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S.W.O.R.D. is cancelled: Why, God, why?!?!?!?!?

No, this isn’t a post hand-wringing about the cancellation of a cool Marvel series. This is a post about why you shouldn’t wring your hands. Oh, and how S.W.O.R.D. never stood a chance. I know, shocking.

Sword1So, the rumors are true, and Marvel’s S.W.O.R.D. series is dead after issue #5. Kieron Gillen has confirmed it on his blog, so let’s all have a moment of silence for yet another nifty comic that died too soon. The next one that comes down the pike really ought to have a scene set in a graveyard where the recent dead series lie – this one, Captain Britain, Agents of Atlas, The Order, Ant-Man … that would be a fun scene.

Gillen makes some interesting points about the cancellation in the post. He writes:

The first five issues are a neat little arc, which will collect into an agreeably intense little trade. It was planned so if the worst did happen – and launching a new ongoing in the current market is an enormously risky business – that it would hold together and wouldn’t leave anything dangling. I haven’t changed a panel in 5, basically, and I’m pleased with where I leave the cast.

He then writes that the petition to keep the book alive is touching, even if it’s ultimately futile. Why is this, you wonder? Because Gillen then goes on to point out that this book was dead even before the first issue shipped. Let’s let him explain:

Comics operate on a system of pre-ordering. As in, the first issue’s orders were in before anyone had even read a single page of the book. The numbers which people are reporting are low enough that the inevitable second issue dip – also ordered before anyone had read issue 1 – would move it into a clearly dangerously low sales for a book in the X-family. In other words, I actually don’t feel that bad about the cancellation. It was already on unsteady ground before anyone had even read the thing, and got annoyed over Sanders’ [B]east design or my over-verbal theatrics.

He finishes with:

In other words, people being vocal about their like of a comic isn’t really just about trying to save S.W.O.R.D. – it’s about making it clear that this was a book you were interested in, and encourage editors and publishers to think about books in a similar part of the emotional terrain and then work out a way to sell ‘em.

He has a good point with that last one – the petition might not save S.W.O.R.D. (nor do I think Greg Hyatt, who came up with it, could realistically believe it would), but it’s useful to let Marvel know that people actually do like comics that don’t star Wolverine or are written by Bendis. I know, what a concept. But still.

Sword2So let’s think about the launch and cancellation of S.W.O.R.D. I was speaking to the guy at my comic book shoppe about it getting the axe, and he said, very logically, that it was a book written by an unknown writer (sorry, KG!) and an unknown artist (sorry, Mr. Sanders!) that spun off of a storyline that ended, what, two years ago? I only surprised Marvel green-lit it in the first place. I’m certainly not shocked that it got cancelled. But it does bring up a good question, and that is … are Marvel and DC “real” companies? They’re certainly not run like ones. I’ll explain (concentrating on Marvel, although we could easily do this for DC, as well).

Marvel launches these series with no market research whatsoever. Many folk have pointed out that perhaps they should have done this as a mini-series and seen what the sales figures were like. They did that with Agents of Atlas a few years ago, and apparently the sales were crappy on that, too, so naturally Marvel launched an ongoing continuing that story. But at least they had some data about it. All they had to base this on was a series that was a vanity project for a creator from outside comics who brought a bunch of fans who didn’t care about the characters he used, but read the book because he was writing it. I’m sure some people read Astonishing X-Men because Whedon brought Kitty Pryde back, but I bet a large part of the audience for that book were “Whedon fans,” not fans of the characters. So any spin-off involving the characters Whedon invented but not Whedon himself was going to be a hard sell. So, of course, Marvel waited two years to launch it.

Then, of course, there are the “pre-order” numbers. It’s been pointed out that we, the readers, are not Marvel’s customers – the retailers are. No retailer is going to order a lot of issues by an unknown writer and an unknown artist. Let’s face it, most comic book fans follow characters, and when your biggest “name” character in a book is Henry McCoy, it could be a book featuring nothing but a Beast/Abigail/Death’s Head hard core porn threesome and it would take a while to catch on. Retailers were never going to order this in large numbers, and even if they sold out the ones they did get, this is really the epitome of a book that needs word-of-mouth before retailers will bump up their orders. That Marvel decided on its fate before any issues had shipped is, well, kind of dumb. But it’s not surprising.

Sword3Marvel is also ignoring trade paperback numbers, given that no trade has come out yet. I have no idea what the numbers are of “trade-waiters,” but then again, that’s not my job. Does Marvel have any idea how well their trade paperbacks sell compared to individual issues? I’m sure the single issues still outsell trades by a fairly decent margin, but I have no idea, and I’m willing to bet nobody at Marvel does either. Many people have commented on this blog that they were waiting for the trade on S.W.O.R.D., and while Marvel might think that’s a stupid strategy, it’s their own damned fault. They’re the ones who bring everything out in trade, at a price that’s often comparable or even cheaper than buying them as single issues, and with no advertisements. I’m a sucker for not buying everything in trade, I get that, but Marvel is really heavily relying on people like me, who get individual issues for no other reason than they like reading a lot of books right away. I admit it’s totally irrational. But that’s the way it is. As more and more people move to trades, will Marvel take that into account? If sales for the inevitable S.W.O.R.D. trade do well, will Marvel return to Gillen and Sanders and ask them to continue the story? Yeah, probably not.

Marvel’s pricing policy elicits head-scratching, too. They launched this book with a $3.99 price point, which already put it in a bad position. Yes, it was a bit longer and therefore probably worth it, but the fact is (and yes, I’ll keep going back to it), this book was written by someone who is not widely known and drawn by someone who is not widely known and featured a back-up story drawn by someone who is not widely known. And it was a dollar more expensive than most of Marvel’s output. To use anecdotal evidence, Mary Warner, who comments here often, wasn’t going to buy it because of the price, but she took a chance … based on on-line recommendations (mine, but perhaps others as well). And while she didn’t love the plot, she loved Gillen’s dialogue. Now, I’m not saying that everyone who tries the book will love it, but Marvel didn’t even take that into consideration. As Gillen pointed out, this book was pretty much cancelled before people like Mary could even check it out. Sheesh. Why Marvel can’t lower the price on its #1 issues, especially the ones they don’t have any confidence in, is beyond me. I understand that DC can do it with Vertigo for a variety of reasons, and perhaps Disney money can help Marvel do that more often, but even so – are you telling me that Marvel’s bottom line is so tenuous that they can’t take a bath on a first issue twice or thrice a year (they don’t launch all that many books like this; for instance, I wouldn’t lower the price on New Mutants, which is a recognized brand)? I guess so.

sword4coverHere’s the strange thing about Marvel and DC: they’re not real businesses. Nobody in charge knows much about business. Quesada is an artist, for crying out loud. I might love Vincent van Gogh, but I don’t want him running a business! Dan DiDio has been in business for years, but from the scant information about him on Wikipedia (yeah, I know), it doesn’t sound like he has much actual business training. I could be wrong. The bigwigs at Marvel and DC have no idea how to run a successful business. First, they don’t strike while the iron is hot, as I pointed out above. Why start this book after all the buzz is gone from Astonishing X-Men (let’s not even talk about how the buzz on that book dissipated because of the delays; let’s just pretend it was still as hot as it was at the end as it was at the beginning)? That’s really the only way it could have succeeded, even with a different writer and artist. I realize that Gillen pitched this, but why would they approve it in the first place? And, having approved it, why would they not do more research? Why not do it as a mini-series? Or a back-up in a more popular book? Why don’t they do surveys? Gillen has done some other work for Marvel – have they tracked if his Thor work is more popular than the regular Thor stuff, or less? Marvel could ask people about whether they would buy a book about Abigail Brand and her organization, or a book written by Gillen, or a book drawn by Sanders, or even a book that features Death’s Head (but then they would SPOIL the first issue, and God forbid we do that, right?). I have rarely seen a mainstream superhero book get reviewed on-line early enough for people to pre-order it. Presumably, Gillen and Sanders had something in the can by the time issue #1 was solicited. Couldn’t Marvel have gotten that into the hands of some people to drum up interest in the book? I’ve ranted about advertising before – Marvel and DC simply don’t do it. Sure, we get house ads, but when you consider that something like Entertainment Weekly actually reviews graphic novels, they would probably do well to put an ad or two in there. I know they’re prohibitively expensive, but that just means that Marvel isn’t one of the big boys and shouldn’t act like it. But they do. Time to nut up, Marvel!

