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Amazon’s 99¢ Marvel Sale Appears To Be Over… But All Kinds of Questions Remain

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It appears that the 99¢ sale Amazon and Comixology were running on Marvel’s newly released digital trade paperbacks is over.  The Amazon portion of went away in the early hours of Wednesday morning.  About when you’d expect the sale to turn over, just without a replacement batch getting loaded.  As a result, it’s hard say whether the promotion was cancelled or simply ran it course.

Let’s be clear, I think it was cancelled.  I just don’t know it was cancelled.

And because of the lack of transparency, if I were a retailer, there are a number of questions I’d be demanding answers to:

  • Did Marvel force Amazon to cancel the promotion or did Amazon cancel it for their own reasons?
  • If Marvel forced the cancellation, did they initially sign off on the sale or did they somehow take 5 weeks to realize they had veto power?
  • If they did initially sign off, who signed off?  (For a retailer, there would be a big difference between someone in the digital department signing off on the 99¢ sale on new tpbs and someone in sales, like David Gabriel, signing off on it.)
  • Since Amazon is still discounting off digital list price on their website, as it Google Play and BN.com, is it reasonable to assume the 99¢ sale could resume at any time or can Marvel give a compelling reason why it won’t?

The way the Comixology side of the 99¢ halted so abruptly, there’s reason to think Marvel had a hand in stopping it, but there’s no public evidence whether it was a contractual obligation being exercised.  There could be different contracts for each website.  Again, we may suspect things, but we really don’t know and Marvel is a big enough client, Amazon/Comixology could have been agreed to give the 99¢ sale a rest without it being contractually obligated.

If this is something that will periodically happen — and it went on for over a month — then retailers need to account for that in their planning.  It’s a business issue.

On the consumer side of things, a few things have come to light, mostly regarding pricing.  First off, it hasn’t been publicly discussed much that Marvel’s digital list price is now lower than it’s print list price on digital trade paperbacks and collected editions.  This is a fairly normal thing for prose eBooks, but the list price for single issue comics does not deviate from print.  At least not until at least the next issue comes out.  So this is a change from the norm.

More interesting is that Comixology has not been discounting the digital tpbs off list price, but Amazon has been.

Consider this week’s releases:

Thor by Walter Simonson Vol. 3
Print list price: $29.99

Spider-Gwen, Vol. 5: Gwenom
Print list price $17.99

Phoenix Resurrection: The Return Of Jean Grey
Print list price: $17.99

You get the picture from that.  There definitely is a two-tier pricing format with what would be $17.99 print tpbs.  As you can see, Spider-Gwen goes out at a $10.99 list and Phoenix as $8.99.  A pattern you’ll see repeated across the wider release list.

Of course, over on Amazon, that $4.50 price for Phoenix Resurrection makes for some unintentional comedy when you compare it this week’s release of Avengers #689 for $4.99 wherever you buy it.

Comixology and Amazon disagree on the Phoenix Resurrection page count.  It’s either 136 or 142 pages.  Avengers #689 is 34/35 pages, depending on which site’s page count you like.  But essentially, you can get 136 pages of comics cheaper than you can get 34 pages of comics.

Digital pricing is a very rigid thing with the single issues and a very fluid thing with the collected editions.  One suspects the collected editions wouldn’t be so fluid if the contracts didn’t allow it.

Want to learn more about how comics publishing and digital comics work?  Try Todd’s book, Economics of Digital Comics

25 COMMENTS

  1. Or!

    Maybe!

    These sales only ever existed to get people to into buying comics on Amazon and Comixology, and since it makes no sense to sell books at a huge loss forever, they stopped. 5 weeks of huge discounts is actually a long frigging time and by no reasonable measure can ending now be considered premature.

  2. I’m curious if Todd actually buys digital comics?

    In my opinion, the local comic store owners and the publishers just keep shooting themselves in the foot.

    I guess they can keep railing against the internet and not bothering to change. It’s working great for taxi companies, right?

  3. Booooo to everyone that made this a big deal and caused them to take this away from us. Couldn’t we have all just secretly been cool with it?

