Tilting at Windmills #266: An Open Letter to C.B. Cebulski & Marvel Comics

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CB-Cebulski-Featured-ImageBy Brian Hibbs

Dear C.B.,

I want to congratulate you on your new position as Editor-in-Chief at Marvel comics; from what I know about you I think you’ll probably fit the job pretty well. There’s been a lot of chatter about Marvel’s content, and I’d like to talk a bit more about it from this retailer’s point-of-view.

266PQ-1You don’t really know me – as I recall, we had a drink together at a Garth Ennis-hosted event after the first New York Comic Con in ’06, though I wouldn’t expect you to especially remember that, or me. I imagine you meet a lot of people, and your focus hasn’t typically been on retailers. However, all of the people we have in common have pretty nice things to say about you, and you certainly have a fine reputation for taking care of creators, which is pretty important in my worldview.

I have (he said, understating things) a bit of a history with Marvel comics. I led (and won) a class action suit when the Jemas-era company decided to not honor the contacts that they wrote, and I’ve generally been a critic over the years. But what I sure hope you and the rest of the folks at Marvel understand is that when retailers are critical it’s because we want the Direct Market’s biggest publisher to succeed, and help us retailers succeed – literally, if Marvel drops in sales, then each and every retailer in America drops along with them.

I believe that Marvel comics is the best-known brand in comics, even to the point where the general public can confuse things – I’ll never forget the fight a customer picked with me on the phone insisting that Marvel comics created Superman! I also believe that readers like serialized entertainment and that the low-cost entry that periodical comics equal means there’s a pretty huge market out there for Marvel comics that has, by and large, been mismanaged for the last decade or so.

In my store, most Marvel periodical comics are selling really badly right now. For example, at my main store, for January-shipping books, my single-highest order for a Marvel comic is “Black Panther” #169 at just 40 copies ordered. There are only two other Marvel books that we’re ordering over 25 copies of that month. Even more worryingly, there are twenty-six ongoing Marvel series that I’m not even ordering double-digit numbers of. It’s probably pretty safe to say that Marvel sales are at their nadir for my store, and when we look at the national numbers, things seem bad for everyone when the first post-Legacy issue of “Amazing Spider-Man” (#790) – Marvel’s best-selling superhero title – can’t even beat 53k.

But, here’s the important thing for me: we’re currently selling 110 copies of “Saga” at my main store – nearly three times as many as Marvel’s biggest hit for us – and we have five other series from Image that are also selling more copies than Marvel’s number one book, despite Marvel being better known with more resources. This suggests to me that there’s no paucity of people who are interested in purchasing serialized comics whatsoever – it’s just that they’re not really interested in purchasing what Marvel has on offer and/or the manner in which Marvel offers it.

Because of Marvel’s clear advantages in name recognition and branding, I happen to think that if “Batman” can consistently sell over 100k in the national market, Marvel should have no less than five regular ongoing comics beating that each and every month.

I don’t really thing I am saying anything shocking or surprising here. The fact that you were brought in, and Axel Alonso was forced out before the second month of sales figures from “Legacy” even went public is recognition that something needed to change – but I want to caution you that I don’t think the problem is only content.

Oh, sure, that’s part of it, and the content certainly needs to be given a big ol’ stir and kept freshened up, but at the end of the day, I think the bigger problem facing Marvel is the overall nature of Marvel’s publishing plans is the opposite of how consumers are interested in purchasing comics.

Specifically: Marvel is radically over-producing, both in the absolute number of comic books that are being released, but also more specifically in the number of series produced within each “family” of series, and even more specifically for the number of issues-per-year that each of those series produce. While it’s bad enough that there were 158 comic releases (including variants) being offered to me in January 2018; it’s more specifically bad that there are eight different Spider-Man related series being published that month; and it’s even more specifically bad that in the four months of “Legacy” that Oct-Jan represent, Marvel has offered eight issues of “Amazing Spider-Man” alone.

The quintessential bandwidth problem that this presents to consumers is, of course, multiplied by Marvel’s pricing structure with $3.99 comics as your vanguard.

So I don’t think that “merely” changing some of the content will especially change the trajectory of Marvel’s sales in 2018 – more than anything else, you have recoup the faith of the market; both consumers and retailers.

lenticularBut, here’s the problem: “Legacy” flopped badly in the greater market as far as I can tell. Obviously, the December and January numbers will tell more of the tale, but the anecdotal stories from retailers of every size and shape are pretty uniform: “Legacy” shat the bed. Not only did it not reignite sales, but in many cases I’m hearing from scores of my peers, sales are actually lower than they were before “Legacy” started – they certainly were for me on multiple titles. It’s the kind of the once-in-a-generation burn that will change the ordering behavior of many retailers forever – I can see many of my peers with so much overstock of both lenticular covers and the “regular” editions that they’re resorting to sell copies at below-wholesale costs just to recoup some cash flow, so they can keep the doors open.

In my general area of Northern California, there are at least two stores that have already announced imminent closure, and I know three more that have told me how badly they’re struggling, and there are two more that my mark-one eyeball can see are on probably their last legs. If this is even remotely similar in other regions, first quarter 2018 might see the biggest wave of store closures in decades. Certainly, my own stores are at eight and sixteen-months of consecutive year-over-year comparative declines, and as a percentage, a greater percentage of those declines is coming from Marvel than other publishers.

It is my opinion that the current state of affairs is almost entirely in the hands of publishers – yes, including but not exclusively Marvel Comics – who are radically over-producing racks full of mediocre comics and then failing to do essentially any marketing and promotion to then sell consumers on those books. That, as a methodology, worked pretty well in 1988, and worked at least marginally in 2008, but in 2018 is a fast-track to terrible sales.

