Robot 6

Dear publishers: A rant about websites

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I spend a lot of time skipping around publishers’ websites, and lately I have been surprised at how difficult it can be to find even basic information about a comic. As a comics blogger, I naturally use these sites a lot, but it also seems to me that comics readers are an independent lot and providing them with as much information as possible would be an excellent way to market your book. And yet…

So for the benefit of any publishers (or would-be publishers) that are out there, here is what I really, really want to see on your website. And I’ll finish on a positive note, I promise, with an examples of websites that get it right.

A catalog page for every comic you produce: That seems obvious, doesn’t it? You would be surprised how many websites don’t provide that, though. Just working on this week’s Food or Comics post, I looked for and couldn’t find pages for individual comics from Archie, IDW, and Top Cow—in some cases there was a page for a series but not an individual issue. A catalog page doesn’t have to be an elaborate thing—just a cover image, basic information like authors, price, and ISBN, and the blurb from the back cover. It’s enormously helpful to journalists like me, who like to check their facts, as well as to readers who want to know what they are buying. Also—this is another simple thing that lots of publishers overlook—the catalog page for a single issue or volume should include links to all the others in a series.

A way to find that catalog page: That means having an index or a search engine on your site, preferably both. I’m going to call out Image Comics on this one, but in a nice way, because I have talked to their people and I know they are working on improving their site. At the moment, they have neither an index nor a search box, so some of their comics are simply invisible to the reader. There’s no point in putting up those catalog pages if no one can find them.

Related: If I Google the title of your comic, your site should show up on the first page of results. It almost never does.

A straightforward home page and easy navigation: Fine, put up a big ol’ banner image of your latest zombie space aliens epic, but keep it confined to one area, please. Put links and navigation in decent-sized type and make them easy to find. Tokyopop, despite some improvements in this area, still wins the prize for busiest publisher site. Admittedly, they are aiming for teenagers, who apparently like information overload, but I wish they had a site for grownups as well that didn’t have the Flash and polls and social media links.

Information on next week’s comics: Don’t hide them! Some of us like to plan ahead.

Links that work: If I click on the cover of a comic, send me to the catalog page for that comic, not back to the home page or off into 404 limbo.

Tidy URLs: Fantagraphics, D&Q, I’m looking at you. A URL should not be a paragraph long and contain long strings of apparently random letters and numbers.

Flash intros: The Oatmeal sums this up nicely:

Flash intros

Don’t. Just don’t.

A decent-sized cover image that I can grab: I want to write about your comics, and readers want to see what they look like. I want to take the image from your site, so I know it’s correct. (It’s an occupational hazard with manga that an image search on a book turns up all sorts of foreign and bootleg editions, and it’s easy to put up the wrong picture.) Don’t put the cover up in some Flash interface that won’t let me grab it, and don’t tilt it at a funny angle. Sometimes simplest is best.

A working “Contact Us” form: Because you know what really pisses people off? Taking the trouble to fill out a form like that and getting an error message when you hit “submit.” And it’s nice to be able to find address and phone information on a website as well.

Regular updates: The most recent comics on the First Second site are from Spring 2009. More recent books appear on the MacMillan website. I know that because I’m a comics blogger, but most people wouldn’t think to look there. Not updating the website is usually the first sign that collapse is imminent, although I don’t think that’s the case here.

Some nice extras: Previews, character and background information, links to reviews and articles about creators, all add richness of content and make the site more interesting. I’m more likely to visit and more likely to stay.

OK, who gets it right? Dark Horse provides a lot of information on past and upcoming books, along with plenty of bonus content, including previews and a well written blog. That’s the gold standard for comics sites. Tokyopop’s main site may induce seizures, but the website for their yaoi line Blu Manga, has a lovely design and straightforward navigation. Boom! Studios also has a lot of content on their site, although the design is a little busier and sometimes I have to resort to the search engine to find a comic. The manga publisher Vertical has good information and previews as well. And indy publishers Oni Press and Top Shelf both do a beautiful job of presenting all the information with minimal fuss, and in the case of Top Shelf, a pretty impressive slate of webcomics as well.

