Month: May 2007

It’s a week to paradise

One week from tonight I'll be winging my way down to Toronto for the Paradise Toronto Comicon, where All New Comics will be making its presence felt for the second year in a row. It will be a pretty good time, but secretly I dread it a little bit.

I like the actual show part, but I'll be so busy that I'll likely not see much of the actual show. I'd love to get a comission from Michael Avon Oeming or from Matt Wagner, but there's no chance of that happening. I'd love go get some sketches in my new sketchbook, but I don't think I'll have any time, and the truth is I don't really NEED anything from any of the retailers (though I may keep an eye out for the Teen Titans cartoon on DVD).

Friday we'll likely get to the place at 10, set up, and then the show starts at 3. It ends at 8, so that's a long day. Friday night Pete and I are hosting a little something at the Kit Kat Club, so that will be fun. Saturday the show starts at 10 and goes to 6:30, and then Char and I are meeting up with our friends Jeff and Tiffany to go see Evil Dead: The Musical (which Ryan gave rave reviews to earlier in the week). Sunday the show goes from 11am to 5, and then it's back to Pete's place to unload.

I'll hopefully be home in London by about 10, then I get a full night's sleep, and head to work where we start on a fairly major relaunch of the site.

In the meantime I've got a bunch of website things to do for All New Comics this weekend that will hopefully launch by Thursday night (if all goes well). And if that happens I'll be a happy man indeed.

The Xbox 360 Red Rings of Death have me

“Now witness the firepower of this fully ARMED and OPERATIONAL battle station! ” – The Emperor: Star Wars Return of the Jedi. Okay, now imagine if that line was actually “Now you will witness the total uselessness of this fully inoperable brick”, and that's the delightful scenario that played out before me last night.

Let me set the stage. It's a long weekend. I've got very little to do this weekend, nowhere to be (other than a couple little gatherings), and not a lot of InfoTech or personal work to get done. Sounds like a great weekend to get some Xboxin' done.

Truth is I haven't played very much lately. I got my Xbox in November, two weeks before I decided to quit my job and find a new one. I started my job the first week of December and did a lot of traveling back and forth from London to Toronto (if I had been smart during this time, I would have brought the 360 to London and hooked it up at my parents place for the couple months I was there).

We put our house on the market the first week in December, so there was some time there where I had plenty of time to play Xbox, but after about February I just got way too busy to play. Packing, moving, running about. Crazyness.

So after that long layoff, I was really looking forward to busting out the controllers and getting some game on.

Thursday night, I fired her up to recharge the controllers. The video went weird a little bit, but everything seemed to work itself out. I ended up letting it download some stuff in the background, and went to bed.

Last night I fired it up, and the video signal just died on me. I waited for a while, and it came back, but suddenly the red colour went out. Then that came back, and finally the game just died. Crappy.

This morning Kaylin and I put Viva Pinata in the console and got ready for a little Pinata growin' action…and of course the screen died on me. Then suddenly I got the fabled “red rings of death”. This is the Xbox equivalent of the “Blue Screen of Death” on a PC, except this one's usually fatal.

I restarted the Xbox (because that's what you do with Windows stuff), and it came back that way again. Restarted again, and again still dead.

Microsoft's official stance is that 3-5% of Xbox 360 consoles fail. Many sources report 30-50% failure rates. I'm here to tell you that I personally have experienced a 75% failure rate. Of the 4 people I know with 360's (who are all moderate users of them) 3 of those units have failed. That's pretty shocking.

Now I made a call to Microsoft today, and I am pretty happy with the way the phone call went. I spoke to their automated system “Max” which was all “hip and cool”, and which walked me through some troubleshooting techniques. Then I got routed through to a real person who took down my details, and told me that since I'm in Canada, they'll send me a box, I'll send my Xbox back, and I'll get a new one in about 2-3 weeks.

That's pretty cool, and I guess it gives me 2-3 weeks to really bust on some work so that I can spend some quality Xbox time when I get the system back.

In the meantime, I just may have to go buy a Wii.

Free Comic Book Day follow-up

I already discussed that Free Comic Book Day was a huge success, new people are still visiting the site and buying stuff from us, and we’ve made a tiny profit despite the huge expenses of shipping Free Comics this month. This, as Martha Stewart would say, is a “good thing”. What’s not good however is the difficulties we had trying to get “Free Comics” this year because of the exclusionary practices of the Free Comic Book Day committee.

I’m so frustrated by the narrow minded view of the Brick and Mortar establishment. In their mind we have no “overhead”, which is utter crap.

