A Few Notes On Marvel Comics’ Digital Strategy

June 30th, 2011 | comics talk

Marvel Comics’ digital-comics strategy is that… they don’t seem to have one, really. Full disclosure — I’m on work-for-hire exclusive to them until the end of the year. But they’re all used to me moaning at them anyway.

Marvel may now be owned by Disney, but you can be damned sure attention is still paid to their quarterly reports. And it’s hard to keep your lines buoyant when everything else in your business is a constant fight against diminishing returns. I personally believe that taking much of the print line to a sales point of $3.99 will defeat growth in the print sector. I know they’re doing it to protect themselves, but I think it’s going to hurt in the long run.

Are they then, like DC, looking to digital as a way to increase reach? Well… not yet. I believe they have done some original digital comics. (By which I mean company-owned Marvel comics created for digital-first release.) But I’m not sure there was any great plan to their release. One of the things I like about Marvel is that they move pretty fast and are capable of an entirely random “hey, let’s do this thing for five minutes” move. The whole Marvel Architects cascade-of-events structure they do these days are frankly as organised as Marvel’s ever been on the macro-scale.

Their digital store, then, is a big back-issue bin, with the occasional experiment in day-and-date simultaneous release in print and digital. They’re unlikely to go line-wide day-and-date like DC unless DC’s numbers are explosively successful and stay that way for six months — in digital AND print. Right now, Marvel own the comics stores in terms of dollar sales and market share, and probably see no compelling reason to risk a dilution of those figures. Those figures look good on quarterly reports. And that’s not a knock against Marvel, just an observation of the reality of their business life.

All that said: I can conceive of a point where there’s pressure on them to do something more with their digital store. And also, pressure to do less. I recently noted that if I, say, wanted to buy the first part of Walt Simonson’s THOR run (in my case, because I wanted to remind myself of some of Simonson’s tricks in page design), I couldn’t buy a digital edition of the collection in question. I had to buy it as single issues in digital form. Which suggests to me that, somewhere, someone decided they didn’t want Marvel Digital to be seen as affecting bookstore sales. That would seem to me to be a cautious shuffle too far, and possibly indicative of conflicts ahead.

I am looking to Marvel to do more original material for digital. They’ve done it before, there’s obviously a system in place to make it happen, they can reprint in trade paperback, and it’ll make a good business narrative. It’s the march they can steal on DC, it doesn’t screw with their print market share, and it fits Marvel’s profile better.

It could make for interesting times in the commercial medium.

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June 30th, 2011 | photography

Ellen Rogers



June 29th, 2011 | music

First single off Zola Jesus’ new record, CONATUS, should appear below.  “Vessel”:

Zola Jesus – Vessel by sacredbones

DC And Digital Comics Strategies

June 29th, 2011 | comics talk

To understand DC Comics’ move to day-and-date with digital editions of their print comics, you have to understand the intent behind their relaunch.

One crucial thing hasn’t changed. For as long as I’ve known him, Dan Didio has believed the key to a resurgent DC is reclaiming all the readers the commercial medium lost in the 90s. On the DC Retailer Roadshow, he’s been hammering this home. Recent statements about how commercial comics have gotten boring and that there should be more visual punch in the mode of 90s comics movements like the early Image Comics work and (unspoken, but certainly associated) the Marvel style of that general period… have made their mark, but have also misled a bit. It’s all about accessing that hypothetical lost fan base. The impression the recent statements have left is Dan saying “comics used to sell loads back then, let’s do that again.” And that can’t happen in print.

Comics used to sell loads back then, yes. But a big part of that — and this is the part he isn’t mentioning — is that there were ten thousand comics shops back then. And now there are, optimistically and rounding up, about two thousand. There simply aren’t the number of outlets left to sell the kind of volume comics could shift in the 90s.

The gamble here is this: that hypothetical lost fan base is older, has credit cards and disposable income, and an internet connection that can bring the DC Comics section of a notional comics store right to their desks. That, in fact, digital comics services will do the work of those eight thousand stores that don’t exist anymore.

It was in DC’s core DNA to protect and serve physical comics stores. To the point where every 18 months or so they’d pay for a hundred comics retailers to attend a special DC conference, where the retailers could moan at them for two days and then go home and order more Marvel comics. (In broad and crude terms, DC were the attentive suitor, while Marvel Comics treated retailers mean to keep them keen.) Now, there is a fascinating situation where DC will polybag special issues of JUSTICE LEAGUE #1 with a digital-comic download code, a book that will cost an extra dollar. Comics are done on firm sale. Which means, as far as I can see, that the retailer is being charged extra money on each copy of that edition too. Maybe I’m wrong, and comics retailers aren’t being offered a reacharound while getting an mild yet unwelcome pegging. But it’s an interesting kind of support. DC are offering support to retailers in other ways and are making sympathetic noises, but other quotes from this roadshow — one from Bob Wayne, DC’s head of sales, boiled down to “if you’re not selling enough of our comics you’re not doing your job” — tend to suggest that someone at the company has realised that the comics retailers already have a girlfriend and never liked DC anyway.

(Also, Dan and Jim? I love you guys, and I’m greatly enjoying watching you start some shit. But you can’t keep talking about how the old comics were boring when you in fact were the old management too. Someone’s eventually going to call you on it, and you’re not going to have a good answer. That said: keep starting fires. It’s good.)

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