Home » Graphic Novels/Comics » Marvel VP of Sales Blames Women and Diversity for Sales Slump

Marvel VP of Sales Blames Women and Diversity for Sales Slump

1 April 2017

From i09:

Marvel Comics aren’t doing well. Sales have declined, even as Marvel has pushed out every major event and crossover it can over the past two years. In a recent interview during the Marvel Retailer Summit, Marvel VP of Sales David Gabriel decided to ignore all the problems and criticism in order to place the blame on diversity.

What we heard was that people didn’t want any more diversity. They didn’t want female characters out there. That’s what we heard, whether we believe that or not. I don’t know that that’s really true, but that’s what we saw in sales. We saw the sales of any character that was diverse, any character that was new, our female characters, anything that was not a core Marvel character, people were turning their nose up against. That was difficult for us because we had a lot of fresh, new, exciting ideas that we were trying to get out and nothing new really worked.

Gabriel later reached out to ICv2 and “clarified” his statement, adding that many of the individual characters like Miles Morales, Ms. Marvel, Spider-Gwen, and Moon Girl are popular, and won’t be going away anytime soon. It’s also important to note that this was in response to retailer concerns presented at the first day of the summit, so some other issues may not have have been discussed yet. And it looks like those sales slumps had been increasing for awhile, but were especially noticed as of fall 2016.

. . . .

During the discussion, retailers pointed out during the summit that the number of Marvel events, and the fact that they overlap, make it hard for fans to focus. Right now, for instance, there’s Secret Empire, which will bleed over with Generations, which starts this summer. In the past two years alone, there have been at least 12 events and crossovers. Events, in particular, have become more of a chore than a reward.

. . . .

Then you’ve got issue cost and audience retention. Nowadays, individual issues typically cost anywhere from $3.99 to $5.99 or more, making it harder for fans to want to buy— especially if you’re swapping out an established character for a version they aren’t familiar with. While chatting with retailers, Gabriel actually boasted that their sales almost tripled when they upped the Spider-Man book from $3.99 to $9.99, even though it didn’t bring in any new readers. It just made the current ones pay more money.

Finally, and this is a major one, there’s the problem of talent management. There’s been a steady decline in Marvel’s talent pool, because of better offers and independent retailers. One retailer mentioned at the summit that it’s especially hard to keep talented writers and artists when they can make creator-owned books at publishers like Image. Not only does it give them more flexibility to tell the stories they want, but they also keep way more of the revenue.

Link to the rest at i09

Graphic Novels/Comics

48 Comments to “Marvel VP of Sales Blames Women and Diversity for Sales Slump”

  1. Sales have declined, even as Marvel has pushed out every major event and crossover it can over the past two years.

    So, nothing really ‘new’? Sounds like people are getting bored with the same old same old.

    Monday the big publishers will be using ‘Women and Diversity’ for their sales slumps.

  2. When Captain America said, “Hail Hydra!” Marvel became dead to me. I will see the movie Guardians of the Galaxy 2 because I like the cast (Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper), but the Avengers, Iron Man, and the rest can go hang.

    • Could it be that people are not rebelling against women and diversity per se, but rather that they are tired of Political correctness infecting the stories that they enjoy.
      What I mean by this is that there is a clear difference between a character who just happens to be female Or black or any other diverse category, and the modern diverse character born out of the social justice traditions of today.

      • I stopped collecting comics because they became boring and expensive. I missed the PC wave. But yeah, having Cap be a Hydra agent is not the way to bring me back into the fold. Neither is changing superheroes’ gender just for the sake of changing them.

        You can’t bring in new, powerful, amazing female superheroes? They have to be the ones already established as male? That’s just dumb and unoriginal.

        • Felix J. Torres

          Exactly.
          It’s not the introduction of gender and culturally diverse characters that annoys readers but rather the heavy-handed and often silly way they go about it.

          Marvel isn’t alone in silly attempts at diversity (anybody who remembers DC’s EXTRAÑO knows better) but the sheer number of displacements at once just was mind boggling to customers whose primary driver is precisely the very continuity that is being ditched.

