Monday, September 01, 2008

Sureshot Presents - Quality Assurance (where it went wrong)

When you deal with goals or doing an activity such as publishing a book its always a good idea to have some sort of test to see if you are succeeding. Evaluate some key performance indicators (KPIS) is the wanky business term. Its about quality assurance to - am i meeting my goals.
Most models of production follow a general structure of quality assurance; Plan, Do, Review and Act.
I've pretty much been going through and detailing my Plan in the last couple of weeks. I did publish four issues of Sureshot Presents (the Do bit). So next is the Review phase.

I released four issues pretty much on a quarterly basis. I sold out issues #1 (Crab Allan) #2 (Ordinary Eyeball) within 6 months. Mandy sold out her lot even faster and we did a reprint. I did a small reprint of Crab Allan. Holgate's flipbook boys own adventure will probably be sold out after the next convention (both our shares). Issue #4 (Guide to Australian Comics) did well.

Retailers were reordering.

People liked the books, the smattering of reviews published were good.

But I didn't get submissions. Ok, i did get some (4) one was too big and the other was good but the creator had done much stronger work. The rest weren't good.

Of course this was a bit deflating, i was expecting an avalanche of submissions - but i didn't.

Why? Superficially, the book isn't sexy. It doesn't have the glossy colour cover, its small and nuggetedy. That's a fallout from the model, to make it commercially viable i had to 'cut' corners. I think "zines" are still a dirty word, local creators want to match it with the big boys and most likely end up broke on the other side with unfinished series.

Also in the time that I started planning and eventualy publishing Sureshot Presents we had n explosion of Web Comics and Print on Demand (POD). People who wanted to publish their own comic have access to various mechanisms to do that; sidestepping comic shops, retailers and cons all together. I've talked about my thoughts on POD before (essentially for it to work well it is not a set and forget concept but somwhere to drive customers to in the hope they buy). This is the same issue about webcomics; its very preach to the choir, people don't find it by accident like they would in a comic shop or convention/zinefair. They are vral, the need to be passed on from someone view a link, but if no one is posting links than there is little chance of the audience growing.

Anyway, sidetrack over, Sureshot Presents had competition. Printing was no longer the only way of distributing comics. Plus, I think people who had the motivation to make printed comics, didn't need Sureshot, they went their own way.

So, again, i got deflated - the model wasn't working. It didn't help that i had started some other projects around the house (renovations, landscaping and cellar digging) meaning i just had less time to try and push the books. Also i chickened out a number of times asking for creators directly if they'd get involved - what i say I'm shy.

Without submissions and subsequent published books i can't reach my other goals. It's like I just designed a fuel efficient car that worked and people liked, i just didn't have enough batteries for production.

So it was time to Act.


Owen Heitmann said...

This series has been really interesting. I like the Sureshot concept and the books you put out, but I thought I could see shortcomings in your model. However, reading through your reasoning step by step, I understand perfectly the reasons behind each of your choices, and realise that the "improvements" I've had in mind wouldn't work with your goals.

That said, I think your analysis of where it "went wrong" is misguided. I think the biggest factor is one that you only allude to in passing at the end: anyone who's comfortable selling and distributing their own books is probably already self-publishing. I think that has to be more important than the look not being "sexy".

You've done a great job of showing what's in it for the retailer, the audience and yourself (financially and otherwise). But what are you offering the creator? To cover print costs, yes, which is good, but let's look at it another way. If someone is already self-publishing, is your model attractive enough to make them switch to Sureshot? And if someone doesn't want to self-publish, is your model sufficiently more appealing to them? It seems like one of your goals was to target the latter demographic, but the new Sureshot Comics concept (while it sounds good) rules them out entirely.

...this conversation could be more effectively pursued in person, methinks. See you Saturday.

Mark Selan said...

You make feel dumb Owen, i blog about higher abstract stuff like golas and quality to banal nitpicky staff like weight and postage but forget to talk about why creators should be self-publishing. Probably the most basic, most fundamental concept that should be talked about why self-publish. Let me get some ideas together and let me try and qualify it.

Owen Heitmann said...

Don't feel dumb, it's only because you've been looking at the process so thoroughly that I was able to see an aspect missing. You've had me thinking about the whole shebang from angles I've not thought about in detail before.