Thursday, September 10, 2009

Marvel and DC: Do no harm.

Last week, the big bombshell was Marvel being bought by Disney.

This week, DC announced structural changes, bringing the comics division under the control of the movie division.

Which sends cold chills down my spine.

There is a bit of history here.

Back in the early 90's, comics had a good, old fashioned bubble. Got big for a couple of years, lots of speculation; variant covers, shiny covers, short prints, the whole playbook.

When sales took a big hit, all the comics shops were scrambling to survive. It would have been tough, no matter what happened.

But Marvel panicked. They blamed the distribution system and the retailers for the declining sales. They decided they could distribute direct to the retailers themselves.

It was an utter disaster. Turns out distributing hundreds of titles a month to thousands of shops wasn't as easy as they thought. It had the effect of taking an already deflating bubble and popping it.

DC's reaction was even more harmful. They decided they would go exclusive as well, and the remaining distributors fought for their business. Image and Dark Horse, the third and fourth largest comic companies followed suit. There was one major survivor, Diamond Comics, who won, guess what, by making the best deal with the comic companies, a lower percentage.

When Marvel came crawling back to Diamond, there were less than 25% as many comic shops left, as well as only one distributor. Kind of a recipe for constantly declining sales. Less shops, means less exposure and so on.

This new development looks like a replay. An overreach and an overreaction to a already weakened market.

I hope they'll remember the golden rule for distribution -- do no harm.

1 comment:

Duncan McGeary said...

The story has been that DC has always tried to keep a low profile, knowing how fragile the comic business is.

And the publishing division of both Marvel and DC are dinky compared to rest of the companies. Almost R and D. But R and D works best when you let the creative types do their thing.

The movies, as I've said many many times, have done very little for comics as a whole, despite gaining more and more prominence in the mass media.

For instance, this month there are two major movies coming out from comics; Whiteout with Kate B. and Surrogates with Bruce Willis.

I think I MAY have sold one or two comics of each license.

So what a major conglomerate to do? Mix things up? Throw a monkey wrench into the works and see what sparks fly?

But this isn't a business problem, or a structural problem. It's a sea change in how people consume entertainment. If Disney and Warners can create more comic readers, more power to them.

More likely they'll balkanize the who industry, and drive what few loyal readers left away.

And it will be barely a ripple to their bottom line. The could make movies of the Hulk and Daredevil and Woverine and X-Men and Batman and Superman and Green Lantern and so on, probably for decades and never have to publish another comic.

When was the last time you saw them produce anything starring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck?

Oh, the graphic form will continue, somehow, someway. But it could get pretty bloody in our insular little industry that until now had flown under the radar of the big boys.