bit!


PS: Let's have a moment of silence for Comic Relief. While something will rise, phoenix-like from the ashes of that, a specific shining example of a specific period of time has passed, and we're all a little poorer for it, even if you don't know that.