Marvel’s David Gabriel, their svp – print, sales & marketing, doesn’t do too many interviews, but a three parter at ICv2 is a news packed doozy from Marvel’s testing a $35 Deadpool book in a mass market retailer to their growing participation in Scholastic Book Fairs. Here’s Part Two and Part Three, and you’ll want to pour over every paragraph, but if you just want the BEat Guide, here you go.
Perhaps the most interesting note (to me anyway) is the fact that Marvel has been able to develop a backlist program at long last! This has been a problem for a while due to no inventory practices insisted on by management, something that Gabriel actually makes a nod to in this quote (bold is mine.)
You said there are fewer graphic novel titles than there used to be. What are you cutting and what are you emphasizing more?
About four years ago when we cut regular comic title counts, that automatically cut the title counts of the trades. And they really concentrated on much stronger titles and they also sold better. Who would have thought? And we’ve also gotten some really strong backlist trades, which we had never had before. Deadpool is our Batman. We slowly built that up over about a year and then it exploded well before the movie. And we’ve just had gigantic hits. We actually, on a monthly basis, get called by the finance guys to question the gigantic print runs that we’re having, which is great.
Probably when you and I started talking years ago we wouldn’t have known how to respond to them. But now it’s been a long run for the people at Marvel and years ago no one said that was going to happen. Everybody wanted to say that we would be gone in a year and there would be a new crowd.
And we have more coming up. Black Panther is one of them. We’ve seen the print runs on that, and it’s nothing like we ever expected. A lot of that is Ta-Nehisi Coates, of course.
It’s been strong for us. We’ve gotten very good at working with the retailers, the book market, and international sales. It goes back to having the same crew in place for 14 years and knowing the market well.
I like the little nod to watchful, loyal accounting people who won’t allow Marvel to print enough books to sell in mass, but luckily the movies did the heavy lifting on brand recognition here.
In part two, Gabriel mentions that Disney Stores are now carrying some Disney, Marvel and Star Wars books. Finally. And at Scholastic book fairs, they’re carrying Han Solo, Totally Awesome Hulk, All-New All-Different Avengers, Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, and Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. So if you wonder why those last two books are still being published, wonder no more. Gabriel also gives big play to the Squirel Girl OGN, which could be a significant release for this format.
AND here’s that demographic info you’ve been waiting for–and is that a confirmation of Disney market research, whose invisible hand I’m been suspecting for years?
Again it’s still kind of anecdotal. From things that we gather from some analysis that Disney does on who is buying Marvel as a brand, and from talking to retailers and looking at our titles, we’re probably up to at least 40% female, which eight years ago might have been 10%. And 15 years ago might have been nothing, while they were all buying manga. So there’s really been a shift, which is great, and it even could be even higher than 40%. I’m sure if you go into some retail shops in different parts of the country, that’ll be 50-60% female, and some lower. But that’s about what we’re seeing now. We also get some stats from digital; they’re a little better at knowing who the customer is.
Gabriel also also the question of why “Marvel Now” is coming back — turns out that that name really stuck with partners. Imagine that, you hit the branding jackpot and didn’t even notice!
About six months to a year ago, we started having all of these international licensees for publishing and also for consumer goods coming to us saying ‘we want to get the Marvel NOW! titles.’ I scratched my head a little bit, and the consumer folks asked me, ‘What’s Marvel NOW!?’ It turns out that what we started four years ago with Marvel NOW! really stuck with them all over the world. And we’ve used NOW! in different ways over the past couple of years, and when we were looking for something to hang our marketing hat on for the end of this year, we said we could try to come up with something new or we could use what everybody already knows. And why should we come up with something new and re-brand everything and re-confuse everybody? Or should we use something that’s selling very well worldwide? Everyone said, it doesn’t make sense. So we changed it up a little bit with shattering the logo, which ended up tying in well to what was going on in Civil War II. It was nice when everything going on in editorial really fit well with what we were doing. We didn’t tell them what to do. It all just meshed very well together.
Finally, no Gabriel interview would be complete without some shade throwing at naysayers. It’s true that the excessive back patting can be a little disconcerting, but it’s also true, as Gabriel says, that the comics internet is set on showing how Marvel’s sales are slipping, and they are headed down a dark path dragging the comics business with them–even though Marvel continues to dominate the direct sales market (until Rebirth showed up.)
It’s true that many of these smart business moves that Marvel is making aren’t all necessarily beneficial to the direct market, but it’s also true that Gabriel and Marvel President Dan Buckley are two of the smartest business people in comics, and they would probably prefer to have a strong LCS system selling their books. I’m gong to let the retail and sales chart pundits take this one on.
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.