Marvel reached out to direct-market comics retailers this week to offer a special ordering incentive that’s perhaps unintentionally revealing about its publishing policies and plans for revenue generation. Retailers were told for every 5,000 copies of Ultimate Fallout #4 first and second printings (or any combination of the pair that adds up to 5,000), they can get a free full-page ad in upcoming Marvel titles.
The first thing that struck me about the promotion was the fact Marvel is trying to sell second printings of a comic book that’s still available in its initial print run. Why would there be a second printing if the first was still up for grabs?
I’m not naive. I don’t think Marvel jumped the gun on its followup print run. It’s clear from the promotion that Marvel doesn’t see second printings as a means to keep an in-demand comic available for consumption — at least that’s not its only motivation. Clearly, the publisher sees (as other comics publishers likely do) subsequent print runs as variants it can sell to die-hard collectors. It’s not enough there are these limited-edition, order-qualification variants out there, there are also multiple printings to consider.
One could argue Marvel doesn’t expect comics collectors to be privy to information meant for retailers, but in this day and age, the publisher should be (and, I expect, is) well aware what it tells retailers will be disseminated publicly on the Internet (thus, my discussion of this issue).
I’m at a loss why there’s a market for the second-printing variants when the first print is available. Has there ever been a second printing that was more collectible than the first? I’m guessing it’s highly unlikely, and if it has occurred, it would have to be a rare aberration.
As an aside, I wish Marvel and Diamond didn’t stick the word “Comics” in the middle of this title (and the rest of Marvel’s Ultimate line), as it was dropped from the indicia of the entire line some time ago. But I digress.
Some have speculated the promotion is an attempt on Marvel’s part to fight back against the massive shift in the marketplace in September when DC Comics relaunches its entire line with its “New 52.” Early indications show the initiative will prove to be a big success for DC, at least in the short term, and Marvel Worldwide undoubtedly doesn’t want to yield its marketplace dominance to its main competitor.
I don’t know if that’s the impetus behind the promotion is to compete with DC, and whether that’s the case isn’t all that important. The reason: it’s not a good deal for retailers. Let’s do the math.
Five thousand copies of a $3.99 US comic book, at cover price, comes to $19,950, 50 bucks shy of 20 grand. It’s been a few years since I was privy to Diamond’s discount framework, but if memory serves, the top discount tier was 58 per cent or so about five years ago. Let’s assume that still holds true. That means for Diamond’s biggest and best customers, the 5,000 comics will cost them $8,379 — $1.68 per unit (rounded up to the nearest cent). That’s a best-case scenario, and in those circumstances, a retailer that avails itself of the promotion will likely have to move bulk copies as a secondary supplier to other comics sales outlets.
As the marketplace stands today, only the largest of comics retailers can really afford to stockpile 5,000 copies of a comic book that’s been available for weeks, both in stores and for free pirated download online. The people who want Ultimate Fallout #4 have already come looking for it, bought it, looked elsewhere to find if turned away due to sellouts, or moved onto other concerns.
As for the incentive at the back end of the promotion, the specifications for the free full-page ad aren’t outlined. Here’s all Marvel has said about the ad:
Order 5,000 copies of Ultimate Comics Fallout #4 (JUN110611D) or Ultimate Comics Fallout #4 Second Printing Bagley Variant (JUN118244D) — or any combination of the two — from August 25 through August 29, and you will receive a free full page ad for your store in upcoming Marvel comic books, either of your design or designed along with Marvel. Qualifying retailers will be contacted by Marvel to co-ordinate design of the ad.
It’s not stated when the ad will run. It’s not stated in how many titles the ad will run. And though not overtly stated, the phrase “Qualifying retailers will be contacted by Marvel to co-ordinate the design of the ad” implies Marvel will have the final say/approval of the content of the ad. That’s understandable to a point — Marvel doesn’t want a retailer to fill a page with the words “Quesada does donkeys” in all caps — but it also doesn’t set out the criteria for what’s permitted and what ain’t. What if a retailer wants to run a photo of his or her shop, which has a big Batman display in the window? Will Marvel nix nods to its Distinguished Competition?
Here’s something else to consider: the incentive Marvel is offering to retailers doesn’t cost the publisher a dime. Marvel has available space in its comics because it has to print comics of certain page counts. All of its saddle-stitched comics have to have page counts divisible by four. Comics publishers fill extra pages with house ads, “bonus” pinups, letter pages and other filler material. Some of those fillers offer value — some value to the publisher, some to the reader — but ultimately, they’re filling empty space.
The full-page ads are indeed free, but to Marvel, not to the retailers. The retailers have to shell out at least $8,400 US (plus shipping, which isn’t negligible for 5,000 comics).
If this incentive program works out for Marvel, the real promotion will be for the staffer who came up with the idea.
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