    Seriously though I don’t know why they stopped the 99 cent sale on the Thursday backlist additions. This isn’t competition to retailers and having a low sale for the first week would get more eyes on them and potential get sales on the other trades in the series not on sale.

  4. John – I sometimes buy digital, usually as tpbs. The last set of digital singles I bought was when the Englehart/Rogers and Gerber/Golden/Heath runs of Mister Miracle were digitized and I suspect I’ll be getting the Englehart JLA run in digital singles long before DC gets around to collecting it in print. I have a couple volumes of Astro City and the MOKF Epic collection sitting in my Comixology queue right now. I also partake of Marvel Unlimited.

  5. Thanks for clarifying Todd.

    I think it might be beneficial for you, or someone else here, to buy digital more often. I sometimes feel that there is a perspective missed because of lack of involvement.

    Not trying to be overly critical. I think you are doing great and it might be even better if you were more submerged in the digital space when writing articles.

    I for one am tired of the physical world, LCS opinions where the retailers cry and moan about the world and refuse to adapt. In my opinion, they are dinosaurs and should evolve or die. Instead, retailers like Hibbs want to rail against the publishers.

    Make no mistake … the publishers need to be trying new things or they will soon be gone. We’re already seeing the writing on the wall.

    Let’s not encourage the industry to keep doing the same old, same old. It’s not healthy and will ultimately lead to more erosion, less choices for the future.

    My two cents.

  6. FYI, Todd, I appreciated the stories on the Amazon $0.99 sales — both from a consumer standpoint (I wanted to buy some of these, and I wouldn’t have known about them if not for your articles); but also from an “industry story” angle: I was very curious what made decide to heavily discount these, and I was curious as to the effect on other retailers.

    IMO, totally worth the column space.

  7. Johnkelly00 wrote: “I guess they can keep railing against the internet and not bothering to change. It’s working great for taxi companies, right?”

    Retailers had every right to rail against this ridiculous and unfair pricing scheme.

  8. $10-20 makes sense for a niche market, but with the success of marvel movies and the capability of digital distribution to reach everyone (who wouldn’t go into a comic book store) the pricing should be $1-2 with a marginal cost of production of $0.00, just like Apple App Store apps.

  9. johnkelly00 stated:
    “I for one am tired of the physical world, LCS opinions where the retailers cry and moan about the world and refuse to adapt. In my opinion, they are dinosaurs and should evolve or die. Instead, retailers like Hibbs want to rail against the publishers.”

    If you prefer digital over a physical comic book then good for you, but stop bitching and pissing all over brick and mortar comic stores. They are still the backbone of the industry despite you wishing they’d go extinct (and sorry to bust your bubble, but won’t any time soon) and many thrive when they can sell comics with good content. And I’ll state again, they have every right to “cry and moan” when they are put at a disadvantage in regards to this underhanded pricing by Amazon.

    And just curious, despite your obvious bias against physical retailers, how would you like to see them adapt?

  10. Dennis, you are free to go protest against automobiles in favor of buggy whip and horse drawn carriages all you want. I will keep studying history that shows how time marches on.

    I’m not advocating for the extinction of brick and mortar stores. I’m saying that they should evolve.

    When folks like Hibbs come out decrying “unfair” policies and demanding action to be taken in their favor, they are not evolving. They are trying to stop the future. It doesn’t work for long.

    You brought up that this pricing was not “fair” as well. I challenge you: Define “fair” in terms of business.

    There is no such creature unless it is in context of how a business treats customers.

    Is it “fair” that InStockTrades and DCBS so heavily discount physical goods? Is it “fair” that I can read books for free from Hoopla and my local library? Within the bounds of law, competitors should compete for the customers’ dollars.

    Preserving a status quo is never in the best interest of customers which ultimately means it’s not in the best interest of an industry. Evolve or die.

    We all should be encouraging publishers and retailers to try new things to increase the reach of comics. Not continue to eke out sales from a diminishing audience doing the same old, same old.

