Wednesday, January 13, 2010

What is Marvel?

If you spend much time on the Internet reading about comics—and I'm assuming you do, unless you happen to be a personal friend of mine checking out this site to see if I wrote anything about you—then you've probably heard about Marvel's...weird move to accept returns of certain DC Comics in exchange for a particular variant cover.

The first place I saw anything on it was at Blog@, although The Beat and Robot 6 are also on top of it (the latter has one of the biggest, if not the biggest comments threads I've ever noticed on one of their posts before—111 at the time of this writing). I assume a lot of other smart people will have something to say about it tomorrow—I'm looking forward to someone at Marvel explaining what, exactly, is up, and some of the retailers who are also bloggers to explain whether or not this makes any damn sense to them.

It doesn't make any sense to me.

Variant covers in general don't make any sense to me. I see them at my local shop from time to time, the prices jacked up from cover price to some astronomical sum to presumably reflect its rarity and the amount of other books my shop must have ordered to "earn" the variant from the publisher. Occasionally I'll see an extremely expensive one, in a stand next to the cash register. Like, I think I recently saw a black and white, pencil variant of an issue of Blackest Night with $70+ price tag on it.

I don't understand why these things exist, nor can I imagine who buys them. Someone must buy them, because they do exist, and those someones must buy them because they think they will be worth money some day.

Those someones are all dumb and really ought to stop their foolish behavior immediately. Are they going to make that $70+ investment back some day? How? By selling the comic to some other dumb or dumber chump? It's just so horribly sad and depressing and—seriously now—ruinous to the direct market and the comic book industry that serves it.

This weird Marvel scheme seems especially so, as far as I can make sense of it. Marvel wants retailers to mail them 50 covers from 50 DC back issues. Specifically, Adventure Comics #4, Booster Gold #26, Doom Patrol #4, Justice League of America #39, Outsiders #24 and REBELS #10, each of which had their sales ridiculously inflated by DC's buy-a-comic-get-a-plastic-ring promotion. In exchange, the retailer will receive an "extremely rare" Siege #3 Deadpool variant.

I don't know how much it costs a store to buy on copy of any of those DC titles, but I know the cover price for them all was $3.99. Even if a store has unsold quantities lying around, say they put them in a dollar bin, or a fifty-cent bin or, hell, maybe the store is so awesome it has a quarter-bin. They could make $50 (or $25, or $12.50) off 'em by selling them at ridiculously cheap prices.

But if they just trash the covers in exchange for a single issue of Siege, then they have to sell it at between $12.50 and $50 to make what they would have by sticking those 50 issues in those hypothetical bins or, more likely, they'll have to charge far more if they want to make up what they spent on the books and/or equal what they could conceivably make by selling those books at cover price.

So, would stores be looking to sell that Siege variant for as much as $200? Is that feasible? Is there some asshole out there with $200 to burn on the third issue of some dumb fucking comic book series because this hypothetical dumb asshole thinks it will be worth some money some day—with "some money" defined as far more than $200?

Is this really what comics is like in the year 2010? Still? Really?

If so, that is horrible.

As far as I can understand it, Marvel is actively encouraging insane speculation on their products, even more so than they usually do by publishing variants (a depressing business tactic that DC and, to a lesser extent, Dynamite, Boom and most of the smaller companies who are players in the direct market also engage in to varying degrees), and consumer spending habits that don't benefit any players (except, perhaps, for some dumb asshole who unloads his variant on some other dumb asshole).

If one has $200 to spend on comics, aren't they better off, say, buying ten Marvel trades and, if all goes well, finding some new series or character or creator they liked so much they want to follow that series or character or creator in to other, future books?

So, serious question—what is Marvel? It's a comic book publisher, but what exactly is it publishing? Is it publishing stories? Or is it publishing collectibles?

Those are two very different things, and you can't effectively sell the same product to both markets simultaneously without eroding one of those markets.

Well, you can...but not for very long.

17 comments:

Paul said...

Why spend $200 on a comic? Because some people can afford it, someone who loves comics who has made good. Think of it more as a luxury item than a comic, maybe something that appeals to the collector who would never sell it.

The bottom line is, if someone will buy it, why not sell it.

Patrick C said...

Plus the variant is an incentive for the retailer. Why buy 20 copies of whatever if for 25 you can get a copy of that variant! And if you get 50 copies you can get that OTHER variant!

