-Advertisement-
Brian Hibbs, Beat columnist and owner of two Comix Experience stores in San Francisco has sent the following open letter to Marvel and provded the text to The Beat:

To: John Nee, Publisher, Marvel Comics
CC: David Gabriel, VP of Sales
CC: C.B. Cebulski, Editor-in-Chief
An open letter.
I was extremely disappointed at Marvel comics’ performance at the Diamond summit this week. NOT because of C.B. — he very obviously has a heartfelt passion and concern for the line — but because of the lack of preparation for, and proper response to, retailer’s sincere and existential threat from the now FIFTH week of the wild undercutting on new-this-week book product coming from Amazon. It is utterly unacceptable that Marvel is allowing 96%+-off pricing on a brand-new book like INFINITY SIBLINGS.
C.B. says you’re “trying to get to the bottom of” this, that you are “in talks”. This, to me, is the kind of situation that gets resolved in absolutely no more than 72 hours (and that’s 48 more hours than my heart tells me it really takes) because of the literal harm it is doing to an entire class of customers.
Because after FIVE weeks, five weeks where this has been reported FAR and WIDE, five weeks where that reporting is DRIVING customers to digital at the expense of print, I have decided that as of this FOC, I can no longer order new Marvel graphic novels, and have zeroed out my orders on all book format product published by Marvel at both of my stores. I DO NOT WANT TO DO THIS, but the way that Marvel has slow-walked this tells me its the only thing I can do.
There’s still time to change this. Ceasing this program, and coming forward publicly with a full and completely transparent accounting of what happened, and I’ll happily reinstate those orders. Blissfully, even. But my economic power of purchasing, even if it’s only a fraction of Amazon’s, is the only power I have. And there are plenty of other publishers wanting to sell me books that are bending over backwards for me so that I will have no problem filling my racks.
I don’t know everything about what Amazon does and why, but in years of watching them, what C.B. described does not match any known behavior that I have observed, nor what I have been able to discuss with other publishers about the behaviors THEY have observed. C.B.’s picture simply doesn’t make any sense — Amazon does not take that kind of a loss on that kind of scale unless it is being made up in some other consideration from a manufacturer.
I hope this is dealt with both promptly and publicly; I’d like to keep ordering new Marvel book stock.
Thank you for listening,
-Advertisement-

43 COMMENTS

  1. “Amazon does not take that kind of a loss on that kind of scale unless it is being made up in some other consideration from a manufacturer.”

    They do if they think it will eventually make them the only game in town.

  2. The industry has to change and relying on retailers who have proven that print comics are a difficult sell seems like a fruitless endeavor. Burn it all down, Amazon. Burn it all down.

  3. You feel so strongly about your opinion that you use your best pseudonyms. Every simpleton with an internet connection thinks they’re Ben Franklin or something.

  4. Phil Southern, thanks for your insightful opinion. Please continue to focus on whether one chooses to slap their name on an internet comment or not. Let us muse further on how some of us may think we’re akin to Ben Franklin for simply having an opinion on the comic book industry. I’m curious if you’d have made this comment regardless or if the content of our opinion is what earned such an on-key message from someone as esteemed as the great Phil Southern.

  5. Marvel and DC no longer want or need to share actual comic book readers with retailers, just obsessive collectors and get-rich-quick speculators (and they only share those two because of no-risk non-returnability). Marvel’s massive digital discounts are just another symptom of a much larger disease that’s going to get much, much worse when DC launches its own digital streaming platform in a few months. Since it will entice more people to subscribe and since upping their monthly subscriber totals is the goal with such platforms (just ask their shareholders), expect it to include access to a Marvel Unlimited-style digital comics service with tens of thousands of back issues from 1938-up for under 10 bucks a month.

    It’s also likely that the recent Ollie’s “buy-out” of DC trades and hardcovers was designed to purge stagnating inventory so that DC publishing isnt seen to be competing with the corporation’s more profitable new digital option for potential readers of their vast backlist. DC certainly didn’t dump all those pricey hardcovers and trades onto the market to be nice.

    If you bought those Ollie’s books to flip for a higher price than you paid for them, then you better sell them now because in a few months DC will be telling potential DC readers to go to DC’s new streaming platform to read those stories for even less than you paid for them. The big 2 back issue market will almost certainly become even more concentrated on keys because people who actually want to read comics for entertainment as opposed to investment can enjoy “free” access to all the classic DC runs and story arcs for under ten bucks a month.