          DC ran into the same issue with their NEW52 only theur undoing wasn’t diversity or political pandering or whatever is driving off marvelites; it was the not-so-subtle in tone from an occasionally goofy but playful and idealistic universe to one of unrelenting gloom and doom that rendered the most iconic of characters unrecognizable. They took note of the declining sales and starting last year they took action. And that is also part of the reason why non-Star Wars Marvel sales are down. At today’s prices a lot of readers are triaging their pull lists and faced with a choice with a DC swinging back to its roots and actively resetting their titles back towards their most popular interpretations and a Marvel where Iron Man is in a coma, Thor depowered, Hulk dead, Cap brainwashed, etc…

          Well, familiarity is winning.

          The other thing DC is doing right is that, so far, their REBIRTH effort is not a traditional event. There is an underlying mystery running across ther superhero line but each character is being reset individually in its own titles in a fairly continuous narrative. And the changes from old status quo to New52 to the reset continuity is something the characters are aware of. They know somebody has been arbitrarily messing with their lives. And they are not pleased.

          Unlike DC, who have clearly admitted they screwed up, Marvel now seems to be blaming the readers. That is not going to win them favors with either camp.

  3. What I mean by this is that there is a clear difference between a character who just happens to be female Or black or any other diverse category, and the modern diverse character born out of *what the out of touch Marvel executives think* is the social justice traditions of today.

    There. Fixed it for you, Anon.

    Marvel tried to attract a younger generation of fans while retaining their older fan base. They mostly failed on both accounts.

    • Where they really screwed up was by hijacking existing, beloved characters instead of creating new “diverse” characters. Apparently they thought all the brand loyalty would transfer magically if they made Thor female or Ms. Marvel black or whatever. Marvel is just mad customers are not good little sheep. And if they really disliked women, why is Wonder Woman so popular? (and has been for ages)

      Then there is the additional idiocy of PC storylines, but that’s just icing on the cake.

      • Yes. Few people would have cared if they’d just added new characters. But fans left in droves when Marvel started turning existing characters into S***.

      • When I heard about the turn characters-into-opposites I took it as them admitting they don’t have imaginations, and don’t belong in the imagination business. Perhaps they could have held a contest to get a new stable of writers with fresh storylines rather than the nonsense they did instead.

        I’m not up on Norse myths — Greco-Persian, Egyptian, and Mesopotamian is more my thing — but how could a person who wanted a female action hero in the Thor universe be so devoid of imagination as to just turn Thor into Thora?

        Aren’t there Valkyries in the Norse myths? They’re psychopomps, beings who ferry the dead to the afterlife, no? Who can’t get a story out of that?

        /in Sofia Petrillo voice/ Picture it: Scandinavia 2017 AD – A Valkyrie refuses to take a warrior to Valhalla because she thinks the battle he died in was a gambit by Loki to do some cosmically nefarious mischief. She keeps the warrior-turned-love-interest by her side while she goes rogue to investigate.

        Her colleagues hunt them down because they think she’s lost her mind, and they have to save her from herself before the Valkyrie Internal Affairs unit — secretly controlled by Loki? — strips her of her Valkyrie badge. Just when she’s discovered the key to Loki’s sinister plans, her friends “help” her by kidnapping her love interest and putting him in Valhalla. /In Don Fontaine voice: Now to save the world she must pull an Orpheus & Eurydice to get him back.

        Thor could make a cameo appearance during the comics equivalent of sweeps week (if that’s a thing).

        Someone who’s actually read Norse myths/Thor comics could come up with a better storyline than my slapdash one 😛 But Thor into Thora? Take a sabbatical from writing. And if readers don’t like Thor becoming Thora? It’s because they know crap when they see it, not because they hate women.

        • Felix J. Torres

          Worse yet, they have Sif, who’s carried her own mini-series, and Valkyrie (scheduled for the next Thor movie). Valkyrie goes back to 70’s and is actually Brunhilde (of the Siegfried saga) reborn.
          They already had plenty of material to work with.

          • In that case, not only does it make it worse, but it lends support to the belief that a socio-political agenda was at the heart of their actions.

            From the outside I would have been content to assume situations like Thor/Thora arose from incompetence and creative exhaustion, but in this case I can believe Marvel really was letting their politics run the show.

            APSF: Always Put Story First

            • There is also the way they went about it: Thor didn’t just lose the hammer, he lost his name. Because he was whispered a secret that made him instantly unworthy. So Thor isn’t really his name but rather a role that can be filled by anybody the hammer chooses.

              Since then they’ve revealed the hammer is sentient and apparently female.

