The Goosing Of Marvel NOW With Variants And Discount

Bleeding Cool has been getting repeated retailer reports that indicate that the Marvel NOW! relaunch is a little bit of a damp squib. Admittedly, there’s not much out there yet, just single issues of A+X, Marvel Now Point One, Red She-Hulk and an Uncanny Avengers, and stack of books bunching into the next couple of weeks.

Nevertheless, a private poll of around eighty retailers found that none have encountered an amazing response to the Marvel NOW books, a good chunk have seen existing customers interested in the books, but most have either encountered less than expected sales – or terrible sales on the books.

Not that they are losing money of course, the variant cover incentives coupled with the increased discount levels have meant that while shops may have ordered hundreds and hundreds of copies of Uncanny Avengers #1, they have only had to sell some of the variants and maybe a handful of copies, to break even. It sold over 350,000 copies to retailers, but it’s uncertain how large a percentage remains on the shelves, or in the back room. But you can expect Uncanny Avengers #1 to be filling the 25 cent boxes by… well, what time is it right now?

Marvel chose to roll their relaunch out over several months, rather that DC’s one month initiative. DC also had a more successful marketing campaign and got new and lapsed customers back into comic stores in their droves. DC relied on making comics returnable, even though, for the first few months, very few were returned. It gave the retailer confidence to try and find a ceiling for sales… one that they constantly underestimated. For Marvel, retailers were given an incentive to order staggering amounts of comics, but the marketing campaign didn’t convince enough people to walk into their store and pick up a couple of comics. And the variant programme they used to power that incentive could do more hamr than good – something I’ve talked about at length before.

Comic Book Resources interviewedMarvel’s Sales and Marketing guy David Gabriel on Friday. On Uncanny Avengers #1 sales, he stated

We definitely had an idea on where we wanted this title to end up. That number comes from a mix of seeing what we did with “Avengers VS. X-Men,” the creative talent on the book and its mission statement. We couldn’t be happier with where it landed at.

Yes you could. Marvel wanted it, expected it, promoted it to beat Walking Dead #100, which topped 380,000. That also had a multiple cover programme, but nothing as tied to order numbers as Marvel’s equivalent. And just for one issue…

Now, we also know there were variants on that book, of course, and the variants did very well for us across the board. All of them did. But the good thing on this was that the regular cover numbers even exceeded what we wanted.

Except, and here’s the thing, those variants were often only orderable if retailers artificially increased the numbers of standard covers. The regular cover numbers did well because they were tied to the variant cover numbers. 1:100, 1:200, it’s not an independent thing.

 I do hear from retailers about what they like and what they don’t like, and everybody in the industry hears that. But the best barometer for that is not so much what they’re saying but what they order the next time we do things of this nature. For example, going from what we did with “Uncanny Avengers” with a couple of different variants to what we do with “All-New X-Men,” if we see a noticeable drop in those variant programs we know they’re not working. But if we see them stay at the same level or actually increase, then I know they’re selling them on their end.

We know the market can’t sustain such variant cover programmes for any length of time, but rather than dealing with that now, Marvel will wait for the market to actually collapse and retailers to be stuck with huge amounts of unsellable stock that they’ll go bust, before actually doing anything about it. Just like last time.

Are we being accused of having too many variants right now? Yes. But every company does every couple of months. It just goes in cycles.

No it does not. No one has accused any company of having too many variants like Marvel are being accused right now. Some companies, it is embedded in their system, but their comics generally don’t affect the market as much as an Uncanny Avengers, and All New X-Men, and for issues 1,2,3,4,5… that’s the difference here.

What happens is you do a lot, and they work. Then you do a lot the second month, and they work maybe a little less as a whole. Maybe individual ones will do very well, then you see them taper off. We got to a point probably in the middle of “AvX” and maybe a little bit before where we did taper off on doing a lot of variant programs, and then we ramped up through Marvel NOW! because it makes the most sense to be doing them.

Ramping up… while the market has been seen to be tapering off… isn’t this basically daring a crash to happen? George Bush’s “Bring it on?”

What people tend to forget is that we made a conscious effort a year ago to cut our titles back from anywhere from 15 to 25%. We cut ten to 20 books a month out of our schedule, and it wasn’t just in comics but in the trades as well. So as we were doing those cuts, title count went down month after month yet overall sales were going up. That makes for a stronger industry and a stronger us overall. I think people tend to overlook that when we’re looking at the past year.

Because it’s not actually true. I’ve been checking and that amount of books have not left the schedule, other books and double shipping, have found their way to squeeze back in and push the numbers up again. But that’s beside the point, I just kept going… where was I? Oh yes.

Here’s how Marvel are ensuring that retailers keep up orders on Marvel NOW!

A+X #2: Exceed 85%, 90% or 110% of total orders of AvX VS #2 and get extra discount

ALL-NEW X-MEN #2: Exceed 120%, 150%, or 175% of total orders of Avengers Vs. X-Men #10 and get extra discount

FF #1: Exceed 110, 125% or 150% of total orders of AvX VS #4 and get extra discount

THOR: GOD OF THUNDER #2: Exceed 115% or 125% of total orders of AvX VS #3 and get extra discount

UNCANNY AVENGERS #2: Exceed 125%, 150% or 175% of total orders of Avengers Vs. X-Men #5 and get extra discount.

X-MEN LEGACY #2: Exceed 105%, 115% or 125%  of your orders of  AvX VS #5 and get extra discount

There is still time for Marvel to turn this around. The spreading out of the Marvel NOW! relaunch gives Marvel that opportunity to react, change and plan based on all the other books coming out. And that may then help the previous books already published. Certainly the books I’ve read so far are fine, if not revolutionary.

But if Marvel want to make some money, they probably need to spend some money too. On promoting the books somewhere other than where current comic readers are looking.

Say, maybe they could start a voodoo ritual? It has as much chance as going on Jimmy Kimmel.