The Weekend Of 39 Titles, Reports, Photos, And Chats With Eric Stephenson And Nick Barrucci

Posted by June 26, 2009 One Comment

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So, what reports have there been from comic shops in the field this week, dealing with the largest shipping week for over a decade, mostly down to Marvel shipping double their usual titles, and including many of their best selling X-Men and Dark Reign titles as they try and get a whack load of books out of the door in this financial quarter.

This diagram, from a comics store with a fairly diverse selection of regular comic titles, demonstrates the problem. The red indicates Marvels’ books that shipped this week, Blue is DC and the rest are a mix of Image, Dark Horse, Bluewater, Dynamite, Devil’s Due and more. Towards the bottom, they literally seem to be being pushed off the shelf…

Some retailers report a number of customers putting regular books back on the shelf, but even those who talk to me about stellar salestalk about the cost of this week outstriping the increase in sales.

Some hope that next week, with Marvel publishing a more reasonable 20 issues (plus trades, second prints and variants) will see customers pick up titles they missed last week.

imagesI asked Eric Stephenson, publisher of one of Marvel’s main competitors, Image Comics about current trends that have seen Marvel increase the number of comics they are offering.

BC: This week, Marvel are shipping 39 $2.99/$3.99 titles, plus a bunch of variants and trades. This is considerably more than usual, and it seems part of an increase in the number of titles being offered for sale by the company. How does an increased Marvel offering affect the books that Image and other publishers sell?