              By itself, not a horrible thing to do (they did turn him into a frog of thunder back in the 80’s) but in the context of the other moves…

  4. I’m not a comics person, but I did recently buy a copy of Monstress form Image. Maybe if Marvel could make ‘diverse’ content like *that*, they might get some interest?

    Marvel has done pretty good selling children’s comics to to a growing adult audience riding on nostalgia. But that won’t work when you try refreshing and changing the elements that people as naustalgic about!

  5. Last sentence of the excerpt is interesting – “but they also keep way more of the revenue.”

    • Funny isn’t it, that they think they should have a cut of the work of others …

      • Brian Keene has said the major companies in comics are even more messed up than Hollywood. He has some horror stories of his time worked for big labels.

  6. Not much of a comics fan myself but I always wondered how making iron man a black teenager made him diverse. He is who he is. Diversity would be better served by putting more focus on diverse characters not trashing existing ones and changing them.

  7. My hubby and I have debated this for ages, first with GirlThor (which was temporary) and then with Evil Alt-Universe Cap (which was temporary). It’s like they play these “diversity” swaps on established characters, then they switch back. Why can’t we just get new characters? My hubby collects the Critter comics because a high tech cat girl is just so fun.

    • Smacks of the “Oh, Bobby, I had the most terrible dream!” thing in “Dallas” a few decades back.

  8. Every institution taken over by S*** will eventually fail, because politics becomes Job #1, and doing the job the institution was created for becomes an afterthought. Customers soon realize this, and go elsewhere.

    We’re seeing this all over the West right now, Marvel is just one of the most obvious examples.

  9. There have long been popular female superheroes, and female counterparts to male superheroes. If any on the sales trump is due to backlash against diverse characters and not just tired storytelling, I suspect it’s because of popular characters being replaced rather than getting new foils to play off of.

    • It wasn’t about diversity. It was about the “equality of result.” The idea is that it isn’t enough for people to have opportunity and a level playing field. The game has to be changed to make sure that everyone who tries gets an equal result. (IE: it’s the opposite of a free market.)

      There have long been diverse comic book characters (like Wonder Woman, and Luke Cage) and there is no problem creating more and giving them their own comics. But then new characters would have to compete in the marketplace against the older established ones.

      So, get rid of the older ones and force readers to accept change. Many comic book writers have been complaining about this for years and it’s not surprising it caught up with Marvel’s sales. At it’s core, the push was clearly political and they got a backlash because of it.

      It’s a shame, because there are underserved audiences for diverse characters, but it would have been better to create and market them. But some characters would have failed before others succeeded and they had no patience to do that. They wanted the score board equaled out quickly, so it was quicker to remove non-diverse (white, straight, male) players from the field.

  10. I think they forgot just how long things haven’t been diverse, and what that means. If, for *decades*, you’ve learned that comic book stores, action films, and other media are not for you — at first because of the products themselves and then because of the fanboys — eventually you’re not gong to notice when the content changes, because you won’t be paying attention anymore.

    • That might make sense, except comic fans read comics from all over the world, with all kinds of characters, and have done for many years. Maybe not Marvel fans, but comic fandom is much larger than that.

    • Felix J. Torres

      Both companies forgot that, like it or not, it is continuity that brings back their core customers. The “what happens next” aspect. Sweeping away the very characters that brings in the customers and applying the tag to a different character doesn’t often work.

      Mind you, it *does* work…sometimes…
      In select cases, carefully managed, it has worked with second tier characters. But with “face of the company” franchise Icons? It has yet to work.

      DC successfully replaced Barry Allen with Wally West as THE FLASH for a whole generation with no outrage and just occasional wistful grumbles of nostalgia. And they have established not one but three separate alternate universe Supermen with nary a peep. But it was done with style and respect for their own continuity.

      The character interpretations change but in the end Superman is always a Kansan farmboy who puts family above all else, Batman is always an urban billionaire philanthropist, and Wonder Woman is always a greek amazon that worships the Olympian gods.

      A reader could go decades without reading one of those comics and pick up a current release and quickly catch up without much trouble. At most they might be surprised that Supes and Bats have kids and Steve Trevor is no longer a wimpy Air Force powerpoint ranger in the Pentagon but a kickass Navy SEAL. 🙂

      Marvel can’t say that right now and, in fact, it’s been years since an old school marvelite could pick up a Marvel title and make sense of it without a trip to the internet.

      They simply “improved” their titles until they broke them.

