Posted by Don MacPherson on June 26th, 2008
Remember those old ads in Marvel and DC titles, right up into the 1990s, in which the publishers offered home-delivery subscriptions of their wares? Some promised bigger discounts the more titles you purchased, and while stock art was often used in designing the ads, sometimes new art was commissioned specifically to promote the subscription services.
I thought it would be interesting to revisit comics subscriptions in a feature examining how it used to work and how it works today. After all, DC Comics and Marvel Comics both still offer subscriptions (at least, that’s what it says in indicia in their periodicals).
Yes, it would have made for an interesting feature, tapping not only into nostalgia but examining how the business of comics publishing has changed in recent years.
Alas, such a story won’t be found on this site.
Jenna Pagliuca, who’s in charge of subscriptions at Marvel, declined to answer questions after a company PR official referred to me to her, and repeated requests for information from or an interview with a subscriptions manager at DC seem to have fallen on deaf ears.
The following are the questions I posed to Pagliuca:
* I suspect that subscription levels today as compared in past decades are on the decline, given the more expensive cover prices of comics in the 21st century. How many comics does Marvel move annually by subscription today as compared to, say, the 1970s and 1980s?
* Assuming I’m correct about a decline (maybe I’m not), to what does Marvel attribute the trend? And if my assumption/suspicion is correct, why does Marvel continue to offer subscriptions? Are publishers of periodicals in the U.S. required to offer subscriptions?
* How are subscribed comics shipped to customers? Is this different from years past? Are comics shipped from the New York offices, the distributor level or right from the printer?
* How do international subscriptions factor in, if at all? The information in the indicia in Marvel titles seems to indicate that subscriptions are at least available in Canada? Are readers in other countries able to subscribe as well?
* How does the resurgence of mail-order business thanks to the Internet (eBay, online stores, etc.) impact subscriptions at Marvel?
* Does Marvel envision a point at which physical comics subscriptions will be phased out in favor of its new digital comics subscription service?
I had planned to ask similar questions of a DC subscriptions manager, had I ever heard back from one.
Other mainstream, North American comics publishers such as Image Comics and Dark Horse Comics don’t offer subscriptions. In keeping with the times, they refer those interested to online retailers. I had wondered if Marvel’s and DC’s continued subscription offers were the result of some kind of legal requirement to do so by U.S. laws governing periodicals publishing, but given other publishers’ decision to opt out of the subscription game, it’s a safe assumption that’s not the case.
I’m also left wondering why Marvel and DC don’t run in-house ads promoting subscriptions. I count six pages of house ads in a recent Marvel release, and three pages in a DC super-hero book. Those promote specific titles; why not use the space to promote sales of the entire line?
Marvel offers subscriptions at substantial discounts (up to 39 per cent) on its website. DC offers them online as well. DC’s subscription FAQ doesn’t paint the best picture of its subscription service though. Regarding damaged or missing issues, the publisher advised it’ll replace torn or lost issues provided the issue is still available. The FAQ page advises:
“Typically, issues older than 3 months are difficult for us to replace. Please allow 8-10 weeks for the replacement issue to arrive.”
Eight to 10 weeks? Yikes. Furthermore, DC notes new issues generally arrive two to three weeks after their initial release date — not because of logistics, though. The delay is said to be due to “policy.” So why would I subscribe? DC claims there are advantages to subscriptions:
“There are still two major advantages to subscribing; 1) you realize a substantial savings off the newsstand price and 2) you know there is always a copy with your name on it; no more running to the comic book store before they sell out.”
Marvel’s subscription service, like its subscription website, is much more attractive than DC’s. In addition to better discounts and a more user-friendly site, the publisher promises quicker delivery:
“Marvel Subscriptions strives to deliver copies to subscribers as close to the retail on-sale date as possible. Some subscribers receive their subscription copies before the retail on-sale date. Others receive books on the retail on-sale date or a few days later. From time to time, there may be delays in delivery, and Marvel has no control over delivery once we give books to the United States Postal Service. Please check with your local post office to insure that your mail is not being affected due to an incorrect mailing address or any other postal-related matter.”
There are obviously some delays for more remote locations, notably outside the continental United States, but within days of a release date isn’t a bad goal. The publisher notes that due to the initial processing of a subscription and publishing cycles, it can be six weeks or more before one receives one’s first issue, though.
Of course, I didn’t set out to compare Marvel’s and DC’s subscription services. I just wanted to look at the practice’s past and compare it to its current state. Unfortunately, all I have are questions, with few answers. Now, the story isn’t about the history of comics subscriptions, their present status and what the future holds, but rather why officials with these publishers hide from simple questions. Is their silence indicative of internal confusion or lack of vision for subscriptions? Or is it a symptom of a more systemic problem, of a desire to keep the lid on tight to control any message in the media about them?
There are any number of possible answers. I’m listening if anyone wants to offer some. I’m open-minded, after all; it’s a personal philosophy to which I subscribe.