That said I also hate variant covers. And all the "ring promotion" issues were $3.99 (and had 30 pages (or so) of story).

Joey said...

I agree, sir! But why push your post towards illegitimacy by resorting to name calling? Just because someone may be willing to pay a ridiculous amount for something you see as basically worthless doesn't make them an asshole. Sure, i guess if you have 200 dollars to blow on a single comic, maybe you should just go ahead and give that cash to earthquake victims or something...but still, making unnecessary judgements makes reading your good/interesting points less interesting & fun.

Eric Rupe said...

I find it hard to believe that most people who buy variant covers buy them because they see them as investments. I think it is more along something of a collector/completist mentality where they want all the covers of issue X for no other reason to have than to have the variant cover. This is not to say that their are no people who don't treat them as an invest but I can't see them as the majority of buyers right now. Of course, something like the Obama issue or the absurd 200-to-1 variants are obviously more geared towards the investment-types but I think most of the variants are probably bought by the collectors/completists.

And Caleb is right. Anyone, I mean anyone, who spends more than the cover price for a comic just because it has a different cover is a dumb ass.

thoapsl said...

Where's the line between "collector/completist" and "person with obsessive-compulsive disorder"?

Collecting every single variant issue for the sake of "completism" (i.e. rather than for "investment", or for any other reason) can't always be a very healthy compulsion. "Completism" isn't really a reason, outside of itself. And the world of comics fandom often attracts OCD personality types, yeah? So: is variant-cover pricegouging an exploitation of the mentally ill?

Not that all comicbook fans are crazy, of course ... I'm just thinking out loud ...

Hdefined said...

Anyone who spends more than $20 for something that's less than 50 pages needs therapy.

Okay, fine, I'll make an exception for a freakishly rich speculator who wants that first issue of Action Comics - but them, if you are a freakishly rich speculator, you can afford and probably already pay for some good therapy.

Michael Hoskin said...

Marvel and Marvel! What is Marvel?

Kid Kyoto said...

I see 2 bad assumptions in your logic. The first is that everyone buying varient covers plans to make a profit. Some do but others buy them as unique collectables, because they can afford to, because they want to.

Same as buying designer clothes, $1000 handbags or antiques.

The second is the assumption that stores can sell excess issues of Booster Gold even at a dollar, even at a quarter. Sure they might sell some, sure they might sell all of them over the next 5-10 years but in the short run they're better off freeing up shelf space and getting a rare collectable rather than having dozens of unsellable 3rd tier super hero comics.

I think it's a weird move by Marvel, I think it's a dick move, but I can see the logic.

David Uzumeri said...

thoapsl, as someone who actually *has* OCD: go fuck yourself. First of all, Marvel isn't price gouging anybody, the retailers would be. Second of all, just because I have OCD doesn't mean I have to spend $200 on a variant cover, and equating the two is some low-blow bullshit. If you spend $200 on a variant cover, you aren't an exploited minority, you're just an idiot. And Marvel isn't going to make ANYTHING off of this, other than publicity. They don't reap the retailers' profits.

Nada Soul said...

"The bottom line is, if someone will buy it, why not sell it."

And that my friends is why this once wonderful country is crumbling to pieces right in front of our excessive, greedy little eyes. It doesn't matter if your talking about comics or homes. Same concept.

Caleb said...

Soooo did I come off as a little, oh, high-strung in that post or what?

Because some people can afford it, someone who loves comics who has made good. Think of it more as a luxury item than a comic, maybe something that appeals to the collector who would never sell it.

Well, if they really love comics, why blow $200 on one when you can buy like so many more with that money?

I have a hard time wrapping my head around certain luxury items. Like vanity plates. Who has that much money that they can afford a vanity plate, and don't want to do anything else with the money?

And all the "ring promotion" issues were $3.99 (and had 30 pages (or so) of story).

Thanks Patrick; I updated the post to reflect that.

But why push your post towards illegitimacy by resorting to name calling?...but still, making unnecessary judgements makes reading your good/interesting points less interesting & fun.

Because name-calling makes me feel better about myself, obviously. No, I understand what you're saying. I do think spending a $75 on a pencil cover of BN or $200 on the Deadpool Siege variant is pretty anti-social behavior.