    Retailers who cater to readers as opposed to collectors and speculators but who currently only order DC and Marvel comics/trades better start looking for a lot more new readers to replace the ones they’ll lose or for new products from other publishers to sell to their current comic-reading customers.

    Or you can just ignore the warning signs and carry on as usual.

  6. My opinion is made slightly more valid by my actually standing behind it–I assure you, no one lacks esteem more than I. You’re the Beat’s equivalent of fake news: You could be Jeff Bezos for all I know, or you could be a retailer who knows what he’s talking about. It’s impossible to tell.

    But I’ll concede your point that it can be hard to sell comics, especially when it’s a 99¢ download versus $24.99 in print. I also know that comics can be easy to sell, when they come regularly, with predictable quality and compelling characters and stories. Marvel tries to make it hard, for certain. They’re inconsistency in quality and scheduling, with the added hit of selling (or at least being complicit in the selling of) the same product at giveaway prices.

  7. Where does this leave the back issue market as well? Those old comics sitting in comic boxes in the closet won’t be worth shit as there are no young readers who will want that stuff as digital will suffice. Glad I’ve been selling off my collection and keeping only certain books for nostaglia.

  8. “The industry has to change and relying on retailers who have proven that print comics are a difficult sell seems like a fruitless endeavor”

    How, exactly, has this been “proven”? The DM sells more comics than any other segment.

  9. “Print is dead”

    Really?
    Then why does digital feel the need to discount to unsustainable levels, even now a decade into the existence of full colour tablets.

    Print is paying the bills for the publishers and creators. Killing the direct market with discounted digital will just destroy the entire market as there will be not enough money being paid to pay for any new creative.

  10. I think the long game Amazon is playing is to grab the print distribution, and disrupt and destroy old business models as they have in they past i.e. (Borders, Barnes etc)like the Direct Market /Comic Book Stores. Not a fan of Amazon by a long shot, but you have to read the behaviors .

  11. I can’t believe I wrote “they’re” when it should clearly be “their”. I am disgusted and disappointed in myself, and heartily apologize to the internet. I’d edit it if I could.

  12. “Print is paying the bills for the publishers and creators.”

    True. The only reason printed newspapers still exist is because print advertising brings in MUCH more money than digital advertising.

    When that changes, every publisher will sell their presses and lay off half (or more) of their staffs. Because media companies think a handful of 22-year-olds can put out a website.

  13. “Glad I’ve been selling off my collection and keeping only certain books for nostalgia.”

    Everyone should do this. Unless you have a big stash of Golden or Silver Age comics, your collection is worthless in terms of money. Those comics are valuable because of scarcity; most people read them to rags and threw them away (or their mothers threw them away). Most comics published after about 1970 are not worth much, except in memories.

  14. I am 49, with as much love/appreciation for comics as when I first discovered them as a boy. However, at this point and time, it seems that, as has already been said, “print is dead”. The cost of having the books printed, then the poor retailer who is find it more difficult to make ends meet, and then this whole debacle with the $.99 books (digital edition) on the same day as the physical copies arrive in the comic shops. I still have a fondness for the physical copies, but since making the switch to digital last year, my only regret is that I did not make the move sooner.

  15. “My opinion is made slightly more valid by my actually standing behind it”

    No it doesn’t. Get off the internet if screen names bother you so goddamn much.

  16. Reading this on a Kindle. I find comics now actually look cooler and much more modern on a Kindle,not to mention storage plus and cheaper prices.
    Why would I ever want to go back to a $4.99 fifteen minute read Mr.Hibbs?
    Why?
    It’s over just like buying cds compared to Spotify or reading Google news compared to local morning paper.
    I am surprised digital comics took this long to catch up to digital books and digital music.

  17. Love Brian but he’s totally wrong on this. There is no comparison between walking into a comic store and paying $20 for a physical 200 page book, versus going on to comixology and paying $.99 for a digital comic book. This sale might cause a few people to switch from physical to digital media, but most collectors want the physical product on their shelves.

    (Does any actually pay full price for comic collections on Comixology? $20 for a digital file, which you can’t even transfer to your own hard drive because of DRM? That seems nuts to me.)

    Brian’s perspective is a myopic, selfish one. Personally, I don’t live in the US and my ‘local’ comic store is Amazon’s distribution depot. Comixology works for me because I can’t afford to ship physical books halfway across the globe.

