Marvel Kills the Marvel Zombie by Exploiting Customers

I found this analysis by Brian Hibbs of what Marvel’s doing wrong with its double-shipping strategy fascinating. Sure, Hibbs’ is only one store, but he’s one of the ones willing to be relatively open with numbers in an industry where hard data is too often lacking.

The strategy I refer to is one where Marvel ships more than one issue of their periodicals in a given month to increase sales. (KC pointed out that they’re planning to do this 25 times in May.) Hibbs criticizes this plan for shortening the shelf life of the affected titles, but also because “what happens when you produce your comics twice a month is that the decreasing demand curve does nothing but accelerate because you’re giving readers more opportunities each month to ‘jump off'; and, in fact, you’re making it considerably easier TO jump off, because it is that much easier to get behind.”

I know I’m having that problem with Amazing Spider-Man, which KC and I both were enjoying. I held onto one issue so I could read that and the Daredevil crossover together, and all of a sudden, I’m five issues behind.

Marvel Zombies, superhero versions

Marvel Zombies, superhero versions

Hibbs concludes his post with a shocking data point about sales compared to subscribers:

today in February of 2012, I’m selling fewer copies of AVENGERS and UNCANNY X-MEN, including both subs and rack sales than I was selling of AVENGERS and UNCANNY during the Year-Without-Racked-Marvels [when the books were available to subscribers only]. That’s CRAZY. I had like 32 subs alone for UNCANNY back then — now I can barely sell 20 copies TOTAL of UNCANNY. Because UNCANNY is $4, and because it ships more-than-monthly, I’m grossing more dollars now than I was then… but it’s too a tiny audience, with little prospect for growth… because it is $4 and more than monthly.

Sometimes too much of something you like will turn you off. Fans no longer want to buy as many Marvel comics as the company expects them to. The Marvel zombie, that mythical fan who once upon a time bought one of everything the publisher released, is long gone. Nowadays, it’s more like a hiring manager. When reviewing a huge pile of resumes, the manager isn’t looking for candidates to keep; instead, she’s looking for reasons to discard items to make the pile smaller. Comic readers are looking for reasons to cut books to save money. “Taking advantage of my loyalty” is as good a reason as any to drop a title these days.

16 Responses to “Marvel Kills the Marvel Zombie by Exploiting Customers”

  1. Thad Says:

    Oh dear — angry post by Steve Wacker in 5…4…

  2. Johanna Says:

    Oh, I”m like a week late on this — I suspect he’s gotten it all out of his system by now.

  3. James Schee Says:

    I guess I wonder what the difference is in having 2 issues of Uncanny X-Men a month, or of Winter Soldier which are good books. Then say DC’s 2 Superman (and 2 Superman related books in Supergir/boy) or 4 (5?) Batman different books a month.

    If a book has a good creative vision, then to me more of it is a good thing.

  4. Suzene Says:

    Ah, more of the Big Two treating their dwindling audience like junkies.

    James: It’s the difference between having the choice between two different products with similar casts and two identical products. If I like Batman & Robin and Detective Comics and they’re each coming out once a month, then I get my Batfix and a little variety to boot, and I can skip the other three Bat titles with no real consequence. But if my books start double shipping, then suddenly I have to pay twice as much to keep up with the titles I like without ever having decided to expand my pull list.

    I’ve currently got 2 books from Marvel subbed, so this isn’t a big wallet hit for me, but more loyal customers are probably finding their comic budget strained. That’s the kind of situation where you have to pick and choose — do I drop the book with the character I’ve loved since I’ve first started reading comics in favor of keeping the one with the stronger creative team? Do I drop non-Marvel titles just to keep on top of the storylines and under budget? Or do I say “Screw it”, jump ship, and wait for the trades (or just go hunt torrents)? Either way, where you had a customer presumably happy with their purchasing choices, Marvel has forced a change and that isn’t necessarily going to go Marvel’s way in the long term.

  5. Johanna Says:

    The big problem I see, James, if that if you’re enjoying the writer and artist combination on a Marvel book, suddenly that pairing is interrupted in order to get the multiple issues out. Marvel’s strategy basically calls artists interchangeable and doesn’t allow for a creative partnership to continue.

  6. Stephen Wacker Says:

    I guess where I’d differ, Johanna, is on the knee-jerk assumption that it means we find artists “interchangeable”…unless you happen to know that to be the case. The fact is we let readers know about 3 months ahead of time. In most cases, This isn’t something sprung on anyone like we don’t care (barring unforeseen circumstances).

