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Collectors vs. Readers
5.7.2002 by Scott, every Thursday.

Hello everyone!

As a follow up to my last column, I have collected here some sites that can lend some insight to my opinions on the division in collectability vs. readership in the comic industry. I’ve pulled up some statements made by some prominent and powerful members in the comics industry and the way they are planning to direct the industry in the future. You can also go and check out the interviews uncut, from which the exerpts I’ve chosen were taken from.

Marvel President of Publishing & New Media, Bill Jemas:

Many people within the industry think catering to speculators (people who buy comics hoping they'll go up in value) caused the industry downfall in the mid 90's. What do you think?
You mean, "Were gangs of wild-eyed speculators yanking comic books out of the hands of innocent readers, completely halting their life-long love of comics?"
No, not that I recall. What I recall is the industry-wide over-proliferation of really, really, stinky content. Then I recall billions of collector dollars building the beanie babies and Pokemon businesses into huge successes.

Read the rest of this interview here.

"With respect to Ultimate Spider-Man, we found ourselves in a situation -- half by accident and half on purpose - what we ended up doing with Ultimate Spider-Man is promoting and advertising this book as much as we've ever advertised any book in recent memory," Jemas said. "We had pretty good initial sell-in, and then we made the decision over Matt Ragone and Diamond's pretty strenuous objections that we would print as many books as we had orders for, plus a few thousand more, and leave it at that, and not go back for a reprint, and let the people who supported the book in the first instance get the benefits of having themselves a collectible item.
"For me, as a person who's been in this market and the trading card market for a long time, I envisioned what Amazing Fantasy #15 would have been worth, if Marvel had went back and printed another 20, 30 or 40,000 copies beyond what the demand was at the time. One of the many pillars of the comic book business is collectibility, and as long as the publisher treats the book like ink and paper and nothing more, even well placed ink, then the books are not going to become collectible.
"What happened was sort of fascinating and interesting - this book that had been written for smart 12-year-olds turned out to be the favourite book among smart 40-year-olds, and there's a real collector craze about the book, and I'm not going to quote the eBay and online prices, but it is a solid book, and people are talking about and thinking about is the value of the book.
"With respect to Ultimates, we realised that was just grasping one horn of the dilemma. We're not going to start a franchise based on a fairly narrow printing, and that if we overly restrict this content, then it would ultimately hamper the resultant success of the rest of the Spider-Man line.
"The other shoe fell with respect to (Ultimate) X-Men. That book will launch as a top-five book, maybe top-10 book, and it will do numbers that are be larger than any numbers we've seen in recent memory. And guess what? Because it has a pretty sell and it will be well distributed, it will also become collectible the way that Ultimate Spider-Man did. This is not something that we’re bungling into. We know that if storeowners feel that a book will ultimately become collectible, then they will be more willing to order it initially. If Marvel restricts our heavy promotion to the books that we think are really good books, and then we'll have a nice payoff for the customers.

Read the rest of this statement here.

Marvel Editor in Chief, Joe Quesada:

The Collectability Factor

"...It was a false collectabilty which Bill agrees was the downfall. The books were worthless and we lost fans not because of the word collectabilty but because it really wasn't collectable which of us can confess to not having a comic or two in mylar and backing board? Come on guys, it's not the word collectable that's the culprit here. The culprit was when publishers and retailers stamped something collectable that really wasn't! If all of those fans that tried to cash in on X-Men #1 or death of Superman actually did, they wouldn't have bailed on us.

"Ultimate Spidey is collectable and will always be collectable because of its great quality and scarceness, notice the word quality. This is not a bad thing.

"Now don't bring up the readership issue, that we need to have the first few issues around to promote readership, we're learning (all of us together) that that's an old wives tale that is being slowly debunk. Ultimate Spidey has saturated the market in a million ways to Sunday so even with a collectable first issue, readers have had access to it and there's still more to come. Also, as many of you have heard me say over and over, we've been over printing as an industry for the last good chunk of years and what has it gotten us? Seven to ten percent lost readership a month on average. When does the old wives tale start to sound silly?"

Read the rest of his statements at Comixtreme

The two top guys at Marvel both stating that they are looking to appeal to a collector fan base. The prime example of which is shown with the Marvel issue “Ultimate Spider-Man” #1. First published in October of 2000, we can see at this online price guide what the going rate is. Also, Marvel capitalises on reprinting collected editions of this series, as can be seen at Diamond Comic Distributor’s web site. Looking at the top 20 reorders, we can see that even for a book that is 20 months old, the collectability and hype surrounding the first issue, coupled with the hype from the movie, has kept this book selling.

There’s a great article here about Joe Quesada’s moves as EIC to attract top talent to Marvel to please the readers, as opposed to the collectors. Guys like Grant Morrison, Mark Millar, Frank Qiutely, Brian Michael Bendis, Kevin Smith, and David Mack have all signed on with Marvel in recent years, while they continue to pursue Alan Moore of “Watchmen” fame, and novelist/comic writer Neil Gaiman.

I focus on marvel as their top brass are the most accessible to the public, and because they hold a 40% market share of all comics sold in North America. If you want a more local look, Pat Lee of Dreamwave Productions
had this to say in an interview with the Toronto Star.

"The comic-book industry has far more potential than what it is currently," Pat says. "The current generation of children haven't picked up a comic book. They're more into Internet and video games because no on has shown them the realm of comic books."

As part of their efforts to encourage reading among youngsters, Dreamwave is putting out a mini-comic book that is going to be included in every box for the upcoming Armada line of toys from Hasbro.

Everyone it trying to grab a share of the market, and that means attracting readers AND collectors to buy more comics.

Till next time,

Scott MacIver

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