The Bottom Line...

Hey CV! As many of you have learned, I'm pretty new to comics. You've played a huge part in changing that (go you!), but I still have much to learn. And while I learn, I observe, and I try to gain a better understanding not just of the superficial -- what's happening within the books, who the popular and unpopular characters are, etc. -- but of what lies beneath the surface.

So here's what puzzles me: the way the "Big Two" comic publishers dissociate abstracts like Sales and Ratings from Fans and Readers. While most audience-driven industries naturally begin with a question like "what do our supporters/customers want?" and "what will make our fans happy?" Marvel & DC begin with "how can we make headlines?" and "what can we market a book with?"

Let's be clear. DC is a business. Marvel is a business. Those latter questions matter. But the assumption that they are mutually exclusive, or even possibly exclusive, from the former questions is the reason, I think, that DC's reboot has already failed in terms of growing their long-term readership, and why Marvel NOW stands primed to do precisely the same thing. Both focus on short-term bottom lines but employ methodologies which, quite frankly, are as likely (perhaps more likely) to terminate current business relationships as to generate new ones.

For every reader who says "The New 52 is the reason I read comics," there's one or more who says "The New 52 is the reason I no longer read DC." Sometimes it's not as drastic as the whole publishing house, but the sentiment remains: many long-time fans of certain characters or books have with heavy heart abandoned what they used to depend on because it's so infuriatingly disappointing. Add to these fall-off readers the temporary readers brought in by the reboot but not held onto, and DC ends up worse in the long run than they were in the beginning. And that's not because the reboot was an inherently bad idea; it's because the execution placed a premium on attracting non-readers and minimized the importance of romancing increasingly jaded but still optimistic older fans.

I recently wrote, rather incredulously, about one sales pitch I read regarding Avengers Arena, in which Marvel explicitly stated that people who weren't fans were the target they were aiming to attract with that book. In a move which will never cease to baffle me, the anti-fan became the group reached out to, while the extant fan was actually marginalized if not outright dismissed. By all accounts that move has been successful -- plenty of people who expected to hate or lack interest in the book have expressed being surprisingly satisfied.

Meanwhile, many fans wax furious. I can honestly say that if I never read another Marvel book again, it will be because of Avengers Arena. And I've seen plenty of other people share the sentiment, to varying extremes. Months ago someone said it was "everything wrong with comics." Less pointedly, but similar, are the folks who point to this book in a list of reasons why they are considering dropping mainstream comics altogether and going exclusively with indie titles.

By ignoring the "what would make our fans happy" question in pursuit of temporary financial success, Marvel is creating a product which elicits responses no company would ever want to elicit: active disdain and disenchantment. If your product has people pointing to it as a prime example of why they are ready to stop doing business with you, or why they can no longer be excited about doing business with you like they used to be, then that's a clear sign you're doing something wrong. Sure, there are some people in the opposite camp: AA is their favorite book, and a reason they've chosen not to drop Marvel. But as a company, your ideal product is one which attracts as many readers as possible; not everyone has to like it, but if it's actively alienating a noticeable portion of your perspective readership, it's inherently flawed.

With the soft reboot, Marvel avoided the wholesale tide of rejection which DC seems to have wrought (and continues to wring), but the ebb is still there. The company's AvX event can hardly be called successful; most readers' reactions are mixed at best, bordering on the negative, and you are hard-pressed to find anyone who truly loved it or its fallout. Many long-time fans will tell you that since that mess occurred their favorite characters have never been the same; and as NOW really comes into its own, plenty of poor characterizations are pointed to by people who have chosen to give a permanent pass on franchises by which they once defined their lives.

It's telling that the most fervent fan bases for both major houses are seen begging for retcon of the retcons. DC fans hold out hope that an upcoming Trinity event will erase the entire New 52 "continuity" and revert back to the stories that had decades of development behind them (and many of these fans would have been shocked by such a hope several years ago, when the then most recent catastrophic events had convinced them a reboot was the only chance of salvaging what they loved). Marvel fans look to the summer's Ultron interference and wonder if there's a chance that the whole AvX timeline (and most of NOW along with it) will disappear like a nightmare one wakes from with the utmost of relief.

Is this really good for business? Is this actually what the head honchos at these two houses were hoping would happen when they made the decisions they've been making? Or is it possible that in pursuit of profit, they've completely lost sight of the only thing which can ever actually sustain profit: their readers?

I'm pretty new to this whole thing. My observations can thus be read more as those of an outsider than anything else. And because of my limited perspective, perhaps those observations are missing important details. So I turn now to you, Comic Vine faithful. Do you think Marvel & DC are in a bad place or a good one? Do you see signs of progress or regress on the horizon -- and what specific trends can you point to which support such optimism or pessimism, as the case may be?

I'm genuinely curious. I get the sense I picked one of the worst possible times to try to become a mainstream comic book fan. I leave it to y'all to confirm or deny ^_^

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