Finally, retailers aren’t exempt from my contempt, either. I know that retailers aren’t in the business of selling Marvel’s books for them, but … it seems like they do have a bit of a symbiotic relationship. I have mentioned before that the comic book store where I shopped in Portland, Excalibur Comics, had a nifty policy. They noticed the buying trends of their customers and suggested books that they might like. They knew I was buying some Warren Ellis books back in the 1990s, so they asked me if I wanted to take a chance on Strange Kiss, his first Avatar mini-series. I said sure, and that was that. I would never have heard of Strange Kiss if not for the guy behind the counter. I have no idea if they were exceptional or not, but I know that the place I go to now doesn’t do that, and I really like the place I shop. Retailers, I would think, would be interested in hooking more readers for more books. Even if it doesn’t work, why not try it? Marvel could even get exhort retailers to do it. “Hey, we have this new comic called S.W.O.R.D. coming out. It’s written by the guy who wrote Phonogram and some Thor stuff. Could you ask your customers if they’d be interested in it?” It’s not fucking rocket science, but it’s apparently beyond the higher-ups at the Big Two. The guy who works at my store knows very well who orders what at the store – he knows, for instance, that some people get only Bat-family comics. He’s worked there long enough that he knows what people like. His boss, the owner, apparently has no interest in doing surveys, so that’s why he doesn’t do it, but I bet they could if they wanted to. I bet they would if Marvel or DC asked them to, with some carrots attached.

SWORD5S.W.O.R.D., I wrote above, was doomed from the start, not only because of Marvel’s poor marketing. As we should all know by now, there’s a way of things if you come to the Big Two from independent comics. Gillen wrote a well-regarded mini-series and a sequel, then got some minor work from Marvel. He’s still in his “building a brand” stage, meaning he’s going to write minor Marvel stuff and gain an audience of people who won’t buy Phonogram because it’s “indy.” They will, however, start to see his name on higher-profile stuff like Thor one-shots and perhaps hear about his highly-regarded but cancelled work like S.W.O.R.D. He may have to write another series like this before enough people who buy only Marvel superhero books know who he is and how good he is. Then, maybe, he can get away with a book like this. At this point in his career, it was fairly easy to predict that S.W.O.R.D. would go down in flames. That’s just the way it is. Word of mouth doesn’t work that well. For all the good reviews the book received, the fact is that most comic book readers don’t put much stock in Internet reviews. They just don’t. That’s fine, but it’s the way it is. Most people who shop at my store, according to the guys who work there, don’t look through Previews. They don’t sample new stuff. They buy every single issue of Amazing Spider-Man not because they like the writers or artists, but because they like the character. And then they complain that Mark Waid or Joe Kelly or Marcos Martin or John Romita, Jr. (or whoever) is ruining the book … but they keep buying it. That is, it seems, the majority of comic book readers. Marvel and DC don’t seem to care, so I don’t. That’s their thing. But it makes it almost impossible for a book like S.W.O.R.D. to succeed. Especially if we consider that Marvel and DC aren’t real companies.

I envision Joey Q. and Dan DiDio and their henchmen sitting in a room, affixing some sort of tacky substance to pitches, throwing them at the wall, and whatever sticks is the one they approve. It’s probably not quite as random as that, but I can’t believe it’s much more scientific than that. They have no idea when they announce a project that doesn’t star one of their “big guys” whether it will sell or not. I know that nobody in any field knows what’s going to sell and what’s not, but shouldn’t you at least try to find out? And shouldn’t you have a more scientific way to figure out whether something is selling? Television networks cancel shows fairly quickly, but at least they have instant ratings to look at. Marvel had no idea if S.W.O.R.D. was going to sell, and they pretty much banked on it not selling. And that seems like a strange way to do business. Oh, that’s right. I forgot.

As I wrote above, I’m not that bent out of shape that S.W.O.R.D. won’t continue. Shit happens. I just continue to be fascinated that Marvel and DC can manage to stay in business. They must be doing something right, but I just can’t see what it is very often.

85 Comments

Well. Now I kinda wish I’d given S.W.O.R.D. a try. I just assumed it would be a big hit by the time I bought the trade paperback. (HAHA! I kid! I bought the “Strange” miniseries JUST to let Marvel know, “I like this version of Dr. Strange.” Did it work? Is there an ongoing Waid-written Dr. Strange book in the pipeline? …DAMMIT!)

Buuuut seriously, folks. I am curious about the notion of mini-series that get “green-lit” into full-fledged regular series. Why is this not the way the big two do things? “Here, try this out. If enough of you seem interested, in a few months we’ll decide whether or not to make it a full series”? That doesn’t seem like a crazy idea, right?

Isn’t that kinda how X-Factor kicked up again? With a Madrox miniseries that was favorably received? I know because it’s on my bookshelf now. AND, didn’t the Wisdom miniseries result in “Captain Britain” (yes I’m just looking at my shelf now)?

OK, now that I see it written in front of me, it seems like a crazy idea.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

January 19, 2010 at 10:27 pm

The only thing I think you’re off on is assuming it’s on Joe and Dan’s backs – they are the head editors, not the publishers.
They don’t do final approval on new books, or on canceling books – that’d be Buckley, and whomever it is at DC.

Quesada may be an artist, for cryin’ out loud, but so was (creators anyway) Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Jim Shooter etc, and they all over saw booms.
(And heck, Quesada got the job after doing a better job selling books with his experimental line than the guy in charge of the main line, who wasn’t an artist, was doing at the time).

Other than that, yeah, comic companies are fucked.

Great post Greg. You said everything I wanted to say about this, but felt too sick to be bothered with – you also said it much better than I would have said it. At the end of the day, with the canceling of this book (which I am not surprised by) my Marvel pull list dwindles to 3.

[...] January 20, 2010 in CSBG, comics, marvel comics I really liked S.W.O.R.D. – it was certainly the most original book I’ve seen come out of Marvel in a long while.  A nice breath of fresh air.  I thought of doing a giant post about why it’s a shame that this book couldn’t make it, of course adding my layman opinion on why things like this prove that the comic book industry is pretty doomed independent of the digital age…but Greg at CSBG did it first (and way better), so I’m just going to link to him instead. [...]

I agree. S.W.O.R.D. wasn’t really given much of a chance as the advertising was pretty low.

