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Thursday, June 30, 2011 

Marvel (and DC) spoils the stories for sales' sake

Comics Alliance paid lip service to Marvel's communications manager, Arune Singh, who gives some predictable answers to the question of why they would spoil the outcome of any stories:
ComicsAlliance: In the simplest terms, why reveal major plot points through mainstream media outlets before the books hit the shelves? Why not wait until after the issue has come out?

Arune Singh: First and foremost, the goal of any mainstream media push like this is to help retailers increase sales and get new fans into their stores. The Death of Spider-Man news is news all over the world from here in the US to India to Japan -- it's a BIG story. This is news being read not only by comic fans, but lapsed fans and a lot of people who have never read comics before. If we can get people from those latter two categories into stores, we know we have a compelling story -- that's only getting bigger, by the way -- that'll keep them coming back. We've even scheduled Ultimate Comics Fallout to hit three times a month in the summer to capitalize on that excitement and give retailers an easy place to direct readers who want to see what happens after Peter dies.
There's just one little thing: what if they don't want to see what happens next? What if they don't even care? Even if this is the Ultimate line, that doesn't mean they'll be enthused about what's next in line. And Ultimate Peter's death certainly won't bring back any readers of the Ultimate line who lost interest. And whether it's been covered widely by the press, it's usually just as a followup to what the first papers who covered the story did.
CA: What are the benefits to this type of mainstream media push, and what type of response does it get from retailers? It's a tough time for monthly pamphlet sales; have you seen positive (and lasting) results from revealing major news through mainstream outlets in the past, such as the deaths of Captain America and Johnny Storm?

AS: We've seen huge results. We make sure to only attach this kind of promotion to our biggest books and those books invariably carry a much higher readership after the push than before the push. I think we can all agree the industry can use new readers and we've found these kinds of mainstream media pushes do just that, based on feedback from retailers-- most recently with Fantastic Four #587 and the subsequent FF launch. More fans check out the books, retailers sell more copies and have high orders than before this promotion. That's a winning situation for not just Marvel, but the whole industry-- anything we can do to bring in and retain readers benefits us all. Going to a mainstream outlet is what will get lapsed readers and new potential readers to check out our books-- we're going to non comic fans where they get their news to make them aware of our big stories.

We know this may spoil the experience for some of our readers but we're also trying to create greater interest and expand the comic book audience to benefit everyone. Sometimes that means hard decisions that might not appear sensible to fans but make a lot of sense from a business perspective. Retailers order heavy on these books and we have an obligation to deliver with the kind of press that drives customers -- new and old-- into stores. This is something I believe Marvel does better than anyone else.
Wow, what a laugh. I guess if we asked them about marriages, they'd say they don't do them because they can only turn out lousy, eh? Either way, they shoudn't be saying they do these things better than anyone else, because it all depends on how tasteful and moving the idea is, and how well the writer assigned does on it. The tastelessness of death aside, Singh seems to be suggesting that lower ranking books wouldn't sell huge numbers based on the same tactics, even though it wouldn't be appealing there either. It does suggest the lack of faith they have in their minor titles and characters, though.

And did they have huge sales results, really? Because if The Daily Athenaeum's article tells anything:
Despite the forefront title and the stories published by the AP, USA Today, and the New York Post, Gary Loring, of Gary's Comics and More located in Morgantown, noted that the specific issue sold less than a typical issue of "Ultimate Spider-Man."

As for reasoning, Loring cites the specific issue's packaging as an inhibitor. "Ultmate Spider-Man No. 160" came wrapped in a collectable plastic bag that inhibited customers from viewing the comic's contents.

"There were a few people who came in and were interested," Loring said. "But once they saw it was sealed and couldn't see the actual book, people passed on it."
And doesn't that contradict what they seem to think that sensationalizing death openly sells? Even if it has been widely reported, what this tells is that not many are rushing to actually buy and read it.

More from this article:
While the plastic wrapped comic inspires thoughts of "pristine" and "mint condition," terms that are believed to excite comic book readers, the technique is one with a poor history. DC Comics' "Death of Superman," another comic with a forefront title, famously made use of the plastic bag in the mid-1990s. The event, because of its gimmicky nature, made the bag aesthetic a strong, negative memory for most readers.

Loring noted that he would not remove the bag because he felt he would be tampering with the product.

Other than the bag, Loring hinted at overuse of comic book deaths to be a factor in the low interest in "Death of Spider-Man"

"Back when death in comics meant something, there was hype," Loring said.

