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Marvel Stops Distributing Comics to Bookstores – Comic Shops Appear Unaffected

31 December 2013

From The Digital Reader:

With first newsstands and then supermarkets dropping comic books, it’s gotten harder and harder to find comic books in stores. And now that Marvel has pulled their titles from Barnes & Noble the task is going to get a little more difficult.

Bleeding Cool reported late last week (and B&N confirmed today) that Marvel will no longer be distributing the weekly comic books to B&N stores. B&N hasn’t given a reason for the change, but they did note that they will still be carrying the longer and more expensive graphic novels:

This is a Marvel decision to pull single issue comics from retailers. Not a B&N decision. This doesn’t apply to graphic novels.

. . . .

Now that Marvel has pulled out of bookstores they’re going to have to depend more heavily on digital sales and on sales via  comics shops, but I don’t think they’re going to feel much of a pinch.  In my area there were only a couple B&N stores within driving distance, but according to comiXology’s shop locator there were 50 comic book stores within 50 miles.

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

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12 Comments to “Marvel Stops Distributing Comics to Bookstores – Comic Shops Appear Unaffected”

  1. This is unsurprising. Most people get their comics elsewhere.

    On the other hand, there are now no backlist books for midlist authors at B&N. The last time I was there I found only Patricia McKillip’s most recent novel–and only one copy.

    This does not bode well for the future of B&N as a bookseller.

  2. It’s not surprising, but it’s not good for comics. Long-time people in comics industry have said in the past that one of the reasons comics experienced the boom it had in the 70s was that you could be hanging out in the supermarket and there would be a rack of selected comic titles that a kid could page though and pick up at the waiting line. That produced casual sales, and casual sales could convert into long-term customers.

    Casual buyers generally don’t go to the comic shop, and I don’t think they use online services like comiXology (though I could be wrong about that–but I find comiXology useful because I can get the titles I already know I want).

    It may be that Marvel figures their movies, cartoons and shows are better draws for the casual customer, and they may be right, but it’s a rather more indirect introduction to the medium.

  3. I collected comics for many years and I’m endlessly frustrated with the failure to translate the medium to modern technology. The most innovative thing I’ve seen is the use of motion comics for Astonishing X-Men – although the distribution avenues are very tight.

    My perception is that Marvel can’t be bothered with comics because their latest movie made a billion dollars. They seem to be forgetting that it took decades to instill their strongest characters into the national consciousness. And what new characters are they building and who are they reaching? Video games have filled that hole, it seems.

    • The companies have wanted to get out of the print business for some time, unfortunately the fans wouldn’t let them.

      The comic industry’s “problem”, if they actually have one, is that most comic book fans are 30 year old paper fetishists. They are part of the “but you can’t SMELL the ink on the digital comic book” crowd. Luckily, there aren’t many of these folks still around. Print runs are very small and there isn’t a comic book published today that wouldn’t have been canceled due to low numbers in previous decades. (that may not be true of the dark days of the late 90’s when Marvel went bankrupt)

      Also, the mixed media was far more instrumental in bringing the characters to the public consciousness. Remember the old Superman serials? The Spiderman, Hulk and Wonder Woman TV shows? The Spiderman, X-men, and Justice League cartoons? I am always a little shocked when a geek talks about their introduction to comics and brings up on the shows, because for me it was a spinner rack at the local 7-11. For them, it was a TV show or movie.

      SideNote: When DWS talks about the Magic Bakery I always think of Robert Kirkman (who has been very public about the money side of the comic book industry). Floppies, Trades, TV Show, Video Games, web comics, merchandise, all reselling the same stories and characters. Floppies are to make sure your artist can eat and to gauge interest. Trades are to pay the bills (where bulk of the income is at) and get the work into multiple venues (Bookstores, Supermarkets, ebooks, etc). The rest are gravy that you hope you have the opportunity to earn. To think of the comic book industry is only about comic books is to leave most of the money on the table.