I do disagree, however, with the decision for Marvel to approve such a comic. Sure, it may have been two years too late, but Gillen may have given a very strong case and good on Quesada for at least giving it a chance. YOu never know, i guess, some comics might surprise and launch strong. I can’t think of any off the top of my head, and not many that get canned at ish #5, but hell, Doctor Voodoo launched so low, and it got a fair bit of press, and tied into Avengers, so i thought that would be golden for about 40k-ish, but I was wrong there.

It’s a shame, but at least Marvel tried, to some degree, instead of just creating another X-Avengers franchise.

I’d rather have only 5 issues of S.W.O.R.D. that another twenty of Deadpool…ugh.

Jeff Holland: “Isn’t that kinda how X-Factor kicked up again?”

Secret Six, too.

not surprised Sword got canceled for it was a book that was not the typical normal marvel affair. not to mention Marvel like any other company can not keep putting out something that is not making them money enough to warrant the cost of keeping it going . a pity means the cast of sword are now in Limbo or having to make the rare appearance during crossovers

Marvel obviously doesn’t want my money that badly, ’cause whenever I think my pull list is getting too large, they cancel a favorite. Marvel’s best series in the last 3 years have been new titles that’ve been cancelled within a year and half of their debut. Captain Britain/MI13, The Order, Agents of ATLAS, S.W.O.R.D…

This book’s been brilliant. Easily Gillen’s best superhero work, fantastic script, cool art… I’ll be sad to see it go.

Great post, Greg.

maybe someone at disney can recommend somebody with an MBA and experience in the publishing industry to help with their marketing department.

I will probably pick Doctor Voodoo and SWORD up in trade? Maybe? But, like, I dunno, man. Comics are just kinda depressing me now.

I was going to trade-wait S.W.O.R.D., but at the time, I knew it was the kind of book that stood no chance if people who were interested in it waited for the trade. Now I know, at least where Marvel is concerned, that it didn’t stand a chance either way so I might as well save some money and wait for the trade.

I do think DC is a little better on this issue. They tend to let even their poorly selling series reach a full 12 issues before pulling the plug and often have a mini-series first to see if there is enough interest (Azrael is a good recent example of a new series that resulted from a strong selling miniseries). But on the other hand, as a rule, I tend not to buy self-contained miniseries until they come out as trades, so the idea of using a mini to test the market would only work for readers like me, if there are indeed more readers like me, if data on the trades is collected and analyzed, which would probably create a good deal of time between the mini-series and the series, killing some of the buzz.

I’ve long been an advocate of comic companies switching to trades for smaller or self-contained stories. Now I confess I don’t know the full business implications involved in publishing a trade without single issues versus both and whether or not the creators or the publishers would make enough money off of it to justify their time. I also confess that I have been politely called out on this issue by creators in the past. However, if S.W.O.R.D. was published as a trade initially, Marvel would have had plenty of time to send out advance copies for reviews and to try to actually build buzz about the book. Then, because it would be a larger piece of work up for sale in one chunk, Marvel could further lure readers in by posting a substantial free preview to their digital comics website and distributing this preview to the major comic websites. As much as a whole issue’s worth could reasonably be showcased for free to fans without fear of giving them too much for free, and there should be enough in that material to make fans interested in buying it if the book is their thing.

DC seems to finally be experimenting with this idea a bit with their Earth One line, and I hope it works well because, as long as it is financially viable for the creators involved, I really believe the the ad-free trade format works much better for smaller, self contained stories than the mini-series format. And it would be nice to see some actual data supporting my belief.

I crunched some numbers a couple years ago on the comic market:
http://fiendishobservationalcomedian.blogspot.com/2008/04/decline-of-comic-book-business.html

It looks to me as though the lion’s share of comics are consumed in trade. In dollar terms, it looks as though trades sell double what floppies sell. Also, bear in mind that the sales charts coming from Diamond probably account for a fraction of the total trade business. Finally, if you go to the average Borders (or Barnes & Noble), then you will notice that what they stock bears only a tangential relationship to what the average LCS stocks.

There seem to be two comic markets and the LCS selling to the chronically unhappy Spidey fan is the smaller of the two. TPBs are a larger business that is still growing.

In business terms, the floppy market is a cash cow and the TPB market is star. Smart business people invest their best resources into their star businesses. Conversely, cash cows get exactly what they need to sustain themselves and nothing more. It is a cost control game

Given that, I am not sure Marvel and DC are as dumb as you think. S.W.O.R.D. produced just enough material for one trade. It flopped in the Direct Market, but maybe that wasn’t the audience. One trade gives Marvel another product to sell the Whedon fans trolling their favorite chain book store. If the on-going took off, then it would just be a plus.

The reason the “try it as a trade to see if it gets enough of a response to warrant an ongoing” isn’t used much is because of the time frame it would take. Let’s say it’s a four-issue mini-series. Months after orders are in for the first two issues, the issues actually go out to stores. However, because it’s a mini-series, and because it likely costs $3.99, many people choose not to buy and wait for what they see as the inevitable trade instead. The trade, though, typically comes out four to eight months after the last issue of mini-series. That means sales on pre-orders and week-of-release orders won’t be calculated until roughly 11 months after the first issue of the series came out. To green light, put together, and release a first issue after that would take a rushed minimum of three months for most books. And that would mean the first issue of a possible ongoing series could happen a almost year after the mini-series that spawned it ended.

Knowing all this, it’s interesting that a book like Terry Moore’s tremendously well-done Echo had its first trade come out a month (sooner?) after the last issue it contained was released. If big companies’ trades moved this quickly, it may make it easier for them to get a turnaround. On both money and information.

“I’m sure some people read Astonishing X-Men because Whedon brought Kitty Pryde back, but I bet a large part of the audience for that book were “Whedon fans,” not fans of the characters. So any spin-off involving the characters Whedon invented but not done by Whedon himself was going to be a hard sell. So, of course, Marvel waited two years to launch it.”

Or it could simply be that projects can take anywhere up to eighteen months between acceptance and solictations.

I forgot to add that I only read the first two issues of this and loved it. It was fun and smart. Besides the bizarre way it made Beast’s face look, I also loved the art. Because of all that, I totally expected it to get canceled. Just not this quickly.

I would fall on the side of X-fans over Whedon fans as being the bigger fanbase/marketshare, but I liked the ideas you put into the article.

I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that Marvel still outsells DC every year now. DC seems to have the critical pull, but Marvel has more well-known characters to deal with, higher average price-rate for monthly titles and more monthlies than DC, but in the same way I know why Transformers makes hundreds of millions of dollars, I just don’t get it.

Trades are where the field starts leveling a bit, but Marvel still wins the overall race I believe, despite complaints about its marketing practices.

“I know that retailers aren’t in the business of selling Marvel’s books for them”

Wait, whosay*what*? Comic book shops are not in the business of promoting major suppliers of the stuff they’re trying to sell? Then what ARE they in the business of? Providing shelf space?
I mean, if you’re relying on Marvel to do all your selling for you, shouldn’t you be aware that they are even less in the business of keeping your store alive?

The direct market. Strange place.

All this whining and complaining towards Marvel, as though they deliberatley wanted not many people to buy a book of theirs. It had it’s chance, it fetured an original X-man in Beast, it featured a character people generally seem to enjoy in Lockheed, it featured characters introduced in Joss Whedons Astonishing X-men, and what happened? It flopped hugely. Normal people would say “ah well, it clearly didnt interest enough people to warrant it continuing”, but not comic fans, no, they bitch at other fans for daring to not like what they themselves do, they bitch at the company producing it for not treating it on a par of their a-list titkles in terms of advertising etc… followed by people claiming they are done with Marvel for this yada yada… And I suppose the most annoying part is when the next book like Sword gets cancelled, the process will be repeated.

