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Are Marvel and DC cutting costs?


Over a year ago, when Marvel and DC both turned into pawns of the larger game of Disney and Warners, it wasn’t too hard to see the handwriting on the wall for some massive changes as the “Big Two” at the heart of comics publishing fundamentally altered their corporate structures — including eliminating some of their unprofitable businesses and looking to save money all over. At DC, there have been lots of snippets of change coming out, including, of course, shutting down the Zuda, CMX and WildStorm lines, and more recently, a major change in the contracts for creator participation books which has made Vertigo a much less desirable destination for creators. Chris Butcher has an interesting post which mentions other cost cutting measures, including not shrink wrapping hardcovers any more. He also speculates that DC’s dropping out of the Comics Code was to save money — you have to pay to belong to the CMAA. This line of thinking is a little harder to accept as fact, since the move appears to have been in the works for some time. Butcher also points out some other little-noticed moves that point to a more robust attempt at firming up the bottom line:

Oh, and here’s a thing that hasn’t got much attention: They’re cancelling trade paperbacks. Here are a few recent ones:


DC Comics has cancelled all orders on the AZRAEL: KILLER OF SAINTS TP (DEC100247). This title will not be published.


DC Comics has cancelled all orders on THE AUTHORITY: THE LOST YEAR BOOK TWOTP (NOV100254). This title will not be published.


Which, I mean lets face it, those are two VERY low selling books, but time was DC would publish both of those books, despite the low sales, just because they solicited them and were following through on a promise to the customer. Now, they’re not publishing books that don’t sell well, it’s one of those things that’s both amazing and obvious at the same time.**

I’ve also heard rumblings that I cannot really talk about that DC is going back to press on fewer titles than ever right now. Basically if it’s not making a certain sales target, it doesn’t get reprinted, regardless of whether or not it’s volume 1 of a series of trades that are still coming out. So DC fans, if you want a trade paperback, I humbly suggest that you buy that trade paperback when you see it–those books might not be in print more-or-less indefinitely anymore.

There’s more discussion of canceled and unreprinted books in the comments — although more people seem to be upset about the shrink wrapping thing. At any rate, you might want to hold onto some of those periodicals, since a collection isn’t automatic anymore.

Along those lines, Bleeding Cool has a now refuted guess that Marvel was cutting the All-Ages line based on a statement by writer Brian Clevenger:
Anyway! You may recall that this was intended to be an on-going series. It was downgraded to a four issue mini-series and then two issues — you get both of ‘em in this one-shot. Captain America: The Fighting Avenger will be one of the last “all ages” issues of anything Marvel will produce for quite a while. Because they “aren’t profitable.”
Marvel Sr. VP of Sales & Circulation David Gabriel was very quick to say this was not true:

Marvel is not stopping the all ages lines! An exciting announcement is coming in just a few weeks that will expand upon this as well. Our all ages titles have great success well outside of the direct market, as well as the success they have with indivual stores within the direct market. I just like to stop rumors like this from spreading!

It is true that Marvel canceled and shrank down a lot of miniseries because flooding the market with them wasn’t working. However, the all ages material seems to be reaching a different audience than the regular books, and cutting the line would be quite a shock.

  1. I think their costs are cute enough already.

    On a more serious note, I never understood why they shrink-wrapped hardcovers to begin with. Don’t people want to look through a book before they buy it?

  2. Michael, the shrink-wrapping offers some protection for HCs to a customer base that’s often pretty picky about the condiiton of their books.

  3. I’ve noticed a sharp drop in the number of Essentals and Showcase books coming out.

    Not to sound like a broken record, but might digital-only comics offer the chance to publish mini-series and books which are borderline in sales at a lower cost to the publisher? A DC Azrael series might not sell well in the direct market, but it might do well enough online. Similarly with Marvel with books like Nova or Guardians of the Galaxy. And digital need not be the domain of B- and C-level books. Certainly, some Spider-Man or Batman mini-series ought to find their way online; a Gotham Girls or Spider-Man family (or even Hulk family) online series ought to do well.

    Anyway, carry on…

  4. They are cuting costs! Very cute indeed! All diddy and sweet!

    There’s also the advertising aspect. The Comics Code was always an important part of that, protecting the advertiser.

    Bongo saw no drop off of ad sales when they changed, and DC run Bongo and Archie ad sales. They’ll have had that data first hand…

  5. Warner Brothers already runs a “print on demand” catalog for DVDs (which is why “Legenss of the Super Heroes” is available).

    DC could easily set up a print-on-demand facility. If everything is digitized, it would be easy to either offer pre-fab “Showcase” volumes, or allow users to create their own collections and anthologies.

  6. I’ll say this, once Volume 1 goes out of print (of any series) BAM! Time to discount the remaining volumes and order no more. HArd to convince someone to pick up Ms. Marvel, if they can’t start with volume 1.

  7. Huh — I’m surprised the Authority book isn’t coming out. Sales on “Book 1” must have really been awful considering it has “Grant Morrison” as one of the writers.

  8. The shrink-wrapping issue has been at DC for a very long time. When I was there we discussed it not as a way to save money, but as a way to get more people to look inside the book and maybe buy it.