OK, my rant is over. Readers, do you have any complaints or compliments to add?

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Comments

31 Comments

Yes, yes, yes!

Marvel’s search engine is absolutely horrible for their catalog. Try to do a search for “X-men” and it stops working. At least they have refined it a bit recently, since it used to be even worse. You would do a search for “Hulk”, and the first ten results would not be “Hulk” books.

How about, instead of a “contact us” form, access to an email address that actually works, with a person’s name attached to it?
Yea, I know there’s spam to worry about, but it seems like 10 times out of 10 those “contact us” forms never get responded to, and therefor never read.

Moonstone is another one that has a hard-to-navigate website with little to no information on their individual books and only the most general of listings for their titles. Their books are usually running late and I can never seem to find any updated shipping dates anywhere. If I’m missing them, someone please point them out to me…

Thanks for this commentary. I experience many of the same frustrations when doing research or looking for covers to add to Library Thing. Publishers who make it difficult to find basic information and images about their books are losing opportunities to have their titles brought to the attention of a wider public, or are discouraging potential readers. Much of the advice here seems like it should go without saying, but clearly that isn’t the case.

Correct on all points. It’s good somebody’s saying this.

I love Dark Horse’s website. I’m always impressed by the amount of detail they give you for each title and that they keep back catalog items still listed. It makes doing research on new and oop books so easy.

Yeah I hear you.

I noticed DCBS had an art book incentive for Darwyn Cooke’s new The Outfit book from IDW. Damned if I could find out what it was though as there’s no information on IDW’s site. (And the solicitation text is the exact same as the regular copy on DCBS which hardly makes sense when one is $4.00 and the other $16.)

This book is in previews right now and there’s no info on their site. Not to mention the solicitations are nowhere to be found either and had to go thru google.

And on the search function — if you type in Outfit on IDW’s site it takes you to a google search which just has articles and such pertaining to the book.

Is it so hard to have a page on the site that is just about the book??? Ala Dark Horse.

The most frustrating thing about the Tokyopop website are the labels on the navigation bar; they seem willfully idiosyncratic, making it very hard to find press releases, contact information, or basic publication information for books. I’m guessing a marketing consultant thought those labels (e.g., “Stars,” “Revolutionaries”) would appeal to a teenager, but to an old fogey like me, they’re confounding.

Glory glory hallelujah, ditto, ditto, ditto.

And am so glad to hear Image is working on improving their site; it’s been quite a bummer that my #1 favorite comics company has my #1 least-favorite comics website.

Heartily agreed.

Dark Horse’s site is excellent. DC’s is actually very good as well.

IDW is really frustrating because they’ve got a Catalog section and a Shop pages. Seems redundant and yet both are incomplete.

Haha, yeah, that reminds of how cumbersome it can be to search for older articles on Robot6.
Oh wait…

I never go to publisher’s sites looking for covers. Simply go to google –> images.

Image — a search feature isn’t hard to add. You can use google’s and just add the code they supply.

Marvel.com is by far the best site out there. I never had a problem using their search engine.

What kinds of issues are you having searching for older articles, Gnubeutel?

Sean T. Collins

August 10, 2010 at 11:12 am

Yeah, i’m curious about that too. We’ve got a search bar and dated archives over on your right…

Too damn right — I do an in-store newsletter and it, frankly, shocks me how often publishers don’t have ANY art up for products in the current solicitation cycle… which ultimately yields lower orders…

-B

This is a subject that’s come up often over the years at CBR HQ with the various editors who’ve worked for us. We’ve seen some improvements, but the majority of publisher sites are still quite a mess. Marvel.com HAS the info you want, but it can be hard to find. DCComics.com is useful and it’s easy to find the info you want, but it has only the bare minimum of info needed. I’d love to see it expanded. Dark Horse’s web site is easily the best publisher site out there and the one other publishers should be looking at when the put together their redesigns. OniPress.com is also another good one, but for the most part the rest are either unusable or useless. Just having a bunch of static pages or only a blog doesn’t cut it anymore.

