Ever been to a comic convention and seen the $5 trade paperback booth? Essentially the clearance sale? Well, Marvel’s returned to Walmart and the price point is $5 for a new printing of what’s mostly fairly old books.
Today, I purchased Spider-Man: Big Time at the local Walmart. It appears to be a new printing of the 2011 tpb, with “Exclusive Complete Graphic Novel” across the cover and “Bonus! Extra Digital Issue of Amazing Spider-Man FREE!” also on the cover. (Note: I’ll be kind and say the digital offer on the cover is misleading. I redeemed my code, and while you do get a digital copy of the the Big Time tpb, I don’t have any extra issue in my account.)
The inside covers show a Captain America tpb – the Winter Soldier edition that’s volume 1 of the Brubaker run; an Avengers tpb – volume 1 of the 2011 series that started out with Bendis and JRJr; and the first volume of the current Guardian of the Galaxy series. Presumably all are $5 editions, since they have the same “exclusive” banners and trade dress.
Also interesting: the spine of my Spider-Man book has a “1” on it, suggesting this is a series.
Even more interesting: there’s an ad for discount subscriptions in the back of the book. 45% off subscriptions to Amazing Spider-Man, Avengers, Captain America and Guardians of the Galaxy. (Regular discounts seem to be 25%-40%.)
While Spidey’s film rights are owned by Sony, there are no Fantastic Four, X-Men or Fox film rights titles mentioned here. That may or may not be a coincidence.
To my recollection, this would be at least Marvel’s third attempt to crack the Walmart market in the last 5 years. And really, if the deal isn’t a money loser (and you have to watch that with Walmart), they really should want to. Walmart has not quite 4,300 U.S. locations and another 6,100 international locations, so there are more outlets than the Direct Market and a lot of them will be in areas not serviced by the Direct Market. It makes total sense.
With the exception of the Guardians of the Galaxy book, these reprints are all a few years old. For the Spider-Man and Avengers volumes, this is found money. For Captain America, perhaps less so with the recent film. For GoG… the timing is interesting and I can’t imagine the other retailers are particularly happy about this appearing while the movie is in theaters. This could potentially cannibalize some GoG sales while the movie is hot. It isn’t like Marvel is making a large margin off a $5 book. Walmart is a notoriously tough negotiator for deep discounts and I’d be surprise if there was much more than a $1/book margin. Possibly less. Then again, 10 copies per store and 4,300 domestic stores could theoretically mean a quick $43K per title. It does raise the question of what Marvel’s endgame is here.
- Be dropping the first issue at a deep discount to get readers interested and then issue subsequent volumes at normal pricing?
- Be releasing regular cheap editions of older titles as quick and easy income and to try and increase brand awareness outside the comic shops?
- Be using this as more of a loss leader to try and get the subscription form in front of people who may not be served by the direct market? (A big discount advertised to a Walmart demographic? That makes sense.)
- Be using this as more of a loss leader to try and get people onto their digital platform as they prepare to start selling current issues?
And maybe this is just a test batch like previous efforts. But you’d think Marvel would have some sort of plan past just getting a low margin placed with a retailer notorious for demanding high discounts. (I’m also curious how Marvel classifies these books for the incentive payments that function as royalties.)
If they’re going for more tpbs in those series, while Spidey and Cap were relatively cross-over free, it seems to me like there are a fair amount of cross-overs in Avengers that might not make a lot of sense out of context and didn’t GoG just get done with an X-Men (Fox film rights) crossover?
File this one under “keep an eye on.” If more titles or second volumes appear, this could be a big deal.
Todd Allen wears a lot of hats. At various times he’s been (alphabetically), a bouncer, college professor, humor columnist, Internet producer and an NBA/WNBA Beat Writer, among other things. He’s the author of Economics of Digital Comics. You should probably read it.