Marvel’s David Gabriel: we haven’t sold comics in bookstores for months and no one noticed

comicsspinner Marvels David Gabriel: we havent sold comics in bookstores for months and no one noticed

Remember what I was just saying about how if Marvel made any money selling periodicals in bookstores, they would never have stopped the program? David Gabriel, sr vp of sales at Marvel spoke to Calvin Reid at PW, and gives the entire overview:

Gabriel confirmed that Marvel’s single-issue comics program to bookstores has been ended. He said that Marvel ended newsstand sales of print comics “about two years ago,” and the single-issue program at BAM and B&N “ended almost three months ago to no fanfare or notice from the comics industry.” Gabriel said “the business in the direct market [the comics shop market] is a much stronger model and try as we might, we have not been able to make the comics newsstand model work for years, I don’t think anyone has.”

I had no idea Marvel had ceased newsstand sales TWO YEARS AGO. But the fact that it took MONTHS for anyone to notice there were no more Marvel comics in B&Ns should tell you how many of these copies were cold.

You may also recall a few months ago Marvel publisher Dan Buckley throwing cold water on the romantic notion of kids walking into a 7-11 to buy a Coke Zero whilst SnapChatting on their iPhone and seeing a spinner rack and falling in love again. Not gonna happen,” said Buckley:

The question was raised if these comics will “be in 7-11s”—a reference to a commonly expressed desire among those who wish to see comics returned to an easily accessible newsstand environment. Buckley pointed out that “we think about 7-11s because a lot of us started at 7-11s or a facsimile of 7-11s.” But, he noted, “It’s not about being in 7-11s per se, it’s about being where kids are now. The new five-and-dime shop is a kid grabbing your smart phone or tablet and finding the stuff that they like or you feel comfortable them looking at.”

So yeah, there you go: comics on newsstands RIP. Luckily we have the book channel and the digital channel to make up for it. All good. Moving on.

Comments

  1. george says:

    I used to see Daredevil (the only Marvel comic that currently interests me) at my local B&N until a couple of months ago.

    Of course, in another month or two we won’t see it in print form anywhere.

  2. Charles Skaggs says:

    No one noticed that Marvel isn’t selling new books through Barnes & Noble because the last set from two months ago are still on the shelves. I imagine it will be at least another two months before B&N employees notice there aren’t any new Marvel books, especially since DC, Dark Horse and Bongo are still selling new ones.

  3. Yes, what Charles says. My local B&N still has them up. I never bought single issues from them though, only trades. So there is that.

  4. Mikael says:

    “But the fact that it took MONTHS for anyone to notice there were no more Marvel comics in B&Ns should tell you how many of these copies were cold.”

    That’s incorrect. The stores still had Marvel Comics on the shelf. They were just outdated by a month or so. The local store near me had Amazing X-Men 1.

  5. Bummer. Does this mean I can pick up a spinner rack cheap?

  6. There’s a romanticism to spinner racks that’s just hard to break, though. I started reading G.I. Joe and Transformers because my parents would buy whatever my brothers and I could find on the gas station spinner racks during summer road trips. And before my hometown had a LCS, we had the drug store where I dutifully bought X-Men and Superman and Wolverine off the rack each week.

    Blagdarnit, where’s my walker?

  7. That’s weird, because I’ve seen last month’s Marvels at a B&N here in California as recently as last week.

  8. Spinner racks are where I, too, discovered comics — but it’s hard to feel overly nostalgic for them. Comics were always loss leaders on the newsstand and many retailers were looking for any excuse to get rid of them; the spinner racks were a compromise solution offered by the CMAA, keeping comics in stores by literally shoving them into a corner, away from the “real” reading material. Ditto for the “waterfall” racks.

    That said, they kept comics in stores for some critical years while the DM was developing, and that was pretty important.

  9. Brian says:

    I can’t believe I just saw the cover price to Avengers #24 was $4.99!! For only 35 pages? For the digital copy? I think comics are just strip mining the fans and aren’t even attempting to cater to a new audience.

  10. Section8ball says:

    Not for nothing, but saying no one’s noticed Marvel comics aren’t on the shelves for months isn’t something to brag about.

  11. Roberto Photos says:

    Maybe because the price tag is at $3.99?

