With the release of September’s Marvel Legacy, Marvel appears to be taking a page out of DC Comics’ playbook. The similarities to how DC approached its very successful Rebirth relaunch in summer 2016 are clear, as Marvel is kicking off its Legacy initiative with an extra-sized one-shot intended to establish the publisher’s new status quo. But can Marvel recreate DC’s Rebirth success at a higher price?
Although some details had emerged about the Marvel Legacy one-shot, including that the issue will feature an Avengers lineup from 1,000,000 BC, it wasn’t clear how long or how expensive the book will be. However, last week’s release of Marvel’s September 2017 solicitations answered both of those questions: Written by Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic, the one-shot will consist of 64 pages at a cover price of $5.99.
That’s double the price of DC Universe: Rebirth #1, which clocked in at 80 pages for $2.99. As we saw, Rebirth‘s low price helped the one-shot claim the top sales slot in May 2016 with an estimated 235,791 copies sold, beating out Marvel’s Civil War II #0 by just shy of 60,000 copies.
The low cover price on DC Universe: Rebirth, which was then carried over to the Rebirth line, was absolutely critical to the title’s success. Prior to the release of the one-shot, there was some skepticism about the initiative: At first glance, it seemed like a decisive step back from the publisher’s attempts to reach new audiences through the DCYou mini-launch, especially when the Rebirth announcement referenced “core” comics fans. Many were also worried double-shipping would hurt the quality of DC’s line, with rotating art teams unable to maintain consistency. By offering an 80-page story for $2.99, DC gambled that readers would take a chance and want to come back for more.
That ended up paying off. While DC Universe: Rebirth may not have been enjoyed by everyone, it offered a glimpse at a DC Universe that was dramatically different from the New 52, the 2011 revamp of the publisher’s superhero line (and reboot of much of its continuity). For many readers, it was a sign that it was worth sticking around for the series relaunches that would follow. And, at just $2.99 an issue, what’s there to lose? This same phenomenon on a wider scale helped DC close the gap between with Marvel in the past year, and occasionally taking the sales chart lead. Meanwhile, Marvel itself has acknowledged sales have underperformed.
Now, even if it hasn’t been explicitly stated, Marvel is likely hoping Legacy can be its Rebirth. The one-shot features the truly stellar, can’t-miss creative team of Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic, who previously collaborated on the critically acclaimed Thor: God of Thunder. Unlike the mishmash of stories in DC Universe: Rebirth, Marvel Legacy promises a radical new take on the origin of the Marvel Universe. It’s a book that, under normal circumstances, would sell itself.
By pricing Marvel Legacy at double the cost of DC Universe: Rebirth, however, Marvel has increased the odds that readers may just skip right over it.
Marvel has developed a reputation over the past few years for being quick to charge more for already-pricey comics, such as the sheer number of $4.99 and $5.99 books that were part of the All-New, All-Different Marvel relaunch, the recent $9.99 issues of Deadpool and The Amazing Spider-Man, and its brief experiment with ceasing free digital copies of print purchases.
In this context, a $5.99 one-shot — even one by a talented and well-liked creative team — is a tough sell, especially for readers who have turned away from Marvel since Secret Wars. Instead of following DC’s model of offering a loss-leader to bring readers back, Marvel is releasing another book priced higher than standard cover price, with a story that’s currently unclear as to how it relates to what comes after.
The picture painted is even less rosy when viewed in the context of Marvel’s broader line. DC Universe: Rebirth was followed by a series of Rebirth-branded one-shots for each of the publisher’s major series. Those, like the books that followed for more than six months, were priced at $2.99. Meanwhile, Marvel Legacy #1 is joined on the stands by 10 Generations one-shots that team iconic superheroes with their legacies. Each of these books has been solicited at $4.99 for 40 pages. As a value-by-page proposition, the Generations one-shots are a good deal, but in the context of Marvel’s recent sales issues, they represent a barrier for new and returning readers. And while this may all change once more details are released about the publisher’s line of 52 new and returning series, as of now, all we know about them is that every single one features a fun, yet not crucial, homage cover to a classic issue from Marvel’s past.
Keep in mind, none of this is to say that Marvel Legacy will bomb by any definition of the term. We expect it to sell well, especially considering that Marvel is offering at least seven variant covers (DC Universe: Rebirth, by comparison, had but two variants). The promise of Aaron and Ribic together again, combined with reader curiosity about “the dramatic return you’ve been waiting for — and one you’ve been dreading” will likely be enough to overcome fatigue in the current audience. But will it be enough to make new and lapsed readers want to jump in as well?
Marvel’s main problem is that it has been losing sales on its core titles, while DC, Image and smaller publishers have seen increases. If Marvel wants to once again comfortably dominate the sales chart, it needs to do more to bring these readers back in, instead of trying to get more money out of those who remain. Marvel Legacy is an ideal opportunity to do that, but by debuting with a $5.99 price tag, Marvel may have priced part of the readership out of the market.
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