Investing in your online infrastructure will pay off, but you have to think big — it’s not JUST about the web site or your publisher forums anymore.

1) Separate BOOKS from COMICS. Go ahead and link the pages, but allow users to limit searches before the search is made.

1.5) Create a special section for booksellers, librarians, teachers, and parents. Make it publicly accessible, but feature only books, reviews, lesson plans. Websites have “kids only” sections, so why not an “authority figure” section? Remove all the clutter, the flash, the hype and hyperbole. Links can lead back to the main site.

2) ISBN/EAN searching should be coded so that hyphens are filtered out, and both numbers are indexed. While EAN-13 is the standard, make your index backwards-compatible with ISBN-10.

3) Do NOT list contributors as “various” or “and others”. This is lazy, insults creators, and makes your company look like a bunch of corporate schmucks who don’t value the work the creators produce. If you publish it, then they must have worth, right? Also, if you don’t list the name, then websites can’t index that name, and someone might not realize that Big Name Author worked for you back in the day. Which means that customer doesn’t know that book exists, which means a LOST SALE. What good is advertising–your website–if it doesn’t advertise? And since that data is sent to retailers and websites, it creates more access points which generate sales.

4) If it’s in Previews, it should be on your site. ESPECIALLY if it’s a book, because books usually are scheduled six months out. ESPECIALLY when titles in Previews are due to ship in TWO months time. Heck, if it’s in Books In Print, put it on your website! Let people drool over a forthcoming book! Sure, do your marketing closer to publication date, but why not start the buzz early? Again… once it’s posted to your website, Google and everyone else can LINK to your website, which generates page views and advertising rates and revenue.

5) Keep the front page of each section clean, simple, and uncluttered. Marvel’s homepage reminds me of those “Android Dungeon” stores with the windows covered in posters. DC, on the other hand, is elegant and easy to navigate. DC is the Apple Store of comics websites.

6) If you have a search function which allows for filtering, make sure it works. And allow searches to be filtered. Over at Marvel’s catalog, I can click on the “Spider-Man” family tab, but I can’t filter by paperback or hardcover or date or … and they organize the results, but I can’t display just “comics” or “collections”.

7) Comics is a visual medium. “Image Not Available” is EPIC failure when you list a comic, but don’t show the cover. If it’s old, and not accessed that often, then make it a thumbnail.

8) Put the text behind the scenes. For results, just show the cover and title. It’s easier to scan, more titles can be placed on the screen, and the design is uncluttered.

9) If resources allow, keep everything on the site. The long tail also applies to searching… someone might be interested in the first graphic novels a company published, and come looking for information… which helps ad revenue. Or there might be an old column by an editor. Or a chatroom discussion.

I’ve found it easier to navigate from a google search to a specific comic on Marvel rather than search for it on their site. Most websites are guilty of shitty design and there’s no excuse.

Good comments.

Years ago, before DSL for the masses, one company’s site had so much noise (flash, graphics, useless HTML tags etc) that it took about 5 minutes to load on my state of the art machine. I email them a polite note with a detailed set of suggestions on how to clean things up to speed up the loading and still have the same look.

Luckily a month later I ran into a staff member of the company at a con, complained to him, turned out he was an assistant to the web master and had also been complaining about the same things. He got a corporate VP to talk to me, a week later the site loaded in seconds, and they had a new web master.

Publishers, please give priority to your titles, we want to easily find information. It does help us not only write about your work it helps us buy it.

I only go to the DC site, and its a joke. Completely useless for anyone not new to comics.

I’m embracing my Brooklyn and shooting celebratory gunshots in the air.

Thank you x 8,000.