I find it hard to believe that most people who buy variant covers buy them because they see them as investments. I think it is more along something of a collector/completist mentality where they want all the covers of issue X for no other reason to have than to have the variant cover.

That's true, particularly when it comes to 50/50 covers. If Siege #1 had a Paul Pope cover and a Kelley Jones cover, I'd be sorely tempted to buy it twice (or I would have, if we were in a pre-Everything Will Be In A Trade era). Once variants start coming in a 1-in-10 or higher ratio though, there's really no reason for publishers to publish them other than to boost sales to retailers, and no reason for consumers to buy 'em, other than some form of insanity/stupidity.


The first is that everyone buying variant covers plans to make a profit. Some do but others buy them as unique collectables, because they can afford to, because they want to.

Same as buying designer clothes, $1000 handbags or antiques.


Mmmmmaybe. I have a hard time imagining people paying inflated prices for the rarer sorts without speculation entering into their thinking (especially variants like that Blackest Night one I mentioned, where it's not even a new piece of art or anything).

I would note that I would think anyone who payed $1,000 for a handbag was an anti-social a-hole too...

...in the short run they're better off freeing up shelf space and getting a rare collectable rather than having dozens of unsellable 3rd tier super hero comics.

Hmm. That may be. I don't think it makes much sense for Marvel to encourage short-term thinking over long-term thinking among their customers like that though.

Kid Kyoto said...

"I have a hard time wrapping my head around certain luxury items. Like vanity plates. Who has that much money that they can afford a vanity plate, and don't want to do anything else with the money? "

At the end of the day anything can be a luxery item. I buy Levis over Kmart jeans, I buy the good ramen rather than the cheap stuff, blah, blah, blah.

The amount of money is not as important as how much of your income it represents and how much you want something. In school $200 meant a week or two, or three of food.

10 years later it's a night out with the boys.

A Deadpool cover is not worth $200 to me (and we don't even know if it will be $200, it might be $20, remember I think those excess comics will NEVER sell at any price) but 2 tickets to a Broadway show and dinner is worth $200. A fondly remembered childhood toy is worth $200.

So yeah, except for those of us living the Buddhist dream (or the grad school nightmare) $200 is easy to spend on somethng you want.

A comic ain't worth $200 to me, but until I give away my worldly possessions to the poor I can't disparage anyone who does pay it.

thoapsl said...

@David Uzumeri: sorry, sorry - I wasn't trying to equate anything, or suggest that all people with OCD are compulsive completists (or vice versa). Just thinking out loud - I'm really sorry to have offended you, I assure you I was just being mindless.

Diabolu Frank said...

I ran two smallish-to-medium sized shops from 1995-2002, and we got a 50% discount on Marvel and DC. If I recall correctly, Diamond's maximum discount was either 55% or 57%. I get my personal comics today at 38% through mail order, so that should still be true.

KentL said...

Marvel is smart here. They realize that all of the Orange Lantern Rings that are now out there will cause the greedy masses to seek out overpriced variants!

Cory Gross said...

So, serious question—what is Marvel? It's a comic book publisher, but what exactly is it publishing? Is it publishing stories? Or is it publishing collectibles?

Marvel is a means for making money. Comics are the vehicle to reach that goal.

To use another industry, let's look at pro-wrestling. Sorry, "sports entertainment" or whatever Vince McMahon is calling it now. You'd think that the "product" was the guys in tights throwing eachother around. It's not. There is something to be said for the pay-per-view buyrates, but the real product is the merchandise... the t-shirts, toys, magazines, glossy photos... the wrestlers are the vehicle for selling t-shirts.

Or hockey. Same deal. A team doesn't really get any money for winning the Stanley Cup. What they get are merchandise sales. Or football and the Superbowl, or whatever. The Superbowl itself is primarily a vehicle for selling commercial airtime.

So yeah, Marvel is in the business of making money for Disney. Comics are the vehicle for doing that, whether they're being read or being kept in plastic in a closet.

What flumoxes me is that they don't directly make money off this. It costs money to make the book, ship it out and dispose of all the stripped DC titles. Any of those that would have sold have been sold by now, so they're not really impacting DC's sales. There's gotta' be some motive for this.

Dave of Apocalypse said...

From what I remember of working at the shop from 90-98, I want to say we paid 42c on the dollar.