The problem with both publishers’ attitudes to trades is that they’re releasing them soon enough to be a viable alternative (sensible) but not soon enough that you could finish the trade and start reading the comics.

I mean, I managed to jump onto Fables: Witches thanks to the simple expediency of ignoring the Great Fables Crossover completely (and thank you Bill Willingham for writing for 3 months without moving the plot of Fables on one iota. Very helpful.) And I still need to get the back issue with Mr Dark’s backstory in order to know who Dunster Happ is.

But if I want to pick up the single issues of Blackest Night, Green Lantern or GLC, I currently have to buy not one but TWO PREMIERES on top of all the trades in order for three of the MAIN characters to make sense. The main characters who are getting their own book in the summer.

But the best example of this is Gail Simone’s Secret Six. I would love to read Secret Six in serial format. But it’s on issue #17. And Depths, which contains Issues 8 to 14, isn’t out till April 2010. APRIL. By which time the comics are up to issue#19, and issue #15′s disappeared entirely.
That’s madness, quite frankly, unless you want to segment the market completely into trades and comics.
I mean, I won’t bother at all. I’ll wait for it to turn up in my local library. At best, I’d buy the trades from Amazon.

Marvel’s marginally better, in that the TPB containing Thor #600 came out while there were still back issues of #602 and #603 on the shelves, and #601 wasn’t too hard to find in a bargain bin. But the trade should be coming out SIMULTANEOUSLY with the last issue that it contains. Or at least in the month’s gap between that issue and the next, so that you can make the transition as painlessly as possible.

Well, there is one other option, which is to download the comics “with every intention of picking up the trades when they come out.” But even I’m not buying that I’ll pay £50 for 30 issues of Green Lantern that I’ve already read.

Greg –

Great post and sums up my feelings on the matter entirely. I enjoyed SWORD, but at three issues in, it’s obviously no skin off my back that it’s already gone. But the fact that it was probably doomed before issue 1 ever hit the stands speaks to a fubar process somewhere. (Hey Marvel, I work in market research if you need anyone.)

But why oh why did you have to spoil the hard core Death’s Head porn ending that Gellen had planned for the book? :-)

As regards Marvel and DC as proper businesses, I think the important point to note is that creative industries don’t work like these fabled “real businesses”. Marvel can’t just say “publish this great S.W.O.R.D. comic” and it happens. S.W.O.R.D. is not great because any of the characters are great. It’s great because Keiron Gillen had some great ideas for characters.

And as regards the higher price point, that didn’t make sense to me until I realised just how different the comic market is from other markets (other possible exceptions are the music and novel publishing industries).

If Marvel offers retailers a book with a low RRP, the profit margin on that’s going to be miniscule, for either the retailer and the publisher or both. Which means you’d need to sell a lot of copies to justify buying it at all, or be confident that you’d pick up a lot of long-term fans. More importantly, the RETAILER would need to have the same confidence, because they have to replace other stock on the shelves with this lower value stock.

I’m not sure how the $1 Vertigo series worked for DC, but I have to assume that, in order for the retailer to get the same value for shelf with them as with a normal comic, that they’d effectively get the first issue for free. Which is fine… except if the series is only going to last for 6 issues and sales are going to decline, that’s over a sixth of the profits gone. (Yes, I know it’s more complicated than that, but the point is that it IS complicated, and cheap is not necessarily better).

Whereas if you have a book which you *know* is good (so it’ll attract a cult following) but isn’t likely isn’t going to sell, because readers only buy Spider-Man, it makes sense to charge a decent amount for it, especially as, if it gets good reviews and sales pick up, you can do a second printing of the same material for the same price. Charging *more* seems to be a backwards idea, even with more content, but charging less wouldn’t actually make a lot of sense either.

Greg gives the example of his friend who wasn’t going to buy it because of the price. But the point is that firstly, she undoubtedly buys other comics priced the same. What he means is, she wasn’t going to take the RISK because of the price. How low would the price have to go before that was no longer true, and how many extra sales would it have brought in if they’d reduced the price by half? Because it would have to DOUBLE them to be worthwhile. And secondly, it’s moot, because she bought the comic anyway, because it was a good comic.

Finally, as others have pointed out, Marvel will make a profit on this in trade over the long term (remember kids, if you like X-Factor, you can pick up the Madrox series in hardcover from Amazon, discounted to TPB prices. And you should, because it’s *awesome*), they’ve given Gillen an awful lot of valuable exposure, they’ve established a potential new franchise that could be picked up again later and THEY’VE MADE A GOOD COMIC.
I’ve got to say, considering the name of this blog, shouldn’t we be applauding them for that? Yes, it’s only 5 issues, but the title is “Comics Should Be Good”, not “Comics Should Run For 40 Years And End Up Trapped In Their Own Hideously Mangled Continuity”.

My other personal observation about SWORD…this one has been my gateway in Gillen’s writing. I picked up the first Phonogram trade because of SWORD and will most likely keep an eye on what his next projects are because of this book. So that’s a happy investment.

Best article Ive read in a while.
Isnt stuff like this why they had Marvel Comics Presents?
If Marvel is going to be an Intellectual property factory for Disney this doesnt seem to be the way to go about it.

Personally, I didn’t like #1 and didn’t continue reading afterward. The story was predictable. The characters and their roles were worked-over cliches. I really wanted to like it but I felt it just wasn’t anything I hadn’t already read. (The final page in #1 was so predictable I let out an audible groan.)

It’s hard to fault Marvel too much over the last few years. Yeah, there are seven Deadpool comics and whatever, but the line is so much more diverse than it was six or seven years ago when everything was gritty and ground level and what have you. A book like Incredible Hercules probably wouldn’t have existed then in any healthy way. Same for Guardians of the Galaxy. And at least they keep throwing projects like Captain Britain and the MI 13 or SWORD out there. And they’re experimenting with minis and back-ups.

Something like SWORD or Doctor Voodoo should probably be a back-up. That would serve Marvel well. It’d allow them to build up a new or underutilized IP (which is a hell of a lot more important than selling a a few thousand comics in the age of Disney/Marvel, no?), allow them to rationalize a 3.95 price point on a book that they were going to bump anyway and allow them to continue to have some more diversity int he line.

I’m not so frustrated by the fact that SWORD is being cancelled. What really gets to me is that I had to take the initiative to try out the book myself without having Marvel push me towards it. They do so much work to promote their stupid mega-super-this-will-change-everything crossovers that I don’t have a care in the world for but, as you stated above, when it comes to new book their is a serious lack of work being done to promote it.
Anyway, I took a chance and i’ve really enjoyed my KG fix and, believe it or not, I thought Sanders’ Beast design was fresh and interesting. Yeah, i’m sad it’s almost over but at least I discovered a new creative team. Who knows, maybe this discovery will influence me to try out a future ongoing that I will enjoy and then weep when it’s cancellation is announced.

Son of Joe Bloe

January 20, 2010 at 7:26 am

The sad reality is that even if every fan boy left buying comics bought this title sales would still suck. Marginal titles like this won’t even get a launch in the near future, and it’s only a matter of time before the big two stop producing new comics alltogether.
What’s the point of re-telling Spider-man’s origin for the umpteenth time, or giving the Beast a new haircut, or re-launching another new Moon Knight, Ka-Zar, Man-thing, fill-in-the-blank title, when they have a huge back catalogue to exploit?
Enjoy your new titles while they last, it won’t be long now.

i would like to meet this aforementioned fan who complains that John Romita, Jr. is ruining Amazing Spider-Man.