    In the Daredevil example that a lot of other discussion was based around…why would anyone assume that Mark Waid doesn’t feel good about working with the other artists on the book? Waid and Paolo are working on a 4-parter as we speak and Mark has expressed to me that he’s liked every artists he’s worked with (while he doesn’t get final say on all editorial choices, I certainly value his opinion immensely (….as I do with all of my writers except Yost.)

    And Paolo seems to have a pretty healthy understanding of how much he can do in a year and the importance of getting the book out there regularly. He and Samnee (and Marcos before him) each e-mail pages to each pretty enthusiastically.

    So if my creative team doesn’t feel like they’re interchangeable and don’t seem to think their “creative partnership” is threatened isn’t that worth something? At least a teensy little more than a group of people who almost invariably assume the worst.


    PS: To anyone of you who just read a bunch of angry tone into to that and are about to threaten to let my bosses know or tell me I’m unprofessional some such, let’s just skip that part. It never works.

  7. Johanna Says:

    Hey, Thad, you were right! Except not so angry, just determined to weigh in.

    Steve, I don’t think you’re unprofessional — and I appreciate your perspective on the subject — I just wonder where you find the time to answer anyone who says anything about Marvel’s sales declining!

  8. James Schee Says:

    Suzene, I guess I can see that. For me I’m not reading that much, it is a lot more than last year, but than anything more than 0 is more. So the extra issue here and there isn’t hitting my budget as much as the buyer who buys the entire line I guess.

    I really enjoy what I am reading though, so it isn’t hurting me to have more of it. One of my favorite times reading the Superman books was when they had a book a week. This isn’t even that much, and has one writer instead of many.

    Johanna, I guess I’m used to not seeing artists do monthly books anymore, at least without fillins here and there. For the most part Marvel has ben getting really good art teams each issue, so I haven’t noticed any drop off in quality in what I’m reading.

    Some good things about being a mostly digital reader, is that I can have previews of the book to look at before I buy. So if the art is’t up to snuff I can skip it. Or if I’m feeling a financial pinch I don’t have to buy it when it comes out. I can wait until a sale or just when I feel like it to get it. Because it isn’t ever out of stock. (I can even wait for eBay where for instance I got Rucka’s Punisher #1-5 cheap to try in paper form)

    The sales help a lot, since I do feel like the digital pricing model isn’t quite there yet. (did love getting Love & Capes Vol. 3 for $8 though, wish Big 2 would do that type of pricing)

  9. James Schee Says:

    BTW I guess I’m missing something with everyone, including Steve, making jokes about Steve being mean. Weird, I guess I’m out of comics gossip loop. lol

  10. Johanna Says:

    It’s referring to debates that took place elsewhere, and it’s a waste to go into it all again now. You know the kinds of things that can happen in comment threads.

    Great hearing your perspective from the digital side, by the way. I don’t know anyone else well who’s converted that fully, and it’s good to be reminded of the different audiences.

  11. James Schee Says:

    Oh yeah, I know how those things can get. (yikes flashback to old AOL GL board debates!!) Don’t think want to know, I’ll just go on my own interactions (all online) with Steve that have been very affable.

    What can I say I love my IPad. lol It is weird after a 4 or 5 year period where I read little to no pamphlet comics, and very few tpbs. I am now reading a decent size number, but it is on my own terms which is nice.

  12. Anthony Says:

    I’ve been buying more Marvel lately (particularly Amazing Spider-Man), having dropped all of DC’s “New 52″ stuff (save “Action”). So I guess the money freed up from *that* has helped fund buying the bimonthly “Amazing”. That said, yes, seems rather double-dipping feeling to me (on top of the dumb “.1″ issues)…

  13. Stephen Wacker Says:

    Now Johanna, I clearly do NOT answer anyone who says anything about Marvel sales. I’ve been on a handful of sites recently, but invariably people blow it out of proportion and make it seem like a crusade. To what end, I don’t know.

    I do tend to respond on websites that I read regularly and have made responses in the past (like this one). It doesn’t really take that much time.

    And I did discover a website with some good writing on comics called 4thletter that I posted on.

    But that all seems fair to me…could just be the socioapth in me though.


  14. Johanna Says:

    I’m honored that you read the site regularly!

  15. Stephen Wacker Says:

    Honored? HA! You actually know me, so you can vouch for it not being much of an honor!


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