An Open Letter to the Presidents of Marvel and DC Publishing

“Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it”

–George Santayana

What does this book ...

We’ve been here before.  As a comic book retailer back in the late 1990’s, the landscape I see now has more than a passing resemblance to the one I saw back then.  Considering that the comic book industry seemed well on its way to oblivion during that period  — well, that’s an era that I’d think you, the heads of the two major comic book publishing companies, would want to avoid repeating.  But if the industry’s newfound reliance on gimmicks to boost book sales – gimmicks no more prevalent than that of variant covers – are any indication, those of you at Marvel and DC Comics look determined to play the part of Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.

... And this book ...

Let’s be clear about why variant covers have made such a strong comeback in the present day – it’s solely a gimmick to artificially boost the sales on a given title.  There’s certainly no one I know in the market who’s clamoring to purchase two and three copies of the same exact book – with a different cover – at three to four bucks a pop.  Those prices are high enough for what is essentially 22 pages of entertainment, and that’s a term that can be used loosely considering the amount of quality that goes into a lot of Marvel and DC’s product these days.  But when a buyer feels the need to purchase multiple copies of a book – sometimes four or five copies if they want to get all of the variant covers – and when some of the prices of those books can range upwards of a hundred dollars or more?  Well, when you’re making someone in the hobby choose between putting food on their table and getting all of the covers for the new X-Men title, that’s how you chase collectors out of the business once and for all.

... And these two books have in common? Answer: they're all the same issue -- Amazing Spider-Man #600 -- and they're all in my collection.

The company line has always been “No one’s forcing someone to buy them all – a buyer can pick and choose what cover they want, and we’re only giving them some variety”.  But that’s not really 100% true, is it?  The collector who is feeling forced to get them all, no matter what the price may be, feels differently.  And in turn, that’s keeping them from spending money on different titles, potentially weakening the company’s line of books across the board.  And the retailers around the country who sell your product are forced into meeting high quotas in their ordering to be able to receive variants to sell, a necessity for their businesses to remain competitive and to be able to offer variants for the collectors who are willing to shell out the big bucks for the rarest of the rare.  This is forcing retailers to over-order books they normally wouldn’t, often leaving them with stacks of unsold products that can’t be returned for a refund and may never sell.  In a business with razor-thin profit margins, that’s a recipe for disaster.

I’m not saying that variant covers don’t have their place, but in today’s market, they’re simply out of control.  It’s too many variants on too many books made by too many companies.  It’s an artificial stimulus to correct sagging sales when the real focus should be on putting out a better product and trying to widen the target audience, and not shrinking it.  A similar approach has all but put the sports card and collectible marketplace on life support – maybe those of you at Marvel and DC might want to brush up on that history lesson as a sobering example of where you don’t want to see your industry headed.

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