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Tom Brevoort sounds off on Marvel’s DC trade-in offer

by  in Comic News Comment

It’s a Tom Twitter Twofer today! Perhaps unsurprisingly, Marvel Executive Editor and Twitter king Tom Brevoort took to tweeting on the topic of Marvel’s offer to exchange unsold copies of the Blackest Night tie-ins that were part of DC’s successful power-ring promotion for a rare Deadpool-themed variant-cover version of Siege #3. His opening statement:

I see there’s a lot of chatter about our SIEGE #3 offer, so I have to ask the question: how is this bad? We’re making no money on the deal (actually losing a little) but it will put some more much-needed cash in retailers’ pockets, And if your retailer doesn’t have these books in stock, excellent! Good on them, they ordered appropriate to their customer base. But while no retailer wants to hurt their relationship with DC, we’ve been hearing from lots of them that they’re happy we’re offering this. As for the stripping, that’s all about making it cheaper for these guys to send the books back. But we’ll take complete copies too. And sure, send the stripped insides to the troops–well done, you! They tend not to keep comics mint on the battlefield in the first place. And while we listed the titles we’d be taking–all of the “ring” books– we never mentioned either DC or Blackest Night at all. Not a knock. And if DC wants to make their own offer, let ’em! That’s cool too, if it frees up deadlocked capital for retailers to order new stuff.

As the responses — many of them antagonistic — from Brevoort’s followers started floating in, a few prominent strains in the editor’s thinking emerged. The one that struck me most stemmed from questions as to why these Blackest Night tie-ins, which came packaged with various Lantern Corps rings, were singled out for return, as opposed to Marvel’s own Dark Reign tie-ins. Brevoort’s argument hinged on the rings, which he appears to see as fundamentally deviating from the Direct Market’s core mission of selling comic books, and thus making it harder for cash-strapped retailers to accurately gauge customer interest:

We heard from a number of retailers who got stuck with books chasing rings and decided to do something. We’re not making any money on the deal, but we are helping our retailer partners during a tough economic time. Making sure that our retailers can keep the doors open if they tied up a lot of cash on inventory they can’t move. We’re doing this because we’re in the business of selling content rather than Cracker Jack prizes. And we need retailers to be able to keep the lights on and afford to order next month’s books. [Marvel won’t be accepting trade-ins for unsold Dark Reign and The List books] because there, what we were selling and what the retailers were buying were the books. But DC can if they want to! Retailers ordered those books for the content–that’s part of the job, knowing your clientele. I think smart retailers know how to gauge the interests of their clientele most of the time and order appropriately.

My two cents? Plenty of retailers seem to be willing to go on the record both pro and con on the offer — see this piece at Comics Alliance, for example — so I’m not sure if fear “hurting their relationship” with either of the publishers involved is that much of an explanation for who’s saying or not saying what, one way or the other. Also, I think it’s pretty clear how people got the idea that this is something of a shot against DC and Blackest Night, given that no matter what the initial press release said or didn’t say, the books it listed were all DC Blackest Night tie-ins. Finally, anyone who’s gone to a comic shop knows that selling nerd-related tchotchkes and gewgaws is, for better or worse, an integral part of many stores’ business model. So while the plastic rings undoubtedly introduced some unpredictability into retailers’ monthly orders, I’m ultimately not sure how different it really was from predicting how interested readers would be in tie-ins that didn’t come with toys — or books with variant covers, for that matter.

That said, the notion expressed by some of Brevoort’s Twitter interlocutors, that this is a conspiracy to get retailers to pull otherwise viable Blackest Night books off the stands, doesn’t hold up to much scrutiny. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush — if retailers feel like they can sell their copies, why take money out of their own pockets and take a flyer on a random variant? Brevoort pretty much says this repeatedly. He also dispels the idea that stripping the covers is some sort of extra insult or attempt to suppress the books, rather than the usual postage-saving mechanism by which many publications are returned.

Of course, Brevoort wasn’t the only industry figure to riff on the controversy. Blackest Night author and Earth 2 retailer Geoff Johns got in a little snark in response: “A Deadpool variant is anything but rare. Trust me. I own a store.”

My question is this: If this is the comics biz’s equivalent of this week’s Jay Leno/Conan O’Brien controversy, who’s who? On the one hand, Blackest Night‘s Hal Jordan is the heir to the Green Lantern mantle just like Conan inherited The Tonight Show, while Siege‘s Norman Osborn is nothing if not a cut-throat corporate type. On the other hand, Osborn’s got funny red hair and Jordan’s got a prominent chin…