Part of the problem is that there are now hundreds of hours of superhero-based entertainment out there in a moving, talking form – and depending on your own household, most of it is essentially “free”, being beamed into your house with little-to-no intervention. This, in my mind, is actually tamping down much of the enthusiasm for new superhero comic books, unless they’re done with exceptional craft, or are breaking new ground in some fashion. Which the majority of new superhero comics don’t and aren’t.

266pq3In some ways, this is the natural outgrowth of the last decade worth of trends in trying to push the comic out into bookstores and to other media – the wider the marketplace, the less space there is for marginal ideas and execution to succeed, (Because markets eventually weed out prime market access to everything except the most profitable material) despite it being slightly easier to barely-hang-on since there are a greater number of eyeballs now looking overall.

The problem is that for physical-based retailers, the sheer explosion of mediocre midlist is essentially untenable: carrying and displaying and handling inventory carries a cost and once you drop below a certain threshold of sales, most of your cash flow isn’t providing an especially large amount of profit (if any). As a general rule, that threshold is almost certainly above a national sales amount of about 20,000 copies – that averages out to something around ten copies per store, and below that we’re not really generating any real profit to handle those books.

Again, I don’t think I am saying anything especially new here – we can all read the sales charts, and do basic math! – but I think it’s critical to Marvel’s 2018-and-beyond plans that you try to rethink your actual publishing and marketing goals and efforts because content changes, alone, won’t move the needle effectively.

I think that the following needs to be done, regardless of any other changes to content:

First and foremost, it’s time to put a stake in the heart of the gated variant cover. I’m not generally a fan of variants in the first place because of the way they distort the marketplace and send the wrong messages to collectors, but putting variants behind “gates” (ie: “you must buy 150% of what you bought of X, in order to buy any copies of Y”) is anti-competitive and a sure way to make retailers are buying products that they can not sell. Dividing retailers into “haves” and “have nots” only makes the weak weaker, and at the end of the day, margins on comics are not so healthy that there’s really any room for stores to purchase material that they can not sell-through, radically reducing profit unless they’re inflating the cost of those variants, which inherently becomes consumer unfriendly. When you’re dealing with a business predicated at least in part upon collectability, telling consumers that they can not access every release is a sure-fire way to turn a percentage of them from the hobby itself.

Second, unless and until individual-title audience-size rises fairly dramatically (which absolutely can be done), there’s really no current Marvel “family” which can properly support more than a single release in any given week, and, to be perfectly honest, virtually none of them can really viably support more than one a month. Marvel has taken crown jewels like “X-Men” that used to sell well more than two hundred thousand copies a month, and reduced them to series that have a hard time reliably hitting over a fifth of that. Even your one real remaining periodical success, “Star Wars”, has dropped by nearly a third once you started ramping up the number of series being produced each month. You’re splitting your own audience, and asking them to choose between your own company’s releases. I think there’s a serious problem when the month a brand new “Star Wars” movie is released, the eponymous comic book sells barely sixty-five thousand copies, and it seems to me that this problem is clearly on Marvel.

Third, the correct publication frequency for the vast majority of periodical comics is monthly. Faster than that and consumers have a really hard time keeping up, retailers get stuck with more unsold product, and you give nothing but encouragement for the market to cut the number of copies entering the market, rather than trying to maximize sales. Highly targeted and marketed, fully-communicated increased shipping can work for books that are on creative- and story-driven highs, but randomly scattering sixteen issues throughout a year on nearly every series, just assuming the customers will absorb all of that yields little but faster churn on “standard attrition”.

As a corollary to that: due to the nature of the non-returnable marketplace, there is no occasion in which it is acceptable to launch a new ongoing series where retailers do not have the full and complete normal FOC cycle for the first four months of release (that is: having the current issue in-hand, with a full week of sales data, before the next issue’s Final order is due) – without some sort of safety mechanism (like: returnability) designed to mitigate the redistribution of risk that brings to the retailer. Weekly, bi-weekly series, these things completely suck to order in the best cases, and the wild swings that new series can have between releases in those initial issues are never the best case.

Fourth, something has to give in terms of pricing – at $3.99 for a bare twenty pages of content, the material has to superlative for the consumer to be willing to support that. There certainly are comics that consumers will pay that price for without blinking twice, but exceptionally few of them are published by Marvel today.

Finally, the comics should be leading the conversation of who and what the characters and stories are, you should not be following other media. Making the Marvel Universe more in lockstep with the MCU is not bringing in new readership and is alienating some older readers. ‘nuff said.

Weapon-X_Val_StaplesI think a much smaller, much tighter Marvel universe – something much more like 8-10 releases a week, where each and every comic released “counts”, where a normal person could conceivably read them all, and would really want to – is where you want to be. I want in my stores more books where I am selling triple digits, and really none that only move in single digits. I can’t profit from the latter, and they only take away visibility for the former.

You’re Marvel Comics, for god’s sake, a periodical that sells less than fifty thousand copies should be cancelled for damaging the brand!

The last few years of treat-them-like-an-ATM publishing did a lot of harm to Marvel’s brand, and “Legacy” put a horrible cherry on top by promising a lot, and delivering exactly the same thing the market has now rejected over multiple cycles. And the well is poisoned enough that I’m not sure how you’re going to ever get a big retailer buy-in again without dramatically changing the underlying publishing dynamic. It can’t be same old, same old any more, the market itself is very close to fundamentally breaking if something from the Market Leaders doesn’t change significantly, very quickly.

