Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Waiting for Wednesday, Volume 3, Issue 43

Welcome to a bit of an awkward Waiting for this week. Let me explain what I mean.

Maybe you've noticed that, lately, I haven't really recommended many Marvel titles. For good reason, I think. I'm just not enjoying much of their line right now, which is fine. Comics are cyclical, and from my experience I think it's pretty normal for there to be Marvel and DC swings with readers. Right now, I'm definitely on a DC swing.

A lot of this has to do with my complete ambivalence towards Marvel's big summer event, Fear Itself. I gave it a shot and didn't like it. I think I stopped liking it at issue two, but out of...I don't know, loyalty? Obsessive compulsive disorder?...I kept buying the book until issue four.

And then I read about halfway through that issue, closed the book, and pretty much stopped buying all things Marvel.

It just wasn't my cuppa, if you know what I mean.

And, unfortunately, the nature of mainstream comics makes it very difficult to enjoy anything from one publisher while they're in the middle of a line-wide event.

Fear Itself is certainly a line-wide event, complete with cross-overs, tie-ins, (useless) "point-one" issues, and now a 12-issue weekly postscript called Fear Itself: The Fearless. (Seriously? A 12-issue aftermath to an event that seemingly took all year to "finish"? Ugh. No, thanks.)

But this week there are a number of Marvel books launching that I have a genuine interest in. Pretty cool, right? Back on the Marvel bandwagon and all that? Well, no. Not really. See, last week Marvel laid off 12 people on their editorial and production staffs.

And this annoyed me greatly.

As someone working in publishing today--and as someone who has been through staff reductions, salary freezes, and layoffs--I take things like this personally. Obviously I have no affiliation with Marvel and I don't know any of the people who were laid off.

But I do know what it's like to be a victim of such nonsense and I definitely feel for those laid off.

And recent reports have shown that maybe Marvel/Disney hasn't treated their employees that well over the past couple of years. Lots of news has come out about how cost cutting and nickel and diming is the way they do business. Just read that article I linked to above, and try not to let your blood pressure go up too much.

But that's stuff that doesn't directly involve the whole behind the scenes publishing process. I know a bit about that scene--not at Marvel, but at other publishers.

Most (read: all) publishing companies today have done a few things to attempt to counter the declining book sales of the past few years. First, they cut staff. Second, they cut the amount of money they'll spend on projects. And third, they cut the turnaround time for said projects.

From experience, I can tell you that a lot of companies take a very corporate stance on how to handle editorial. "If 10 people can do the job, I bet if we cut down to eight people, the work will still get done." And when those eight people show that they can, in fact, do the job (albeit with many more hours and much more stress), certain people start to wonder if they might be able to get by with six people on staff.

Now, before I continue on my tirade here, please remember that Marvel is owned by Disney. They're not exactly some little start-up looking for funding. Please also remember that Marvel has continually ignored market demands for lower-priced comics.

This last point is the one I'd like to focus on because man, does that get me angry.

It's so typical in publishing that, when things go wrong--for a number of reasons beyond the control of editorial (like, say, price point!)--layoffs come to the folks who work the hardest and are in the weeds with these books, day in and day out.

While DC has adjusted the price on the majority of their line to $2.99, Marvel has kept the bulk of their comics at $3.99 and above. They've even had the nerve to state in interviews that $3.99 is the price that consumers want based on the fact that their books were selling quite well.

Makes sense, right?

Well, kind of. Look at it another way, though. If you want to read the Spider-Man book or the Avengers title, you have to pick up the ones being produced by Marvel and being sold for $3.99. There's just no way around that; no other option other than waiting on the trade and buying at a discounted rate on Amazon.

Lots of comics fans don't want to wait six to twelve months before getting their hands on a book--especially when it comes to event books. And, frankly, they shouldn't have to wait. if you're going to sell single issues, you should do everything possible to make sure the largest number of consumers buy them.

So when Marvel says things like, "the marketplace has shown that $3.99 is an acceptable price point," they're being a bit dodgy because they're the only game in town when it comes to Spider-Man and the Avengers.

When Marvel dominated the market share (which they've done for the better part of the past decade, up until a month or two ago), there really wasn't much arguing with them. People are buying the $3.99 books, so let's keep 'em coming.

Well, now DC has wrestled away a nice chunk of that leading market share thanks to their New 52. Oh. And the price on those books? Yeah, it's $2.99. So now how does Marvel justify their pricing? Do they make an attempt to lower the prices on books like Spider-Man and The Avengers?

Nope, they just fire staff.

So, here's the part that's a bit awkward for me. I don't want to advertise Marvel books this week, even though I'm buying a couple of them, excitedly, today. Now, I have no delusions of grandeur--I understand full well that I have ZERO effect on Marvel's sales.

I also understand hypocrisy, and it's a bit hypocritical for me to go out and purchase books from Marvel after my ranting today. It's also detrimental to the hardworking folks at Marvel for me to say things like, "don't buy their stuff." So I won't say that.

I just won't talk about what I think are some interesting books coming their way today.

-- -- -- --

I will say to go out and buy a book (or two) from a publisher or from a creative team that you've never heard of. As mentioned last week, Flesh and Blood, Book One, comes out today from Monsterverse Entertainment and I think it's a book to watch. There's also Li'l Depressed Boy, issue seven, from Image. And I've talked about how great that book is every time it ships to stores.

So go out and buy comics. Buy whatever you like, or whatever you think you might like. Try something new. Stick with something old. Grab a horror book for this week leading up to Halloween. Buy a kid's book and give it to a niece or nephew. Just go buy some comics.

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