The Editor’s Notes is an opinion column allowing our writers to express their honest feelings about comic books, the comic book industry, and all that it inspires. The views expressed within belong solely to their author.
Let’s go back to 1991 for a second. I was 10-years-old and ‘fitting in’ was my biggest concern. I failed miserably and became disconnected from my school and family. In an attempt to stoke the dying embers of my imagination, my father started buying me comic books. I remember devouring Chris Claremont and Jim Lee’s X-Men #1 and falling prey to Marvel’s attempt to flood the market with multiple versions of the same cover.
At $1.50 an issue ($3.50 for a version that had a gatefold of all the covers like X-Men #1 above), it didn’t really connect in my adolescent brain that Marvel made an extra $9.50 on the exact same content; it was just fun to collect them. I’m sure that’s exactly what then Marvel Comics’ Editor-in-Chief, Tom DeFalco was betting on. X-Men #1 reportedly sold 8.1 million copies, making it their best selling single issue. The problem, however, was that flooding the market with gimmick covers didn’t stem Marvel’s financial woes.
Marvel is caught in a cycle. They aren’t publishing separate covers at $2.99 or $3.99 for a single issue anymore (though it does happen, see Uncanny X-Men Special #1). They are, instead, flooding the market with new content by shipping titles – seemingly at random – on bi-monthly schedules.
In May 2014, Marvel released the following titles bi-monthly: Avengers, Iron Man, Magneto, Wolverine, Deadpool, and All-New X-Factor. In June, it was Avengers Undercover, Avengers World, All-New Ultimates, New Warriors, and Wolverine. Finally next month the bi-monthly titles included: Avengers World, Secret Avengers, All-New Invaders, Deadpool, Ultimate FF, All-New X-Men, X-Men, Magneto, and All-New X-Factor. There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of a pattern here.
Why would Marvel randomly publish titles on a bi-monthly basis? It’s simple: profit. According to Diamond Distributors, Marvel’s retail market share in March, April, and May of 2014 was 34.31%, 39.27%, and 34.31%. In theory, after the rise in market share in April, Marvel’s accounting team would expect another increase or at the very least a steady number, but between April and May they lost 4.89% of the retail market.
In April, Marvel published some major attention grabbing issues: Amazing Spider-Man #1, Superior Spider-man #31, and Original Sin #0 (with each reaching spots 1, 2, and 8 respectively on Diamond’s best seller list for April). Those issues sold for $5.99 and $4.99; well over the normal cover prices. Under the blanket of those retail market share numbers above, May needed to have some really great (or at least expensive) titles releasing and then selling well if they hoped to match April’s numbers.
That’s how we come back to the bi-monthly sneak. What if there’s nothing to publish at $5.99 or $4.99 that can garner the same consumer attention as Superior Spider-Man #31 or Amazing Spider-Man #1? Well, why not just use the content they already have lined up? Instead of putting popular titles out once a month, they could put those sure-fire consumer hits out twice a month (because the consumer couldn’t refuse to buy two issues within a story arc, right?).
Now, instead of selling 700,000 issues at $5.99 (Amazing Spider-man #1’s reported numbers), they can sell 350,000 issues of any popular title at $3.99 twice in a month. While that’s a lot of numbers to digest, at its core, it makes sense that the retail market would rise when multiple popular books are put out twice a month rather than once a month.
As a consumer this is frustrating. It creates a financial strain on the consumer and, presumably, a creative strain on the writers and artists. What does Marvel have planned when people start dropping books that are really, really good in order to maintain the blitz of bi-monthly issues? In my mind, we stand to lose out on amazing titles like Black Widow, Elektra, and Iron Fist because their numbers don’t make them popular enough to flood the market, and readers will opt to remain faithful to the standard “big name” titles that do get shipped bi-monthly, in light of the financial strain.
We have the right to buy whatever we want. Yet, Marvel’s current publishing strategy dictates what they think we should be buying based on their market profits. The only way we can make a difference is to use our hard-earned money to show Marvel what books we think are actually worthwhile.
When you create your pull lists for these next couple of months, look to see what’s shipping twice in a month, and ask yourself if that title is worth picking up twice a month in place of other books you could be reading? I may not have had the insight as a 10-year-old to avoid falling prey to marketing schemes like multiple covers for a single issue. Today it’s different. The power of the consumer is to dictate what is worth our hard earned money. Don’t let Marvel decide for you.