In other words: welcome to the X-Men, hope you survive the experience!

Thanks for listening, and Make Mine Marvel. (Please!)

**************************

Brian Hibbs has owned and operated Comix Experience in San Francisco since 1989, was a founding member of the Board of Directors of ComicsPRO, has sat on the Board of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, and has been an Eisner Award judge. Feel free to e-mail him with any comments. You can purchase two collections of the first Tilting at Windmills (originally serialized in Comics Retailer magazine) published by IDW Publishing, as well as find an archive of pre-CBR installments right here. Brian is also available to consult for your publishing or retailing program.

49 COMMENTS

  1. “Fourth, something has to give in terms of pricing – at $3.99 for a bare twenty pages of content” this is why I’ve largely switched to trades. Now disclaimer I’m digital reader so I’m pretty much a pox to comics no matter what. But can you blame me? There isn’t a good shop near me and when I can buy a trade off Amazon for often half or around about $10 and it syncs with Comixology, or just wait for consistent unspoken Amazon Marvel sales or the sales that will surely be tied to the various multi media releases in general, why would I ever buy something piecemeal and it cost me more than it would if I just wait a bit. Like you said plenty of other superhero entertainment to keep me occupied.

    when it comes to the two core ongoings that I buy (Detective Comics and Batwoman) they’re both 2.99, but at that price it’s worth it to me. Heck I’m getting some off brand 90s vibes from DC’s New Age of Heroes stuff but at 2.99 I’ll give those series a shot. Wish Image went back to 2.99 but with how quickly they put out trades (and their vol 1 price) it’s not that hard to take a chance if I’ve seen and heard good things.

  2. There are precious few comics I would ever spend $3.99 on and none of them are published by Marvel. Marvel needs to find a way to lower prices to $2.99 (at the most.) They also need to stop shaking the Marvel Universe like a snow globe every other month. I don’t even recognize these characters anymore.

    The cancellations Marvel seems to be making right now are a good start, but as Brian says, they also need to prune down the “family” titles to one or at most two books a month. There are so many X-Men, Spider-Man, and Avengers books out right now, along with time-traveling, retconned, rebooted, back from the dead, and alternate universe versions of the characters, that none of them seem to matter.

  3. Well said, and I hope someone at Marvel is listening. I’m a longtime fan boy who’s not about to give up on my hobby…but I’m about to give up on Marvel. I used to be a huge Spider-Man, X-Men fan but quit collecting the issues once I began to feel like a piggy bank instead of a cherished customer. I haven’t bought an issue of either title for all of 2017.

    It looks like 2018 will be the same. My money is going to other, more interesting titles (Dark Horse and Image these days, with a touch of DC twice a month), where the story lines are consistent, the characters are true to their established identities, and the publishers aren’t banking on gimmicks or reinventions to get my dollar.

  4. I know Bleeding Cool gets flack, perhaps deservedly so, but perusing through their articles, I’d bet money that they have reported on a minimum of 2 stores closing per month, and sometimes even get a solid 1 store per week.

    I think ComicsPRO should try letting publishers know “hey, if you come to our gathering, don’t talk about solicitations, talk about what you’re gonna do to help bring in more people into my store, because otherwise, next year, there might not be a store for people to come and get your comics.”

  5. Spot on. Personally I felt that DC missed a great opportunity with the New 52 … they cut back to 52 titles monthly … they should have made it the New 36 or even smaller to ensure that every issue is a star.

    No one wants to spend $3 or $4 per issue on sub-par books that leave you feeling like you were ripped off.

    Another thing that wasn’t mentioned above … I stopped reading floppies a few years back in favor of collections. Even if I wanted to pick up the latest collection of Spider-man or Avengers, I am literally at a loss as to which of the numerous volume 1 trades to pick up. Where does a person even begin?

    And let’s get over the number one sells better story. Manga runs march on happily with readership that AMerican publishers would kill for.

  6. They have no idea what shops go through even beyond Marvel. No one does any solid market research outside of whatever numbers ICV2 and a handful of retailers/outlets report and as you are aware that is NOT sell through data. And honestly, every publisher should be able to avoid second printings – but again that plays into the whole first printing being more valuable and the 5-10% of people who have to have both versions giving extra $. There has to be some type of algorithm that could at least be a better predictor of print run #’s. Seriously, with the numbers most books sell from initial orders, what are the second print #’s?

    Marvel have also been terrible with their scheduling of big ticket items like Omnibus editions. There was a recent week with Thor AND Master of Kung Fu Omnibus’ coming out the same week. Cover price $125 each and many of people who would advance order these would order both – and who has $250 to lay out on top of their weekly purchases? So retailer cash gets tied up and customers re-examine what they are buying.

    And Brian, while you have steady sales on Saga in excess of 100 copies, if it was published by Marvel do you think you would be at issue 50, or would you be at your third re-launch round of Saga #1’s? We all know there is going to be another Marvel re-arraigning / re-launch in the next 12-18 months, so are people going to jump in or jump off?

  7. Very interesting article as ever Brian. Based on current news I think you’re getting your wish!

    I agree with your premise, especially the focus on publishing strategy rather than content being the problem. I actually think a lot of the content, including on the quirky ancillary titles, is good. However a lot of these titles will appeal to the same subset of fans, so none can find a sizeable audience.

    The current cancellations are sad for the creators involved, and for the fans of the series’. However I do think, and hope, a streamlined line is in the long-term best interest of Marvel, and the industry.

