I am no financial expert. There is no reason to come to a comic shop clerk to learn about big corporate business and how it should be run. There is no way to know Marvel's financial plans or the details of their exact revenue unless you turn in a smashing resume and work your way into corporate. I will never have access to Marvel's bank book and nor would I want it (unless it was written by Abnett and Lanning). Numbers and bookkeeping are incredibly boring to Yours Truly and it would be presumptuous and foolish of me to start dictating how Marvel Entertainment should be running their business from my couch.
But that's essentially what I'm going to do today. You have been warned.
And the worst part is that it's something no one wants to hear. Marvel, love 'em or leaving 'em, has to make money. They have to put out product that people will give them money for and it has to be a lot of money. It's a rare case when a company packs it up because they have all the money they need. No chance of Marvel doing that any time soon, so they think up new ways to please the public so that they acquire more funds to make more product, etc. etc. So what happens when the best way to please the public... is to lower your prices?
Announcements were made this week and both of them did me no favors. First off, I'm going to give Marvel the benefit of the doubt and agree that the "We're lowering prices too!" announcement at NYCC following DC's big announcement was probably taken out of context by a lot of readers. Everyone has at one point said things in the heat of the moment they later want to amend and when the other guys make a huge proclamation, one wants to wave their arms just as much so they don't get lost in the shuffle. It wasn't misreported, it was misspoken at the wrong time.
From our original understanding, "because of some of the digital sales, we’ll be going back to $2.99 for some titles in January" can get more specified down to "The pricing structure is that for limited series in the Marvel Universe that we roll out, we will price as many of those as we can for $2.99 for a 32 page book." as stated on the Beat's exclusive interview.
Yeah, it took them a little under a month to make that clarification, but no one ever said all their books were going to be $2.99. They just said they will also have $2.99 books and now, it's sounding worse. Please keep in mind they will "price as many of those as we can," guaranteeing no title might reach that hip $2.99 price point that's all the rage with the Distinguished Competition.
President of Sales & Circulation David Gabriel has been talking a lot, sometimes a little over-enthusiastically, sometimes a little more reigned in. From his interview with the Beat this week, Marvel is excited for their comics and is working hard to be on the cutting edge of promotion and development. "There's a lot of talk right now about the price of comics and the page count of comics and too many comics, but there's not been a lot of discussion about bringing new readers into comics," said Gabriel to CBR.
The way Marvel's going to combat this is with Point One comics, an extra issue they'll slip into regular titles that are clearly where new readers should start. Like playing double dutch, reading comics can be complicated and so the Point One books will help new readers suss out the rhythm of the stories and welcome them in. Sounds cool? If you're reading this, probably not; people who would read an op/ed piece on comics at a comic book news site are not only snappy dressers and scholars, but they are also people who are reading comics. We know the rhythm and can find a way to get back into a book if we really want to. What keeps people from trying something new is price.
Another way Marvel is going to attract more readers is by lowering the amount of product on the shelves. Quality over quantity I always say and we all know how many Deadpool books we waded through for awhile there. Do the Avengers really need four titles? Do the X-Men titles need some rearranging in the wake of Curse of the Mutants? Sure, but this isn't really what I think they're talking about. It's the Captain Britains, the Atlases and Hawkeye and Mockingbirds, books that don't perform up to standard and bow out despite popularity online or stellar reviews. For new readers, this might mean some clarity on the shelves and a better idea of how to select the books they want to read but for the long-term fan, we miss out. Books will be losing unpopular back-up features that, in the case of Captain America, tried to set up a new title that didn't make the cut. How are readers supposed to take a chance on material that's new and doesn't have Wolverine in it?
For those of you who might read the Fifth Color regularly (Hi Mom!), this is where I start talking about the anthology series. Marvel Comics Presents is the best opportunity to hook new readers, print stories that can't support their own title, debut new characters, retell old storylines, and recap current complicated stories in a done-in-one fashion plus make Jullian fries! Not every issue will be fantastic, it'll waver as popular storylines pass through, but it's a great and reasonable proving ground for new ideas, new stories and new readers. When Marvel brought back MCP back in 2007, it hosted Vanguard and Weapon Omega as their main 12-part stories and you know how popular those guys are. So, surprise, it didn't sell. But if you told me that my favorite low-selling series was having a last chance at life through a multi-part series that would include a Wolverine story, then woo-hoo! We see one-shots and short-part mini-series go by every day on the comic shelves, what if we could promote them within a single series? What if, when a major new storyline was being promoted, they ran an issue that could tell a variety of different lead-up stories or even recaps to catch readers up on what's coming up next? What if retailers could have a better idea of how to order all of this because it's a regular series and there's a base readership to order with? What if they did a What If? Marvel Comics Presents??
This is my sort of pet project. I believe that a new, well-promoted and yes - LOWER PRICED - anthology series by Marvel could be a solid hit with readers new and old. While I may not know finances further than balancing my own check book, I do know how to sell comics. I do know that comments in my last lower prices article went through the roof with people who had dropped off reading Marvel books because of pricing. I do know that customers at my store have put back recommended titles because they were too much to take a chance on. Marvel Entertainment has been an incredible innovator on how the mass market sees comics with amazing new ideas and some revolutionary storytelling. Maybe it's not time to be revolutionary right now, maybe it's time to Keep It Simple... Sirs and go back to ideas that have worked before.