Posted by Don MacPherson on November 11th, 2008
Marvel Comics’ decision to cancel its advance-preview copy program and to scale back online previews could impact sales of Marvel titles on a grassroots, word-of-mouth level, says one comics retailer.
News broke Monday that Marvel is discontinuing its First Look program, through which retailers could pay a small fee to get a handful of comics in their hands the week before their release. The retailer who announced the First Look cancellation expressed his dismay, as it was a perk that drew him to comics retailing in the first place. He said the First Look cancellation stems from a majority of participants declining the opportunity of maintaining it by agreeing to an increase in the weekly fee associated with the program.
Eye on Comics asked comics retailer (and friend) Randy Lander about the report, and he confirmed Marvel cancelled the program and the circumstances leading to its demise. He also confirmed that DC Comics cancelled its counterpart preview-package program, dubbed Sneak Peek, some time ago. DC had promised to replace Sneak Peek with something else, he said, but that alternative never materialized.
At one time, Marvel did offer online previews of multiple titles through the Diamond Comic Distributors retailers-only website. Lander — who runs Rogues Gallery Comics & Games in Round Rock, Tex. — said those previews aren’t available on the Diamond site anymore.
He said previewing upcoming releases was useful for his business, as it kept him and his employees more informed on some of the product.
“Having a preview of books was invaluable in terms of the staff knowing what books they liked and wanted to hand-sell, so it definitely helped with new product, relaunches, new story arcs, etc.,” Lander said.
“With all the work that gets done on new comic days, it’s now unlikely that we’ll be as well informed about the specifics of that week’s comics until later in the week, which means it’s harder to knowledgeably and confidently recommend new stuff to customers… It’s not crucial by any means, but the First Looks were a bit of an edge for DC and Marvel in terms of having us talking about their books.”
The loss of First Look, Sneak Peek and online previews just means that when it comes to in-store recommendations, Marvel and DC are back on a level playing field with other publishers, he said.
“Which is fine with me as a retailer, but it might be a source of some consternation for Marvel or DC,” Lander said.
He, his staff and others in comics retailing won’t be without previews of Marvel comics entirely, though.
“Marvel is launching a retailers-only site, and there seems to be an intent to provide full PDF previews there, but there is a cost attached. There have been some mentions on Marvel’s part of free usage of the site, although the implication is that such free usage would be limited,” Lander said.
However, he expects Marvel is going to govern its digital previews carefully. Lander also reviews comics and has had access to a media website featuring previews as well. That site featured full previews of a wide selection of upcoming Marvel releases, he said, which was fine for reviewing purposes.
“But right after the First Look was canceled, that site began hosting only three- to four-page previews instead,” he said. “It seems likely to me, given the launch of the retailer site and the scaling back of the reviewer site, that this is sort of a re-positioning of Marvel’s previews and how they are used.”
It’s understandable that Marvel would want to tread carefully when it comes to digital copies of its publications. Online piracy is a concern for Marvel Entertainment, just as it is for any media company these days. It’s doubtful any comics publisher today wants to make it easier for its comics to be distributed for free online.
Then again, digital reproduction plays a big part in the preparation and publishing of comics today, so the publisher already had easy access to digital versions of its output. Furthermore, digital presentation is something with which Marvel concerns itself greatly now, as it’s actively developing its Digital Comics Unlimited as a viable revenue generator.