Free Comic Book Day is a day when participating comic stores give away certain issues of comics for free to their patrons. This event is spearheaded by the comic book industry in North America, although stores all over the world are welcome to participate, and it tends to attract a great deal of media attention. By tradition, the event occurs on the first Saturday in May after a major comic book related or superhero based film is released.
The first Free Comic Book Day was held in 2002, and it had several goals. It was meant to promote comics to new readers while encouraging to old readers to return to the genre, and also to thank long-time comic consumers. Each year, the event is organized by Diamond Comic Distributors, a major distributor of comics in North America, which coordinates with publishers to offer selected editions of comics at very low cost to store owners.
While the comics are not free for the store owners, the cost is kept low enough that giving the comics away for free is feasible. Participating stores generally agree to carry at least 10 of the designated comics, with other titles being available for those who want them, including special editions produced specifically for the event. Some store owners also choose to discount other merchandise for customers who come in on Free Comic Book Day.
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Store policies on Free Comic Book Day vary. Some stores only hand out one comic per customer, while others allow customers to choose several of the free comics on offer. Not all comic book stores participate, either, and people who are interested should ask their local independent bookseller or comics store if it is participating. Stores that haven't planned on participating might change their minds if they sense enough public interest.
Some critics have pointed out that this event focuses primarily on the output of major comic book companies, rather than smaller, independent publishing houses. The hope, however, is that once people start reading comics and frequenting a comic book store, they will grow interested in offerings from lesser known publishers and authors, making Free Comic Book Day a promotion for all sorts of comics, not just the products of publishers like Marvel and DC. Many smaller publishers and distributors cannot afford to offer their products at low cost, which makes it financially impractical for them to be included.