Also, I would push your suggetion and insist that each published and upcoming comic MUST have some sort of “preview.” Even if a person is not at the website looking to shop, having that info at the ready makes it a lot more likely that someone will be influenced to purchse.

I mean, really. What are comic publishers THINKING?!

I appreciate the previews of new releases on websites like Comic Book Resources, but let’s be reality: those previews NEED to be on your own website, and they need to stay there too! One to three pages, it’s not hard. Think of it like this: most people will flip through a few pages in the comic shop before they decide to purchase a title that they haven’t read before. Now that your reach extends beyond the physical-only domain, you have to extend the same sensibility to your website.

SMARTEN UP.

Re: Flash animation on landing pages…
to paraphrase the musical group Queen…
“Flash…AAARRRGGGHHH!”
(repeat)

Oh, one more thing:

dccomics.com has this feature called “Heroes & Villains” that provides a non-knowing pedestrian (Potential Reader) a little comic strip about the basic backstory/origin of their major franchise characters. That’s pretty darn smart!

GOLD STAR!

Comment as someone who edit Wikipedia manga articles.

1. Death to Flash ! Can’t hotlink to a sub-section of a flash page.

2. Need release date. Tokyopop please replace the “Added MM.DD.YYYY” ambiguous wording for your release with “Release date MM.DD.YYYY”

3. Need ISBN either 10 or 13 both would be ideal.

4. Don’t remove the old out of print stuffs or previous print editions informations.

I’m a big fan of the Yen Press site. It’s extremely easy to find their series, and the New Releases category offers a nice, visual summation of what’s going to come out in any given month.

I also thought CMX’s site, back when it actually existed, was very easy to use and was kept up-to-date. Just another reason to miss them!

As someone who spent perhaps a little more time than necessary piecing together a blog banner from cover art, I agree with the need for decent-sized images. The point of the banner was to showcase the variety in the industry, which is hard to do when some publishers only have inch-tall previews!

Tokyopop’s messy site is extra sad when you remember the design they had before their MySpace-for-otaku makeover. Appealing! Professional! Easy to navigate! I don’t remember if it had previews of their manga, but they definitely didn’t stuff them into weird little video-viewer things.

Brilliant article. I’m tagging it onto my blog http://www.renderwrx.net/apps/blog/. It’s a must read for many people.

It might have changed recently but, while DC’s site is easy to use, the information on the individual comic books appear to get deleted after a certain time although the trades and graphic novels aren’t. See, for example, Azrael (which only goes back to May – which seems the general cut-off for most titles I checked):

http://www.dccomics.com/dccomics/search/?q=azrael&s=na&f=10932

Which itself could do with a search friendly URL which would bump the section right up the Google results, something like (as DCComics.com doesn’t show up anywhere on the first few pages of results when looking for the character):

dccomics.com/dccomics/azrael/comics/

Of course, it’d be great to have a hub for titles/characters (or at least characters with titles) – this is done by Marvel and DC and really helps their search engine rankings (#2 and #4 for the examples below), but coverage is patchy, when this could almost be done automatically with the right set-up:

http://marvel.com/comics/war_of_kings

http://www.dccomics.com/sites/batman/

Also it’d be great if everyone could use the long form for their release dates (as DC and Marvel do) as the date format might be MM.DD.YYYY in the US but that isn’t a universal standard and it can leave some people unsure of what the date might be, without checking to see where a company is located and possibly looking up the date format for the country. It should be no hassle to transform timestamps into a human readable format.

I’m late to this, but I whole-heartedly agree. The best site for me is Richard Starkings’ site for his series, ELEPHANTMEN. http://www.hipflask.com/ His site looks to be done by his company, Comicraft. I wish others would follow suit!

I’ve been a reader for a few years now, never commented before. Irrrm a sucker for your project, i appreciate you for providing me with regular entertainment, I’m glad that you’re as much as ending your blog for happy reasons.You inspired me get started with writing my personal blog,so we appreciate your that equally. I’m able to will continue to read your stuff at freak bacon. You should be missed.

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