      (Wow. OK, that was an epic post. Didn’t mean to go on that long.)

  4. The official story from Marvel is that newsstand and bookstore sales were too low to justify the effort.
    Comparing the contemporary comics business to the 70s is somewhat unfair since most Marvel titles list at $3.99 instead of $0.20-0.25 and the target audience isn’t 9 year old boys. Comics reading is a hobby unto itself and an expensive one only made tolerable by the discounts regular buyers get at comic shops. Buying at newstand prices is not wise.

    Instead of status quo maintaining standalone stories and 2-3 parters, the typical title runs 6-12 part arcs intended as chapters in a graphic novel. A casual buyer picking up a random floppy is likely to find himself in the middle of a years-long saga featuring characters that bear little resemblance to the classic or mass media incarnations.

    For example, the mainstream Spider-Man for the past two years is Doctor Octopus masquerading as Peter Parker, who is dead and gone. In the alternate, no holds barred Ultimate marvel universe, Peter died even earlier, at age 16, and serves as inspiration to 14 year old Miles Morales, the new Spider-man. The X-Men? Don’t ask. 🙂

    Over at DC, after the recent near total reboot, most of the heroes are younger, edgier and more aggressive. Superman is single and dating WW while Lois Lane is shacked up with a globe-trotting foreign correspondent.

    The stories are entertaining but definitely not for kids or casual readers. They really should have pulled out of the newstands and bookstores years ago.

    • I quit collecting comics in the 90s because they were getting boring and stupid. Looks like I made the right decision.

      I’m thrilled that we get so many comic book movies. Continuity? There is none in comics, as the characters have changed over the years, so as long as the movie makes sense, I’m happy. Absolutely LOVED X-Men First Class, and can’t wait for Days of Future Past.

      I read a graphic novel now and then when I visit a friend who still picks them up, but I’ve mostly moved on. Except I have about 5,000 comics in my house. Every so often, out comes the Byrne/Claremont X-Men.

      • Heh.
        I’ve been working my way through the UNCANNY issues in preparation for the movie. Amusingly, the dystopic future they were trying to avert in DAYS OF FUTURE PAST was the year 2013.
        The movie continuity isn’t much better than the comics, though.
        In the first Wolverine movie they had Emma Frost as contemporary with Cyclops but in FIRST CLASS they have her as part of the Xavier Cohort along with Cyclops’ younger brother.

        With comics it is best not to dwell overmuch on consistency. 🙂

        And yes, its a good thing we’re getting good superhero movies. Even better, we’re getting great Superhero TV series like Grimm and Arrow.
        Too bad SHIELD is mostly a dud, so far.

  5. I don’t know much about it in detail, but I think there are a lot of self-published comics out there, these days. I suspect that’s why Marvel is focusing on blockbuster movies – that’s a niche that requires a lot of capital and one where the distribution channels are tightly controlled and expensive (i.e. movie houses). That gives big business an edge over the smaller producer.

    But it is hard to say whether the interest in the existing stable of comic book characters can be sustained for the long run as the comic character universe becomes fragmented. It is a bit like the Star Trek universe that way. Can the ongoing cultural phenomenon continue on the basis of a big movie every few years without being refreshed by new series TV?

  6. The nearest comic book shop to me is 80 miles away. The nearest bookstore is 1.5 miles, but apparently now will only stock DC, Archie, Bongo, and the occasional Dark Horse in the periodical format. The Marvel addicted will take the 160 mile long trip, the occasional reader will go with what’s available.

  7. I read comics voraciously as a kid, back in the Fifties and Sixties. The price was 10 cents, then rose to 12 cents, and then to 15 cents.

    I was at a B&N recently and browsed the comics rack. Holy Moly! The price was, IIRC, $3.99. And I didn’t care for the modern graphics and jumpy frames/plots/storylines. Written for a different generation, obviously.