    Amazon’s real competition isn’t Brian Hibbs, it’s piracy. When you can download any comic from any era for free at the touch of a button, Amazon’s pricing strategy makes perfect sense.

  18. Two things, briefly:

    1. Print is not dead. The company I work for proves that, time and time again. Periodical comics, however, are not the entirety of print. And the nostalgia is, by and large, just not worth the cost. I still buy a few, but the clock is ticking, which brings us to the next thing…

    2. I pretty much only visit my local comic shop out of guilt at this point. This is not a sustainable long-term business model.

  19. Engagement in discussion on the Beat website has seen me start a standing order again.

    The market supports what it will but there’s always room for the physical, with discussions and community around it. Maybe I’m finding the level with my local comic shop owner at which I buy a couple/few floppies, but it’s enjoyable doing so; physically, and talking, respectfully. Not bad.

  20. I’ll add, as I always do, that I read print comics because I love the format better than the digital screen. I look at screens for hours a day for work and entertainment. It’s a great feeling to disconnect and flip through wonderfully drawn and colored comic book pages. And when I’m done enjoying my comic books, I stash some, I sell others, and I donate the rest for others to enjoy and wear out reading. I bought some of the 99 cent digital collections just to save a ton of money on stuff I want to read (Masterworks collections and recent trades), and others I bought just because they were there for a dollar (never would have bought Secret Empire in paper or for more than a dollar, etc.). I just don’t see a future where digital comics are any more profitable than print. At some point, you’ll be getting glorified web comics with cheap art and dollar quality stories.

  21. sadly this argument got lost when Apple and others got had up for price fixing, rather than Amazon for pricing below cost. In the past this has always been the definition of predatory pricing, but now it’s just a f* you to retailers including Brian and to Marvel’s reputation. Because Marvel stopping this is probably illegal.

  22. @Matthew “This sale might cause a few people to switch from physical to digital media, but most collectors want the physical product on their shelves.”

    ‘sfunny, because I just came from the Diamond summit where retailer after retailer after retailer expressed that this IS causing harm, and that they HAVE directly lost sales on non-returnable product that has been radically undercut. You can totally feel free to assume that all of these people were lying or something, but after I heard the three dozenth variation of “yeah I had a guy come in and get mad at me for selling that book for cover price when they can get it for 99 cents digitally”, I have to think that the opinion of just about everyone who doesn’t have skin in the game to be basically invalid.

    —-

    I don’t want to be insulting, but all of the folks who are saying “print is dead” or whatever literally do not know what you are talking about: MORE print comics are being sold today in a variety of channels than were ten years ago, and I have had dozens of “cone of silence” conversations with publishers of all shapes and sizes about specifics of sales of digital comics for me to be very confident in declaring that the overwhelming majority of comics readers are more interested in print than in digital, a thing I see personally with both adults AND kids.

    Seriously, we regularly ask the kids who are in our Kids GN Club (www.graphicnovelclub.com/kids) what they like and don’t like in reading comics, and the *kids* are uniform that they WAY prefer print to digital.

    Also, because it really REALLY looks to me that a whole lot of folks are replying to this without understanding what is being discussed, this has NOTHING to do with periodical issues. We’re talking specifically and exclusively about Marvel dramatically undercutting BOOK sales.

    —-

    @Oliver Townsend: Minimum Advertised Price (MAP) is ABSOLUTELY legal. Spend two minutes googling it. “Price Fixing” refers to *collusion* between retailers (or manufacturers) to manipulate prices. That’s against Federal law. But an individual manufacturer can 100% insist that retailers don’t sell an item for under $x, because it can devalue the product.

    Like it is here; and retailers are stuck holding the non-returnable bag.

    -B

  23. “I can’t afford a 4.99 comic, what makes anyone think I can afford a Kindle and then pay out for comics?”

    Because you own a computer or phone? Which are the most common ways for people to consume kindle content.

  24. B to the Hibbs: while you’re right in that they wouldn’t be able to show on their sales page that the books cost 0.99 cents, couldn’t they could still sell the TPBs/GNs for 0.99 cents? Once the customers are conditioned to expect this level of discount (while it would still help) Comixology may no longer require it to be advertised. Customers could see their savings in the shopping cart if necessary instead of blatantly right there on the main and sales pages. Additionally comic sites don’t count as the company advertising so every time a website brings up the 0.99 cent TPBs/GNs as a positive or focusing on what the consumer can grab for cheap this week; that’s another week Comixology may not need an actual sales page for the discount.