  11. ‘Is it fair that I can read books for free …. from my local library?’
    Actually, I think that is fair because there is a lot of poverty out there and I think libraries are the only ways that some kids get to read comics at all. Otherwise comics just continues to be an elite activity for the more affluent, which is counter to what comics have traditionally been for people societally.

  12. @johnkelly00 — if you were paying attention, you’d realize that a lot of us working retailers strongly disapprove of those sales tactics you link (and some of us have literally been pushing back against them for DECADES)

    I’ve changed the model of the store at least three times in the three decades we’ve been open, and I know many other stores who’ve done the same.

    -B

  13. Yeah, I’m painfully aware of the disapproval and the outcry over the years … and that’s my point.

    The average LCS is fragile as fragile can be as publishers continue to create more expensive product with less compelling storylines. Worse, they link it all together in mega crossover spectaculars which literally disrupt the collector mentality. When it’s too hard to “collect em all”, people throw in the towel. Only the very rabid fans are left and eventually they disappear.

    I won’t get into the mess Marvel (and Dc to a lesser extent) creates for customers … too much to go into. (A quick shot: which vol 1 of Spider-Man TPBs do I buy?)

    It’s an existential crisis for the LCS owners. You need to be encouraging innovation on pricing, distribution, marketing, because the market needs to reverse course.

    Generally, in my opinion, digital customers aren’t LCS / physical customers. There really is less threat there than an IST / DCBS in my opinion.

    I guess the 99 cent sale is a huge problem as it may be such a deal that physical customers make the leap.

    But … a limited time sale model (you have one week for new trades and then the price ratchets up) actually could expand the total audience for comics by giving a teaser taste that gateways into a desire for more.

    Because it’s seen as a threat, it is railed against.

    I understand, you all are in a tight spot. If I owned a LCS, I would look long and hard at my customers and figure out what they want, where they will be in five years, and build a business that meets them there.

    My heart truly goes out to you and the LCS owners as a fellow business owner. Inventory management and cash flow snafus are the ultimate killer. The publishers should absorb some of those risks or you are caught in a very tough spot of not being able to pivot fast enough to try new models.

    I wonder if you have been to one of the Amazon physical stores? At first, I hated it. Now, I love it. I’m an avid book reader and one of the biggest problems today is too much choice. A trusted curator who displays the good stuff is in short supply these days.

    I believe it might be a decent path forward for an LCS. How many books sit on the shelf with zero turns per year? Probably 90 – 95%?

    Curate and present the new, great stuff, stock the classics that move, provide some way for people to see and order other stuff (a tablet or a kiosk with a special website with preview pages?), maybe even allow people to get pull lists (but please … pre-pay only or at least xx% down for true commitment). I think that model is more realistic and provides smaller sink inventory cost with a focus on cash flow and nimbleness.

    Just brainstorming here. Most LCS want to be better or even preserve the status quo. I think different is in high demand and overdue.

  14. Again, “trusted curator” is pretty much exactly the model that I’ve built for almost a decade, and virtually every successful store that I see is also tacking towards.

    But none of that helps when you’re sold a non-returnable product that you’re then undercut 96%+ on.

    It’s pretty straight forward: you don’t shit where you eat.

    I also have a pretty hard time reconciling “My heart truly goes out to you” with the tone of your other comments above.

    -B

  15. I guess you can look at my comments as antagonistic. I’m actually trying to be realistic and provide options to move forward.

    The option that won’t work is to lash out against market forces and deny customer wishes. It’s no win. Look at how cab companies are doing with that approach.

    Digital and physical, in my opinion, are different channels that appeal to different audiences. From the numbers I’ve seen, digital is stuck at a small percent of total sales.

    The only threat with the 99 cent sales is that it may represent such a deal that a physical buyer will decide to flip to digital.

    The truth is the physical buyer market is shrinking regardless. The LCS owners should encourage any and all innovation to expand the market.

    If books become more affordable through temporary digital promotional pricing, they may begin to expand the number of comic readers and a percent of those will prefer physical books some, or even most, of the time.

