Tuesday, March 13, 2007

What, again?

What kind of situation leads a comic-book retailer to say this to the press?
Don't bug me about this. I'm ready to kill in a heartbeat because of this stuff. Seriously. Just a comic.
When you buy comics, do you want to know what happens before you get a chance to read it? Some people say no to spoilers, some say yes. Both of the Big Two comics publishers have had major events spoiled when plot twists leaked, so their inclination is to keep the stories secret until the books actually arrive at the stores. Occasionally, they're actually able to do this. They're getting better at it.

On the other hand, the comics shop buyers have to decide how many of each issue to buy weeks in advance. They track sales (both in their specific stores and nationwide) very carefully, and decide on quantities anew for each issue of each title. In order to do that, they want to know as much as they can about upcoming issues: Who the creative team is, what characters are featured, broad-brush plot information, specific key events that might bring in significant numbers of new readers causing an uptick in sales.

So the decision is made two or three hundred times a month: How much information do you release, and to whom?

If Marvel had told retailers weeks ago (when orders had to be placed) that Captain America would die in this issue, someone, somewhere, might have leaked the information before the book shipped. They did everything short of that: They hinted that Cap might die at some point in the course of their current crossover event, Civil War. They urged retailers to increase their quantities on Captain America #25, without saying why. Yeah, right. If retailers bought big just because Marvel told them to buy big, they'd be stuck with 200,000 copies of Squirrel Girl Swimsuit Issue.

Marvel didn't reveal that they would be sending a press release to the New York Daily News telling them that Captain America would be killed in #25. They didn't reveal (because they couldn't know) that everybody from CNN to Stephen Colbert would run with the story. And they didn't reveal that they were dramatically overprinting #25 in order to have sufficient quantities to cover reorders -- reorders that the retailers weren't told they'd be able to place.

So when all this hit on New Comics Day (known to the rest of the world as Wednesday, March 7), every specialty comic shop in the country was deluged with walk-in customers ("I didn't even know they were still publishing comic books") who wanted to buy the first comic book they'd bought in years ("Four dollars? When did they stop being ten cents?") because they'd heard about it on CNN ("It's going to be collectible, right? I mean, characters don't die everyd-- Hey, look, Superman comics. I thought he died years ago"), only to be told that unless you were a regular customer with a subscription list, there wasn't one to be had.

Of course, with the current size of the comic book market, a "deluge" of non-regular walk-in customers can be defined as "more than fifteen", which is pretty sad in itself.

Another retailer said this:
I ordered about 10%-15% above my usual number for Captain America, just based on the fact it was an anniversary issue.
Anniversary? It's #25. It's now a landmark worth celebrating when a title lasts two years. Talk about short attention spans.

2 comments:

Sleestak said...

I didn't use to mind spoilers, but that may be because I perceive the writing of the past better than it is now. EVERYONE knew that Jean Grey was going to die on the moon. it was no secret. The big deal was the how and why and the build up to the event.

Cap "dying" by a sniper shot I don't want spoiled because that was it. There was *nothing* in that book that made what happened noteworthy except for the shot. A killer story would have made up for the spoilage of what was ultimately a shallow effort.

Diesel said...

Why don't they leak disinformation, like "We might find out Captain America is gay in #25." That would sell some copies.