By Todd Allen
Those guys at Marvel are crafty. They’ve been scheming their way out of bad trends for years now. First it was showing you could successfully raise prices on your bestselling titles (though the gleam may be coming off that one). Then when things started tanking hard, they manufactured AVX and structured it in such a way that it guaranteed huge numbers and hype. Credit where credit is due, AVX _has_ taken off since then, but Marvel’s structure built in a failsafe for it. And now, their latest construction: The Neverending Relaunch.
DC and Marvel have been locked into an Event cycle for quite some time. Civil War was so successful, it begat Secret Invasion, Dark Reign, Seige, Fear Itself and AVX (which is doing a darn sight better than the last couple follow-ups). DC got caught up in weekly series attempts and a parade of Crises. DC spiraled so far out of sales control, they rebooted the entire universe. To get out of the Event Mentality, they started everything over at new #1s and held back on the cross-overs, with Batman’s Night of the Owls being the only major one so far. (We’ll see how long they can continue to restrain themselves.)
Not so long ago, I wrote about how Marvel’s sales had been tanking pretty hard if you looked underneath the AVX halo and tried to make sense of the relaunch rumors, since the end-dates for some of the announced creator departures didn’t quite match up. Now that the other shoe has dropped, we now know why: Marvel is doing a never-ending relaunch. At least one new series debut every week from October through February. That’s five months of constant relaunch. (And we’ll see if they can restrain themselves and not have a big Event mini in March.)
If you want to try and have steady sales over a five month period, and I believe Marvel’s UPPER management is focused on quarterly statements, this is a great way to do it. With DC’s New 52, you had a huge spike at relaunch, the upper quarter held on to some decent numbers and the bottom third-to-half just fell off the table, back to where DC was prior to relaunch or maybe a hair worse. Then every few months, DC is cancelling a few titles and relaunch a new wave. Your pattern is set: Spike -> Attrition -> Spike -> Attrition.
In the last year, Marvel’s had a pattern of big launches and bigger than you’d traditionally expect drops on the second (and sometimes third) issues. As Marvel relaunches a book a week, if the title drops in month #2, there’s another new launch to take it’s place. Now, obviously all new titles are not created equal. A Wolverine relaunch is very likely to outsell an Ant-Man relaunch. Still, this will even things out. If the pattern holds the way DC’s relaunch went, a few things will hold readers and few will sink, but there should be an overall rising tide.
From a marketing perspective, this means it will be easier to put the spotlight on each new title. Let’s face it: did EVERY New 52 title get it’s share of spotlight? I, Vampire and Men of War probably would’ve gotten a little more preview exposure and audience attention if they were the only book debuting that week. And let’s face it, “Marvel Now” is a much better promotion name than “New 52″ moving forward. The instant DC wants to have 53 core titles, that moniker will be clunk. “Marvel Now?” It’s what’s coming out now.
This is not to say Marvel Now is not without risk. First off, you don’t have the same mainstream media punch you get relaunching everything with a #1 in the same month. (Then again, Marvel seems to be holding a lot of attention with AVX, so they’re not starting from precisely as weak a point as DC was.) Five months of never-ending relaunch does invite the risk of relaunch fatigue. Will the audience start to tune out what this week’s new title is? For that matter, will it deaden launch news across the board? If, for whatever reason, the audience doesn’t take to the relaunches, will they start ignoring them by January? Perhaps most importantly, what are the prices going to be on Marvel Now, since recent launches have been a mix of $2.99 and $3.99?
However this pans out, Marvel just laid out what should be a sustainable 6 month plan, spreading the risk of launches over two fiscal quarters. There’s a lot of sense in that. Now we get to wait as the launch details are slowly dispensed (or more likely, rapidly leaked… it’s comics, after all.)