    You often criticise twice monthly shipping schedules, as well as proliferation of titles. If Marvel decided to publish two, say, Spider-man books a month, as a retailer would you prefer them to publish Amazing twice, or Amazing and Spectacular? As a fan I’d probably say Amazing twice, unless I had a GUARANTEE of no crossovers and stable creative teams pursuing independent plots.

  8. Yeah, I stopped purchasing Marvel titles after the creators started calling politically conservative customers assholes. I’m a moderate, but there’s no excuse for the behavior we’ve seen from these comics ‘pros’. Everyone should be able to enjoy the hobby without being labeled that way. CB has a long journey ahead of him if he wants to mend the bridges his company burnt down with the community. I won’t buy anything from them as long as terrible people like Mark Waid and Tom Breevort continue to work there.

  9. Ryan, you don’t think just because MArvel is canceling titles they won’t add new replacements. We are just living in a pop culture world of too much everything and that genie isn’t going back in the box no matter how much sense it seemingly makes.

  10. Great article, Brian, but you should be aware of how atypical the tastes of your customer base are in comparison with the rest of the market. Black Panther is your best-selling Marvel title, but overall it’s barely in the top 100 comics overall and sells less than the recently-canceled Secret Warriors. You sell a ton of copies of Saga, but Saga’s monthly sales have declined quite a bit in recent years; it used to regularly sell over 50k; now it’s under 40k and almost out of the top 50.

    I know you wanted this article to be more about the business practices and overall marketplace rather than the content, but the content absolutely matters so much that you can’t really have a discussion about the comics industry without considering content as probably the most important element.

    So I’m not sure how you square the idea that “a periodical that sells less than fifty thousand copies should be cancelled” with the ponderous considerations about “marginal ideas” being given the “space” to succeed. To Axel’s credit, he gave long, long leashes (arguably dangerously long leashes) to “marginal” titles. And the way these titles were spun and marketed probably hurt Marvel’s brand.

    There’s only so many times a serious reader can accept hearing about how, actually, the smartest person in the Marvel Universe is Moon Girl, who has done very little yet her publishing history, who behaves like a normal little girl rather than like Reed or Valeria Richards, and whose title sells under 10k. There’s only so many times a serious reader can hear about how “Captain Marvel is the MOST POPULAR hero in the Marvel Universe!”, even though her sales are horrible and she has yet to appeal beyond a small cult following; but Carol’s “the biggest thing” because Marvel wants to force her on readers. There’s only so many times a serious reader can accept hearing that, actually, Squirrel Girl, whose title sells horribly, is actually the best and “most undefeated” hero in the MCU. Or that actually Jane Foster would take her ex-boyfriend’s first name as her superhero name, and you’re sexist if you think this is odd. And She-Hulk is just called “Hulk” now, and even ancillary villains like Crusher Creel toe the company line and suddenly refer to the her as “Hulk”, even though they have long histories with both Hulk and She-Hulk already. It’s all absurd, heavy-handed, comes with a clear editorial mandate, and with built-in “you’re sexist if you don’t LOVE this” protocols. Some of these titles should have simply existed in a pocket universe, as Spider-Gwen does, because otherwise they’ve basically ruined the MCU brand. It all seems stupid and forced. No one can take it seriously anymore; the suspension of disbelief is broken. It reads like fan-fic.

    As far as the publishing strategies go, we can talk about how this-and-that “worked in 1988, worked in 1998, worked in 2008… but doesn’t work in 2018.” And I don’t deny that markets change and how people get their comics change. But we need to focus particularly on why certain things, the usual scapegoats, don’t work anymore. $3.99 comics? They worked just fine for Marvel in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014… Incentives and variant covers? For the most part they’ve worked well also. Double shipping? Marvel used to double-ship as far back as the 1980s. And they’re not double-shipping as many of their titles now as they were five years ago. The overall economy is better now than it was ten years ago. So why aren’t Marvel comics selling nearly as well? What’s changed? I’m sorry, but it comes back to CONTENT, and the big changes to that content that Axel & friends made a few years ago.

    The other VERY related aspect is how Marvel brass have defended this content. Brian, as a guy who felt the need to write an entire article apologizing for some obscene artwork that most of your customers didn’t even see, I’d think you’d be sensitive to just how rudely Marvel editors and writers treat the fans. Tom Brevoort needs to be fired. Mark Waid needs to be fired. Dan Slott needs to be fired. Max Bemis, if he acts up again, needs to be fired. The fans have had enough of these jerks. We’re tired of ourselves and our friends being called “sexist Nazis” if we say that actually Riri Williams doesn’t have much of a personality. Or if we notice that actually Gabby Rivera seems to have a very poor grasp not only of the Marvel Universe but of the Spanish language. It’s the company men, the pros, and the professional comics critics and gatekeepers who keep demonizing the general audience.

    When a comic shop closes and the owner cites “female Thor” as a dubious concept that his customers (male or female, young or old) weren’t very interested in, we don’t need a passive-aggressive pundit doing a whole article kicking the business while it’s down, and implying that readers are idiots, by suggesting that maybe the store could have sold some overpriced reprint Thor comics instead. We don’t need this kind of “helpful” commentary, which is actually incredibly insulting. The point is that the content of the comics coupled with the snide attitude of many professionals has turned “Current Year Marvel Comics” into an absolutely toxic brand. For every copy that a supposed outreach title like Squirrel Girl and Gwenpool sells to a new reader, it sells ten copies to old gray-beards. And I enjoy Gwenpool a lot, but you know what I’m not going to do if I’m Gwenpool’s editor? I’m not going to call the hottest up-and-coming comic critic YouTuber a “KKK guy” (with no evidence) simply because he seems vaguely conservative or whatever. Especially not when until that point the “KKK guy” was actually championing Gwenpool (and Moon Girl, and Ms. Marvel, and…). It seems like Marvel writers and editors can’t leave things alone and actively look for communities and segments of fandom to just antagonize and… lose.

