Robot 6

Quotes of the day | Tom Brevoort vs. Brian Hibbs on title glut

Marvel's Thor-related products for December 2010

Marvel's Thor-related products for December 2010

“Event Marketing” ultimately conditioned the majority of consumers to not want books that weren’t part of events, weren’t part of the “core continuity.” The over-proliferation of line expansions (seriously who wants eleven different “Thor” comics solicited to ship in a single month? Thor, historically, can barely support a single title) did the same….The thing is: this is a self-inflicted wound. Event marketing, line expansions, overproduction of minis and new #1s, price increases — these were all things that publishers chose to do in order to make as much money as they could. There’s nothing wrong with that, per se — we live in a system of capitalism, and capitalism demands greater profits. But we’ve systematically made what seemed like sound short-term decisions that largely gutted the long-term market for most of the product within it. Ooops!…We have to strip lines down, hard, to just the brilliant shiny heart of it all and have the message be, “Yeah, we’re publishing half of what we used to, but, damn, if we published any more awesome stuff that you just can’t wait to get the next issue of, we’d all explode!”

Retailer and CBR columnist Brian Hibbs, arguing that the proliferation of comics about the same characters has been a disaster and publishers need to radically cut back.

[Reader Question:] Do you think less having titles would be workable? Would having e.g. Batman in only one (or at most two) title be a high-enough seller in the long term (due to not diluting the franchise) to offset the loss of sales from multiple books?

[Tom Brevoort:] No, not at all. Every time this sort of thing has been tried in the past, the results have been the same. For the most part, multiple titles featuring the same character(s) don’t cannibalize sales from one another, nor do the sales aggregate when you eliminate the other books.

Marvel Senior V.P. – Executive Editor Tom Brevoort, arguing that radically cutting back would be a disaster and the proliferation of comics about the same characters is just fine.

One of these men is wrong. But who?

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Comments

34 Comments

Marvel events have actually had the opposite effect on me…I drop books that involve the event and focus on books that are outside the loop.

For me, Whedon’s run on Uncanny X-Men was the perfect Marvel book. It was self contained with great character development and great story. Marvel needs to go back to that again.

I was thinking about the number of titles we can expect to have marketed to us for Fear Itself. All the tie-ins, all the fallout titles, all the mini-series and one-shots. Retailers are shirking the number of titles they’ll pick up. Marvel is going to have to really push to get these in stores next year.

Hibbs makes a reasonable-sounding, nuanced argument which acknowledges complexities. Brevoort makes a declaration seemingly based on hard numbers and historic facts.

I think the key to “who is right, who is wrong” must be sought in Brevoort’s reference to “…this sort of thing has been tried in the past…” What does he mean, is it genuinely relevant to this issue, and is it as conclusive as he appears to believe?

I can’t answer those questions, but they’re the questions I would look into.

Agreed. I’d like to see more hard evidence of multiple comics with the same character not hurting sales. And if this was during a time period when comics were 2.99 or less and the amount of other comics on the shelf. As well as general economic high/lows. That’s a lot of information to try and gauge to figure out what’s what and I highly doubt that anyone has ever looked at all those factors.

Also, maybe it doesn’t hurt THAT character, but what about everyone else? If I’m a spider-man fan and there’s 4 spider-man books (and I’m such a big fan I need all 4 of these), maybe I just can’t afford to also buy an iron fist or man-thing.

Unless I’m misreading him, Brevoort’s only talking about ongoing series.

The glut of Thor titles on the market lost them at least one reader — there were so many Thor-related books that I totally missed (until it was cancelled) that Roger Langridge and Chris Samnee (both creators whose work I love) were working on one of the books. Had there been less titles, it might not have gotten lost in the crowd for me.

The problem is there is a clear upper limit to sales just due the fact the number of active consumers is limited. What needs to be done is expanding the market by getting comics into more places and making it easier for new consumers to get in which involves both streamlining and price adjustment.

I don’t doubt that Breevort knows his sales numbers, but I think he is wrong.

If the 11 Thor related titles ship a combined 200,000 units, then one Thor-related product would have very little chance matching those units sales. There are not 200,000 people left in the direct market who are willing to read Thor on a monthly basis. Your odds of getting 18,000-ish hardcore Thor fans to buy all 11 different products are much better.

However, once they have emptied their wallets on Tales of Asgard, they are not likely to be spending much money on anything else. They are never going to sample an Agents of Atlas, or S.H.I.E.L.D. They are certainly not picking up Cassanova, or Powers. They would never even consider Batman, Inc., or Fables (which a Thor fan should LOVE). It is a person that is habituated to read their guy, the core Marvel continuity that effects their guy and nothing else. The same thing is true for fans of Wolverine, Batman and Geoff Johns.