We have servers to maintain, credit card deals to hammer out, shipping to cover, warehousing facilities to maintain, plus the “work” part like inputting product to the site every week, packing and shipping product, ordering, maintaining stock levels. Because we have embraced technology though, we’re considered “not real”.

I find this incredibly offensive. There are stores out there that are literally a tiny, dimly lit, cramped enclosure in another store’s basement (I can think of 2 stores in Toronto off the top of my head who fit that bill, who also pay less in rent every month than we pay in shipping costs).

So because we have no storefront, the Free Comic Book Day committee said we weren’t permitted to buy free comics (retailers pay a nominal fee for these “Free” comics). We called our distributor and explained the situation, and eventually we were allowed to get Free Comics.

This is the second year that we’ve had a Free Comic Book Day offer. We gave away around 100 free comics last year, and it was a great way to get our name out there, and to also let people who otherwise wouldn’t participate in the event get in on it. We benefited because people who didn’t know about us became aware of us, and bought stuff from us.

Today I filled out a form from our distributor and since there was no place to add “other comments”, I added this to the form in one of the fields:

We had a lot of difficulty getting Free Comics from Diamond this year to give away to customers because we are an online only business. We still feel that this exclusionary practice on the part of the free Comic Book Day Committee is wrong. We have gone out of our way to grow the comic book audience, we are huge evangelists for the comic book industry, and we have higher per-customer costs on Free Comic Book Day than any brick and mortar store, but we feel that the benefits far outweigh the costs.

A significant portion of our market cannot get to a local comic store due to distance, and we are a valuable resource to them. Being ostracized by the very retailing community which is benefiting from our evangelism of the product is frustrating.

The idea that we, who have a world class online store, are not on the same level as the most sub-par of Brick and Mortar establishments is both offensive and narrow minded.

If the retailing community won’t embrace those like us who go out of our way to use new technologies to spread the word of comics, then what hope does the medium have?

Free Comic Book Day (a little late)

So last Saturday was Free Comic Book Day, and for the second year in a row All New Comics participated, despite the Brick and Mortar based “Free Comic Book Day” Committee’s desire to keep online retailers like us from doing so.

At midnight on May 5th we posted our ten selections, and within minutes people were ordering comics. I went to bed around 1am with about eight orders placed. I woke up around 8:00am to see about 50 orders placed. I did some quick math, and realized that we’d probably run out of free comics around 5:00 if things progressed.

The orders kept coming, and as a testament to the new changes we’ve made to the system, the site ran smoothly despite doing more than 20x the usual volume of traffic and around 50x the usual volume of orders.

Around 11 Char, Kaylin and I went out to check out some of the local stores. We dropped by LA Mood’s here in London where I said hi to my old boss Gord and his wife Carol. We picked up a TPB (because I like to support the locals), and I took an Owly FCBD issue for Kaylin since she loves the little dude.

We went for some lunch at the market, and then headed back home to check on stuff. The orders were still flying in, though they had slowed significantly. I went through and canceled a bunch of orders for multiple comics, or several orders to single addresses, and any U.S. orders.

Which brings me to a mini-rant. I love giving away comics. We give them away for Halloween, we give them away to any kids we see at the summer con, and I’ll gladly give bundles of them away when we are at the Cottage Con in August.

HOWEVER, when we give comics away on FCBD, we have to pay for shipping. 1 comic is about $1.00 to ship. 2 comics is about $2.99 to ship. 5 or more comics is about $6-10.00 to ship (depending on a person’s location). So we offer 1 free comic to anyone. We said this year that if you want more than one, buy something. Spend $3.00, pay for shipping for the $3.00 book (so maybe another $3.50), and we’ll send you 5 free comics. Even at that price we would still not make anything off the transaction, and we’d likely lose a few cents, but I could handle that.

For some reason though, a few people decided that they’d just order a ton of comics and let us sort it out. It was a tiny percentage, but I found it kind of rude of those people. Here we were offering up free comics (which we paid the freight on), and those people wanted more. I guarantee that we’ll never hear from those people again until next free comic book day too.

Other than that though, the day was a tremendous success. By 10pm I had to shut down the Free Comics because we only had a handful left and I really wanted to go to bed.

We’ll still do it again next year, because it was a huge success, and it’s a lot of fun hearing from people who are new to us.

Update – later Sunday night
I neglected to mention that we did HUGE sales on May 5th, and the sales spilled over into May 6th and 7th, both of which saw marked bumps in orders placed and traffic, which is all good news.

In the time since Free Comic Book Day, we’ve signed up four new subscribers (which is quite good since we usually do about one new subscriber a week), and we’re still getting a nice little trickle of new orders from folks who heard about us through Free Comic Book Day.