Friday, June 30, 2006

The Art of Commerce: Why Comic Book Companies Don’t Care About Fanboys

After going to see Superman Returns Wednesday night, it dawned on me that comic books will never again be the primary focus of comic book companies like Marvel and DC. That’s not where the money is.

With comic book reader numbers dwindling, and the average age of readers continuing to rise, these companies have had to change their focus to survive financially. Why make up to a dollar on a comic book company when they can make $13 on a t-shirt, or better yet license the likenesses and pocket a big check? It all makes perfect sense to me now.

Before our level of technology increased to the level it is now, we were a captive audience for the publishers. Comic books were at dang near every grocery store or dime store a kid went to. There was profitability in number of books sold, and it bred a love in many readers that continues to this day. Now to get my hands on a comic book, I pretty much have to go to a specialty shop, or better yet, I can go to and read several issues. Why spend the money now?

For publishers to make the almighty dollar, they had to get creative. What better way to spread the story to the masses then a movie? Tie that in with apparel, breakfast cereal, and soda pop, and it is sure to be a festival of money. Screw trying to bring in the comic book! The fanboys are just going to bitch anyway, right? That is the mentality.

From an economic standpoint I can’t argue with them. I know that when my company brainstorms on how to increase profits, we try and go for the least cost option for the most financial gain without ruining our integrity. It only makes sense. Many consumers will happily buy and wear a Superman symbol shirt. It looks cool, and is socially acceptable. They can walk into a Sears, a Hot Topic, or a Wal-Mart and pick up the look without investing too much emotionally and it is financially solid gain for all involved.

The licensing is where the really big bucks can be. With the movie coming out, DC would get with, say Burger King or McDonalds and license the images. With the excitement level of kids wanting a bauble or action figure, it is sure to drive Happy Meal sales, right? Once again, the publisher gets the money up front and moves on, content in their financial gain. Imagine the possibilities! When I went to the grocery store on Tuesday, I saw the following items with Superman’s image: cereal, carbonated beverage, fruit roll-ups, soup, and coloring books. That is just what I remember off the top of my head!

It is the image of the hero that drives the licensing and pushes the sales of the products being sold. I can imagine my very sweet 9 year old nephew seeing Superman on his cereal and being pretty excited that he could grow up strong like this favorite character. It is solid marketing and I can’t fault it. Hell, I think Jim and I bought no less then two items with Superman on it this week, just picking up our normal goods.

At any rate, it is easy to see why a publisher wouldn’t focus on the readers. The money isn’t there for them like it is in other avenues. I don’t have to like it, but I sure can’t fault them. It is a solid business decision, and it keeps people employed. The only thing that really gives me pause it that some of that big money is going to some writer or artist who CAN’T make their deadlines, but you know I will always have a quibble with that!

Comic book companies are trying to make money and that is the American way. Now that I understand that I am not their primary target, I can almost breathe a sigh of relief. It isn’t about me any more. I am a pain in their collective asses. It is all about the profit and financial gain, not us.


Carl said...

Yep, there was an article a bit back (I fail to recall where, perhaps on The Sci-Fi Channel site) that said the focus would be on movies since Marvel and DC had their own companies that were specifically making their superhero movies and TV shows. And what you said, that the comics themselves had grown less important. Actually, the disturbing thing to me is, that a character might have not had a title for years, suddenly is a hot movie/TV show property. And if it's dramatically changed and they base a new comic on it, it pretty much pisses me off. Take Blade for example. While I was able to overcome my being upset about so many changes (some of the first comics I read were the original '60s/'70s Tomb of Dracula and I loved the original Blade) to the character, some of the new comics generated by the movies seriously sucked (no pun intended) and bad writing abounded. And now, the comics aren't important as long as we can raid, plunder and rape comic book ideas for movies and TV. That's the message I get. Sometimes it's really hard to stay a fan knowing this to say the least...

Heidi Meeley said...