  12. Johnny Memeonic says:

    Not surprising that “no one noticed.”

    Big chain bookstores are where you go for trades and graphic novels. People buying singles tend to go to the comic book store or order online. Wonder what will happen when big chain bookstores die off like everyone is expecting them to?

  13. Kentucky Fried Horse says:

    Diamond being an exclusive distributor that pulled comics from stores ranging from gas stations to grocery stores, IMO, is one reason that comics don’t have the circulation numbers that they used to.

  14. Diamond never pulled comics from those places, because Diamond never shipped to them. Diamond is the exclusive broker of Marvel, DC, Image, and Dark Horse’s comics (among others) to comic shops and has been since the late 1990s — but the returnable newsstand distribution network for magazines is a different thing.

    And remember, it was the colossal inefficiency of the newsstand network that created an opportunity for the Direct Market to begin with. For every copy sold on newsstands, publishers were having to print two and three and sometimes more copies that went into the recycle bin. Believe me, other magazine publishers would dearly love to have a network of dealers buying their publications outright, for sale to a regular clientele that orders them in advance. The DM model is by no means perfect, but by luck of history, it’s much healthier than the rest of the magazine-publishing world.

  15. The type of buyer who would notice something like that isn’t the type of buyer who goes to comics newsblogs and message boards.

  16. george says:

    “I think comics are just strip mining the fans and aren’t even attempting to cater to a new audience.”

    That’s been true for the last 20 years, and probably longer. When the spinner racks went away, that was it for war, western, romance, sci-fi and horror comics … and pretty much it for humor, except for Archie.

    Marvel and DC have spent the last two or three decades catering to people who frequent the comic shops: hardcore superhero addicts who have spent most of their lives immersed in their universes.

  17. george says:

    On an episode of the NPR podcast, “Pop Culture Happy Hour,” the regulars read and discussed a couple of then-recent DC comics (a Batman and a Batgirl, IIRC). The panel — which included Maggie Thompson’s son, Steven — found the comics utterly incomprehensible. They had no idea what was happening, or why, and weren’t sure which panel to look at first.

    The comic geek in the group (not Steven) admitted that comics are now written for people who have been reading them for years or decades, and that little attempt is made to introduce the characters to new readers. That was NOT the case when comics were on newsstands and spinner racks, and getting new readers was the major goal.

  18. rob e says:

    Gee, wonder why?

    Maybe it’s because I can buy the current issues of Fantastic Four and Daredevil in comic shops for $2.99, minus my file customer discount—and it comes with a bag ‘n’ board as well. Why would I pass that up to buy the same comic book at B&N that’s been marked up a dollar—and NO discount or bag ‘n’ board????

    Nice try, Marvel. It was almost as if you set out to fail on this one.

  19. The failure is the newsstand model’s — the idea of wallpapering the country with copies and hoping someone buys them. Marvel had nearly 40 years of sales under that method exclusively before retailers came up with a better way; now, nearly 40 years after that, the original paradigm is finally gone. That’s the historic importance of this news.

  20. Zaragosa says:

    I discovered comics at a Circle K (like a 7-11) about 30 years ago. They were 65 cents at the time.

    4 bucks an issue today is WAY out-of-step with cost of living, inflation, etc. Imagine if cereal cost OVER SIX TIMES what it cost 30 years ago. If it did, (most) people would stop buying cereal.

    If comics were $1.50 to 2 bucks (the appropriate price) on a newstand, the good books — SAGA, WALKING DEAD, FATALE, etc. — would double their sales easily. So, everyone would win. Cheaper books, much higher sales, more money coming in, yay.

  21. MattComix says:

    It really felt like a half-hearted effort to be honest. Because while they put themselves on newstands they were still operating exclusively in the mode of appealing only to a narrow swath who need all grimdark fanfiction all the time.

  22. Cereal hasn’t much better since the 70s though. Comics, however…
    Not the best analogy is all I’m saying.

  23. Zaragosa says:

    @Jonny R

    Saga of the Swamp Thing #21 – 1983 – by Alan Moore, Stephen Bissette, and John Totleben – “The Anatomy Lesson” – There aren’t too many single issues of comics being published today that are better than that. It was 75 cents on a newstand. In point of fact, there were a lot of GREAT comics being made in the 70s and 80s. They just weren’t overpriced. How dare you attempt to inpugn a frankly brilliant cereal analogy with your nonsense. Harumph, sir. Harumph.