    In the big picture it doesn’t really matter if Marvel only puts out one X-title a month or ten, because the brand itself is basically ruined and is effectively boycotted by a growing number of readers. And it comes down to the attitude of the creators and editors, and the actual content that they make. The price point can be $3.99 or $5.99 or $1.99 or 99 cents — either way readers are jumping ship until the bad, rude, toxic, entitled jerks go away. If that means the entire industry has to collapse because Tom Brevoort won’t man-up and apologize to the fans for his insulting and childish behavior on Twitter, we don’t care. That’s on babyman Tom Brevoort. And on CB Cebulski if CB doesn’t fire him.

  11. I’ll admit, as a digital-only reader I was surprised by this statement:

    “Third, the correct publication frequency for the vast majority of periodical comics is monthly. Faster than that and consumers have a really hard time keeping up, retailers get stuck with more unsold product, and you give nothing but encouragement for the market to cut the number of copies entering the market, rather than trying to maximize sales. ”

    I was under the assumption that DC’s switch to twice-monthly across all of their major titles had reset the standard for big two comics and that the brisk pace was a requirement to keep up with readers who crave TV-speed serialization and binging. Since they pair that with very trimmed down lines/spin-offs/minis, it has seemed pretty effective to me as a reader and they’re consistently leading Marvel in sales.

    What am I missing here? Is DC’s success purely on pre-order and not in sell-through?

    (Of course, DC is doing this this in a well-defined manner across a specific set of key titles, which Marvel has only ever really committed to on Spider-Man and the new X-flagships. Otherwise, with them it feels more like, “Surprise – we have more issues for you this month!,” which I would agree is unwelcome.)

  12. This is really well written, and important, but I don’t think they’ll listen. My best guess is Cebuksi was hired to be a mouthpiece for Quesada and a lot of this stuff started with him anyway. Maybe less variants, but other than that, I think it’s business as usual.

  13. Well said, Brian, and this from a non-Marvel reader. The reasons I don’t read Marvel comics are all contained in your post. No need for me to repeat them here, you said it best already.

    Let’s hope CB Cebulski responds publicly to you; THAT would signal a change in corporate message. If they’re NOT listening, well,, “kick ‘em in the pocket book”, I always say… or … waht is it now? “No PAY for you, PAL!!”

  14. At this point the only comics I buy are Knights of the Dinner Table and some Alterna comics. I pay attention to DC but can’t afford it. Marvel? I grew up on the company and now I don’t think I’d mind if it went under completely. Too many stories destroying too many characters at too high a price. There’s almost nothing left of the characters I loved and certainly nothing worth 3.99.

  15. @krisis “What am I missing here? Is DC’s success purely on pre-order and not in sell-through?”

    I can only speak for my own store, but the majority of DC’s bread-and-butter titles (GL, Aquaman, etc) have dropped back to subs+1 or +2 just like they were before “Rebirth” — the bi-weekly shipping *absolutely* accelerated that process.

    Their “base” from those subs are certainly higher than were before “Rebirth”, but they’ve gone back to the same essential problem they had… and it took them 18 months this time, rather than three years like with “New 52”

    (BATMAN is the one positive exception to the bi-weekly challenge for us)

    Where DC is rocking right now is in METAL and DOOMSDAY CLOCK, but those aren’t ongoing books.

    -B

  16. Hibbs is, of course, on point with his analysis but I think the key point is why DC sales are not following the same path as Marvel. Not that DC sales are great, mind you, but they aren’t suffering the same kind of losses. And I think the defining difference is that while DC has screwed up plenty, it still generally functions with a respect for its characters and its fans. Or to put it another way, they know they are in the business of selling Batman comics to Batman fans and act accordingly.

    Marvel from the beginning of the Quesada era has been more focused on creators. Before I finally dropped Marvel after a few decades, I spent years reading comics where it felt like my favorite characters had been hijacked and held hostage. Marvel didn’t want to sell me comic with my favorite characters. They wanted to force me to buy a Bendis comic or some other creator’s work because it had my favorite characters in it.

    I think we’re seeing the exact same thing in the backlashes against THE WALKING DEAD on TV and THE LAST JEDI in theaters.

    Mike

  17. ” I’m not going to call the hottest up-and-coming comic critic YouTuber a “KKK guy” (with no evidence) simply because he seems vaguely conservative or whatever.”

    The up-and-coming comic critic YouTuber who ALSO said of said editor that she was amateurish unqualified (despite the fact that he liked her book), alleged her superior only hired her because he wanted “a work girlfriend”, snarled “I see an abortion and a dog in your future” when looking at her twitter feed.

    Yeah, I don’t see a lot on D and C’s channel you’d call racist, that was wrong. But don’t EVER fucking pretend he didn’t give as good as he got when it comes to Antos. I think she can be forgiven for that.

  18. Another great and insightful article by Brian Hibbs. Unfortunately, many of the suggestions that Brian makes would be a potential death sentence to the corporate career of CB Cebulski or anyone who made such proposals. To proactively takes steps like lowering the price, number of monthly titles, the frequency, the variant covers, etc., all which will lower revenue without any guarantee of increased sales is a maybe too bold of a risk.