  11. Marvel’s sales are down because they went for cheap, unsustainable stunts — events that were blah, never shipped on time and — 3,000 variant covers of every issue, overpriced products, glutting the market with content that no one really wanted and eliminating the traditional characters in favor of the “new and improved (and more diverse)” characters.

    More diverse characters was a great idea, it brought more people into comics … eliminating existing iconic characters to make room for that was a supremely dumb idea that alienated the core readership and pitted the traditional readers against the fans of the new characters.

    I remember when Rogue, Storm, Forge, Cable, the New Mutants, Magick, Alpha Flight (as a stand alone), etc. were all introduced … they all found a loyal readership and built up a fanbase organically without having to eliminate the existing popular characters.

    (I also remember New Universe, which again was a “we’re going to cram this down your throat and you’re going to like it” and the fans revolted then as they are now.)

    Marvel’s insistence on every single character getting dragged into these overarching events is just bad because it prevents each book from having its own story to tell … you can have big crossovers and events within a book or just crossing over a couple of books, not dragging the whole line down with it.

    • Felix J. Torres

      Not much disagreement going around here.
      The odd thing is, Marvel was already plenty diverse in the traditional sense. Storm, Tchalla, Luke Cage, Monica Rambeau, all unique characters who happened to be black. Coleen Wing and Shang Chi were asian. They had russians, Canadians, and brits. Japanese and Chinese. And if their Puerto Rican hero was a short guy dressed like a chicken, well… nobody’s perfect.

      They tried and mostly got it okay.
      Which is a good portion of where the flack is coming from. A lot of fans seem to be saying “what, it wasn’t enough to have a solid line up of diverse heroes, you have to take the old ones away,too?”

  12. As a rare woman who collected comics, I stopped reading/collecting when they got boring. I never bought a comic specifically because it featured a woman or nonwhite; I chose comics based on whether they looked interesting. Greg Rucka’s lesbian Batwoman should have appealed to me, right? Nope; the only thing I recall about that marketing campaign was “lesbian Batwoman!” To me, a character’s color or sexual orientation was never a compelling reason to spend my money. For entertainment of all types, I only have one requirement: entertain me. Don’t preach at me, just entertain me.

    • Ditto! I’ve pared my subs down to Guardians of the Galaxy related titles and that’s pretty much it. Not event tie-ins. Everything else can sit and spin for all I care. I don’t have the money to chase their stupid events around, nor the brain power to keep up with which book leads to what other series, or to even keep up with what ONE character is doing. And it looks like soon, even my Guardians related books will be over.

      Hey, at least S. Stejic keeps churning out awesomness. I’ll just go stalk his releases at DC and Image forever and ever.

      • “nor the brain power to keep up with which book leads to what other series, or to even keep up with what ONE character is doing”

        I collected comics (mostly Spider-man) as a girl, and this is pretty much the reason I eventually stopped in my teens. As I recall, at that point there were FOUR ongoing Spider-man titles, and I just couldn’t follow the story anymore.

        I actually like “events” because they tend to more-or-less consist of a complete story (beginning-middle-end). The fact that comics, by the nature of the way they’re released, are ongoing like soap operas (and frequently feature other similarities) is very off-putting to me as a reader.

        As to all the other points people are making here, I’ll just say that I’m pretty much in agreement with the general consensus.

        • Felix J. Torres

          Try following 22 *monthly* XMEN titles.
          (That’s their peak. So far.)

          I gave up on XMEN with the start of AGE OF APOCALYPSE. They made the exit convenient by destroying the Marvel Universe in the run up.
          And I totally gave up on the two Marvel series I still read with the run up to Secret Wars. Again, they conveniently destroyed all the universes and killed everybody.

  13. Comic books are ridiculously thin now. Last ones I bought (Death of Wolverine *He’s really dead for reals this time!*) had roughly 8-10 pages of story in each.

    I don’t even want to talk about what I paid for a couple of them (ordered all 4 at once), but I was EXTREMELY disappointed that each had so few story pages.

    My disappointment was slightly offset by the profit I made selling them later. 🙂

  14. man, wimmins mess up everything and those color-Ed ones especially. If it wernt fer them, we’d have the treehouse all to us-selves. Like iz spozed to b.

  15. Marvel didn’t give us diversity – they gave us tokenism.

    If they are serious about diversity, they’ll invest in new characters and titles with diversity built in from the start – not flipping existing characters who have established histories and backstories.

