Remember the Bad Old Days of Variant Covers? Marvel Does.

Marvel is publishing 22 variant covers this week. (24, if you count the two Marvel Masterworks they’re also shipping, but let’s stick to stapled traditional comics here.) Of these, six are second printing variants. That’s out of 44 comics released, so 50% of their line this week is chasing collectors.

To put this in perspective, DC is only publishing 23 new comics this week (including Vertigo, Wildstorm, and Jonny DC, but not counting book-format comics). Three of those are variant covers (one of those variants is for a second print). So Marvel almost published more variant covers than their competitor did actual comics this week!

Similar Posts: Variant Covers Are Propping Up the Comic Market § Top Cow Creates Marvel Variant Covers § Variant Cover Numbers Over the Past Five Years § Archie Gets Unexpected Artists to Do Variant Covers § Marvel Attempts to Force Collectibility With Ultimate Spider-Man Polybags


22 Responses to “Remember the Bad Old Days of Variant Covers? Marvel Does.”

  1. Mark Says:

    I don’t buy all the variant covers anymore. Just the one I like, if it is cover price, that is.

  2. Johanna Says:

    The problem comes when all those alternates start taking up too much shelf space and store purchasing budget.

  3. Mark Says:

    Exactly. There is also a level of “enough!” When the contents don’t live up to the innards, you get a collapse in the market.

    It would be grand if the comic companies would put as much energy into creating new series, concepts and ideas rather than trying to fleece their ever shrinking fan base.

  4. Jeff Says:

    I’m wondering if Marvel is hoping that either a.) enough time has passed since the crash, or b.) the folks buying all the Marvel books today are too young to remember, and don’t bother reading anything about the comics industry’s past. Why else would they go down the same well-discussed path yet again?

  5. Paul O'Brien Says:

    The difference from the previous wave of variant covers is that they were used to promote major issues of the series – often with events artificially manufactured to justify the variant cover.

    What we have at the moment is something different: comics doubling as trading cards, with covers utterly unrelated to the actual content. The Wolverine Art Appreciation covers, and the vast majority of the zombie covers, have literally nothing to do with the comic inside. It’s purely about selling to collectors, true – but on the other hand, at least it doesn’t have any negative impact on the contents, and it serves to prop up the sales on struggling series.

  6. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » Aug. 5, 2009: The fundamental key Says:

    [...] is publishing 22 variant covers this [...]

  7. Blog@Newsarama » Blog Archive » Linkarama@Newsarama Says:

    [...] took a close look at Marvel’s shipping list for today, did some counting and some math and, wow. Visit her site to see the exact numbers and, perhaps of greater interest, what percentage of Marvel’s [...]

  8. Gary Dunaier Says:

    Mark wrote: “I don’t buy all the variant covers anymore. Just the one I like, if it is cover price, that is.”

    That’s what I do… unless the cover actually says “VARIANT EDITION,” which is the case on some of the Marvel variant covers. Then I just buy the regular, non-variant; to me, THAT’S the “real” cover.

  9. Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources - Covering Comic Book News and Entertainment » Comics A.M. | The comics Internet in two minutes Says:

    [...] Publishing | It’s like the ’90s, only more expensive: Johanna Draper Carlson counts 22 variant covers shipping this week from Marvel. [Comics Worth Reading] [...]

  10. TonyJazz Says:

    Marvel says they are making as much money as a year ago.

    With the price increases that makes sense, as many of us (including me) are abandoning most of their comics line and they make more money off the fools who pay more & buy variants.

    But the audience shrinks & shrinks. It is helping create a ‘death knoll’ for the industry.

    You’d think they would be concerned (or atleast, smarter)…

  11. Alan Coil Says:

    And Marvel is planning a foil cover this year. They call it a Foilogasm…or something like that.

  12. Stuart Moore Says:

    I realize variant covers are an easy flashpoint (Oh no! There goes the industry again!), and I don’t have any particular taste for them personally. But I really don’t think this is the same situation as 1992. On most books, variants seem to boost orders slightly, and my impression is that readers choose the one they like best. There’s very little chatter about actual speculation.

    That’s an anecdotal observation, of course. As is the idea that Marvel’s audience is shrinking. Contrary to internet chatter, unit sales of the top 300 comics have jogged up and down but stayed remarkably stable over the past ten years — while trade paperback sales have exploded. (The figures are here, courtesy of John Jackson Miller.) And Marvel’s presence in the top 300 is stronger than ever.

  13. Johanna Says:

    I think variants boost orders because of the growing use of 1-in-10 and 1-in-25, where variants are only available if order targets are met. That’s driving more money to the same books, which concerns me.

  14. Stuart Moore Says:

    Oh yes, absolutely, fair enough. But is that use actually growing? How many of the 22 variants you list fall into that category? I don’t know the numbers offhand, but the vast majority don’t.

  15. Stuart Moore Says:

    To clarify, in case that’s confusing to people who don’t speak Retailer: The vast majority of variant covers are simply different items available for separate order, not tied to any incentive.

  16. Johanna Says:

    It may have been because I was newly aware of them, but I saw a surprising number of such notes (1-in-10 availability) in the most recent Previews DC section. Although it is a good thing that variant covers are more often available for separate order instead of being a random packing on just one order line these days.

    But I think the point stands: one publisher is releasing as many variant covers as the other has new books. I think that’s an excessive amount, and I don’t like what it says about the industry, that they’re happy to resell the same material in different wrapping paper in order to tie up retailer and customer dollars.

  17. Mireille Says:

    Why does this remind me of the director’s cuts vs. the extended special releases vs. the platinum encrusted diamond sparkly fairy deluxe editions with all the goodies DVDs?

  18. Tommy Raiko Says:

    “To clarify, in case that’s confusing to people who don’t speak Retailer: The vast majority of variant covers are simply different items available for separate order, not tied to any incentive.”

    I had been wondering about this as well, so that’s interesting to hear. There are so many ways for a publisher to issue a variant cover–just as another item, as an incentive at various quantities, etc.–that I had wondered if there’s any general difference in the way variants are handled now vs. then, and whether that implies anything for the market generally.

  19. Johanna Says:

    Mireille: Because that’s the current approach to sales. They try to sell more to the same people, because reaching out to new customers is a lot harder.

  20. Mireille Says:

    LOL, yeah, I know. It’s just such a deplorable way of doing business… never mind the fact that it’s all smoke and mirrors: inflating sales artificially.
    Maybe we’re just being too grown up about this. Marvel is targeting (and probably has been for a few decades now) an audience that’s all about the spectacle, the big explosions and the scowly spandex. I should ask the bf what’s his stance on the variants. He’s a Marvel junkie. I have a feeling we’re not the target demographic here. :)

  21. Mireille Says:

    Well, it turns out that the bf loves the variant covers. He sees the point about selling the same stuff several times to the same people, but he likes to see different people’s take on the story and characters and picks the one he likes best. :)

  22. Marvel/DC Siege/Blackest Night Cover Fight | What's Your Obsession Says:

    [...] August blog topic on Marvel variant covers [...]

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