I love the TV series Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Maybe a little too much.
Since BTVS went off the air in 2003, I’ve purchased all 7 seasons on DVD, two statues, one bust, a pair of script books, three action figures, more tie-in novels than I care to remember, and a philosophy book titled “What Would Buffy Do?”.
And don’t forget the Angel Puppet Replica…
So, yes: It’s a bit of an understatement to say I was pumped when Dark Horse Comics announced that Buffy’s adventures would continue in comic book form with “Buffy Season 8”. And that excitement lasted from early 2007 until the summer of 2008.
Then my enthusiasm started to fade, fast, until I bitterly dropped the title earlier this year.
What happened? Let’s do a little win/loss analysis to find out.
If a rep from Dark Horse asked me when I dropped the series, this is what the Win/Loss might look like…
Buffy The Vampire Slayer Win/Loss Analysis
A general overview to define baseline information for the customer.
- Primary: Hardcore fans of the Buffy The Vampire Slayer TV show, equally split male/female, “Whedonites”
- Secondary: Male, 20-25, disposable income, “techie,” single.
- Title: Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8
- Writers: Joss Whedon, Drew Goddard & others
- Artists: Georges Jeanty, Cliff Richards & others
- Genre: Horror, Action/Adventure
- Format: Monthly, 32 pages
- Price: $2.99
- Series Overview: Buffy creator Joss Whedon brings Buffy back to Dark Horse in this direct follow-up to season seven of the hit TV series.
Win/Loss Analysis Report
Specific information from the customer about the buying decision.
- Date: June 30, 2009
- Interviewee: Chris Cummings, Sr. Product Manager, Gamesville
- Interviewer: Dark Horse Consultant
- Original Deal Outcome: Win
- Current Deal Outcome: Loss
- Comments: Chris is a hardcore fan of Buffy The Vampire Slayer who bought issues #1-#22 of Season 8. Enjoyed issues #1-#14. Started losing interest with #16. Dropped with issue #22 (February 2009). Purchased issue #24 (April 2009) as a special standalone issue.
- How do you perceive our company? Leader; Follower; Innovator? Leader
- What is your general opinion of our company? Professional. Mainly focused on TV and movie tie-ins.
- What is your general opinion about our products? Production quality is first-rate. You’re the home of Hellboy, which I continue to love dearly. Not many titles that I, personally, am interested in.
Creative Team Evaluation
- Rate your overall satisfaction with the writing on Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 8: Initially very strong. Toward the end, very weak. On a scale of 1-10, 5.
- Rate your overall satisfaction with the illustration on Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 8: Enjoyed throughout, particularly the Georges Jeanty artwork. On a scale of 1-10, 8.
- Did you find the cover artwork attractive? Yes.
- What could the creative team improve on? Stronger stories. After the Dracula arc, the series lost focus. Plot threads established in the first few issues remain unresolved. The “Time of Your Life” storyline (issues #16-20) was ironically titled; the next two issues focused on characters other than Buffy and did not credibly establish how the world could a) elevate vampires to hero status and b) relegate Slayers to Public Enemy #1. Focus on Buffy; resolve and advance plots; remember to keep the world “grounded”.
- Who evaluated the products? Me.
- What process was used to evaluate the products? Prior to purchase: Review previews in Diamond “Previews” catalog; in store, review cover, flip through interior. After purchase: Read.
- What were the top three criteria used to evaluate the product? Art quality. Writing quality. Price.
- What sources were used to gather information on the product? Newsarama, Comic Book Resources, DarkHorse.com
- Who made the buying decision? Me.
- How did we win or lose? We won initially based on nostalgia and strong story. We lost ultimately because the story failed to retain his interest. Nostalgia, and a hope for a return to interesting stories, garnered us 6 months of second-chance ($17.94).
- How did our competitors win or lose? Money spent on BTVS went to “Dark Avengers” from Marvel, a spin-off from their 2008 inter-company crossover. Chris found that storyline very exciting. Note: The cover price for Dark Avengers is $1.00 higher ($3.99).
- What were the strongest/weakest points of our process? No clear way to indicate “things will get better”; haven’t clearly announced how many total issues Season 8 will be. Perhaps if there was an “end” in sight, he might have held on. No clear way to integrate feedback into the story-planning process. How is the voice of the customer heard?
- What were the strongest/weakest points of our competitors’ process? Strong sales of crossover leading into new series. Promise of “real change” coming from this storyline–and delivering on it. Strong marketing web presence (interviews, promotional art, creators discussing stories on podcasts).
- Top Advantages: #1 comic book publisher in North America; strong creative teams; relatable & well-known characters
- Top Weaknesses: Limited discretionary funds for entertainment; rising paper costs; competition for talent
- Recommendations: Can we hire a rising star at Marvel to help write or draw an upcoming arc?
- Top Advantages: #2 comic book publisher in North America; well-known characters; Time-Warner parent company
- Top Weaknesses: No cohesive vision for the DC Universe imprint; limited discretionary funds for entertainment; rising paper costs
- Recommendations: Learn from their mistakes: Quality art with weak writing does not sell well
Analysis & Results
- Conclusions: Downward pressure on discretionary income leaves little room for stories that lack a clear payoff. Interestingly, the customer gave us 6 months to “correct” the situation. However, there was no way to know we were on notice, and therefore could not address the problem.
- Recommendations: Better communication between editorial and customers. Review plan for season eight’s remaining arcs.
- Action items: Meet with web team to evaluate communication vehicles (site, Twitter, etc.). Meet with creative team to introduce customer feedback into the creative process, address lingering story threads and address the “unbelievability” factor. Develop a follow-up strategy along with our regular marketing strategies.
- General comments: Monthly sales are on a downward trend. In the first year, sales of the monthly comic have drifted down from 109,919 (issue #1 in March 2007) to 83,563 (issue #13 in April 2008). We’ve shed another 24,000 readers in the last 12 months (currently at 58,740 as of issue #25). Engaging with the readers–including those like Chris, who clearly want us to succeed and are willing to give us multiple chances to make it happen–is worth exploring.
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To Robin Zaragoza for giving me the idea for this post approximately four months ago 🙂