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Marvel Comics Explains Why They Reveal Spoilers in the Mainstream Media

Last week, the ending of the Death of Spider-Man story was revealed at major media outlets like the Associated Press and USA Today the day before the book hit shelves in comic book stores, to the consternation of many devoted readers (including our own David Uzumeri) who would have preferred to learn what happened by reading the comic, not a headline.

Several other major plot points in both Marvel and DC comics have also broken early at mainstream news outlets, including the deaths of characters like Captain America, Pa Kent and Johnny Storm, and the return of Barry Allen, prompting the same question from fans that we heard last week: Why do publishers do this? To answer that question we reached out to Arune Singh, the Director of Communications, Publishing and Digital Media at Marvel Comics to explain the strategy behind breaking major stories at mass media outlets, and why they believe it helps not just the publishers themselves but also retailers and even the mainstream comic book industry itself.

ComicsAlliance: In the simplest terms, why reveal major plot points through mainstream media outlets before the books hit the shelves? Why not wait until after the issue has come out?

Arune Singh: First and foremost, the goal of any mainstream media push like this is to help retailers increase sales and get new fans into their stores. The Death of Spider-Man news is news all over the world from here in the US to India to Japan — it’s a BIG story. This is news being read not only by comic fans, but lapsed fans and a lot of people who have never read comics before. If we can get people from those latter two categories into stores, we know we have a compelling story — that’s only getting bigger, by the way — that’ll keep them coming back. We’ve even scheduled Ultimate Comics Fallout to hit three times a month in the summer to capitalize on that excitement and give retailers an easy place to direct readers who want to see what happens after Peter dies.

As to the early part of the story, we’re entirely understanding of fans who feel that we’ve “spoiled” something for them and wonder just why we had to do it now — it’s certainly a fair question. But the answer comes from — and hopefully this doesn’t sound too blunt — looking at this in a larger business sense.When we line up this kind of mainstream media coverage, it’s offering the promise of breaking this big news to the outlet. It’s with the knowledge that they’ll be the ones making the headlines, being referenced by other sites and getting the attention. But if we wait till the story breaks or the Wednesday books go on-sale, someone else is going to buy the issue early in the morning and break the news. Is it possible that mainstream outlets will still pick up on the news then? Yes, it’s possible. But the only way to guarantee that big, sweeping placement worldwide — as you’ve seen with the Death of Spider-Man — is to break it before anyone has a chance. And that kind of placement is, as I mentioned above, what will get us attention from outside the industry.

CA: What are the benefits to this type of mainstream media push, and what type of response does it get from retailers? It’s a tough time for monthly pamphlet sales; have you seen positive (and lasting) results from revealing major news through mainstream outlets in the past, such as the deaths of Captain America and Johnny Storm?

AS: We’ve seen huge results. We make sure to only attach this kind of promotion to our biggest books and those books invariably carry a much higher readership after the push than before the push. I think we can all agree the industry can use new readers and we’ve found these kinds of mainstream media pushes do just that, based on feedback from retailers– most recently with Fantastic Four #587 and the subsequent FF launch. More fans check out the books, retailers sell more copies and have high orders than before this promotion. That’s a winning situation for not just Marvel, but the whole industry– anything we can do to bring in and retain readers benefits us all. Going to a mainstream outlet is what will get lapsed readers and new potential readers to check out our books– we’re going to non comic fans where they get their news to make them aware of our big stories.

We know this may spoil the experience for some of our readers but we’re also trying to create greater interest and expand the comic book audience to benefit everyone. Sometimes that means hard decisions that might not appear sensible to fans but make a lot of sense from a business perspective. Retailers order heavy on these books and we have an obligation to deliver with the kind of press that drives customers — new and old– into stores. This is something I believe Marvel does better than anyone else.

CA: Obviously, not all stories get revealed through the mainstream media — for example, Bucky’s death in Fear Itself. How do you decide which stories are worth pushing to a larger audience, potentially at the cost of revealing the ending to regular readers? How do you balance the importance of getting your stories in front of exponentially more people with keeping surprises under wraps?

AS: We’re very mindful to push the most accessible stories to the mainstream, which isn’t a criticism of the books that don’t get that push, as much as it’s an acceptance of the reality that some things are a bit more accessible for the mainstream. Something like Fear Itself was an easy pitch to the mainstream and it’s why we’ve done unprecedented mainstream coverage for this event. But with the Captain America movie coming out and Steve Rogers in the costume, there could be some confusion for new readers might not understand who Bucky is, why he’s in the costume, etc. The easier mainstream sell might be the new Captain America #1.

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, despite what some might say, is an easy pitch to non readers — they know Peter as a teenager or young adult. They know he’s Spider-Man. While certain details may be different from their experiences with the movies, animation or even comics way back when, Brian’s crafted a wholly accessible Spider-Man book that someone can pick up if they’re barely familiar with Spidey.

CA: Some have asked why a comic like Ultimate Spider-Man would be polybagged despite such a broad reveal of the plot points in the mainstream media. Does this reflect a contrast in how you see the core audience and the broader audience of potential new readers?

AS: I think it’s more a recognition of the fact that not all comic fans read these spoilers or visit Marvel.com every day. Many of them don’t follow solicits religiously every month and choose instead to get the updates on their characters by simply checking out their favorite books each month. I’ve been at numerous comic convention panels where fans ask about X, Y and Z, only for me to respond that we announced X online a few months ago, just solicited Y and published Z the week previous. A large segment of our fan base doesn’t read the Internet like you and I and aren’t going to know what’s going on in advance, so we want to preserve the mystery for them.

CA: Comics fandom can be pretty protective about spoilers, although keeping plot points an absolute secret has become a difficult, perhaps impossible prospect in the age of scanning and an internet that never sleeps. Regardless of publisher involvement, stories often get spoiled on gossip sites and fan forums; are these mainstream media pushes a recognition of that reality?

AS: Is it nice to get ahead of those who would misappropriate or spoil our stories, and while that kind of activity certainly may inform some decisions, it’s not the impetus for our actions nor the driving force behind our methodology. We have excellent products and excellent retail partners in comic book stores who have benefited from these early news breaks, and our goal is to bring in new readers and push for the best sales for retailers at those stores.

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