Maybe someone at Disney can recommend somebody with an MBA and experience in the publishing industry to help with their marketing department.

Actually, I’m sort of nervous about actual business people at Disney noticing Marvels’ publishing arm and suggesting that it’s more trouble than it’s worth. They’re the folks that canceled the newsstand Disney Adventures, which I am reasonably sure was outselling the X-Men and Spider-Man combined.

I have begged for years that these types of comic books offered by Marvel and DC – unknown or little known characters – who have potential be all packaged as a magazine sized monthly sold for 10 to 12 bucks or less rather than 22 story page monthlies that few people buy. And have the magazines sold everywhere magazines are sold and not just to comic book stores.

The Trade Paper Backs only exist for Marvel and DC to mine if they first produce the individual comics in the first place.

@Jack Flag
Technically, the comics could be argued to only exist as promotional material for the trade paperbacks and films. Certainly, that’s the way a real business would see them, considering where their main and long-term profit comes from.

Marvel and DC have effectively been using the webcomics model (generate a market with your serialised material, and then sell the nice collected editions and merchandise to your core audience) for more than 20 years now. They’ve just found a way to convince their audience to pay them for the privilege of advertising their trades and merchandise.

SWORD sounds, from the reviews, like something I might dig, but the price point, my already full pull list, and other factors combined to keep me out of the audience. I might pick up the trade, though.

As for Marvel & DC’s upper echelons not really knowing much about business: Duh. Even the highest-placed editorial executives seem content to leave business thinking to the board of directors or other supervisors, if that kind of thinking is done at all. Which is what you get when you staff an industry almost entirely with fanboys whose only experience with much of anything is old comics. That Didio, someone with a background mostly in TV, even broke into DC editorial astounds me.

but the price point

SWORD was only $4 for the first issue (which had extra pages). I mean, don’t get me wrong, I understand a general “I don’t have enough money to add another new book” statement, just noting that SWORD was regular priced.

“Why Marvel can’t lower the price on its #1 issues,… I understand that DC can do it with Vertigo for a variety of reasons, and perhaps Disney money can help Marvel do that more often…”

The Disney money won’t be a factor, just as the WB money is not a factor at DC. Both businesses run on a set budget for publishing comics. Just because Disney bought Marvel doesn’t mean they will dump money into publishing. The money to be made is licensing and movies.

Kris Krause said:

“I’ve long been an advocate of comic companies switching to trades for smaller or self-contained stories.”

By going directly to trades, the cost of the trade would have to go up. The monthly comics pay for the writer and artists. If there are no monthly comics, that cost must be added to the trade.

SWORD was regular priced only if you accept that $4 is now regular price for a comic. Personally, I stopped buying all Marvel mini’s because of the $4 price point, and won’t buy any regular issues at that price either unless it’s a larger issue. That’s why I skipped SWORD. I’ve since found out that the rest of the issues were only $3, and the first issue was bigger, so I went back and bought #s 1-3. Considering that most DC, Dark Horse and Image titles (and even Marvel) are still priced at $3, I don’t consider $4 to be regular price.

Justin D. said:

“Months after orders are in for the first two issues, the issues actually go out to stores…The trade, though, typically comes out four to eight months after the last issue of mini-series.”

Just a bit more about the timing…

Orders go in at the end of the month. Comics offered in the January Previews are ordered about January 31, and some are in the stores the first Wednesday in March. That’s 5 weeks. Books that come out the last week of March would be 8 or 9 weeks, depending on how the days fall in March that year.

And with Final Order Cutoff, the numbers ordered for issue 2 can be changed before it comes out.

For DC, the trade generally comes out about 6 months after the final issue of the series. For Marvel, it is generally the month after the final issue.

If the comics went directly to trade, presumably the number of trade copies sold would go up since there were no floppies to buy. So the increase in sales could vvery easily offset the loss of money from the floppies, and prices could stay the same or even go down. That seems to be one of the big problems with the comic industry, they seem to think the only way to make more omoney is to charge more. You can also make more money buy taking a smaller margin, but selling a larger amount of product. Comic companies continually trying to get a few extra dollars out of an ever shrinking fanbase is a doomed business model. They need new readers, not more money out of existing readers.

Speaking as a retailer, I knew SWORD was doomed from the get-go. Like Greg says, too many unknowns: writer, artist, concept. I would have thought they’d give it a year, but I would have thought the same of Dr. Voodoo, too. I ordered conservatively, and that strategy was borne out in sales (generally, if we DON’T sell out of a first issue or come near, that spells trouble for the title, at least in our stores). In fact, I or any hardcore fan could probably go down the Marvel/DC racks at the LCS and say with 90% accuracy which ones were going to get the hatchet (see you soon, Red Circle line!) with few exceptions (“The Jonah Hex Rule”).

I generally like Gillen, as a Phonogram fan, and my problems with Sanders’ art begins and ends with his depiction of Beast, but pushing this to other Phonogram readers in my store was kind of a futile thing (a middling seller for us to begin with, most of whose readers appreciate it for McKelvie’s art and/or the subject matter and/or the fact it’s not supeheroes). As far as this notion of retailers’ responsibility to a title that’s been touched on earlier: The idea that a retailer has to shuck and jive to promote every marginal comic that comes out is annoying; there’s just too many books and the way around having to do too much of that is called “ordering appropriately.” I make an effort to recommend comics in-store, particularly if I know the tastes of the customer, but in practcial terms we can’t advocate everything. Think of it in cinema terms: I’ll put up the posters, I’ll let folks know when things are available, but the blockbuster is going to outgross the indie almost every time, at least it will if the promotion dept. has done its job (yes, I know there are all kinds of exceptions in both comics and film, but generally). The comic shop is like that: hundreds of movies to buy a ticket for, but you’re not going to shill for each and every one of them regardless of taste or if you’ve even managed to sample them all. The higher-profile ones are going to make the most money and get the most attention, whether it’s deserved or not. It seems like every time Your Favorite Book is canceled there’s some conjecture about Why, oh Why, Didn’t the Retailers Do More?, but the fact is if a book gets canceled, it’s because the audience simply wasn’t there. Believe me, I know that sucks (I would love to still be reading Chase, Priest’s Black Panther, PAD’s Captain Marvel, etc.), but that’s the reality of publishing (and retailing).

Reminds me of the Great Ten project that DC is putting out NOW, 2-3 years after they should have, when those characters were hot, and their tie-in project (52) was still on the stands. At least DC had the sense to make it a mini-series, but still, sales are in the tank for it and I don’t know anybody who is reading it, cares about it, or even wanted it at this point…

One look at the art in Great Ten, and I put it back. And I agree that it was years too late in being produced.

I will admit that I’m a little surprised there hasn’t been more talk about the visual depiction of Beast. I think that was a huge turn off for the casual fan. I didn’t mind it THAT much. I think his personality, while somewhat understandable and quite fun, was a bit too jarring considering what was going on in Uncanny and before that stories like Endangered Species.

Now the Manga X-Men Beast. That was a winning design.

http://z.about.com/d/manga/1/0/o/O/-/-/XMEN_BEAST_500.jpg

Holy crap.