  24. On the other hand, the local B&N had a big GN sections and a showcase with superhero figures. One side had Marvel Characters and the other had DC Direct figures. It provided a great spot for discovery -for new and lapsed fans. (And they still had the periodicals on sale too.)

  25. Torsten Adair says:

    http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodfaq5.html

    Kellogg’s Corn Flakes [1984] 12 oz, 89 cents
    [2013] 12 oz., $3.79
    Increase: 425%

    Amazing Spider-Man [1984] 60-65 cents
    [2013] $3.99
    Increase: 614-665%

    Inflation index (BLS.gov):
    $1 in 1984 : $2.24 in 2013
    ($0.65 : $1.46 ; $.089 : $2.00)

  26. Al B 52 says:

    Zaragosa: So you say cutting prices to $2 — basically half of what they are — would be a solution, by doubling sales? By your own logic then, you would be doubling sales, but cutting dollars brought in per sale by half, which would not increase total dollars brought in at all. Not the best analogy is all I’m saying.

  27. When I first saw stories about Marvel’s print comics at BAM and B&N, I had no idea that they had stopped newsstands sales, let alone stopping the selling print single issue comics via BAM and B&N. So David and Dan certainly make their point. I grew up reading Marvel comics in the late 1950s and early 1960s and my weekly (if not more) trips to a newsstand a couple blocks from our home to buy the latest comics (I think the first price I remember was 10 cents, later 25 cents) was about as good as it got for me as a kid in Wash. D.C.. But times change and so do comics and the comics business.

  28. Torsten Adair says:

    Some historical footnotes:
    While the Comics Magazine Association of America is rightly pilloried for the Comics Code, they did use their muscle to get comics merchandised into grocery stores (which were rapidly expanding in the 1950s as America became suburban).

    When Marvel and DC started publishing graphic albums in the early 1980s, they convinced B. Daltons and Waldenbooks to feature spinner racks to feature the comics and albums. (My initial exposure to comics were via magazine racks in grocery stores, but soon I was making the weekly trek to the local shopping center.)

    When I made my first trek to a comics shop, I discovered that newsstand comics were three weeks behind the Direct Market. Since comics fans consider newsstand and DM copies to be exactly the same, I used this fact to pick up “hot” issues that were sold out at the LCS, but which were readily available at the local convenience store (located halfway between my house and the LCS).

  29. Torsten Adair says:

    Hey… what about the other publishers still selling to the newsstand market?
    DC, Boom, Dark Horse, Archie…

  30. MBunge says:

    If the idea is that kids and new readers will discover comics through digital media, I’m not happy about that as a print guy and not sure how well it will work but it at least makes sense.

    If the idea is that comics don’t need to have a presence in the general, casual reading market and will thrive by walling themselves off completely in the comic ghetto, that’s stupid.

    Mike

  31. I’ve never seen a spinner rack in action and yet still got drawn to comics. There are new ways to draw readers. Real, mainstream advertising, such as on television, on your phone, through streaming, etc. is the way to go to expand the business, in my estimation.

  32. Torsten Adair says:

    Found the magazine catalog for Ingram Periodicals!
    http://www.ingramcontent.com/pages/magazines.aspx

    Valid until May 2014. Two pages of comics titles.
    Dark Horse (DHP, Star Wars, Buffy)
    Dynamite (Game of Thrones)
    Disney magazines (which includes “Marvel Super Heroes” $4.99)
    Archie (full line)
    (Ah… wait… they keep most of the comics under “games/humor”)
    Four and a half pages. DC, Bongo, DH, Archie

    Boom! is distributed via Kable News.
    IDW?

  33. Printed comics continue to have a presence in outside channels — to the Direct Market’s half-billion dollar business, external (including the book chains and Amazon) adds another quarter-billion or so, almost all coming from trade paperbacks. This represents a shift back toward balance over the last decade, happening not coincidentally for the reason that Marvel made its change: mass market bookstores aren’t very good at moving periodicals, but they do (mostly) know how to sell books. (I remember editing several large magazines where the book chain reps advised us to slap a spines and ISBN number on the things and make them “books” — because they already knew they wouldn’t sell as many if they were lost in the forest of magazines.) It’s just a tweak to the format mix, then, if the comics are still out there.