    Comic retailers – digital and physical – should be focused on growing the total pie not fighting over table scraps.

    On the more specific comment that your stores have moved to curated content, I understand you feel I’m being aggressive so you are responding defensively. I apologize.

    I have read most of your articles and postings over the last few years and it seems to me that you aren’t being aggressive enough in culling the poor moving product. Only you know your business and my opinion is only based on what I’ve read and interpreted from what you have written (possibly misinterpreted).

    I would challenge any LCS owner to read up on lean distribution models and get rid of 90% of the crap books that don’t turn (sell) immediately and STOP BUYING AND SHELVING SO MANY BOOKS! Floppies and trades.

    That’s probably the majority of the books in any given LCS so it will represent a sea change in thinking and create that existential crisis.

    It will free up cash, create a smaller store, space can be used for other revenue generating things or allow for move to smaller space with lower rent, create a more nimble and profitable business, and allow for more innovation and customer focus.

    If the fear is losing the loyal customer who always wants the offball “Tales of Captain Wahoo” book that otherwise wouldn’t sell, explain the new model and how you will still serve their needs if they let you know they want it, are willing to commit to it financially somehow. Make it easy for them to find and special order and pre-order books.

    Yeah … the orders with Diamond go down and your margins shrink. It won’t matter. You willl be leaner and more profitable in the long run.

    In my opinion, it’s the best path forward and can recharge the industry but only a select few will have the fortitude to do it.

    LCSes fail because of cash flow death. Too much dollars tied up in worthless inventory.

    Prune back, become smaller, and more profitable.

  16. So, if my writing has given you the impression that we overorder and overstock and support things that aren’t sustainable or that harm the biome of selling quality comics to a devoted readership, then I apologize for clearly being a bad writer.

    In so far as the math of my store goes, you have entirely the wrong opinion — it would difficult (if not impossible) for me to order tighter, and still do things like pay rent or employees. I can also assure you that “downsizing” wouldn’t be possible — there’s no chance I could find a smaller space in San Francisco where I could do even half of the business we do now for a lower rent. Margin is EVERYTHING for a comic book store buying non-returnably, and I’m happy to say that I do the math every month, every quarter and every year, and every month again.

    In short, you don’t know what you’re talking about, and I have to say that you, some random person on the internet thinking that you know the math of a 29 year old business better than the owner does is, and I will be honest, pretty damn insulting. Even if that isn’t your intent.

    (though I will ABSOLUTELY stipulate that plenty of people run stores based on what they want their clubhouse to be, rather than what it IS — I am pretty damn confident that this doesn’t describe me, even remotely)

    To your thoughts about using digital as a feeder system and loss leader, I have to inform you that those things have clearly and directly going on for at least a half-decade now, and on multiple occasions I have voiced support for digital serving as “the new newstand” — but you don’t achieve that goal by UNDERCUTTING the vendor with the most skin in the game, who is moving the most product, and is at the most risk because they have the most capital investment.

    Again: don’t shit where you eat.

    I have to say that, realistically, I find the argument, based upon actual history and not ivory tower theory, to be pretty problematic — I mean, it appears to me that a service like “Marvel Unlimited” is pretty clearly leaching away customers who would have previously paid full price for the same goods, and isn’t INCREASING that segment’s overall investment and engagement in the marketplace.. quite the opposite, really.

    I DO think that low cost ways to get “muggles” (or “civilians”) to dabble in comics DOES yield growing the pie for everyone. I do NOT think that selling a book released THIS week for $25-40 dollars for 99 cents increases engagement by the slightest inch, however.

    There’s room for a lot of different things, doing business in lots of different ways, but, at the end of the day: don’t shit where you eat.

    -B

  17. I travel a ton and manage to get to comic shops wherever I go. I admit that I haven’t been to yours, so if yours is truly as you say, you are the exception. Most are shelved with floppies and trades that aren’t moving … just to have a complete line in case a rando customer walks in looking for “Captain Wahoo Vol 2”.