  9. Why would DC/Marvel produce ROMs when they can sell the single issues as apps? In other words, why sell a hen when you can sell the eggs for more money?

    Besides, these ROMs are cheap because fans think it’s overpriced, so these titles go on clearance.

    The digital money lies in selling subscriptions (Marvel) and apps (everyone). Eventually, the big stuff gets digitized, and companies begin to mine the older stuff. That long tail (which might not support a trade collection) can be exploited with a print-on-demand website. The user selects the stories and order in the book, selects the binding (paper, library, hardcover, slipcased), the printing (b/w, color, paper) designs the cover, and gets the book within one to two weeks.

  10. “Now, they’re not publishing books that don’t sell well, it’s one of those things that’s both amazing and obvious at the same time.”

    Well, aren’t the single issues supposed to be the loss-leaders?

    Once DC has made the expenses required to create and put together the comic, the reasoning goes, the collections are where they actually make money, eventually.

    So, if they cancel the collections because they don’t expect them to make enough money, what does this mean for the periodicals?

  11. Books like Azrael and Authority: The Lost Years are perfect books to *not* collect. No one bought the singles, no one is going to buy the tpbs. I normally order just about every DC tpb, but I didn’t order those because no one bought the single issues. Not everything should be collected in trade paperback, let alone $25 hardcovers *coughmarvelcough*

  12. Michael P, if you look at Chris Butcher’s post he mentions the shrink-wrapping on dust-jacket hardcovers is a cheap way to protect them. That when a book costs $30 to $60, buyers get really fussy about the condition of the book. He points out that just this week he got a Starman Omnibus Volume 6 that is now just about unsellable because it’s damaged dust jacket, something that would have not likely had happened if it has been shrunk-wrapped.

  13. Also this is the first I’ve heard of a change in Vertigo’s creator participation contracts. Which is sad to hear, as over the years Vertigo has put out some amazing creator owned comics and original graphic novels. I would have liked to see more of this not less, than is likely to result with these new changes.

  14. If they’re low-selling individually on the shelf, I don’t know that they’d sell any better individually electronically, except at a bargain price, and/or bundled with something more desirable. That was more my point. I admit I didn’t go into detail about what I saw written on the wall. Mostly that this is just one more step towards digital delivery (more likely as download than ROM). This material isn’t disappearing, it’s just disappearing from print.

  15. DC know what is selling now at the Direct Market, the newsstand market, subscriptions, and online.

    Once the digital numbers approach print numbers, then DC will consider running lesser titles as digital-only downloads.

    Marvel and DC did this in the 1980s, when they realized that marginal titles like Moon Knight would post better profits if there weren’t wasteful newsstand returns to deal with. Instead, they sold it only to comics shops.

    I suspect that DC looked at the Diamond orders, which are non-returnable, and realized the profit-and-loss spreadsheet would not show a profit.

  16. I HATE dust jackets on hardcovers, they’re so hard to keep in good shape, both at home and on store shelves and they usually don’t look that good. Look at the expensive BPRD Plague of Frogs hardcover that came out last week with a dust jacket (very disappointing) and compare how that book looks next to the handsome Hellboy Library hardcovers and Beasts of Burden (both also by Dark Horse and they don’t have dust jackets). It’s been said that the reason companies do dust jackets is because the “regular” book store market likes them.

  17. Well, by this logic, does that mean they’ll publish no more Jonah Hex trades? I’ve always heard thats where that title pays for itself… and several others like it? So now what?

    Gee, now if only Marvel would stop publishing everything in trade or HB that it can possibly reach. I always laugh at the lists of the books coming out any given month…. DC has about 2 column inches for its list… Marvel about 6-8!

    Good ole’ Marvel…. it you can’t beat it honestly, flood the market and kill it…

  18. “I HATE dust jackets on hardcovers, they’re so hard to keep in good shape, both at home and on store shelves and they usually don’t look that good.”


    Or remove them and store them flat in a portfolio or map case.

    Dust jackets are advertising… There’s the cover image, then the blurbs on the back, and even the copy on the flaps.

    I would like to see more library bindings, like the Tintin 3-in-1 volumes, or the hardcover Asterix albums.

  19. otisfirefly:

    I’m sure Jonah Hex is one of those exceptions to the rule because they’ve seen more then enough evidence to show how well the trades sell in relation to the singles. The same probably with Vertigo.

    But I also see it in some ways as DC now telling the “waiting for the trade” contingent that they shouldn’t expect a trade if no one’s willing to justify the purpose of the regular issues, specially if the trade sales don’t help offset the cost of the single issue.

    That’s why a lot of Wildstorm trades were getting cancelled as well before all this came to light.

  20. Torsten, actually I just think most dust jackets don’t look as good as hardcovers that don’t have them like Grandeville, Reid Fleming, and the three volume Hellboy over sized Library editions.

  21. Lol @Rich!

    Marvel’s keeping its prices high though. Explains the dollar market share difference. Where will Fear Itself’s vampires take the numbers in May? People weren’t so high on the Death of Dracula/Duckula for a good reason.

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