Get over yourselves. This cult of personality bs has gone too far when a mediocre book with terrible art gets lauded simply because the hot new writer on the book wrote some jerk-off hand job to fans of white people’s music (vis. phonogram).

I do not regret the cancellation of this book.

And another thing regarding your B.S. about Quesada and DiDidio. These guys don’t run Marvel or DC. They are Editor and Chiefs of those companies publishing divisions. Ike Perl-Mutter, a very experienced businessman, runs Marvel.

And another thing, Birmy is a truthteller.

Good points.

Y’know, though, I dunno if I’d like Marvel and DC at all if they were run like real businesses, although I’m sure they’d be more successful. I don’t really watch TV, in part ’cause it feels so structured and regulated. But the comics companies are trying SO hard, bless their little hearts.

On the other side I see the logic:

If you throw enough shit at the wall, some of it’s gonna stick. You get the occasional ALL NEW, ALL DIFFERENT X-MEN (circa 1976) or CHEW (circa 2008) which succeeds wildly and beyond all expectations.

Or even the occasional RUNAWAYS – which may not sell in huge numbers, ’cause it doesn’t feature 40 year old characters – but seems like a brand that might succeed in another media – Say, movies or TV, which ARE run like real businesses, CAN market new ideas, and have a fan-base that’ll accept a project that isn’t the thirty-seven millionth minor variation on and old Jack Kirby or Julie Schwartz project.

To some degree, with most of Marvel’s money coming from movies and video games and underroos and lunch-boxes, it seems like there’s loss-leader value in generating new intellectual properties.

Man, I turn my back for a minute and this happens. Wow.

First of all, Vincent and Ryan, thanks for being tools. If you happen to notice, I’m not terribly bent out of shape about the cancellation, nor am I whining. Good job reading what I wrote. I like the comic, but I’ll get over it. Why are you so angry?

Dean: Interesting comment. I liked your examination of the marketplace. I wonder if Marvel and DC know any of this.

Birmy: I don’t blame retailers too much, because you’re right. I haven’t been to too many comic book stores, but I know some retailers do try to encourage their customers to read other things, and that’s all they can do, and that’s fine. I just wonder if Marvel couldn’t goose things a bit. Retailers are sort of partners with Marvel and DC, after all, so the Big Two could make the effort. I probably shouldn’t have used “contempt,” though, because you’re right – there’s only so much you can do. Sorry for the poor choice of words.

For those who talk about turnaround, the first trade of Chew came out a month after the fifth issue, which it collected. That’s just a recent example. DC deliberately doesn’t publish softcover trades for months after the single issues they collect, because they publish a hardcover version and then wait for a long time to get a softcover out. Marvel does this too, but the time between the hardcover and softcover isn’t as long.

If I can’t blame Quesada and DiDio because Marvel and DC are run by “real” businessmen, then the situation is even worse than I thought. At least those guys have the excuse of not being businessmen!

Thanks for chiming in, everyone. You’ll notice I didn’t argue about the quality or lack of it with regard to SWORD. Lots of crap books sell quite well, and lots of good books don’t. That’s neither here nor there. I’m just wondering about the idea behind the creation of a book like this. That’s all.

Get over yourselves. This cult of personality bs has gone too far when a mediocre book with terrible art gets lauded simply because the hot new writer on the book wrote some jerk-off hand job to fans of white people’s music (vis. phonogram).

Don’t sugarcoat it. Tell us how you really feel.

For those who talk about turnaround, the first trade of Chew came out a month after the fifth issue, which it collected. That’s just a recent example. DC deliberately doesn’t publish softcover trades for months after the single issues they collect, because they publish a hardcover version and then wait for a long time to get a softcover out. Marvel does this too, but the time between the hardcover and softcover isn’t as long.

Maybe. Certainly Chew had the kind of push I have never seen from either company before for ANYTHING. I’m not seeing a lot of Secret Six “hardcovers” on Amazon, that’s all I’m saying.

The fundamental error in the article is to ignore that Marvel need to launch a certain number of series during the year , say 4 minis from the x-men family and 2 monthlies.
Marvel know that the series has a short fuse because in this time anything not consolidated is cancelled , maybe they were expecting 12 issues instead of 5 .
Marvel put a great product knowing that is gonna fail, see Atlas ,Blade, MI13, Runaways, and various others.
That is the reality of the market not Marvel fault.
They need to reach theirs benchmarks , at least the product was good so I thank Marvel for the effort.

Jeff Holland: “Isn’t that kinda how X-Factor kicked up again?”

Secret Six, too.

Don’t forget Tim Drake Robin. They gave him THREE limited series before giving him an ongoing. Nightwing also had a one shot and a mini first before his ongoing.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

January 20, 2010 at 4:13 pm

This cult of personality bs has gone too far when a mediocre book with terrible art gets lauded simply because the hot new writer on the book wrote some jerk-off hand job to fans of white people’s music (vis. phonogram).

Brit-pop is white people’s music???

Does something still labeled as a black thing or a white thing, even when it’s made in a country without those issues?
I always thought that sort of mentality only came about in a place like the USA.

Greg likes the book… and I can’t imagine he was knew his Damon from his Jarvis.

Does something still labeled as a black thing or a white thing, even when it’s made in a country without those issues?

Yeeeeah… Love the optimism about the UK, but… http://stopthebnp.org.uk/
Basically, every country has its colossal c**************************rs.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

January 20, 2010 at 4:20 pm

DC deliberately doesn’t publish softcover trades for months after the single issues they collect, because they publish a hardcover version and then wait for a long time to get a softcover out.

A loooooooooooooooooooooooong time.

The last Green Lantern tpb was the Sinestro Corps War.

And books that don’t have HC’s come out earlier than books that do – it’s quite odd, and really annoying, as with their singles, DC likes to have this big order to read them in, and they all tie in together etc, but in trades, there’s absolutely no order, or way to know, where the book fits in at all.
Heck, there was a GLC trade set after Sinestro War, which came out before it. I only realised after I’d brought it and started it.

Greg: I wasn’t taking offense or picking at your choice of words, just venting about a frustrating angle of retailing and that weird spot where it meets the expectations of the customer base. Perhaps I came off a bit more strident than I intended (a common problem for me, the Internet, and me on the Internet, it seems). for what it’s worth, I agree: it does seem like the major publishers with the resources to do so should be doing more for fringe books like this to keep them OFF the fringe, but damned if I know what would work.

Ryan: I think your dismissal of SWORD is a bit callous; on the other hand, I appreciate your characterizing me as a “truthteller,” so I guess it all evens out.

If it’s true that they do no market research, then that might explain several puzzling things. I’ve certainly noticed both company’s strange inability to strike while the iron is hot.

I’ll certainly admit that I buy a book for it’s character, not because so-and-so produced it. I have my favorite writers and artists, and I have indeed dropped a book when the art or writing dropped below a certain undefinable quality and then picked it back up again later. I wonder how unusual that is. If indeed the majority buy their favorite book regardless, then it would again explain some things — they (the companies) realize they can put out literally anything and the same reliable pool of people will buy it as long as it contains elements x, y, and z. I guess if you’re in that position, there’s no need to do research.

Ryan needs a glass of milk and some freshly baked cookies.

The Art was Atrocious. Beast’s head looked like a camels

People keep mentioning how they hate they art and usually follow that up with some derogatory comment about Beast’s head. What else about the art on the book was bad? Even I didn’t like Beast’s depiction, but I thought the art was quite good. Some scenes in particular, like the capture of Marvel Boy, stuck out as especially good.