  19. I find it amazing that in a big city with 20 or more comic shops, you manage to get 40 people actually pre-ordering a Black Panther comic at your main shop. Congrats.

  20. @ Ralph Mathieu
    Marvel has just had an abrupt change in EIC and a month later 11 out of 81 titles are reported as cancelled – 13.6%. This signals a change in strategy.

    What the new strategy is – who knows? I agree it is unlikely Marvel would significantly reduce the number of monthly issues, but reducing the number of titles (but multiple issues per month of remaining) seems likely. I just can’t envision we’ll have 10+ fringe titles launching in a short period of time.

    11 – http://www.comicsbeat.com/marvel-comics-cancellation-bloodbath/
    81 – http://www.comichron.com/monthlycomicssales/2017/2017-10.html

  21. Most companies value focus and diversity in their product offering. A tight range of products to minimise cost of production, but with a wide diversity to capture various consumer needs.

    I feel the desire to maintain continuity, ongoing stories, and gouge the most out of every potential franchise is what’s killing the books creatively. Also, every book is effectively a soap opera with dudes in spandex. Having an Asian, Latino, transgender, etc character on their own will not broaden your market appeal when the stories are still the same old thing from the 90s.

    But then, I haven’t bought anything marvel in about four years, except getting the omnibus editions of Punisher MAX. Superheroes are a blight on the development of the art form, frankly.

  22. Oy. My first question is…which local shops does Brian think are on the edge of failure? It may not be politic to mention them, but my long tenure as a Comics fan (since the 60s) as well as having been involved in the industry as a publisher’s sales manager, one-time retailer, fan, comics artist, as well as dealer, I think I have a good, wife perspective.

    Too much money for a single comic. At 64, I’d like to actually enjoy superhero funny books but…very little appeals. Mostly alternative stuff,but then…there is that damned price point which bollixes all interest.

    Right now I am retired and I won’t bother to tell you how I keep up…occasionally with the Comics scene; seriously, as most of the output is not so appealing and the nearest comic store is 800k away, I read what might interest me the ‘cheapest’ way I might. And I also…simply don’t care anymore,

    I used to just attribute my interest flagging in Marvel or DC as me…finally growing up. Maybe not.

  23. Now that I am no longer involved in the comic business (I closed my store after 28 years at the end of October), I can finally speak freely. The problem is with super-hero books in general. They just suck. I have been reading comics since the sixties and I quit reading super-hero comics after discovering undergrounds in my local head shop in the early seventies. It boggles my mind that anyone over the age of 15 would read super-hero books. They are predictable and infantile at best. It is the same old plot year after year. Two super-heroes meet, They get into a fight. Suddenly, a new evil threat appears (insert flavor of the month villain or cosmic threat) and they have to put aside their differences to defeat the threat. Rewind and repeat year after year. Yawn…….Zzzzzzzzzz………

    And to make matters worse, the brick and mortar retail store is done. Just look around. We are now a service based economy. Malls are dead. The only viable brick and mortar businesses now are bars, tattoo parlors, coffee shops, barber shops, nail shops, eating establishments, insurance offices, urgent care clinics, etc, etc,etc……

    Amazon is the horrible future. There is no defense against them. (Read NYU Professor Scott Galloway’s new book, “The Four” if you want to see what is headed our way.).It is chilling.

    My advice to you if you have anything to do with the comic industry, is too come up with an escape plan. Go back to school, Get some kind of certification. Start a service based business. Retail is dead and it is not coming back. I started a tax practice four years ago and it is booming. I am so happy I am finally free of the dying comic book business. My life and health have improved dramatically since closing my store. I only wish I had done it a decade earlier. Get out while you still can…..

  24. I absolutely agree that producing multiple Books featuring the same character does not increase sales, but only dilutes them. You do not increase interest in Spider-man by publishing another comic. You increase interest by making the one book an interesting satisfying read. Even if your floppies sales won’t increase your book sales probably will. And attrition will probably be lower cause fewer people will drop the book.
    Outsider promotion is a tough one. In a way, the movies and series are great outside promotion, but they do not really point the way to the stores. There was apparent increase in interest after the Deadpool, Logan and Wonder Woman movies, but that was just interest in the collections that were recognisable from the movies. The one problem with Wonder Woman was the fact that there were four (!) origin collections to choose from, but that could be considered an embarresment of riches. The prequel TPs Marvel publishes to their movies do not seem to appeal that much.
    I can understanding someone who just saw Thor Ragnarok Boeing underwhelmed or confused by the current Thor series. This is not a slight on Jason Aaron & Co, but it is just unrecognisable to the movie-viewer. Yes I would recommend Thor by Simmonsen, or the start of the Aaron run, but this does NOT direct the new customer to the floppies, which is part of the problem.
    Succesfull comics from the past where created by creator running wild with their ideas. Some of these failed, and were cancelled. The first X-Men series failed! The first Hulk series failed! Now they are regarded as classics, but they failed! If it fails, just cancel it, and try something else. Make quality your priority. Do stuff you don’t see in the movies or series. If you can only get it in the comic, and you want it badly enough, you will get the comic.

  25. An insightful letter and some very thoughtful comments. I’d love to jump into this debate, as there is much I think is way off, but instead let me just offer one other perspective to counter balance many of the depressing or nihilistic comments. I’m a middle aged/long time reader and still love comics. I prefer to buy the actual comics at comics shops and only occasionally read digital. Some of the Marvel comics that really excite me lately have been Sam Wilson: Captain America, Moon Knight and Spider-Woman. Currently I’m really enjoying titles like Hawkeye by Kelly Thompson, Iron Fist by Brubaker and Perkins and the new Captain America by Waid and Samnee.