    Given the cost to print and distribute paper comics, and their very short shelf life, moving to digital pay-per-view and downloads makes a lot of economic sense today. The young are obsessed with constantly looking at their tablets and smart phones, and reading stuff electronically. Paper is passe for them. And they can get e-comics far more quickly and easily than p-comics.

    (I get run into at least several times a week by these twerps looking and texting on their phones while they’re walking and lacking any situational awareness whatsoever. Annoys the Hell outta me. Grrr… At least they’re not driving, but I’m afraid it’s only a matter of time before I get nailed when I’m in the car.)

  8. Digital comics are largely replacing printed comics…new readers are going to (have to) stumble upon comics online.

    There’s really potential for this to be a good move…but somehow I am convinced that it is going to be the smaller publishers who pull this off while DC and Marvel flail around trying to figure it all out.

    It all seems a shame because man, I LOVE comic books…but the two major publishers seem to have totally lost their way.

    Marvel and DC seems to be almost embarrassed to actually produce comics anymore — creating movies and TV series and selling T-shirts and action figures seems to be the business they really want to be in. The comics are just a cost of doing business to develop properties that can be translated into movies and TV. Their major tactic these days seems to be to reboot their universes and renumber everything to get a quick influx of sales that never lasts beyond a couple of months.

    The disappearance of spinner racks in every supermarket and corner store has meant that whole generations of readers have missed out on discovering comics. The downside for publishers was that newsstand comics were returnable…the direct market (comic shops) is not returnable, so it is guaranteed, bankable money…but the problem is that the direct market survives only on existing readers without actually creating new readers, so sales go down, down, down.

    No one goes into a comic shop unless they are already a comic book fan…and they are not going to become a comic book fan unless they actually stumble across a comic, pick it up and start reading…which they now can’t find unless they go into a comic books store. Nice catch-22 to destroy their core business they invented there.

    Collected graphic novels have cannibalized a lot of the single issue sales, too.

    When I was buying 50+ comics a month in the early 80s, comics were 50-65 cents an issue (and at every corner store around, so easy discoverability for kids).

    At $2-5 for a single issue that you can read in 20 minutes, it’s no wonder that most comics barely sell 20-30,000 issues (compared to the early 80s, where a title that wasn’t selling 125,000+ issues a month would be on the verge of cancelation — now, selling 125,000 copies in a month would get you to #1).

    When I started reading comics in the early 1980s, the average comic reader was estimated to be about 15 years old (my age at the time). In the 1990s, the average reader was 25, in the the mid 2000s the average comic reader was 35…now, it is estimated that the average comic book reader is in their 40s.

    (The manga audience, on the other hand, is huge and young. That’s where young readers have gone…and I think a big part of it is that the books are easily accessible and cheap, a great value — hundreds of pages of story for $5-10. The kids don’t seem to mind that they are in black and white on newsprint, either.)

    The major comics publishers have turned their backs on younger readers and just decided to gouge the few remaining older readers for every penny they can get.

    They may save themselves with digital, but I really think indies are going to lead the way — I look at what Brian Vaughn is doing with The Private Eye (PanelSyndicate.com), how the Foglios are doing the Girl Genius comics (giving away daily strips and selling collected PDFs and in print), how Thrillbent (Mark Waid’s company) and Image are experimenting with selling (and even donationware) direct downloads, at very reasonable prices and with no DRM…comics has a lot of potential. And of course, Comixology and Dark Horse’s digital efforts.

    • Comics have for decades (certainly since the 60’s) been primarily about license revenue.
      The economics of floppies depended on excess newsprint capacity and when that went away monthly runs began a steady downward spiral that has trimmed the definition of a “successful” title by a factor of 20.
      Licensing, graphic novels, and digital provide the margin to keep titles afloat with floppy runs in the (very) low 5 digits and high 4-digits. In some ways, floppy buyers are like focus groups for Marvel and DC.
      Indies comics can survive on low 4-digit runs for the same reason author/publishers can prosper on sales volumes trad-pub sneers at: minimal overhead.

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