Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

December 31, 2013

PW: Marvel Has Killed Its Newsstand Periodical Comics Programs

According to this smart piece by the award-winning dean of comics-industry journalists, Calvin Reid, Marvel Comics recently ended its program of trying to sell periodical comics in chain bookstores and ended its convenience store market sale of same months and months ago to the howling wails of absolutely no one.

imageThis makes sense to me. Those are terrible items to sell in bookstores and convenience stores. They cost a lot for the perceived value, particularly for a casual reader. They're confusingly titled and numbered -- the joke of "When I was a kid there was a comic book named 'Thor' and you knew that it starred a guy named 'Thor'" has as its basis a very confusing public face for comic books. Hell, I'm all but baffled when I go to a comics shop, and my job is reading comics. There's no reason to think there's a natural audience for these items in convenience and grocery stores from people buying toothpaste and diet strawberry jelly, and the Marvel folks at least have never invested in classic impulse-buying space near the front of such stores nor, at least never for very long, in any format suited for those spaces. Bookstore readers might seem a natural audience for serial comic books but in a bookstore you have other problems: anyone inclined to notice a rack of awesome-looking funnybooks is probably aware of a nearby business that carries more books more effectively for the hardcore consumer, and they are probably physically near a ton of publications with a better perceived value including a fairly active trade paperbacks section right in that store. It's hard to compete with cheaper, better everything.

Also, digital is clearly at this point a better place for a less risky return in trying to capitalize on any sort of easy-availability impulse that might still exist for these books. If someone sees a movie starring that nice man Captain America and has never considered buying a comic book before and is struck by intense feelings that they must buy modern comics adventures of this patriotic fellow, it's more likely their first impulse will be to hit their computer rather than the 7-11. A similar desire for beer, you hit the convenience store.

I've never thought that superhero comics had a mass appeal that was necessarily best served by this kind of a widespread availability, or at least not in my lifetime, and I've long thought that a mindset that millions of copies of these comics could be sold has frequently helped keep companies from selling 10,000 more of a bunch of different series. I will not miss the occasional throwback calls for old-timey mass distribution, nor the years of beating up on the people that suggest this as if they were ever a sizable, serious group. The astonishing thing five years from now is that it will have only been five to seven years since Marvel's program was dismantled.
posted 1:32 am PST | Permalink

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