  26. “I quit reading super-hero comics after discovering undergrounds in my local head shop in the early seventies.”

    So…no WATCHMEN, THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, Gruenwald’s SQUADRON SUPREME, ASTRO CITY, MARVELS, the original Hobgoblin saga, “The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man,” DAMAGE CONTROL, CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, Wally West as The Flash, THE KILLING JOKE, JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL, the Dark Phoenix Saga, “Days of Future Past,” BATMAN: YEAR ONE, John Byrne’s FANTASTIC FOUR, Walt Simonson’s THOR, Peter David’s INCREDIBLE HULK, SAVAGE DRAGON, Gruenwald’s CAPTAIN AMERICA, Wolfman and Perez’s TEEN TITANS, Perez’ WONDER WOMAN, “Demon in a Bottle,” E-MAN, GREEN ARROW: THE LONGBOW HUNTERS…do I need to keep going?

    Yeah, you sound like someone whose opinion on super-hero comics should be respected.

    Mike

  27. Diversification would help, too. And by that, I don’t mean racially and gender diverse replacements, but exploring other genres of stories. Marvel has some great characters who are not superheroes that they could bring back. Their stable of western heroes and monsters (Werewolf By Night, Man-Thing, The Zombie, etc.), if paired with top-notch creators who respect the core of the characters and not try to re-make them into something different, would sell well. At least, I’d buy the heck out of them (at a $2.99 price point or in trade).

  28. “So…no WATCHMEN, THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, Gruenwald’s SQUADRON SUPREME, ASTRO CITY, MARVELS, the original Hobgoblin saga, “The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man,” DAMAGE CONTROL, CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, Wally West as The Flash, THE KILLING JOKE, JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL, the Dark Phoenix Saga, “Days of Future Past,” BATMAN: YEAR ONE, John Byrne’s FANTASTIC FOUR, Walt Simonson’s THOR, Peter David’s INCREDIBLE HULK, SAVAGE DRAGON, Gruenwald’s CAPTAIN AMERICA, Wolfman and Perez’s TEEN TITANS, Perez’ WONDER WOMAN, “Demon in a Bottle,” E-MAN, GREEN ARROW: THE LONGBOW HUNTERS…do I need to keep going?

    Yeah, you sound like someone whose opinion on super-hero comics should be respected.”

    Mike

    That is correct. The above mentioned comics are ok if super-hero comics is your thing. I could care less if anybody respects my opinion on super-hero comics. Respect for my opinion on super-hero comics and a $1.95 gets me a tall coffee at Starbucks. If reading comics featuring musclebound men and women in outlandish costumes beating the snot out of each other floats your boat, then more power to you. But judging by the state of the comic book market, I am not the only comic fan totally bored with super-hero comics. It is a shame that super-hero comics drive the comic industry. There is just so much better stuff to read…..

  29. “If reading comics featuring musclebound men and women in outlandish costumes beating the snot out of each other floats your boat, then more power to you.”

    Yeah, that sums up WATCHMEN perfectly.

    Mike

  30. Comic books are really just a niche interest, and have been since the kids and casual readers abandoned the medium in the ’80s. Marvel and DC used to cancel any book that sold under 100K. Now they’re overjoyed if a book sells 30K.

    Pretty much the only people still buying Marvel and DC comics are hardcore superhero fan-collectors, who presumably have a fortune in disposable income to drop. Books that a newcomer might want to read, like Black Panther or Marvel’s Star Wars books, have such high prices that they discourage newbies. Sales charts indicate that people who still buy comics want Batman, more Batman, and still more Batman.

    Edward R. Sherman said: “It boggles my mind that anyone over the age of 15 would read super-hero books.”

    I kept at it a bit longer, until I was in my late 30s (in the late 1990s). Haven’t bought a new Marvel or DC superhero pamphlet since then, and haven’t missed them one bit. I have plenty of old superhero comics to read when I feel nostalgic. It boggles my mind that anyone over the age of 40 would go to a comic shop every week to buy the latest adventures of Batman, Spider-Man and the rest.

    As Edward said, there is just so much better stuff to read.

  31. “As Edward said, there is just so much better stuff to read.”

    And I’m pretty sure if I looked at your comic-reading habits, I could point out that there are ACTUAL BOOKS you could be reading instead. I mean, how many truly classic novels and short stories have been published in the last several centuries? Tens of thousands? How many have you read? 10%? 25%? Why are you wasting time with pretentious cartoons?

    And that doesn’t even get into the honest fact that lot of the non-super hero stuff out there sucks as much as any random early 90s issue of YOUNGBLOOD.

    Mike

  32. Mike’s right. Why look down on people for reading super hero comics when you’re not reading Dostoevsky or Faulkner? Let people like what they like.

  33. “Why look down on people for reading super hero comics when you’re not reading Dostoevsky or Faulkner?”

    How do you know I’m not reading them?

    “Why are you wasting time with pretentious cartoons?”

    Exactly which comics do you regard as pretentious cartoons? Anything that doesn’t involve musclemen in spandex?

