Marvel Discovers Comics Are Periodicals and the Problem of Variant Covers
A couple of weeks ago, Marvel sent out a press release that had me shaking my head. It seems that putting out multiple variant covers and chasing that first-issue sales bump over and over doesn’t lead to healthy long-term sales, so they announced “Marvel’s Issue #2 Promotional Program”:
we’re pleased to announce a new initiative that will provide extra promotion and marketing for the exciting issue #2’s of new series!
In addition to heavy promotion and marketing for the first issues, Marvel is rolling out the red carpet for the second installments of these highly anticipated titles. Along with added publicity, web advertising, and web skins, each new All-New, All-Different Marvel first issue will conclude with a full page advertisement for issue #2. Prompting fans who’ve just finished these exciting first issues to come back for round two!
If you thought issue #1 was packed with high-octane action and can’t-miss moments, just wait till you read issue #2! Be there when comics biggest creators take on the world’s most popular characters when All-New, All-Different Marvel takes over comic shops beginning this October.
Now, the idea is a noble one, to try and improve sales beyond the very temporary #1 rises that the market has become driven by — for example, Brian Hibbs has detailed how ridiculous the variant cover plans for Dark Knight III are:
if you’re truly going “all-in,” you can have Jim Lee draw you a custom sketched copy for just the low order of five thousand copies. Assuming that you then also order five hundred additional 1:10s, two hundred 1:25s, one hundred 1:50s, and fifty 1:100s, then that means you’re ordering five thousand eight hundred and fifty copies of the book, for a retail cost of thirty-five thousand and forty one dollars and fifty cents. That would be something like $16,000 at cost to be allowed to order that Jim Lee sketch.
He’s not the only one. Brandon Schatz uses more dramatic language:
In the current order book, Marvel alone are offering 134 variant covers (this doesn’t include a few announced retroactively, which I’ll be adjusting during the final order cut-off period). All but one of these variants comes with a qualifier. Sometimes you just need to order ten copies of a certain book to get the aforementioned cover. Other times, you have to order 100. Then there’s the ones where you have to exceed 150% (or whatever number they’re using) of a different comic you ordered in order to unlock a particular variant. After you meet that qualification, you can order whatever you want. You just have to spend a lot of money for that “privilege”. The problem with that is simple: whereas the variant should be treated as the means for a customer to further connect with the product, it’s usually treated as collector bait, or worse: blackmail.
In contrast, Image Comics has announced that they’re moving away from variants. As Heidi MacDonald reports, with a statement from the company:
Image Comics will no longer be offering single issue retailer exclusive variants. While the intent of this program was to offer our retailer partners the opportunity to have exclusive content in order to build strong continued series sales at their stores, data accumulated over the last year suggests these variants only serve to further feed the speculation market, artificially inflating first issue sales, and thereby doing little to positively affect a series’ longterm health.
As Heidi notes, this applies to RETAILER variants only, the store-specific offerings some outlets were having created. I’m wondering, based on that “accumulated data”, whether there was that much of a significant distinction between retailer variants and artist variants. But one step at a time.
The problem is that with more money going into repeat copies of the same thing, less is available for different titles and varied content. That may be why the biggest publishers are those depending on this artificial sales tactic — they’re not the ones pushing the boundaries in attracting new audiences and putting out different kinds of stories.
Anyway, back to Marvel. I don’t believe that a page, as shown here, reminding the reader that “hey, there will be another issue of this next month” will have any effect, since I think most people who invest heavily in #1 issues don’t care about the story. They’re buying them as collectibles or something to try and resell for a profit or art items. If Marvel really wanted to smooth out sales, they’d have to give up the huge #1 rises, followed by significant drops, that drives their marketing. Or overprint on their own dime, demonstrating faith in the material and having it available for reorder. This is just a band-aid, paying lip service to a retailer concern in a way that doesn’t cost much and won’t mean a real change in behavior.