Milton Griepp has a three-part report on Marvel’s meeting with retailers and if you’re into industry Kremlinology, just drop whatever you are doing and study this. Props to Griepp for boiling down two long days on talks into a coherent narrative. You really need to read the whole thing because it is not very often you get to read a roundtable between top retailers and a Big Two publisher discussing a crisis point for the industry.
Here’s the links:
Part 1: changes in marketing and events
Part 2: talent management and reboots
But because Kremlinology is what we do here at the Beat here are a few passages we underlined:
Diversity is nothing without a good story
That there is reader and retailer push back against the new, diverse track of Marvel characters is a given. And the retailers themselves seemed divided on how it affected sales:
Another retailer described what he wanted to see from Marvel. “I don’t want you guys doing that stuff,” he said of political content. “I want you to entertain. That’s the job. One of my customers even said the other day (because he knew we were coming) he wants to get stories and doesn’t mind a message, but he doesn’t want to be beaten over the head with these things.” [snip]
Yet another pointed out that the more diverse characters brought different people into his store. “One things about the new books that go through my store, they don’t sell the numbers that I would like,” he said. “They do bring in a different demographic, and I’m happy to see that money in my store.”
Gabriel noted time and again that last October things they kept doing stopped working. But despite the lowered efficiency of #1s and sales incentives, there is really no way to shift this to a #25 issues.
Marvel’s use of sales incentives and more variants on the relaunches was also noted as one reason for their initial success. But those incentives don’t work unless they’re on #1s.
“I will be honest with you and tell you that we have tried to put those same sales incentives on the issues 24 or 25,” Gabriel said. “They don’t get a fraction of what the #1 does. That’s a problem that we all have to bear together. Once you get to issues 15, and 16, and 17 what in the world do you do to get those numbers from a 40,000, 60,000 unit book to 150,000 unit book even for one month?”
But the $9.99 Spider-Man was a big success even for retailers, according to Gabriel.
• Marvel believes artists no longer sell books.
This is an interesting thing because out in the wild of non big two readers, artists/cartoonists definitely sell books, but at both Marvel and DC the constant cutting and pasting of artists and pushing “world building” authors has eroded their audience’s interest in them. I give Marvel credit for trying to ride it out with Marquez (Civil War II) and Ribic (Secret Wars III) as they did with the first Civil War and Old Man Logan (trade sales stars) but throwing up their hands with Secret Empire is a sign of the times. (BTW, I understand Secret Wars delays were due to many factors, not just the artist.)
There are fewer artists that impact sales than there are writers, Alonso said, and they’re harder to promote. “It’s harder to pop artists these days,” he said. “There is no apparatus out there. There is no Wizard Magazine out there that told you who the hot top 10 were. We don’t have that anymore. We can hype our artists all we want, but I don’t know if we know how many artists, besides maybe McNiven and Coipel, absolutely move the needle on anything to be drawn.
It’s not just publishing rights that draw creators to creator-owned, it’s also secondary rights. “This is one of the things that we have to contend with as well,” Alonso said, “The lure of writing the comic book that is getting optioned as a movie. That’s where we have to be patient and we maintain good relationships. Every once in a while there will be scorched earth, but we keep those doors open and we wait for opportunity. Often times they come back.”
I’d like to note that a well known news site has not linked to the ICv2 reports, but DID just run a Wizard Style Hot artists piece!
And here’s Axel Alonso on the practice:
“When I became editor‑in‑chief, we did AVX. When I suggested multiple artists and multiple writers, Dan Buckley went Red Hulk on me because that’s not the way we did events. I said, ‘Well, actually, we have been doing events that way. We’ve been doing X‑Men events.” What people care about is rapidity of ship. Correct me if I’m wrong. They want to come out on time. Rapidity of ship helps, because it means that you don’t have to wait a month for the next chapter. They’re more forgiving of art shifts as long as they’re good.”
§ The mix of limited series, maxi series, mini series is hard to make work.
A retailer noted:
A retailer noted how a number of the problems being discussed all fit together in ways that might permit a solution. “Honestly, listening to this discussion and hear us talking, looking at these things, it sounds like the event fatigue, the timing of events, the wanting number ones, the idea of doing shorter series to attract creators, not necessarily announcing them right away is that they all overlap just enough that it’s really coordination and a thoughtful game plan on how these would work, because they’re all just negatively affecting each other when they can actually all complement one another,” he said.
The Gabriel interview is jammed with intriguing observations, including his own version on the panel that kicked off DC Rebirth: “There is something missing!” in that something just…changed last fall.
There was probably a little too much product going out at that time. We all got a good kick in the ass over that. What I had said was, after looking at everything that was going on, we knew that we had to make some changes and we couldn’t do anything the next month. We had to wait six months before things could start taking place. That’s sort of what we’re getting to now. I hope that clears it up.
In the passage that will probably get the most talk, Gabriel just flat out says that readers turned up their noses at the continuing diversification of their line:
We saw the sales of any character that was diverse, any character that was new, our female characters, anything that was not a core Marvel character, people were turning their nose up against. That was difficult for us because we had a lot of fresh, new, exciting ideas that we were trying to get out and nothing new really worked.
It was the old things coming back in that time period, three books in particular, Spider-Man Renew Your Vows, that had Spider-Man and Mary Jane married, that worked. The Venom book worked and the Thanos book worked. You can take what you want out of who might be enjoying those three books, but it is definitely a specific type of comic book reader, comic book collector that really liked those three series.
UPDATE; AS First predicted right here at The Beat, the above statement went viral in a few minutes. We’ll have more on that soon, but Gabriel released a statement updating the above, and restating their commitment to the new diverse characters:
[Note: Marvel’s David Gabriel reached out to correct the statement above: “Discussed candidly by some of the retailers at the summit, we heard that some were not happy with the false abandonment of the core Marvel heroes and, contrary to what some said about characters “not working,” the sticking factor and popularity for a majority of these new titles and characters like Squirrel Girl, Ms. Marvel, The Mighty Thor, Spider-Gwen, Miles Morales, and Moon Girl, continue to prove that our fans and retailers ARE excited about these new heroes. And let me be clear, our new heroes are not going anywhere! We are proud and excited to keep introducing unique characters that reflect new voices and new experiences into the Marvel Universe and pair them with our iconic heroes.
“We have also been hearing from stores that welcome and champion our new characters and titles and want more! They’ve invigorated their own customer base and helped them grow their stores because of it. So we’re getting both sides of the story and the only upcoming change we’re making is to ensure we don’t lose focus of our core heroes.”]
Gabriel doubled down on saying that DC’s returnability was an industry issue, although not THE only issue:
I haven’t heard from anybody today saying what a great thing that it was for the industry. Maybe I didn’t ask them that, but nobody came back and denied that there were cash flow problems as a result of that returnability. That’s the only thing I can say that was a problem for the individual retailers economically.
Anyway there’s more. Read it all. Retailers came out of the meeting encouraged. Has Marvel actually learned anything? What can they really do?
What do you think, readers? Would different storylines or different creators bring you back? Who and what?
NOTE: racist comments will be deleted and posters banned.
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.