So … what happens when the loyal, faithful Thor reader gets bored with Thor? Is there any chance he picks up another comic franchise after however many years of ignoring them? Don’t they just … stop reading?

they are both right.

as a publisher, i have to release the right amount. Batman SHOULD have 15 books a month. Thor, maybe not. Young Allies? No room for that.

As a retailer I have to order the right amount and steer customers to the good stuff.

Great points Dean,

Although the guy who reads only Batman or Wolverine, while very hardcore, I would say is much lower than we would think. Someone who only reads Thor, for example, can’t be more than 8-10,000. If even that much.

My vote is with Brian. Why should Batman be in 15 books a month, Trey? Maybe a couple of titles, but with continued stories and big events, I’m tired of reading essentially the same story being told over & over—and not caring about the ending, as a result….

I’m lucky that I’m an FF collector, as there is no current saturation with them.

And isn’t the over-proliferation of X-titles the cause of the decline in interest in those series? (I think that answer is yes, and sales seem to reflect that.)

Hey Tom, I know this probably sounds way out there, but what about somewhere in the middle, say 4 or 5 books? You make it sound like it’s gotta be 0 or 11.

This is an idiotic comparison, and framing it as “ONE OF THESE MEN IS WRONG!” is flat-out stupid. Batman and Spider-Man can support multiple titles, yes, but issuing 14 Thor comics in one month is inarguably too many. They are not the same thing at all and you do yourself a disservice by writing this sophomoric “Let’s you and him fight” crap.

Resolve to try harder in the new year, yes?

Tony, because he is the most popular, and he can support those books, along with his cast, which I include in that number. As an avid fan of Batman, the choice I have is wonderful.

Each reader has his own saturation point. Each franchise, has its saturation point. Would you buy more FF if they were published? Its a balance that I’m sure publishers are aware of. The trouble is, a full-service shop, feels like they have to carry every book. Recent Deadpool overkill, is another example.

As an avid fan of Thor, I myself was aware of all his recent books, and picked accordingly which ones I would buy, or maybe wait for trade.

But yes, I’ve been saying for years that publishers are releasing too many books, of concepts that have little chance of finding an audience.

I will go with Brian being right. He pretty much explains word for word why I no longer buy Marvel and DC at all.

Nice reply, Trey….

No need for any “yes, buts” from me!

I think they’re probably both right to a certain degree within their knowledge, but I agree more with Hibbs. Brevoort seems to be focusing more on hardcore collectors, where one Thor fan is as likely to buy 10 titles as he is one.

Hibbs, on the other hand, seems to be focusing on the simultaneous dilution and contraction of the market. While there are many more titles now than there were 10, 20 or 30 years ago, there are far fewer characters being spotlighted or explored, so new readers don’t have the opportunity to find different characters. If you’re not a fan of Batman, Green Lantern, Spider-Man or the Avengers, you’ve just eliminated like half of DC’s and Marvel’s lines. And with the big two focusing more and more on the direct market fans, it’s harder to get casual fans interested, because comparatively few people just wander into a comic book shop, even if there’s one in their town.

So while, yes, Brevoort is probably correct that this sort of thing has been “tried” before (although I doubt it’s been explored very seriously in his tenure), Hibbs seems to be taking a more long-range view for the overall health of the industry. It’s like two politicians: one who does something expedient to get himself re-elected, and one who’s trying to protect his legacy. Both may be right in their own ways at the moment, but only one will be remembered.

I can’t speak for anyone but my own buying habits, but the past year has seen me cull most Marvel titles from my pull list. I’m a guy who’s been frequenting the direct market for 25 years and has been a Marvel zombie for all of that time.

The only survivors for me are SHIELD, Secret Warriors, and the odd mini-series such as Strange Tales. The Icon imprint fairs better as I’m buying most of that output as well (Casanova, Scarlet, and Incognito).

But I can’t be bothered by the X books, or other major franchises any longer. Too many titles featuring the same characters over and over again. Marvel lost me when it became obvious that books like Atlas, Captain Britain, and SWORD have no place in the company.

Cutting my support of Uncanny X-Men took a lot of effort. I’d been buying the book continuously since number #211. But lackluster art, endless event storylines, and unending mediocre satellite titles killed my interest. Now that the cord is cut, I can’t see myself ever bothering to go back unless there is a seismic shift in how these books are organized.

I’m still buying comics. It’s just that Dark Horse, Image, Avatar, IDW, Red 5 and Top Shelf are getting my money.

I don’t doubt that Breevort knows his sales numbers, but I think he is wrong.