Such hype accompanied 2007's "Captain America No. 25." At the time, Marvel Comics published its crossover event "Civil War," and as a way to unofficially cap off the important story line the patriotic hero, Captain America, was shot dead in his own book.

Due to an early leak of the comic's contents, it's connection to a preexisting plot line, and a hardcore media blitz, "Captain America No. 25" sold very well and pushed many outsiders into comic stores for the first time.
But afterwards, sales began to slip again.
Ever since, Marvel, and to a lesser extent DC Comics, has been after a follow-up performance by killing such characters as the X-Men's Nightcrawler and Johnny Storm, the Human Torch of the Fantastic Four.
I think they're missing something here: DC's done several sensationalized, tasteless stories of their own involving deaths, like Identity Crisis and Cry for Justice, which were built on similar tactics. It's hardly to a lesser extent that DC's been doing this. For all we know, DC may have been the ones to really - and I mean REALLY - floor the gas pedal on death and nihilism.
"Generally the average costumer cares about a character's death if they are already reading that character's book," Loring said. "I could see outside people coming into shops, but the advertising on these things needs to be better."

Advertising for comic books is ultimately pretty weak. Instances like "Death of Spider-Man" will pick up the mainstream press, but as for grassroots marketing from the actual publishers, the output is thin. Comics are mainly promoted within their own circles.

They only receive widespread attention when publishers play the death card.
And that's why the MSM has to shoulder some blame here too, for being otherwise only willing to cover a comics story when it's about something negative that loses interest soon after.
According to Joey Aulisio, co-host of The Chemical Box podcast, this type of spotlight on comics will only, if not already, grow old.

"I don't believe it's done much good, and I think it's only going to start seeming desperate to people outside of comics," Aulisio said.

"The message the media presents appears to be ‘Hey, look at us (comics). We're still relevant,' and I don't think they are persuading anyone" Aulisio added.
You can say that again. I am not interested in overhyped, sensationalistic "events" which are solely intended for short-term sales and not promoted based on the actual story value.
But, comics should receive the attention of mainstream media. At least, that is the opinion of WVU senior and occasional comics reader Stephen Hoops who feels comics are "a worthy form of entertainment."
The problem is, the MSM doesn't exactly share his and my vision. Otherwise, they wouldn't act as though death is literally worthy praise or even bland tolerance in every way. In fact, this is why they shouldn't rely on the mainstream, if it means print media. Rather, they should rely on the internet and advertising online in a wider range of sites. But Marvel and DC are unfortunately still stuck in a very questionable position where they think the MSM is the only source they can "trust".

And back to the Comics Alliance interview, we discover news of a certain character whose death was surely to be expected:
CA: Obviously, not all stories get revealed through the mainstream media -- for example, Bucky's death in Fear Itself. How do you decide which stories are worth pushing to a larger audience, potentially at the cost of revealing the ending to regular readers? How do you balance the importance of getting your stories in front of exponentially more people with keeping surprises under wraps?

AS: We're very mindful to push the most accessible stories to the mainstream, which isn't a criticism of the books that don't get that push, as much as it's an acceptance of the reality that some things are a bit more accessible for the mainstream. Something like Fear Itself was an easy pitch to the mainstream and it's why we've done unprecedented mainstream coverage for this event. But with the Captain America movie coming out and Steve Rogers in the costume, there could be some confusion for new readers might not understand who Bucky is, why he's in the costume, etc. The easier mainstream sell might be the new Captain America #1.
Well, I guess we should've seen that coming, but I figure they didn't promote that death because they didn't consider Bucky truly important, did they? Then why did they even bother to bring him back in the first place 5 years ago? Doesn't Bucky's death in this latest crossover - and the way they speak about it - suggest they did it in part because they don't care about the character?
CA: Some have asked why a comic like Ultimate Spider-Man would be polybagged despite such a broad reveal of the plot points in the mainstream media. Does this reflect a contrast in how you see the core audience and the broader audience of potential new readers?

AS: I think it's more a recognition of the fact that not all comic fans read these spoilers or visit Marvel.com every day. Many of them don't follow solicits religiously every month and choose instead to get the updates on their characters by simply checking out their favorite books each month. I've been at numerous comic convention panels where fans ask about X, Y and Z, only for me to respond that we announced X online a few months ago, just solicited Y and published Z the week previous. A large segment of our fan base doesn't read the Internet like you and I and aren't going to know what's going on in advance, so we want to preserve the mystery for them.
A large segment of their fan base practically lost interest and doesn't even bother visiting their site anymore. So long as they continue with these kind of stunts, fewer and fewer will care, as the Daily Athenaeum article I found can indicate.

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  • I'm Avi Green
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