Blade is a great example of a more obscure character in the Marvel stables who was propelled to great awareness through the movie. I can imagine that the focus there was not on the comic though either. It was on the marketing and licensing.

I don't like it, but I can't fault the comic book companies for making financially sounds decisions. As a businesswoman, that would be hypocritical of me, but as a comic book fan, I want to howl with outrage.

Chris Arndt said...

Since the nineties the mission statement business plan bible document thing for Marvel Enterprises noted that Marvel Comics Group exists merely as an R&D for creating new properties to be liscensed to and for movie companies.

It's a load of shite but it is truthful that that is all the comics thing is for them. Marvel exists not for comics readers but for other consumers more in the mainstream.

Of course, it's a load of shite for two reasons. Number one is that Marvel Comics Group has not created a new (individual) character that is fit for liscensing (as an individual) since 1977 and that is being charitable.

Number two is that when Marvel Comics announces the number of commercial properties they have they count supporting characters like Betty Brant as quantities equal to main lead characters like Bruce Banner/Hulk. That is dishonest. For one thing Ben Urich will never get his own TV show or movie like Captain America may. For another thing when it comes to liscensing properties for film or TV certain characters are tied into other properties. Ben Urich was in Daredevil which went to... Fox. Ben Urich's Marvel Universe newspaper job, of course, goes to Sony with Spider-Man.

So Marvel Comics reports it has a large number of properties when it has a relatively small number of relevent properties.

Heidi Meeley said...

Chris, I had no clue that is how their properties worked. Good God. That just makes it that much more mercenary and businesslike, doesn't it??

I have to agree with you on this one. For a company with no new ground, they are certainly resting on their Stan Lee laurels. No wonder the man sued!

Comics definitely aren't the focus anymore. It is all about the big business aspect of licensing and promotions. I can't see that ever turning around and it is sad.

To think that as a group, the readers don't matter, that is an incredibly humbling thing.

Chris Arndt said...

On the other hand, it does make the writers' work seem more noble, even if the business-baron-administrators are only making the comics the second fiddle.

For one thing, I learned recently that Marvel Comics Group does sell enough in comics to make a profit and thus even without liscensed products Marvel Comics could still stay afloat. Therefore the whole Marvel Company still has a legitimate interest in keeping the comic book company around.

Secondly, even if Peter David, John Byrne, Mark Millar, Bendis, etc, are working on the second-priority Marvel business franchise instead of the number one thing (which Avi Arad used to be the head monster for until he quit) they are still plugging away what I presume is their respective best efforts (even if I don't like Bendis' stuff, for example).

I don't let it bother me. It keeps one in perspective as to how important in the grand scheme one's hobby is, first. It also reminds me that for the most part the comics may just have been best coincidentily when I enjoyed them the most and they sold the most.

But regardless of whether the comic book or the movie is the number one deal, the creators' dedication remains the same.

and the humbling can be a good thing, in some respects. On the other hand, it does kinda cheese me off that the highest-grossing film this year is the worst X-Men movie... that even if the Superman films are taking a direction I don't care I don't really have a vote regardless of whether or not I see it or buy a ticket... and I liked the movie... and Star Wars! Star Wars! The movie trilogies turned crap and no critic has/had the power to save it!

Heidi Meeley said...

The biggest thing I would say about this whole "not being a priority" theory is that it makes me feel like a second class citizen. I guess since I go see the movies and buy some of the licensed product, I am a good consumer for them, but it still alienates me a bit.

The one thing that does make me happy is that I know that DC HAS to publish a Wonder Woman comic book continously whether it be a limited or full series; otherwise the rights revert to Marston's family. It gives me hope that at least that particular book is safe, and hopefully treated well.

I wish I knew the caveats of other creator's properties, but I honestly don't.

It sounds like the icing on the cake, so to speak, for Marvel in that their comics are making money. That just means that their power is secure in all venues.

Those are interesting points you make, Chris, for sure!