    Also, mainstream comics remain casually sexist and sexualised. Marvel might want to re-consider that.

    2c.

    • Felix J. Torres

      The last point is clearly demonstrated in the issues being debated after the announcement of the upcoming live action NIGHTWING movie:

      https://m.youtube.com/#/watch?v=MdIf4XPo4AY

      When the casting of the proper butt takes precedence over reminding the producers that Dick Grayson is supposed to be romani-descended it is clear that a good portion of the character’s 30 years of commercial success is due to the sexualization of the one-time boy wonder.

      Yeah, the superhero comics world is weird.
      But fun.
      Sometimes.

  16. So, he blames “women and diversity” for the sales slump, eh? The more important question isn’t what’s to blame, but what’s he going to do about it?

    I can assure him with my cloudy crystal ball that if they make all the characters straight white suburban American males (even nightcrawler and storm), and take Professor X out of the wheelchair so he can’t be mistaken for “handicapped = diverse”… sales would still tank.

    Perhaps he needs to actually figure out who his market is, and what they want. And then give them good stories with the characters they love, and fresh, new characters with good stories that are interesting, exciting, pulse-pounding, and make you want to keep buying the next one and the next to see how the big arc all turn out, while feeling a sense of closure and completeness from each month’s little story.

    …it could work!

    • Only problem is most of the prominent XMEN are really, really (we mean it!) Dead. 😉

      Been dead for years.
      Xavier, Logan, Cyclops, all dead and buried.
      Iceman was spared but that’s because he’s gay. Only took him 50 years to realize it.

      And since Disney doesn’t control the movie or TV rights of the XMEN they have little interest in building them up. The focus is on the INHUMANS. (Coming to ABC this fall in all their freakish glory. Well, toned down for TV budgets, anyway.)

  17. Comic book sales have been on a steady decline since the 1970s because the publishers persist in making bad decision after bad decision. Too many events, direct distribution woes, short term money grabs (looking at YOU, Perelman), and general attrition among long-term fans without actually catering to new markets beyond reboots and ALL NEW NUMBA ONE issue gimmicks.

    Add on to that that the way sales are determined is not fan response but comic book store pre-orders made months before a book even comes out, and it’s not surprising that Marvel is yet again jumping to the wrong conclusion. Yeah, no kidding sales on new series are weak when all people have to go on three months in advance are the title and maybe the cover.

    You want to improve sales, give us more space between events, drop your prices to be more appealing to casual (i.e. new) readers, and put your books in places where these new potential readers congregate. Not just specialty stores that only cater to established markets.

    • It’s no accident that the last time comic sales were strong was back when comics had a broader appeal, when superhero books were just one segment of many along with true crime, horror, westerns, and – outselling most of them – romance comics. Yeah, romance. Young Romance ran 208 issues, and was started by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. Star Wars kept Marvel alive in the late 70s.

      So what happened? The same dumb marketing choices DC and Marvel keep making over and over again. And now we’re stuck with a dying niche market trapped in a death spiral catering to a small segment of the population, unable to figure out why their poorly recorded sales figures won’t improve, trying short-term solution after short-term solution.

      Comics are a hot mess, and they probably won’t rectify a damn thing.

  18. I’ll allow G. Willow Wilson to comment for me, she’s more eloquent:

    “1. This is a personal opinion, but IMO launching a legacy character by killing off or humiliating the original character sets the legacy character up for failure. Who wants a legacy if the legacy is s*****?

    2. Diversity as a form of performative guilt doesn’t work. Let’s scrap the word diversity entirely and replace it with authenticity and realism. This is not a new world. This is *the world.*

    3. Never try to be the next whoever. Be the first and only you. People smell BS a mile away.

    4. The direct market and the book market have diverged. Never the twain shall meet. We need to accept this and move on, and market accordingly.

    5. Not for nothing, but there is a direct correlation between the quote unquote “diverse” Big 2 properties that have done well (Luke Cage, Black Panther, Ms Marvel, Batgirl) and properties that have A STRONG SENSE OF PLACE. It’s not “diversity” that draws those elusive untapped audiences, it’s particularity. This is a vital distinction nobody seems to make. This goes back to authenticity and realism.”

    • Felix J. Torres

      I’ve loved her titles and its easy to see why she’s so good at it. She gets it: Authenticity and realism.

      ‘Nuff said.

  19. It’s all the fault of those damn uppity women and mouthy minorities…

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