Sadly, this is not an April Fool’s joke. You may not know it, but comic book sales have been taking something of a dive lately, especially for Marvel. It’s an odd phenomenon considering the fact that so many comic-related products are all over film and television right now. More and more people are being exposed to the likes of the Guardians of the Galaxy and Preacher thanks to media development, but it seems this is not translating to an increase in sales and Marvel’s Vice President of Sales, David Gabriel has something to say about it.
In an interview at the Marvel Retailer’s Summit, Gabriel was asked what he thought about the recent slump in sales for Marvel’s properties. He had this to say:
“What we heard was that people didn’t want any more diversity. They didn’t want female characters out there. That’s what we heard, whether we believe that or not. I don’t know that that’s really true, but that’s what we saw in sales.
We saw the sales of any character that was diverse, any character that was new, our female characters, anything that was not a core Marvel character, people were turning their nose up against. That was difficult for us because we had a lot of fresh, new, exciting ideas that we were trying to get out and nothing new really worked.”
It isn’t unusual for an executive to blame diversity in their properties for slumps in sales. They have been doing it for years and there are a few reasons this occurs. Traditional media has nearly always been male-centric. Almost all of the top-grossing brands in comic books are all based on male characters. The United States is something of a misogynistic society after all and it’s only recently (The past four decades or so) that diversity has made a real impact on the industry. For an executive like Gabriel to latch on this ‘new’ phenomenon as the reason sales are taking a dive may not be unusual, but it does highlight a cultural problem we have in what is still a male-dominated society.
Marvel has been latching onto diversity in their characters lately and the readers seem to love it. We have seen a lady Thor & Loki as well as an increase in the number of characters taking center stage who aren’t white men in their late twenties. Industry experts and those of us with the ability to analyze more than just the nature of a character introduction have pointed to other issues Marvel’s audience may have been struggling with.
- Over the past 2 years, Marvel has launched 12 different crossover events.
- Marvel increased the cost of their single issues to $3.99, $4.99, and $5.99
- DC launched a $2.99 price point for their books across the board.
- Marvel flooded the market with new titles causing an oversaturation in an industry lacking a need for it. The number of #1 books Marvel has published in the previous six months has become something of a joke online.
- Marvel dropped their ‘Buy physical, get digital’ offering where they provided a code to readers to receive a digital version of their comics for free. Fans loved it… and then hated Marvel for killing the program.
— Michael Perlman (@mjperljam) January 6, 2017
- Artists and writers have been transferred from book to book, which is something readers don’t like.
There could be one or two readers out there who scoffed at seeing yet another new title with a woman or minority on the cover, but for most of Marvel’s reading audience, people are just getting exhausted in their time and their wallets when it comes to the overabundance of new (and not necessarily needed) titles. The core readership for titles like Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Avengers, Wolverine, and others will remain, but with Marvel choosing to shift their focus to so much new content, it’s no surprise the readers aren’t engaging.
Unsurprisingly, Gabriel has taken some heat online for his comments. He posted the following comment in an attempt to curb some of the online outrage:
“Discussed candidly by some of the retailers at the summit, we heard that some were not happy with the false abandonment of the core Marvel heroes and, contrary to what some said about characters “not working,” the sticking factor and popularity for a majority of these new titles and characters like Squirrel Girl, Ms. Marvel, The Mighty Thor, Spider-Gwen, Miles Morales, and Moon Girl, continue to prove that our fans and retailers ARE excited about these new heroes. And let me be clear, our new heroes are not going anywhere! We are proud and excited to keep introducing unique characters that reflect new voices and new experiences into the Marvel Universe and pair them with our iconic heroes.
We have also been hearing from stores that welcome and champion our new characters and titles and want more! They’ve invigorated their own customer base and helped them grow their stores because of it. So we’re getting both sides of the story and the only upcoming change we’re making is to ensure we don’t lose focus of our core heroes.”
Perhaps his original comments were those of a stressed-out executive who has been taking some flak for a dip in sales… maybe he was simply grasping at straws to explain the issue. Even if this is the case, it still shines a light on the cultural issues at hand when a top-level executive at a company as large as Marvel points to an increase in diversity as a major concern for retailers and their own brand.