Eric Stephenson: On one hand, there are a lot of titles vying for attention, but on the other, I’m not sure how many readers are actually going to be buying all 39 of those Marvel books. Anyone who is that committed to owning the whole line probably isn’t terribly interested in much else, so it’s a different audience altogether. And once you get past the completists, it’s just as likely that some of their readership is going to be cherry-picking within the line.
The thing is, the last week of the month is traditionally a really heavy week. Everyone wants to make sure whatever was scheduled to ship that month squeaks out, so there’s always a lot of product crammed into the last week. And  here that is, taken to the extreme.
Honestly, though, I don’t know that there’s that great of an overlap between what Marvel publishes and something like VIKING #2, WHICH IS out this week. IT’S not very likely the person buying 39 Marvel titles is going to be the same person interested in VIKING. Or CHEW. Or even a book like THE WALKING DEAD. I think anyone so into the Marvel titles that they’d be willing to buy upwards of 39 of them in a single week is probably a pretty dyed-in-the-wool Marvel fan. I mean, look at the list! There are something like half a dozen Wolverine comics this week. Anyone that interested in Wolverine has probably made up his mind pretty conclusively about what kind of comics he’s buying.
BC: It’s been pointed out that in May, year on year sales fell by a chunk. But Marvel’s fell by even more of a chunk. Isn’t this a fiscally responsible move on Marvel’s part?
Eric Stephenson: I think it’s a little unrealistic to expect your die hard readership to drop well over $100 on your titles in a single week, especially now, so no, I don’t think it is. Putting out so many titles in one week kind of presses the point, you know? Die hard fans are forced to make choices about what they want and what they can live without, and retailers are left in the position of having to guess who wants what.
So, I’m not sure how prudent or responsible it is to saturate the market so heavily in the current economic climate, given that people are already picking and choosing what they’re going to buy. It becomes a bit of gambit on their part, because like I said, there’s going to be a certain amount of cannibalization amongst their own titles. With so many of these event-driven series and spin-off books, it seems like there’s a real possibility that readers will actually start to back away, because there are plenty of series, regardless of publisher, that aren’t part of some over-arching story line, that feature different characters. There are plenty of books people can enjoy on their own, without being compelled to buy a dozen other books or whatever. Marvel reinvented itself back in 2000 by doing the exact opposite of what they’re doing right now. They trimmed their line and focused on making good comics and it really paid off for them. This current expansion… It may raise their bottom line in the short term, but ultimately, I don’t think it’s sustainable.
Marvel is a publicly traded company, though, so from that perspective, what you’re saying about that dip from May 08 to May 09 is likely a very real concern for them. They have to show growth every year. That’s just how the business works. So, you go back to huge successes like Civil War, a huge hit that set the bar incredibly high, so there’s a scramble for them to top that, to continue to build on that, no matter what. Everything from higher cover prices to more titles to these never-ending events, it all stems from that need for constant growth and again, it’s just not sustainable.
What’s that old quote? “Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it?” I think that’s pretty apt here.
BC: You were part of the last boom and bust, working alongside Rob Liefeld at Image. What lessons did you learn from this time? And what lessons do you think the industry hasn’t learnt?
Eric Stephenson: Well, I learned a lot of things, but I think the answer to both your questions is, “Don’t be greedy.” The market as a whole expanded way too quickly and way too recklessly in the ’90s and we definitely contributed to that at Extreme. Everyone – Marvel, DC, Image, Dark Horse – we were all putting out too many books back then and looking back, it’s pretty clear that quality suffered. Lots of events, lots of spin-offs, lots of gimmicks. And many, many people bought into all of it. Everyone was complicit in the ’90s boom, from the publishers to the retailers to the consumers, and like I said, that may be okay in the short term, but it’s simply not sustainable. If you treat your readership like marks, they eventually grow to resent it. There’s a really fine line between indulging genuine interest and milking something until it’s worthless, and inevitably, almost without fail, that line gets crossed. People get greedy and what started as a boom implodes into a bust. There’s always a point where people start to feel as though they’re being taken advantage of on some level.
And sadly, it happens time and time again.
BC: What are the books, Image’s and others, that you feel are being missed out on as a result of Marvel’s behaviour?
Eric Stephenson: We have eight titles out this week: DYNAMO 5 #22, FUSION #2, LILLIM #4, PROOF #21, PvP #42, THE PERHAPANAUTS #6, VIKING #2 and an anthology of western stories called OUTLAW TERRITORY, but like I was saying earlier, I don’t know how many hardcore Marvel Zombies would be buying these books anyway. If all you want is Avengers and Wolverine, you’re probably going to be pretty satisfied with the dozen Avengers and Wolverine books coming out this week. I think the readers already following things like DYNAMO 5 or VIKING will continue to follow them. Someone who’s casually picking up titles from several different publishers…I just think their interests are a little different from a hardcore fan who absolutely has to have every single book Marvel is putting out this week.
header_logo8Don’t look at me, I just bought Avengers, Utopia and Iron Fist. I also had words with Dynamite’s Nick Barrucci.
BC: Nick, how did the increase in Marvel titles this week affect Dynamite?
Nick Barrucci: It really didn’t, as we only had two releases, Zorro #14 and Red Sonja #45, and Marvel had fantastic books this week.  Dark Avengers with Subbie, New Avengers with Brother Voodoo, Daredevil #119 by Ed and Lark, Joe Kelly on Spidey, and soooooooo much more (and hey, my name was in a comic, let’s see if you can figure out which one).  I think this week had great books that may have helped retailers.
BC: Is this a one off do you feel, or indicative of something more right now?
Nick Barrucci: Well, every successful company wants to have market share, whether it’s Marvel, DC or anyone.  So, if it works, they’ll do more.  If it doesn’t, they will do less.  Personally, that’s what I think.

BC: You work with Marvel on a number of projects, do you have any influence over this kind of thing?

Nick Barrucci: Not really.  Our job ends when we hand in the last page and proof the book.  They handle the printing, shipping, much of it is out of our hands at that point.
BC: Have you ever found yourself flooding the market for Dynamite or Dynamic Forces product? How do you try and maintain a balance?
Nick Barrucci: I’ll answer it like this.  We’re big enough to matter, small enough to care.  We have it under enough control, that we might put out less books for focus, but never more in one week.  But we’re privately held, we’re not big like Marvel.  They have different factors hitting.  And most publishers, I would think, would like to have those problems.
BC: Where so you see this all headed?
Nick Barrucci: Rich – if I had a crystal ball, I would want to know what’s going to happen in the ‘Torch series, the next issue of Dark Avengers, where Andy Diggle is going on next, what Blackest Night has in store, and much different answers than what you’re asking me for :-)
Maybe we should watch for the end of September for the next end of financial quarter and see what happens then?
Next week.. ooh, Chew #2 is shipping…
(Last Updated June 26, 2009 5:23 pm )

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