    I would also like to express a sentiment on this New Year’s Eve regarding the “comic ghetto.” I started editing the trade magazine for the comics shops 20 years ago this month, and have visited countless stores before and after that. I have to say that the 2013 model generally looks better than I saw in all that time. Existing small shops I used to visit have staffed up this year, renovated fixturing, started running events, and enhanced their POS systems. Customer service seems improved at most of them, too. A couple of good years of cash flow helps, for sure — as does also the mainstreaming of comics in general and the recognition of shops as entertainment destinations. (I’m also seeing a lot more handselling. I was in a shop Saturday where first-time visitors brought their young daughter in for MY LITTLE PONY comics — which the retailer promptly found, as well as recommending several titles by other publishers. I expect that family will be back.)

    Anecdotal evidence, of course — every shop’s different — and by all measures, we need many MORE stores. But the Direct Market is likely to continue to be where the majority of print comics are sold, and for the most part, it’s representing comics better than it has since I can recall.

  34. Zaragosa says:

    @ AL B 52

    Ahem. Your math, as it stands, is correct. But what if slashing prices to two bucks a book could QUADRUPLE the sales of ye olde floppies? What then, I ask you? Where will your brave new math be then, sir? In the dustbin of history, I wager, along with heaps of four buck comics.

  35. Silly But True says:

    @George:

    Reinforces numerous “old hand” critiques of the then-new New52, I think. See Shooter et. al. Nearly everyone had the same criticism.

    Surprising, given that was the entire point of the New52.

    Silly but True

    P.S. Let me offer my own condolence. I had an older brother, so I was aware of comics. But I really found them on my own on a cross country vacation. From a spinner rack at a 7-11, no less. The issue was XMen in Japan, no. 173, with brown-suit Wolverine and Rogue running on the cover. And I think some Handbooks of the Marvel Universe, which we read the hell out of. Great times, which cemented my love of comics to this day. Shame that others won’t get that opportunity. That’s called progress, I guess.

  36. Too bad for Mr. Gabriel’s theory that no one noticed. I noticed because the Barnes & Noble near my work used it as an excuse to stop selling ALL monthly comics! Giving the rack space back to niche, specialized magazines no one will buy either. Now the challenge will be to Marvel to create story arcs and stand-alone titles that will come out as frequently as James Patterson’s crap titles.

  37. The half-price-or-less comic book has been tried many times, by most of the major publishers. It remains a promotional gimmick, but has never been much in the way of a competing model. Problem #1 is that it puts the price lower than the cost of production — remember, the distribution and retail ends take about 5/8ths of the cover price, and even at $2.99, the printer gets most of what’s left. Priced below that, extra volume doesn’t really help, as some prices are fixed. (Sure, the cheap books spread the word about the title — which is why they’re used as promotional tools. But I expect the goal is for the comics to be profitable in and of themselves.)

    A trickier problem is that retailers have a financial disincentive for stocking books at the lower price, since the labor involved in ordering, processing, and handselling the books does not vary. Presented with the same package at two different price points, retailers (and not just in comics) have historically ordered more of the one that gets them the better payoffs — and that has usually been the more expensive one. It’s easier to make a dollar from one customer than thirty-three cents each from three. Doing it the other way might be smarter — but it incurs costs that may make the benefit wash out.

    The extremely low-priced printed comic book could still be done — I know people looking at models that are almost entirely ad supported — but the trick even then remains: making it a profitable book for retailers to stock. Which is why digital has tended to be the platform better suited for experimentation — fewer (or different) variables to consider.

  38. Ralf Haring says:

    I understand Gabriel’s desire to snark, but I’ll echo everyone else. I was just in B&N and there are still some Marvel issues on the magazine racks (don’t know what month). Marvel’s decision to discontinue stocking newsstands a few months ago is still working its way through the retail chain. For what it’s worth, they’re absolutely correct to think digital comics are today what the newsstand was fifty years ago.

