Comic Book Retailers Sound Off On DC & Marvel As Sales Drop

Matt McGloin Posted: 01/18/2016 - 23:48 COMMENT


The sky is falling?!

Well, obviously it's not, but if you have been a long time comic book reader, or even a reader of the past ten years or so, you have to admit comics in general from the Big Two were better a decade ago. 

Regarding DC, all I can say (at least from my point of view), is that they have editorial issues, which may possibly stem from the move to the West Coast.

Regarding Marvel, the current regime in charge seems to care less what the fans think or want, and instead simply wants to shove their initiatives down the fans' throats -- "take it or leave it."

And both the Big Two do share a common problem, which is: either some sort of interference by their big brother studio or trying too damn hard to emulate what the movies do in a failed attempt to think the movie audience crosses over with the comic audience (it doesn't and never has, at least not to a significant extent).

That said, I can probably rant on all night about the topic, but recently two retailers have sounded off.

The first article I'll point you at is from Brian Hibbs, a local comic shop owner who has a regular column at CBR with "Tilting at Windmills." Hibbs' latest article is titled "Trouble On The Horizon" in which he writes about seeing the "weakest first quarters of product that I've seen in 26 years of selling comics." Some excerpts:

[DC and Marvel] have both made simultaneous tactical errors that seem probable to break years of buying habits from their largest and most core readership. 

...many customers were getting tired of the "New 52" (DC's line-wide reboot from 2011) -- despite massive initial success with the New 52, large swathes of the audience were already starting to walk away, and "Convergence," the publishing stunt designed to fill that two-month hole, proved to be a great "jumping off" point.

DC You" isn't connecting with this new readership... only two of the 21 titles have sales over 30,000 copies (very roughly the sales level where companies with big overhead start cancelling books for lack of sales), and a staggering ten titles are selling under twenty thousand copies...

...changes to the core titles ("Batman," "Superman," etc.) appear to show the stalwart characters bleeding readers

I personally have a very hard time watching this happen because for 25 years DC was my #1 publisher -- and in a fashion in which it really wasn't even close. DC dominated my sales. And they've slipped down to #3 in 2015, which is just heart-rending.

...things don't look much more promising over at Marvel...

[All-New All-Different Marvel] sell-through is generally pretty bad, with many of the books essentially just picking up at or below where they left off...

"All-New All-Different" is stumbling out of the gate, and what should have been a grand repositioning that would draw flocks of new and excited readers to a revitalized Marvel line, like "New 52" did for DC, ANAD has arrived with just a quiet sigh of indifference from the majority of the readership.

In fact, my sales were down 4% in the month of November, the first drop we've seen after seven straight quarters of growth -- and these are 4% sales down on orders that were approximately 20% higher than the year before. That's bad and dangerous to ongoing operations.

...that new/younger readership? They literally don't understand why you would start a book over again at #1. It makes no sense to them! And that confusion appears to have shooed a number of them off. 

...the "word on the street" from a wide swath of stores is that a vast indifference has begun to creep in among the readers of superhero comics, and that this miasma is softening the 4th quarter enough to potentially threaten these stores.

January 2016 looked pretty mediocre (my orders were a full 25% below December 2015, yow!), but February looks downright awful, with virtually nothing new, exciting, or commercial debuting at all.

I see a market that is moving away from line-driven buying, that is growing tired of the constant cycle of relaunch and reboot, that has far more options for their time and mindshare than ever before, and that can meet their craving for superhero material increasingly in other media. And that has, most dangerously, had their long-standing habits interrupted by their very pushers. 

Next we have some tweets from a comic retailer out of Ireland, who went on a rant about the industry (more on Twitter). Check out what Big Bang Comics had to say:

"Dark Phoenix," also offered the following in a comment on Hibbs' article, which is similar to more than a few fans' sentiments I've seen online:

As a long time reader, I find many things about the current state of the comic market unsatisfying. So much so that it has in fact let me to almost give up collecting all together. I spend my money these days on collections of runs I have enjoyed in the past rather than the new output. I think a lot of readers are becoming unhappy with the current output from both of the big 2 but the sad thing is they won't listen to their "readers" and instead just keep pulling the same tricks out of their tired bags until things get so bad we are again in a post 90's collapse of the market. I was never a big DC reader but would occasionally pick up a couple of titles I liked. Now, nothing at all. And I went from being a Marvel Zombie to just really caring about a couple of books, mostly X books that the company has shown they would rather de-emphasize due to not having the movie rights that THEY sold to keep the company afloat. Here is a short list of my biggest issues:

1. Stop Re-launching Titles every 6 issues: #1's were a good way to make a quick buck but the attrition between the first and second issue seems to be getting worse the more often they try this. Maybe because I'm an older reader but its difficult to care about something that will be starting over in under a year than immersing myself in a long term story that follows at least some degree of continuity with some singular creative vision. Maybe we will never have another Claremont X-Men, a Miller Daredevil or a Byrne FF but at least you can have a Hickman who can tell a long running tale over a few years.

2. Event Fatigue: Yes, at the moment we may be buying your latest banner slapped story of the season but honestly, why not have your creators focus on telling good stories within the pages of the regular books they write. I'm not saying don't ever do cross overs but make them special again. Give some time (years not weeks) before you move from one to another. Focus on making your core product as good as it can be. Events should be a plus to the base, not a Band-Aid for it.

3. Stop Milking Good Concepts Dry: We don't need 20 Bat Books, 17 X Books, 12 Avengers books and 6 Inhumans books. Keep a family down to 3-4 titles at most and make them good. Stop diluting these brands by saturating the market with sub standard product. If you have a creator that has a story to tell outside of the core books, do a mini series instead of an ongoing that will only run 6 issues anyway.

4. The Creators Need to Stop Showing Utter Contempt for their Customers: Someone needs to shut people like Tom Breevort up. His disdain for comics readers is shocking. The fact that Marvel lets a high level executive of their company interact with fans the way he does is almost incomprehensible. Stop talking to fans like they are stupid. Stop baiting them and stop lying to them. If you can't admit that you F-ed up the release of something like Secret Wars, don't spin it with nonsense. We know you messed up and you didn't give the creative team enough lead time and you just assumed they would work faster because it was an event. Didn't happen. Fess up to it and own the fact that you relaunched your line before the series that was the basis of the relaunch was even done. People will give you far more credit for telling the truth than trying to spin it with nonsense.

All of this is simply one person's opinion, mine, but clearly we are heading for bad times unless the big 2 don't fix their problems sooner than later. Speculators and variant covers nearly killed the industry once before. Seeing it happening again is frightening.