  25. @Brian Hibbs You say in your reply that retailers are losing sales to digital, then in the next paragraph say that print sales are increasing and that kids love print over digital. I don’t see how both those things can be true.

    If Marvel are guilty of over-pricing their physical products, then you should focus on telling them to lower the physical price, not raising their digital prices to match. I know you’re looking at this as a retailer, but from a consumer’s point of view it just looks like you don’t want me to get a good deal.

  26. “2. I pretty much only visit my local comic shop out of guilt at this point. This is not a sustainable long-term business model.”

    There is something to this. So much of the message from retailers is guilt-based. It’s the problem with the model of having to have a customer commit to a product three months before they see it. The sort of appointment buying that comics demand is going away. The obsession that leads to Wednesday warriors is being supplanted by digital streaming content. Why pay 4 dollars for 22 pages when that is half the cost of my Netflix subscription which gives me access to dozens of new shows and movies to stream. Complete stories and not serialized content (or, at least, all of the parts ot the serialized content to watch as I please)

    All that said,it’s sad that Marvel would offer 99 cent collections that have effectively destroyed the value of the collections that shops have purchased as stock. The collections I have bought from Marvel in the last couple of years were Vision and the newer Silver Surfer book. I ordered them at my LCS and paid a little less than cover price. All told, I spent somewhere in the neighborhood $100 to $125 for all those books. The lesson Marvel has taught me as a consumer is this: I was foolish to pay the cover price for any book or collection they publish. If I wait long enough I can get all that content for 99 cents.

  27. “Because you own a computer or phone? Which are the most common ways for people to consume kindle content.”

    My phone is the size of a comic book panel, my computer is a bit too big to sit back and relax with. If marvel really wants to start pushing the digital stuff they are free to buy me a tablet. Other than that I’ll stick to print, when I can afford it.

  28. Half of the comments here are comically sad. It becomes obvious really fast who actually has anything to do with the actual business end of comics and therefore would actually know what in the blue fuck is at stake here.

    Print is dead. LAUGHABLE.

    Digital is not killing comic book stores. Comixology selling brand new graphic novels for 99 cents on day of release is really a big fuck you to the direct market though. Marvel seemed pretty OK with that too. How do I know? Because they let it happen. And if for one second you think thats not the case then you have more problems than can be dealt with in the comments section.

  29. @Matthew “I don’t see how both those things can be true.”

    *blinks*

    *blinks*

    Is this an intentional troll, or do you simply have absolutely zero idea of what the discussion is ABOUT?

    Marvel has been pricing $18-40 BOOKS at 99 cents for FIVE WEEKS now. This conversation is solely about that. Print sales ARE strong and up, but over the last FIVE WEEKS (on books that were ordered, [non-returnably!!!] between eight and ~twelve weeks ago) the *sell-through* of those 99 cent releases has been down, leaving retailers holding the bag.

    Also, like, you DO know that Marvel is far from the only publisher of comics material, right? Right?

    Sheesh.

    -B

  30. “The lesson Marvel has taught me as a consumer is this: I was foolish to pay the cover price for any book or collection they publish. If I wait long enough I can get all that content for 99 cents.”

    I would agree as I’ve seen guys save their money and just wait for the local con and go and buy the year’s worth of Batman at a show for less than cover. I had seen two guys I know who didn’t buy crap all year long at the local store (who just come in and talk on a Saturday) walk out of Wizard World (when they sold comics there) with 3 long boxes of books from the last two years that they scored for dirt cheap. I guess the added benefit was that they got a full arc of a storyline or two by waiting.

    I stopped buying when I realized that when i bought 10 books, I stored 7 away as they were in the middle of an arc and I could read the three that weekend. Then when the story arc books were done, then I could pull them all back out and read them finally. But by then the trade was coming, so what was the point?

  31. There’s a difference between “predatory pricing” and “loss leaders.” For now, the court has found in Amazon’s favor as a “loss leader” marketer, though under terms that fundamentally misjudge Amazon’s existence as a platform, and not a single brick-and-mortar store. At some point, that might be reversed. The question is, will it be too late?

  32. There’s many points to cover, beyond just the “print is dead” aspect, which has been shown, through sales, not to be true.

