Editorials

Diversity, Sales and What Marvel is Doing Wrong (and How to Fix it)

Marvel’s VP David Gabriel got into some hot water earlier this week claiming that diversity is to blame for Marvel comics recent sales slump. However, if you read the actual interview, that is not exactly what he said. Gabriel then had to reach back out to clarify that some retailers had complained about the “abandonment” of  Marvel heroes and that popular characters like Mile Morales, Moon Girl, Mrs. Marvel and others were sticking around and that other retailers exclaimed that readers were excited about these characters. So some retailers are saying people don’t like the new characters and some retailers are saying people love them basically. David Gabriel’s comments have clearly been a bit misconstrued and it would be ridiculous to blame Marvel’s sales slump solely on “diversity”, but hey it makes a good headline. If Marvel is having a sales slump it is likely due to a multiple of problems.

David Gabriel Marvel

Price Tag and Double Shipping:

This is the biggest and most obvious one that Marvel needs to look into. Books are starting out at $3.99 and some event series even get up to $5.99 and issue. Add that $3.99 price tag along with double shipping of some series and something is going to have to give. For me personally, this has forced me to drop Captain America: Steve Rogers and Captain America: Sam Wilson and I am not going to stay current with the new Iron Fist series because of the double shipping, simply can’t afford to pay for all of those twice a month. Having the $3.99 price tag along with double shipping really puts a strain on the consumer and with tight budgets something will have to give and readers will drop things that are not vital. For me, I keep up with Marvel through Marvel Unlimited. Sure I am six months behind but it saves a lot of money and when it is time to make cuts it is easier to justify Marvel books or series because of this.

Events/Storylines:

 All comic book readers are well versed in big “event” comics, they used to happen maybe once a  year every so often. Now, Marvel seems to be pumping out three or four a year and after a while no matter how “high the stakes” nobody is going to care. We have already had Monsters Unleashed this year and Secret Empire is about to start up and we are not even halfway through the new year yet. This also goes back to the price tag point these “event books” usually cost $5.99 an issue and that is a hefty increase for fans to get into a new series. Another problem may be overly long story lines in issues. This goes for other publishers also but it seems that every comic has to have a huge 12 issue or more storyline that each issue follows and builds upon. This is good and I like that creators are getting to tale the grandiose stories, but when an “event issue” interrupts this then it really screws up the flow of the story and sometimes I don’t always want to read a huge sweeping story line, sometimes I just want a one-and-done single issue or a two part story. Everything does not have to be a long story line, some of my favorite issues are one shots or two-part short stories.

Way too Many Comics:

In February 2017 Marvel published 104 comic books and 36 Graphic novels for a grand total of 140 total units shipped. That is well above DC’s 116 total units and Image’s 61 total units (you can read more about the numbers on Comicchron found here). 104 comics really, that is just way too many to keep any kind of sales going. A reader and fan can only keep up with so much and only have so much money to spend on comics; with this many comics out there just from one publisher some things just are not going to catch on and fall to the wayside. It doesn’t matter if it is diverse or not the problem is it is just too much content for the relatively small group of people that actually read comic books to latch onto. With other publishers like Image, DC, Darkhorse etc… publishing some great series competition is tight and if art or writing is not up to snuff things are just not going to do well period.

So what can Marvel do to Fix things?

Keep New Characters Coming

 For one keep putting out new diverse characters. Gabriel already stated those new characters are not going anywhere and there is always a need for new characters to expand Marvels ever growing “diverse” roster. Maybe not give them their own solo books right away. Introduce some side characters in team books or other in other more popular solo series and see if the character gains a following first before letting them go solo. Much like in the case of America Chavez who just got her first solo series recently, let these new characters build up a following to increase demand for a solo series before tossing them in the “deep water” to sink or swim. It is important to verify that there is a readership there to back up and support a solo series instead of just flooding the market with new books and series that may not have quite the fan base built up yet to support a solo series.

Focus on Talent:

Everyone likes a shiny #1 first issue and new characters to boot, but all that will mean nothing if the story and art are not up to par, people may pick up the first issue out of curiosity put will quickly drop off if no substance is there. For example, I never cared about Hawkeye ever (and no the irony is not lost on me that I bring up Hawkeye in an article about diversity). But you put Matt Fraction, David Aja and Matt Hollingsworth on it and you have got me opening my wallet and paying money for a Hawkeye solo series each month. If you put some top talent on books then readers will take notice, you can’t expect a relatively unknown character to sell itself on name alone, put some top flight talent on these new series to draw some eyes and attention. Only a few characters like Batman, Spider-Man can sell on name alone, top talent is needed on smaller lesser known characters. A popular saying is “story trumps everything”, these characters need good stories for readers to latch onto them. 

Iron Fist Netflix Marvel

Advertise:

There are a lot more people who consume Marvel tv shows and movies than who read comic books, this is an obvious no-brainer. Maybe Marvel needs to hit this market harder with advertising comic book series. With the new Iron Fist Netflix series premiered on March 17 and a new Iron Fist comic book released March 22 why not use that partnership with Netflix to advertise that book or maybe somehow give a free digital download for the first issue when you watch the series or something. This goes along with the Marvel movies, maybe give away a free digital download comic with a ticket purchase to marvel movies and have a little add before the movie shows to advertise this aspect. Millions of people see those movies and even if only a few actually take advantage of the free download and maybe only a few of those continue to read and actually purchase titles that would still be a significant increase in readership. (Note that I am not a businessman and have no clue how this would logistically workout, it is just an idea).

This all could be temporary:

David Gabriel notes that this was only for the last quarter and that other publisher noted the same sales slump that Marvel saw in this time period. More than likely it is just something temporary. Marvel has also been leading in sales for awhile now and nothing last forever so eventual Marvel is going to have a bit of a downturn and someone will overtake their lead for awhile. It is nothing to be too concerned about business often goes like this, if this downturn starts to be a trend then marvel needs to be concerned, they are also a huge business that makes a lot of money so I think they have this aspect covered.

Conclusion:

There are a lot of reasons why Marvel comics sales could be slumping and put simply diversity is not one of them. David Gabriel’s comments got more than a little misconstrued by the media and from what I can tell he did not say diversity was “killing sales” he noted what some retailers were telling the company and what they saw in some sales. I would urge everybody to actually read the interview linked in the first paragraph or just click here and make up your own mind before jumping on a soap box. There is also always room for improvement, let us know what you would like to see Marvel do to improve in the comments.


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About the author

Brent Jackson

Brent is happily married and an avid comic book consumer who loves nothing more than the smell of comics in the morning and diving through a long box of back issues. By day he is a nutritionist and has also been training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for over 10 years. He is probably not the coolest person you have ever met. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @brentjackson30

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