As we’ve noted in our recent sales charts, things have taken a dark turn at Marvel sales-wise in the last six months or so with historically low average sales. Marvel has reacted with many actions as this is not a trend that can continue.
I understand that a big two day retailer summit is underway at Marvel, wrapping up tonight. One journalist is attending to write pool coverage, and when that’s up I’ll link to it heavily. If you’re wondering about the calibre of retailers attending, they aren’t the ones who tweet moment by moment updates to other websites, apparently. So there’s that.
If you’re thinking this seems like a big investment from Marvel in its retail partners, you’re probably right.
In conjunction with this in person presentation, Marvel’s Senior VP of Sales David Gabriel did one of his infrequent interviews with Diamond’s retailer only website to promote Secret Empire, the big Hydra takeover event which kicks off next month with a #0 issue. Marvel is planing retail parties, extensive promos, and, in June, a “Hydra Takeover” line wide stunt because by then we won’t be tired enough of faux Nazis.
Gabriel also mentioned that Marvel “took some learnings from last year and cut down the number of tie ins to this event. We get that some fans or stores may have event fatigue, while others continue to demand more and more. So we think we’ve found the happy medium for Secret Empire.”
Other elements of Secret Empire that will aim to be fan friendly: a clear trade dress, althugh one that changes as the series progresses, multiple artists on the series so it doesn’t ship late like previous events Civil War II and Secret Wars III, and a very robust media rollout including “talk shows, TV ads, and some other things we can’t talk about. We’re working with Bow & Arrow Studios (the company that produced last year’s Black Panther recap videos) to create high quality Secret Empire video content. Specifically, content that will be repurposed as broadcast television advertising.”
The Hydra Takeover will include “many popular websites, some Marvel apps & sites, and even brick and mortar retail locations, as well as online retailers and sales outlets.”
Marvel is also pushing its Marvel Insider, fan loyalty program where “fans can earn points for engaging with Marvel and redeem those points for prizes. It’s seen significant growth over the past year and we’re actively pursuing ways to turn that into retail comic store traffic. Things like offering bonus points for purchasing print copies of SECRET EMPIRE at their local retailer, or driving the Marvel Insider members into comic shops to pick up special bonus promotional items. Again, it’s all geared towards driving folks into the direct market comic shops.”
A couple of observations on all this.
First, last month I was in Cali and an employee of a large media corporation was giving me the latest buzzwords, and mentioned “learnings” as one. I never thought I’d really see it in its native state, but I’m weeping with joy right now. I will not mention the other buzzwords I was alerted to, because like electrons, just observing them changes their trajectory, and sighting one in nature is the most exciting part of it all.
Second, anyone who thinks Marvel is taking these sales declines sitting down is crazy. How they got there is another question, and how they are spending money on this given their incredibly parsimonious budgets in the past is another. I know there has been a lot of industry uneasiness – even at DC – over Marvel’s softening sales, because a healthy Big Two means a healthier retail environment. That said, a mini series based on a faux-Nazi takeover is probably the last thing Marvel should be pushing now, but all these plans were made when they thought Hillary was going to win, and it all seemed like a “harmless” fantasy. However, the Cap is Hydra story seems to have pissed off old man fans and young activist fans alike, so sinking more money into Secret Empire is a bold move.
But, you do the best with what you’ve got. Marvel has one of the smartest C suites in comics (buzzword) and they’ll pull up in time, at least from a marketing stand point. And by now they know that online outrage doesn’t always match up with declining sales.
In the meantime, here’s some Secret Empire covers. The pulpy style used here should appeal to Marvel’s older reader cohort, so let’s see how they respond to the stimulus.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.