  39. MBunge says:

    “The half-price-or-less comic book has been tried many times, by most of the major publishers. It remains a promotional gimmick, but has never been much in the way of a competing model.”

    Monkeying around with the price of a comic is never going to work, anymore than slashing the price of a magazine would. I mean, there’s a reason why so many candy bars cost roughly the same.

    It may be moot with the intertubes now being the future of distribution but I’ve always wondered what would have happened if the Direct Market had not been born. Comics would have had to fight for newsstand/magazine rack space and, to me, that would have required them to move to a bigger, more-magaziny type format with multiple features, more ads and a higher price point. Like a hundred page mag with four 15 page stories, some other editorial content and then ads for 4 bucks a throw.

    Mike

  40. Al B 52 says:

    @Zaragosa: You could claim that slashing prices could increase sales by a hundred-fold or a thousand-fold, but you — and anyone who keeps on dragging out the tired-horse argument that slashing prices will somehow miraculously expand sales to some ridiculous degree has NEVER offered concrete evidence that this would actually happen. If comics were a purely price-elastic item, then your silly fantasy might be conceivable, but sadly most things are not — you’re dealing in a complete economic fallacy. John Jackson Miller above provides an argument better than I could have ever put forth why slashing prices is a ploy that has a limited effect, at best.

  41. Mike, that’s an excellent question. What if there had been no Direct Market? Several things that happened suggest that the newsstand model was almost completely done for already by 1980: Gold Key and Harvey, the newsstand publishers that didn’t make the jump to the DM, were on their last legs. Only Archie of the mostly-newsstand-reliant publishers really hung in there, but a big part of that was because of its digest racking deal in grocery stores. (I don’t think digests like theirs would have been an answer for anyone else, though — I don’t know what Best of DC Digest’s sales were, but they were awfully hard to read!)

    The newsstand publishers were looking for other non-DM alternatives, though. One was Western’s Whitman merchandising program — simultaneous printings of new Marvel, DC, and Gold Key comics for sale three to a bag; it was their way of getting comics into the toy sections of places like Woolworth’s, Walgreens, and other department and drug stores. I could imagine some more aggressive repackagings, possibly in the format you suggest: they were trying Treasury-sized and all sorts of other formats, looking for anything that might gain some traction.

    Another interesting question is whether the trade paperback would have caught on without the Direct Market. Marvel had done some mass-market paperback reprints with Pocket Books in the late 1970s, and there were some one-off collections Fireside did just for the mass market booksellers (Mighty Marvel Team Up Thrillers, etc.). But I think we really needed a dynamic where both the comics and the books that collected them were sold in the same place to make the concept catch on.

  42. And yes, Al is quite right. Price may be a limiting factor preventing some people from trying comics — but the greater limiting factors are the number of people who cannot find the comics to purchase and the number of people who are not interested in reading comic books at any price. One is solved by opening more outlets; the other by improving the product mix, or better marketing the books we have that people would be interested in.

    I think where price is more of an issue is when it comes to the number of comics our existing readers can follow — and there, I don’t have an answer. I don’t think the dollar between $2.99 and $3.99 has been critical in stopping many first-time buyers, it probably has reduced some buy lists from 20 comics to 15, and that’s a trickier problem. Beyond graduated discounts offered by retailers, it’s not easy to build in benefits for bundling.

  43. Sure sure, all of the things said make sense, what with dedicated audience in specialty stores being more cost-efficient.

    But it also means the audience will not expand beyond those hardcore fans. No matter how many “New 52″ and “.Now” initiatives. And what if that dedicated audience fades away…

    Iit is worth thinking about other venues and to reach out to other potential readers.

  44. Zaragosa says:

    @ AL B 52

    RE: “My silly fantasy” that overpricing a unit of entertainment in an environment more competitive than ever before for entertainment dollars could actually hurt sales… Wow. Since you have addressed my point with such kindness and courtesy, allow me to retort:

    You want “concrete evidence?” Um… Is that a serious question? Perhaps history can help us on our search for that oh-so-elusive “concrete evidence” that the rationalists among us desire…

    Try comparing the best-selling comics in the $3.99 era with the bestselling comics in the $1 and under era. Sure, there are a variety of factors as to why popular comics used to sell in the hundreds of thousands versus the tens of thousands, but the bizarre, increasingly common notion that price is not one of the MAIN factors during these economically strained years is ludicrously out of touch.

