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

February 8, 2012

Go, Read:’s Interview With Marvel’s David Gabriel

The hobby business news and analysis site has a three-part interview up with Marvel Senior Vice President -- Sales David Gabriel on various issues facing the comics company in 2012 and on various holdover issues and news items from 2011. It's fascinating for anyone with an interest in that part of the overall comics market.

Gabriel gives direct, spirited answers. I'm not certain all of them hold up to a lot of scrutiny, though, and I don't mean the initial, selective reading of 2011 generally, which is the kind of thing where one can expect qualifiers and spin. For instance, Gabriel's statement about Marvel letting some of their collections going out of print that retailers feel they could sell seems to crucially depend on his own definition of what constitutes evergreen, archival books. The fact that Marvel doesn't let best-selling recent collections go out of print really isn't a bragging point. Despite Gabriel's challenge that no retailer has ever been unable to order a book he defines as being a book they should be able to order, it took me approximately four seconds to find a retailer saying they weren't able to find a graphic novel that if it were a similar-status book from Marvel's main competitor would stay in print with greater consistency. Gabriel's right, I think, in suggesting that their trade program is pretty complicated and has a lot of different facets, but I really think when that argument is made against Marvel it isn't that they're flat-out crazy and letting their biggest books go out of print, it's that they're less devoted to keeping all of what many perceive as key books in print, thus leaving some sales on the table and generally frustrating some of their retail partners.

I also think Gabriel finesses the question about price points, by suggesting that their books with higher price points sell more than their books with lower price points. The key there is that overall sales of those higher price point books seem to be down. Price points are notoriously difficult to measure in comics because of the nature of hardcore fandom. Heck, not even hardcore, just regular fandom: that an Avengers book sells more than a book called, say, Stingray and Paladin even if the former costs a dollar more isn't really an argument for higher price points; it's an argument against teaming up d-list goofballs Stingray and Paladin. I've always maintained that there's rarely a one-to-one relationship to be measured when it comes to the effects of price points, and that what happens a lot of the time is that a comics reader will abandon the buying of serial comics altogether when the group of comics they tend to buy goes from $17 to, say, $24. But even leaving that notion off the table, and giving up on the suggestion that maybe some primary-Marvel readers have been nudged from the overall serial comics buying experience, noting how much anecdotal evidence is out there for fans moving off of Marvel titles to sample DC titles and the corresponding numbers on overall sales levels per property seems to me as close to that kind of one-to-one analysis as this market will ever yield. It's a dangerous game Marvel has been playing there, reducing pages and raising prices at this point in their current creative cycle, during a recession, at a time when DC is at a much fresher point in their own creative cycle. I think it doesn't all the way conform to reality to suggest this has had no impact on Marvel's recent results.
posted 3:20 am PST | Permalink

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