IMG_20140817_173437Ever been to a comic convention and seen the $5 trade paperback booth?  Essentially the clearance sale?  Well, Marvel’s returned to Walmart and the price point is $5 for a new printing of what’s mostly fairly old books.

Today, I purchased Spider-Man: Big Time at the local Walmart.  It appears to be a new printing of the 2011 tpb, with “Exclusive Complete Graphic Novel” across the cover and “Bonus! Extra Digital Issue of Amazing Spider-Man FREE!” also on the cover.  (Note: I’ll be kind and say the digital offer on the cover is misleading.  I redeemed my code, and while you do get a digital copy of the the Big Time tpb, I don’t have any extra issue in my account.)

The inside covers show a Captain America tpb – the Winter Soldier edition that’s volume 1 of the Brubaker run; an Avengers tpb – volume 1 of the 2011 series that started out with Bendis and JRJr; and the first volume of the current Guardian of the Galaxy series.  Presumably all are $5 editions, since they have the same “exclusive” banners and trade dress.

Also interesting: the spine of my Spider-Man book has a “1” on it, suggesting this is a series.

Even more interesting: there’s an ad for discount subscriptions in the back of the book.  45% off subscriptions to Amazing Spider-Man, Avengers, Captain America and Guardians of the Galaxy.  (Regular discounts seem to be 25%-40%.)

While Spidey’s film rights are owned by Sony, there are no Fantastic Four, X-Men or Fox film rights titles mentioned here.  That may or may not be a coincidence.

Subscription ad
Subscription ad

To my recollection, this would be at least Marvel’s third attempt to crack the Walmart market in the last 5 years.  And really, if the deal isn’t a money loser (and you have to watch that with Walmart), they really should want to.  Walmart has not quite 4,300 U.S. locations and another 6,100 international locations, so there are more outlets than the Direct Market and a lot of them will be in areas not serviced by the Direct Market.  It makes total sense.

With the exception of the Guardians of the Galaxy book, these reprints are all a few years old.  For the Spider-Man and Avengers volumes, this is found money.  For Captain America, perhaps less so with the recent film.  For GoG… the timing is interesting and I can’t imagine the other retailers are particularly happy about this appearing while the movie is in theaters.  This could potentially cannibalize some GoG sales while the movie is hot.  It isn’t like Marvel is making a large margin off a $5 book.  Walmart is a notoriously tough negotiator for deep discounts and I’d be surprise if there was much more than a $1/book margin.  Possibly less.  Then again, 10 copies per store and 4,300 domestic stores could theoretically mean a quick $43K per title.  It does raise the question of what Marvel’s endgame is here.

Could they:

  1. Be dropping the first issue at a deep discount to get readers interested and then issue subsequent volumes at normal pricing?
  2. Be releasing regular cheap editions of older titles as quick and easy income and to try and increase brand awareness outside the comic shops?
  3. Be using this as more of a loss leader to try and get the subscription form in front of people who may not be served by the direct market?  (A big discount advertised to a Walmart demographic?  That makes sense.)
  4. Be using this as more of a loss leader to try and get people onto their digital platform as they prepare to start selling current issues?
Inside front cover / Guardians of the Galaxy ad
Inside front cover / Guardians of the Galaxy ad

And maybe this is just a test batch like previous efforts.  But you’d think Marvel would have some sort of plan past just getting a low margin placed with a retailer notorious for demanding high discounts.  (I’m also curious how Marvel classifies these books for the incentive payments that function as royalties.)

If they’re going for more tpbs in those series, while Spidey and Cap were relatively cross-over free, it seems to me like there are a fair amount of cross-overs in Avengers that might not make a lot of sense out of context and didn’t GoG just get done with an X-Men (Fox film rights) crossover?

File this one under “keep an eye on.”  If more titles or second volumes appear, this could be a big deal.


  1. I had to go check these out. The feel of the paper is cheaper, it’s stapled like a comic, not a trade, and it doesn’t include any extras. It’s a great deal from what I can tell and going for people who don’t go to LCSs. I don’t think shops should be worried with something like this; it’s going at a different market. Call this and digital the ‘new’ newstand.

  2. It reminded me of cheaper comics I got over in Italy. I have All- New X-Men in Italian, and it was a similar type of setup. These were on newstands and in big box stores, as well.

  3. Chris, what titles did you find at Walmart that were stapled? Spider-Man: Big Time is a square bound tpb, or at least the one I bought was. Are there multiple formats floating around?

  4. Image frequently prices their first volumes at $9.99. (Saga v.1 = 160p)

    The first Showcase volume from DC was $9.99 for 560 pages. (Volume 2 of Showcase Superman was $16.99.)

    Marvel tested the paperback Masterworks volumes via Barnes & Noble for $12.95 back in 2002. They did it again, via the Ultimate Spider-Man omnibus (reprinting the first six TP volumes), for $49.95. (Wow. I can’t tell you the mark-up on that 992-page hardcover omnibus, but it’s significant.)

    Over in Europe, where single issue comics are rare, one finds either thick digest magazine paperbacks (like the Disney Lustiges Taschenbuch), or thick, multi-issue collections like Shonen Jump used to publish here in the states. These look like graphic novels, but are sold as magazines, not books.

    But do the math backwards…
    Most publishers offer a 50% discount to retailers. Let’s say Marvel made a special deal with Wal-Mart, to get inside the stores. 60%? Non-returnable? Maybe Marvel breaks even… what they get in return is this:
    Wal-Mart tests a new market. They gather data, crunch the numbers, and maybe discover a new line to sell.

    It’s been done before. DC did it with Waldenbooks in the early 1990s, testing via endcaps. They did it again in the mid-1990s with the New York Public Library, placing a selection of Vertigo teen titles in various branches. (Death, Books of Magic…)

    QUESTION: Are these just available in Wal-Mart stores, or can they also be found in Sam’s Clubs? If Sam’s Clubs, then the buy-in is much greater, as they tend to stack copies, not shelve them.

  5. It figures that Marvel would team up with the evil assholes at Walmart to bring garbage to America via the most exploitative means possible.

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