    It’s hard for people to step outside themselves and get a broader perspective. Discount my opinions all you want but my perspective and my job experience is probably extremely useful if you care to listen.

    In the end, your comments all indicate a universe where you / LCSes are at the center. You are 100% flat out incorrect with that attitude and it will spell your doom.

    Your customers are, or at least should be, at the center.

    Your customer base will continue to shrink through attrition. It happens in every industry. Some faster than others.

    Your mission is to get new customers, not kick the can down the road.

    Your alternative is to optimize for a dwindling base. That path has a short shelf life unless you downsize expenses.

    I literally don’t care about your 29 years of experience. Your customers don’t care about your 29 years of experience. You really should put that aside too.

    I took a taxi home from the airport earlier this month. Talk about a disgruntled soul. Railing about the city this, the airport that, the stupid customers.

    Don’t be that cabbie.

    The truth is you have no clue how 99 cent temporary digital promotions will impact the overall market. You are guessing. You may even know specifically how it hurt your store sales … but even that requires some level of speculation unless people outright told you it resulted in a lost sale.

    You will be angry about any massive testing like this because you are uncertain of how it impacts you. I’m saying that you should embrace it and get nimble to do your own testing of tactics to drive new business. Either solo or with a group of retailers.

    You all need to embrace nimbleness, testing, and customer focus. I would also suggest look with fresh eyes and ditch your history. We’re in a brave new world here.

    Good luck.

  18. You literally have no idea what you’re talking about. Virtually every assertion here that you’ve made is factually backwards. Even in the things that you think you’re observing, I’m going to gently suggest that unless you have access to these store’s books, you have NO IDEA whether things are turning or not — if you walk into my store every week, week in and week out, you’ll see x copies of [title] on the shelf…. but we’re turning y copies a year, so THAT’S THE RIGHT INVENTORY TO HAVE.

    Customers HAVE directly and specifically told myself and many other retailers “I am not longer buying this book because Marvel sold it at 99 cents”

    The Direct Market OVERWHELMINGLY sells more comics material than any other channel.

    I get it that you, and several other people think that you’ve know what is happening with the market from afar, but as a person who looks, analzes, thinks about, processes and builds and rebuilds that market each and every waking hour, I can’t simply state this vehemently enough: you don’t know what you are talking about in this case.

    And maybe when a professional tries to tell you that your basis’s and conclusions are incorrect, you just might want to listen to them.

    -B

  19. Don’t be that cabbie, Brian.

    The customers really don’t care about you or your survival. Serve them and get over your own beliefs.

    Or don’t. I don’t care enough to continue this conversation.

    Attitudes like yours will continue to result in customer attrition. It’s not about your beliefs and it’s not about making what has worked better. It’s a new world. Adapt or perish. 29 years of history are not going to help.

  20. I find it interesting that my post prior to your reply started by saying what I’ve seen at other stores and specifically that I don’t have any knowledge of your stores, yet you still felt the need to talk about your store turns. It sounds like you are doing it right with managing turns.

    My other comments were all about the attitude. I feel your views are all about you. I understand it but I don’t think it’s long term healthy which is why I would encourage all business owners to focus on customers.

    When businesses do the same thing better, they become susceptible to disruption by new models that serve customers differently, in a way customers start to appreciate.

    Too many to recount but some big examples are Netflix vs Blockbuster, Uber vs cabs, Starbucks vs Dunkin Donuts.

    If you feel you are customer focused, I won’t be able to sway you. All I’m saying is … in my opinion and experience, built from decades helping re-engineer businesses successfully, LCSes are not doing this generally and your comments seem to indicate you aren’t fully there yet.

    Whatever. Keep on keeping on. I enjoy reading your comments and articles and a[ologize for being so confrontational.

  21. Just to put a button on this: I believe that I am using my experience (ugh, sorry) IN ORDER to adapt. I think *most* of my peers (maybe not most stores, but most of *my peers*) are doing the same.

    I accept your apology for being confrontational, and I’m sorry I rose to the bait!

    (Frikkin’ internet)

    -B

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