    This is about Marvel Comics, and how they are a terrible retail partner to those who directly subsidize the creation of their products. I know this is super-over-simplified, but Marvel assumes little risk beyond the initial writing, drawing, coloring and lettering of books. For comics, they print on demand and to order, with no overprinting beyond what is required for damage replacement; you can’t reorder even a predictably “hot” book, like recent issues of Amazing Spider-Man. Marvel’s big new idea in sharing risk is to give stores longer to pay for the comics?

    I can’t intelligently discuss the differences for TPBs and graphic novels printings outside of the DM, as the book market has returnability, etc. But even then, the product itself has already been subsidized by the comics direct market (That said, Marvel’s book backlist is pathetic for keeping things in print, when compared to the likes of DC and Scholastic; having sporadic volumes of trades in stock kills sales too). Add on to that the competition directly from the publisher from “Marvel Unlimited”.

    I do think Marvel is complicit in this pricing scheme; it’s been going on for weeks! Was the contract they signed with Amazon so lopsided, or are they trying to “game” the numbers of digital sales? I hope other stores follow the example of Brian Hibbs, and cut sales to the bone.

    Comic stores being “guilt based”: I can kind of see this point, but it takes some squinting.

    But if we’re talking about pre-ordering comics either in a weekly pull or making a Previews orders? You, a consenting adult, asked for something three days, three weeks, or three months in advance, and it was ordered, non-returnably, at your request. Most stores don’t make you prepay, and are understanding if you want to drop a monthly book. But if you asked for a more expensive product, then either decided you don’t want it, or because you got it for cheaper and subsequently don’t buy it? Well, I hope you have better luck when you’re on the receiving end of a reneged agreement. If keeping your word isn’t important, are you gonna get mad because your store sold the copy of Amazing Spider-Man #798 in your pull to someone else for $12 because you hadn’t come in yet?

    “Marvel overpricing print product”. Huh? This article is specific to the same day, digital release of a product at 1/25th the cost, at a level that is close to free. If 99¢ is the appropriate price for a 112 page original graphic novel by talented creators, you’re going to deserve it when there are no more comics to read.

  33. As a consumer, I love buying Marvel’s backlist for $0.99 a trade.

    On the other hand I find there’s something deeply suspicious about these digital discounts being sprung on everyone weeks after the DM retailers had to order the non-refundable product sight-unseen, especially when the print product (particularly Marvel’s print product) is so over-priced.

  34. I’m beginning to think it is Amazon playing hardball with Marvel.

    There’s one important difference between Marvel’s contract with ComiXology and every other publisher’s. For every other publisher it says “published by $publisher$ sold by ComiXology;” for Marvel it says “published by Marvel, sold by Marvel.”

    This leads me to believe that Amazon is passing the loss of revenue from the reduced price through to Marvel.

    It also makes me wonder if perhaps the reason Amazon is doing this is to force Marvel to renegotiate to the same kind of deal all the other publishers have?

  35. Phil,

    I can only hope there’s a happy medium between severely undercutting the value of the hard work being put into comics (99 cents) and the outrageous prices Marvel sets regularly. I wince at the idea of paying 4.99 for a poorly produced (physically) pamphlet that immediately begins to warp from the moment it leaves the store and enters my car on the way home.

    Marvel’s trades are just as bad….5 issues for anywhere between 20-25 dollars, and that’s not counting when they try to pad a trade with reprints just to bump the price up. And don’t get me started on the thin paper quality of those trades.

    It’s like Marvel is just daring people to go digital. I know I’ll never buy a physical comic of theirs again, Grand Design being the only exception.

  36. Kyle Pinion,

    I agree whole-heartedly; much of Marvel’s output for the past five to seven years has been declining in creative and physical quality. To slap a $3.99 to $4.99 price tag on top of that is extra infuriating, for certain.

  37. I can’t help but wonder if comic shops are in the position that Blockbuster and Hollywood Video were in at the beginning of the 2010s — stuck with a once successful business model that no longer works. We know what happened to the video stores …

  38. The hissyfit worked because they stopped doing .99 cents and upped the prices on most Masterworks.
    Guess what I am still not going to drive an hour to go pay high prices at a lcs.
    The only one here who loses is the reader.
    Books I bought under $9 I will never buy at $75 to read.
    So the lcs wins while the reader loses.
    The Amazing Stam.

Comments are closed.