If the 11 Thor related titles ship a combined 200,000 units, then one Thor-related product would have very little chance matching those units sales. There are not 200,000 people left in the direct market who are willing to read Thor on a monthly basis. Your odds of getting 18,000-ish hardcore Thor fans to buy all 11 different products are much better.

However, once they have emptied their wallets on Tales of Asgard, they are not likely to be spending much money on anything else. They are never going to sample an Agents of Atlas, or S.H.I.E.L.D. They are certainly not picking up Cassanova, or Powers. They would never even consider Batman, Inc., or Fables (which a Thor fan should LOVE). It is a person that is habituated to read their guy, the core Marvel continuity that effects their guy and nothing else. The same thing is true for fans of Wolverine, Batman and Geoff Johns.

So … what happens when the loyal, faithful Thor reader gets bored with Thor? Is there any chance he picks up another comic franchise after however many years of ignoring them? Don’t they just … stop reading?

______________________________________

Dean, you hit the nail right on the head.

I would also like to ad that over exposure and multiple titles featuring Punisher,Ghost Rider,and Lobo killed all of those characters popularity and caused their books to be canceled back in the 90′s. Fast forward to today, and we are seeing over exposure and multiple titles (as well as other factors) hurting the sales on Wolverine and X-Men comics.

Thor will never be more popular than he will be early next year. Doesn’t releasing all this Thor stuff now mean there will a lot of ready-to-go TPBs when the movie comes out?

Aaron, your distinction only holds up if Hibbs and Brevoort are, like you, talking about different potentially overexposed characters. If they’re both claiming that overextension always hurts or never hurts, then those claims are indeed mutually exclusive, and when I read those quotes, that’s what I think they’re doing. They could certainly both be wrong, but “both” includes “one.”

“Thor will never be more popular than he will be early next year. Doesn’t releasing all this Thor stuff now mean there will a lot of ready-to-go TPBs when the movie comes out?” (DanLarkin)

Thor already has 4+ decades of material. For the new readers wanting Thor comics, what difference does it make if it’s old or new?

Sir Manley Johnson

December 21, 2010 at 1:00 pm

I’m a Batman fan, have been since 1973. Do I buy any book with Batman in it? No. I can’t afford to nor do I want to. I like the fact that there are multiple takes on Batman out there. It means I can find a book or two that does Batman the way I enjoy reading him. Presumably other people are purchasing the other titles or DC wouldn’t be producing them. Does this dilute Batman? Not for me. That’s a metaphor and I don’t think it really applies when I’m limited to 2 books a month.

I don’t know what Hibbs has against minis, except that as a retailer he feels that they aren’t enough of a reliable source of weekly income for him to be worthwhile, but in that case he’s just as much to blame for this mess as the people he’s accusing. Minis have been the only reason I still buy pamphlets. The only ongoing (semi)monthly I still buy is Orc Stain otherwise they are too expensive to follow and discourage me from trying new titles. But minis I can almost always add to my mental pull list because by the time I’m picking a new one up, one that I’ve been reading is ending. Same with Bi-Monthly comics, I can read more stories without ever having a month that really breaks the budget. That keeps me coming into comic shops instead of buying collections from the publishers and buying back issues online. I say more limited series, more bi-monthlies, and more variety would all make me spend more money at comic shops. As it is I do my heaviest spending at conventions because that’s usually the only place I can find what I’m looking for.

[blockquote][b]Thor already has 4+ decades of material. For the new readers wanting Thor comics, what difference does it make if it’s old or new?[b][/blockquote]
The main thing will be that it’s easier to find in their local B&N. But I think that for most casual readers, they’ll want to read more contemporary stories with a mindset that is closer in tone to the movie than the originals from the 60s.

But, and I was going to say this to DanLarkin originally, I don’t think it matters. For years Blade was the most popular property Marvel had on the big screen, but they never were able to successfully translate into long-term sales of a comic book, even though they must have tried three or four times. So even though Marvel owns both the comic book and movie versions of Thor, I don’t think anybody really expects the movie to drive sales on Thor comics up for very long.

If you look at it in a “month to month” basis — that is, “We have one DEADPOOL title in June, and two of them in July”, then, sure Tom is more correct — there’s typically not a direct, chart-based correlation between number of titles and sales performance.

But, over the longer haul, there very very much is, and anyone who doesn’t see that is, in my opinion, ignoring reality.

Hey, blast from the past: from 1993 (and 1976!): http://comixexperience.com/taw9.htm

-B

If you look at it in a “month to month” basis — that is, “We have one DEADPOOL title in June, and two of them in July”, then, sure Tom is more correct — there’s typically not a direct, chart-based correlation between number of titles and sales performance.