Is one character’s odd depiction enough to say the art was “atrocious”?

Maybe they should have just released it as a trade first and see if it sold well enough to justify an ongoing series.

But I’m a trade-waiter, I may just be saying that so I can have my trades earlier

I keep hoping that Marvel will re-grow a brain and start publishing series like Marvel Premiere and Marvel Spotlight again. Both series would focus on a character, new or not, and run for a few issues to get a feel. Ghost Rider started this way. As did Iron Fist, Son of Satan, Werewolf by Night and Spider Woman to name a few. Everyone loves getting the first appearance of the “Hot, New Character” so get someone with talent to write the first few issues introducing a new character to find out how that character sells then try another character for 6 issues. That should provide all the market research they need.

Just to illustrate the point about the crappy marketing, the hand-wringing about its looming cancellation was the first I ever even heard of this series, and there are a few (probably also doomed) Marvel titles that I follow.

I keep hoping that Marvel will re-grow a brain and start publishing series like Marvel Premiere and Marvel Spotlight again.

How would that help in any way? If you’re not buying SWORD because you don’t think it’s important, why would you buy a comic who’s entire point is to produce unimportant works? Anyone who’d buy Marvel Spotlight is probably already buying SWORD.
Besides, they tried it with Amazing Fantasy. And while, yes, it produced Arana, Amadeus Cho and the new Scorpion, it apparently barely made it to issue 15 before being cancelled. Apparently almost no-one loves getting the first appearance of the “Hot, New Character”. (Incidentally, isn’t that the description of Poochy from the Simpsons?)

They love getting a Spider-Man or Wolverine appearance.

I didn’t think the art was great, but it wasn’t bad.

My dislike of the book came from the writing. I felt the characters were typical good/bad stereotypes and the overall story was unoriginal and predictable. Gee, the guy who works for the biggest asshole on the planet is trying an underhanded power grab? SHOCKING!

There really wasn’t anything in #1 that was new or interesting enough to make me want to read any further.

I think what a lot of posters have been missing is Greg’s implication that the book shouldn’t have been greenlit in the first place. A modicum of market research would have indicated that there wasn’t enough interest in the book, especially at a $4 price point.

As to the first issue price, his point was if they wanted people to try the book , they should have taken a loss on the first issue with the hope in making money on the back end. It’s called a loss leader and is a common business practice. It’s what Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo do when they sell their game consoles. They’re looking to make the real money on accessories and games.

i picked up the first issue because it was Gillen writing it. i didn’t pick up any others because the art was bad. not because Beast didn’t look like i expected (actually, i thought the character design was interesting), but because it was blobby and cartoonish. i’m not looking for photorealism, but if you’re going to go with a more stylized form, i think you need a lot stronger linework.

Since Captain Britain was ended, I’ve noticed that Paul Cornell has mostly pitched mini-series rather than ongoings, and it seems like Gillen has prepared a contingency for early cancellation by making the first arc wrap up well (so he says) and fit into a neat little TPB.

I expect to see a lot more of this from any writer at Marvel that isn’t Bendis, Slott or Jeff Parker in the near future* as the scribes lower down on the food chain seek to start stories that fully expect to get to finish.

*Not an insult – I enjoy work from all three I’ve named there. and come to think of it, JP has a few mini-series’ on the go lately as well.

I know I didn’t give this book a chance stricly because of it’s price.

Then again, I dropped books that I liked because of that price too. I guess I’m weird.

Late to this discussion, but isn’t SWORD‘s cancellation par for the course? It’s part of Marvel’s “hazing” technique, if you will. Take an indy darling, put him on something that’s sure to sell low but will get his name out there a little, then put him on progressively bigger projects until he’s writing one of the core titles. Fraction went from writing Rex Mantooth and Casanova to co-writing Immortal Iron Fist (a modest seller) and solo writing The Order (which ended before hitting #12) to taking over Uncanny X-Men and penning a new Iron Man series.

Gillen’s sure to move on to bigger — and possibly better — things. Hell, he’s already writing an arc on Thor. And, if they try to spin an Ares title out of Avengers, I’m sure Gillen’s on the short list.

Sanders might have a tougher go of it, though. There doesn’t seem to be a huge demand for clean, slightly-cartoony (for want of a better term) art at the big two currently. But, that could always change with the Heroic Age and Brightest Day.

I’m curious why no blame is attached to us readers, who will read anything that has a big name writer or a big name artist or a big name character(I’m guilty of it too). Any vertigo series is normally better(subjective I know) than a normal batman/x-men comic, yet look at the difference in sales. Is DC/Marvel to blame? Is it the retailer? Or is it just the readers? Unwritten has been critically acclaimed , and has what, lesser than 1/10 the sales of blackest night. Good series get cancelled because of what readers read, more than because DC/Marvel dont have people with business experience.

I’m sorry but I think this was mercey killing I tried it and thought the art was bad and the character were forgettable. if they had drawn Beast as anything but a badly done parady of new xmen it would have helped alot

good day

Okay, I kind of freaked out for a moment when I came across my name here. A month or so ago, I wrote a comment on another web site, and then the guy went and based an entire column around what I said (it was a political thing), and every person on the site came down against my postition. (But they were mostly nice about it.) So I got a little scared here. But it looks like it all turned out okay. Thank you for mentioning me, but please know I can be extremely shy at times.

I wonder if maybe Marvel could’ve promoted it a little better. I don’t think I ever saw an ad for SWORD in any of the Marvel books I bought. I had no idea it existed until I saw the review on here. And I guess by that time it was too late.
I think they really need to bring the Bullpen page back. That was how I found out about most new series when I was young. Although, a Bullpen announcement or a house ad probably wouldn’t have helped that much for SWORD, since the premise doesn’t sound that great. It’s the script that makes this book so good. But still, a Bullpen page would help to sell a lot of series, I think.
I don’t know. I realise I’m probably really out of touch with how most readers find new books.

But still, cancelling a series because of the initial orders for the first issue sounds premature to me. They should a least wait until the third issue is on the stands to see if orders start to pick up.

Oh, I guess there is one tiny bright side in this. I have a pretty good chance now of buying every single issue of SWORD. Outside of a few limited series, I have only managed to buy a complete run of a title once in more than thirty-five years of buying comic books.

Mary: Sorry for freaking you out! I hope it doesn’t drive you away!

I think there are other factors. I don’t buy trades. So I don’t wait for a trade. But let’s say that I was interested in SWORD. I know that 90 percent of the time these books are going to get cancelled. So I could spent 4 bucks a pop on it or I can wait three weeks for it to pop up in the dollar bin. Or I could probably buy the whole series for five bucks on E-Bay. TV does the same thing. They cancel show before you even get a chance to watch them. So as a viewer I’m really not going to bother with new shows because odds are they aren’t going to make it a month.

Not to say I avoid all these books. I bought the latest Exiles even though I knew it wouldn’t last. Of course I’m a big fan of the first Exiles run (until the Claremont issues, ugh). And I’m a big fan of the Scarlet Witch and pre-dog Beast. But this is the exception.

And another thing I think that kills these books is the sheer number of one-shots and tie-ins that flood the market. Am I going to pick up a new book or am I more likely to grab a Dark Reign/Blackest Knight special of a series I am already following? Release the new books when there’s less competition on the shelves. Even for the week.