  34. I’d like to throw my old fart (55) opinion in here. I have been buying comics before there were stores just for them. I can remember perusing the old spinner rack at the IGA near my house. I will always buy single issues; it’s just built into my wiring and I love going to the comic shop once a week. I allot fifty bucks for each week and never manage to get to the limit. I buy what I like when I like it. Stuff gets cancelled, stuff comes back, stuff turns awful, stuff gets better. Nature of the beast I guess. In my younger days I was a tried and true Marvel Zombie, but now I think I purchase more DC. I also have a steady stream of independent books that I get. I recommend Scales and Scoundrels to anyone who cares to listen. In the end, they’re comic books. You read them or you don’t. You get to choose what you want to read when you want to read it. As long as what you’re reading makes you happy then who cares?
    Merry Christmas one and all!

  35. “How do you know I’m not reading them?”

    I don’t know that you are or aren’t. I know I sounded like an asshole but that was my point. I’m sure 90% of what you read I’d think is garbage. I’m sure 90% of what I read you’d think the same. But we each like what we like so why should the other care?

  36. #5 Put the main characters back in their books.

    #6 Put artists and writers that craft stories. Don’t be ruled by the 6-issue trade paperback handy storyline. Sometimes, the story can be told in 3 issues or 1 issue, sometimes it takes 9. Cut the titles back to some well crafted books and lose the chaff.

    #7 I need NEED kids’ books with the characters the kids see in the movies. 15 times a week, I have to explain how there aren’t those books being published right now.

    #8 Fantastic Four. Your flagship team. Seriously, I don’t care who holds the movie rights. I just want a frickin Fantastic Four book. I want Wolverine to be a character in Wolverine.

  37. “Exactly which comics do you regard as pretentious cartoons?”

    It’s great when you have to spell things out for “smart” people.

    The point is that just as you look down on super-hero comics, other people look down on your favorite comics.

    Mike

  38. Boy, superhero fanboys are getting more cranky every year. Maybe because they’ve grown up and realized what juvenile crap most of them are?

    Since you think you know everything, Mike, tell me what my favorite comics are.

  39. Priscilla wrote,
    “…#7 I need NEED kids’ books with the characters the kids see in the movies. 15 times a week, I have to explain how there aren’t those books being published right now….”

    That is it in a nutshell. The super hero clubhouses called LCS “Local” Comicbook Store has not been growing a Next Generation of readers oh going on a couple decades now.

    Are you pushing Carl Barks? Bill Waterson?
    Other Timeless Great Comics?

    Nope.

  40. “Edwin R Sherman says” and “George” , sorry , to inform you of this , but superhero comic books have always been ( and always will be ) the backbone of the comic book industry ….this is simply a fact , and silly to argue with. My other point is why worry about what other people are enjoying ??? …there is room for everything , I am not a fan of Blue Bloods or NCIS , but obviously they have been on TV forever , so there is audience for them ….do i waste my time going on TV related boards posting on how much i do not like them ?? ….both of you guys sound like people that have some “other” issues going on in your lives

  41. “Making the Marvel Universe more in lockstep with the MCU is not bringing in new readership and is alienating some older readers.”

    I’m actually rather out of touch with what’s happening in the Marvel Universe these days (my Marvel consumption is all older stuff on Marvel Unlimited”), but I feel like I’ve seen more alienation caused by the comics being too DIFFERENT from the MCU?

    i.e. movies fans fell in love with Iron Man, Thor, The Hulk and Captain America and then picked up some comics to find that none of those characters were the same there?

  42. I can’t begin to tell you how happy it makes me to hear that Saga sells so much more than some generic Marvel book. Just…pleases me. Fills me with hope. On another note, I started out seriously as a superhero/
    adventure/war/horror/western/jungle whatever comics fan in the 60s but by the early to mid 70s, realized that it was the medium I appreciated, and that superhero books, while fun and having potential, was just a drop in the bucket. Yay, Saga.

    All that being said, I live overseas now, retired to the Philippines, and the nearest comic book shop is an hour’s plane flight away in Manila. I manage to keep up with some comics out there by means best left imagined, but for what its worth, most of it is just silly crap (most) and had I bought a flimsy monthly at $3.99 well…it would have been the last time. I admit to being ocCASsionally surprised by the quality in superhero comics…but not often.

    Love your articles and insights. I wish I still gave a damn about the industry, but I still like to draw and do comics regardless…

  43. “I think a much smaller, much tighter Marvel universe – something much more like 8-10 releases a week, where each and every comic released “counts”, where a normal person could conceivably read them all, and would really want to – is where you want to be.”

    THIS. SO MUCH THIS.

    Brian is 100% correct on what would help Marvel Comics. But unfortunately to rebuild long term sales Marvel will have to sacrifice some short term profit. Cancelling so many low selling titles will hurt revenue, but profits will rise on the remaining series (especially if those remaining titles are all unique) and after a while sales will be better than they are now.

  44. Boy, a good deal of animosity and snark here at the end about how one feels superior by virtue of having outgrown superheroes. Chillax, alluvyez. I’m turning 65 this year and I will admit that I still love Comics and the medium itself. My preferences these days sway towards Image and their eclectic stuff, other genres besides spandex suits, but…but I have to admit that the new Miles Morales Spicer-man is a really fun title I have enjoyed.

    I have a spinrack in my guest bedroom and almost ALL our regular guests or people who see it through the door from the living room are immediately interested. Hell, my daughter who is a professor of art at UC Berkeley was rummaging through them last month while visiting. I’m not embarrassed by my love for Comics; not like when I was 13 and hiding my selections behind my leg when anyone my age walked in to the local tobacco and candy shop I bought them at.

    So you’re 60 and you still read funny books…superheroes. Great! And if you diss the superhero fans of that age, get over it. Move on.

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