But, over the longer haul, there very very much is, and anyone who doesn’t see that is, in my opinion, ignoring reality.

_______________________________________

Or in the case of Brevoort, putting a huge spin on the whole situation.

My gut feeling is that Hibbs is right about how things got the way they are, but Brevoort is correct in that it can’t be fixed by just trimming down now. If you cut the Batman line down to a couple of books, they would have to sell a LOT more to make up for the lost sales on all the ancillary titles that get dropped, and I just don’t see that happening.

funkygreenjerusalem

December 21, 2010 at 5:38 pm

One of these men is wrong. But who?

Brevoort.

He’s a company man, who has shown before he will lie to defend his company, or put down others – so it’s always safe to assume the other person is correct.

That said, he was asked a specific question that isn’t the exact equivalent of what Hibbs was saying.

I think the reality is probably in the middle between the two extremes posited both in and around the edges of these statements. As somebody pointed out, it’s not quite exactly the same question that’s being posited in each case.

In the specific example thrown at me–one, or at most two Batman titles rather than the number we have today, I would maintain that there is absolutely no way that the absence of those other titles translates into an uptick of sales on the remaining two Batman books to a degree that offsets the loss of the other books. On the other hand, there’s some merit in the moderation that Brian Hibbs advocates–I don’t know that I’d agree with the levels he’d set, but he has his business to run and I have mine–where three titles may be better and healthier than six titles over the long haul.

We’ve already indicated at Marvel that we’re going to be scaling back on limited series and special projects featuring the same characters and putting more of the focus back onto the core monthlies. It’s a process that will take a little bit of time to achieve–and again, I don’t know that our level will exactly match the level that Brain would like. What I am sure of is that the marketplace as a whole will indicate where that proper “sweet spot” is, and we’ll strive to hit it–making mistakes and fouling up as we go, as usual.

Tom B

And Tom is right there – if you cancelled 15 of the 17 Batman titles tomorrow, the remaining two wouldn’t rise in sales to offset those revenue in anything like a short term. Over the long run they *might*, but even that would be rough.

I think one of the larger problems with proliferation is in even shipping — for example, this week we received UNCANNY X-MEN, X-MEN LEGACY and (adjectiveless) X-MEN — the three “core” books, in a single week. I’m absolutely confident based upon past sales trends that this shipping will cause my orders for the NEXT issue I order to drop somewhere between 5-10% on each book because sales will drop.

I don’t believe that there is any franchise out there that can truly and properly support more than one or *possibly* two titles per week. Not just from sales, but from creative strength as well.

-B

And no, that doesn’t mean “Hibbs just said there could be 8 THOR titles”

-B

I grew up reading a bunch of Spidey titles (Amazing, Peter Parker, Marvel Team-Up/Web of…) and it wasn’t an issue to collect those plus annuals. I also collected 2 Avengers titles at that time (I was mainly a Marvel kid but I eventually started collecting Batman and Detective, Superman and Action), so I guess that it didn’t bother me that there were multiple stories being told monthly about a particular character. Those were also 60-75 cent days of comics. So I guess I’m somewhere in the middle of both Mr. Hibbs and Mr. Brevoort’s points. I still think that at $3.99, I’m less likely to stick with a comic that I’m not getting full enjoyment month in and month out.

I am paraphrasing from memory, but I remember reading something from Tom Brevoort once along these lines.

Every time an editor-in-chief change happened, the new editor would cancel a bunch of titles in an effort to trim the line. If a weak seller got cancelled, I believe Tom’s example was the 90s Guardian of the Galaxy, people didn’t shift to other titles. Most people just read one less title.

Brian’s point is that store owners are too tying way to much capital up in stuff that does not turn a profit for a store. When Marvel and DC are putting out between 70 and 110 titles each month and a large portion have no established sales history, you are setting stores up for failure. I’m currently a semi-regular comics buyer, less than four comics a month. I purchased from eleven different stores around Chicago and its suburbs this year. I have not seen rack copies so thin since the 90s bubble burst. What’s worse is that this is not limited to the small store or the start-up. When you walk into the flagship of a major chain two hours after opening on new comics day and the low selling DCs and Marvels are “sold out” (if ordered), things are tight.

BTW, in the last two months, of the eleven stores one is now closed. Another closed its retail location and is only doing subscriptions. A third is no longer receiving new comics from Diamond, the beginning of the end. History shows that if people lose their comic shop, a very high percentage stop collecting. Thankfully more books will be priced at $2.99 and the number of titles appear to be getting scaled slightly back. Hopefully there will be a better balance for Summer 2011.

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