[...] and numbers both confuse and scare me, I’m going to pass the buck over to Greg Burgas at CBR to go in depth on the issues at [...]

Don’t worry. It didn’t really bother me so much.

"O" the Humanatee!

January 22, 2010 at 4:06 pm

First, today’s house ads and similar in-book promotional content are lousy. Look at any Marvel or DC issue from the ’60s or ’70s. You will find house ads containing exciting descriptions and images for books across the company’s line, including ones outside the core titles. Ads would be a quarter of a page in size – sometimes less. They included enough text that readers would have a good idea of the actual content of books they were promoting.

Today’s house ads take up a page. They tend to promote “events” that are already guaranteed high buzz and high reader numbers. They use little text, and the text they use is merely suggestive of content (“an event six years in the making”) rather than descriptive, so that it will mean little to anyone other than the hard core of readers.

Read a Bullpen Bulletin page or a Direct Currents page. Again, there is enough text for readers to get ideas of actual content. A wide range of books would be covered. Now look at the DC Nation page. Dan Didio or his designated substitute will discuss a very limited set of titles. He will promote the big crossovers. He will write very little about content; I’ve noticed that often he says things like, “I just walked down to Editor X’s office and saw the pages for Upcoming Issue of Title Y! You won’t believe what’s coming up!” (which to me always reads like a child saying, “I know something you don’t! I know something you don’t!”).

Yes, there’s more promotional content on-line now. There was no Internet then. Still, not everyone reads on-line stuff, whereas in-house ads appear to everyone reading your comics.

(On a related note, I think that the decline of narrative covers hurts things. Looking at a pin-up tells me nothing about whether I am likely to be interested in a new title.)

Would better in-house ads improve things? I don’t know. The economic model of comic books (like those of the music and journalism businesses) has changed so drastically in the time since then. It’s historically been the case that comics, book publishing, and movie industries have used the profits from their big sellers to support more risky ventures, because some of those risky ventures will turn into the big sellers of the future. But times have changed. (The big music companies put out only the U2s and Springsteens.)

I don’t know much about the economic model of current comics. I have no idea how companies calculate the relative numbers of copies of floppies vs. trades that will be sold, nor how that affects their promotional efforts. Mainstream comics seem more and more dependent on big events, which strikes me as looking for short-term profits at the expense of the long term. (Is “event fatigue” more and more common? It’s certainly affected my buying habits.)

This I will say: So long as comics operate entirely within their own little bubble, I think they are doomed. Prices will rise even more, driving readers away, forcing companies to promote more and more to the hardcore fans, but prices will rise again, etc. The snake will eat its own tail. (I’m not saying anything new here.)

But if licensing and movies are more and more important sources of income, I think it’s in the interest of the corporations that own DC and Marvel to support the creation of more diverse lines, even if it decreases the comic companies’ profits. This would be slightly different from the model I say above The comics would then be like the “farm teams” for the more profitable ventures. Look at the movies that have been made or are being made about comics characters. Sure, there are Spider-Man, Iron Man, etc. There are also Hellboy, Solomon Kane, Jonah Hex, etc. Some will succeed, some will crash. But if the balance is substantially profitable, that’s all that matters.

SWORD going is a real shame, a really great book and I have to agree with a lot of the reasons why it didn’t do well, dropping it out in the cold was never going to really achieve anything, I think the only real thing that has got people talking was that it went after 5 issues rather than the usual 12.

IF either big publisher wants to launch a new book with an unestablished brand there are loads of things they would be doing to actually get it established. I think they have already been mentioned to some degree or other, but really, if instead of dropping SWORD out as it was they’d done something like

- 1) tied it more heavily to Secret Invasion, ideally it would have been launched out of that event given the themes
- 2) Not launched it immediatly, perhaps stuck it as a backup strip in Astonishing or for Dr Voodoo the New Avengers (and not used that as an excuse to raise the price) to effectively get the readers of a popular AND RELATED book looking at it.
- 3) THEN launched it 6-9 months down the line either as an ongoing or mini depending on public reaction to the backup strips with a cheap or at least cheaper 1st issue. Really the expensive first issue concept I find to be incredibly dim – really, surely you want to give people as many reasons as possibly to try a new product as possible even if it means it cuts into your profits a bit that one month? Reliable income is much more valuable than a lump sum.

The real shame is that Marvel has put out a load of critically acclaimed lower tier books in recent years, but only a few have stuck, and there are some pretty good reasons they did in those cases:

- X-factor – strong ties to the X-brand, came out of House of M, followed critically acclaimed mini
- Incredible Hercules – span out of WWH, and perhaps more interestingly, launch method probably ‘tricked’ old Incredible Hulk readers into staying on long enough to get into the book, character is famous in the public domain
- Nova/GotG had ‘unique’ events to set off that line, eg a massive crossover from nowhere which utilised popular underused characters, then funneled those readers into two ongoings out the other end

Marvel really needs to spend some time considering how to funnel readers into new series rather than effectively dropping things there and hoping it’ll work.

Are comic companies so different from the rest of the entertainment industry? I think the blame lies with the public. Most people are conservative in their tastes, and just want more of the same.

Last time I visited a bookstore, it seemed like more than half the fantastic fiction section was taken either by tie-in novels or vampire novels trying to profit off the current vampire craze. You’d thinks fans of the fantastic would be more open to new things, and you’d be wrong. And it seens every week a TV show with a quirky premise is cancelled due to low ratings, and more and more boring cop/lawyer/sitcom/reality shows are leading in the ratings wars.

The public sucks.

Great post, Greg. I’m not sure why I haven’t gotten used to this type of thing, but each time the new, great-but-low-selling title from Marvel gets canceled, it saddens me.

I have very little influence over ordering at the comics shop I help out at, but I’ve been sure to put each issue of S.W.O.R.D. up as my “pick of the week,” and each issue has sold out . . .

[...] zu verfassen, wie die großen Comic-Verlage eigentlich ihr Geschäft betreiben. S.W.O.R.D. is cancelled: Why, God, why?!?!?!?!?. Der Kern des ganzen sind diese paar Sätze, aber es lohnt sich, den ganzen Artikel zu lesen. [...]

“…they complain that Mark Waid or Joe Kelly or Marcos Martin or John Romita, Jr. (or whoever) is ruining the book … but they keep buying it. That is, it seems, the majority of comic book readers.”

GRIMM’S LAW–Crap rewarded is crap repeated.

THEY (the fans) are the reason their comics are ugly. Screw them.

It is hard to blame the retailer for this. I manage a local shop in Florida and from an ordering stand point it is hard to take a chance on a book like S.W.O.R.D., I would place most of the blame on the consumer. DC, Marvel and all Independent comic companies release thier product in the monthly Previews. Most people neglect to look at it to see what new books are coming out. If they had looked at it they would of seen that S.W.O.R.D. was coming out and they would have requested a copy. Comic companies let you know what is coming out 3 months before the release date. That seems like a good enough marketing to me. So when people complain that they did not know a new series had come out, it is thier fault. The information was there to see but, they failed to look at it. Instead they expect thier local retailer to order a whole bunch of copies and if they don’t sale lose money on it. If retailers did that with every book coming out the would go broke. So instead of complaining that your retailer is not putting a book in your box that you did not know about, pick up a copy of the monthly previews and see what is coming out. It’s not that hard to do and you might find some interesting titles that you did not know about. In turn it might keep a series alive longer since people would know aboout it and order it at that point.

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