    Anyone who thinks that four bucks makes sense as a price point for a comic book that takes (on average) 10 to 15 minutes to read is on some whole other shit, as far as I’m concerned. Thanks to Torsten for the helpful numbers he provided above, which prove this point — based on inflation since 1984’s prices, comics should be $1.46 to $2.00 today… That would appear to be more “concrete evidence” that something is fishy here. Also, Torsten proved that comics are indeed, as I said, more overpriced than cereal. Though, to be honest, I am shocked at the price gouging of cornflakes, as well; I will be heading right on over to a Kelloggs blog after I’m done here, to bring the ruckus, as they say.

    Back to comics: regarding the argument that retailers are loathe to stock “cheaper items” that take the same space and effort to sell (which makes sense), then why would it not make sense for Image for example to put out a manga-style weekly magazine in supermarkets, gas stations, subway and airport bookshops, etc. that contained the newest chapters of four single issue comics, including their letters columns (say, SAGA, WALKING DEAD, EAST OF WEST, and JUPITER’S CHILDREN) for 5 bucks? What works in Asian markets could work here. And if you look at the big picture, even if the dollar figures coming in stayed similar to now (which, frankly, they wouldn’t), isn’t the idea of way MORE readers just a brilliant thing, full-stop. It’s not just about “sales” — it’s about the cultural impact of a medium, the ancillary opportunities this provides, and a host of other things that are hard to quantify by a dollars-in/dollars out metric.

    The bottom line is, if American publishers were bolder, our paradigms and distribution models could change dramatically in positive ways.

    Or we can keep selling four dollar corporate books to aging adults and the vanishingly small coterie of wealthy kids who somehow find their ways to comic book shops.

    I honestly have trouble understanding who would argue for higher prices and less physical distribution options for a fringe medium where many legendary creators cannot make ends meet or enjoy health benefits for their labors. And the biggest single reason for that sad state of affairs? NOT ENOUGH READERS, NOT ENOUGH SALES.

    This could all clearly be done so much better. So instead of sniping at each other, we should all be listening and engaging with new ideas on the topic. Comics are awesome. MANY more people would agree, if they could afford them or find them. (Or relate to the gender/race/sexuality of the characters, but that’s a whole other thing…)

  45. HsssH says:

    @Zaragosa, instead of looking back to the years when comics were 1$ you might want to look to more recent history when comics were mostly for 2.99$. There are way less different factors between 2.99 and 3.99 eras than 1 and 3.99.

    As far as I know we didn’t saw 33% drop in sales and almost all, if I’m not mistaken, books in top tens are 3.99 ones.

  46. Whatever happened to comic companies competing with each other for the casual buyer; there were years of competition, with differing formulas for page count VS price: the DC 1960s 25 cent 80 page giants, then Marvel at 64 pages, then DC 100 pages for 50 cents, and so on.
    Keep the price point at $4, if it needs to be there as incentive to retailers, but increase the page count.
    Today, Bongo Comics sells Bart Simpson, 48 pages of new content on good quality paper stock, minimal ads, for $4. On the newsstand.

  47. I think people have the cause and effect thing backwards. The price increases didn’t cause dropping sales. Most likely dropping sales caused price increases.

  48. george says:

    “The spinner racks were a compromise solution offered by the CMAA, keeping comics in stores by literally shoving them into a corner, away from the “real” reading material.”

    I think the comic shops put the medium in even more of a ghetto … unless you think the departure of kids and females from comic-book readership (in any large numbers) is a good thing.

    The shops may have kept pamphlets alive, but did it by gearing them even more toward superheroes. In other words, by catering to the tastes of aging fanboys. Pamphlets will eventually go the way of the spinner rack.

  49. The vast majority of damage to comics’ demographic reach was done long before the comics shops arrived. Rallying around the adolescent male demographic was the hallmark of the Silver Age; it was then that the fate of the westerns, romance comics, and kids’ titles was sealed. The newsstand collapse of the 1970s — which gave rise to the comics shops — was partly a response.

    There’s no evidence of the fading of periodicals, at least lately. Time will tell…

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