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The Books Are Selling: Marvel Publisher Dan Buckley On The Company’s Gamble With Diversity

 

Marvel publisher Dan Buckley gave a three-part interview with comics industry blog ICv2 this week in which he discussed the company’s performance in 2014 and its strategies for the year ahead. The interview ranged across digital sales, graphic novel sales, and the impact of the Marvel movies on the comics — but of particular interest to ComicsAlliance were Buckley’s comments on reaching a more diverse audience of new comics customers.

While acknowledging that Marvel and the industry at large has never done much consumer research, Buckley said the company has been “aggressive in trying a lot of diverse product over the last two years,” as part of an initiative spearheaded by Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso. According to Buckley, the results of that outreach have been very positive.

Though consumer research data may be lacking, Buckley notes that Marvel has other ways of seeing the shift in consumer demographics. “We were assessing it qualitatively just from going to cons, feedback from social media, the old method of letters, emails. Just through that qualitative data you can sense there’s a diversifying of the readership base. Obviously there’s a great impact from what’s happening in the mass media when people go to the movies and say, ‘Oh this is for me, too.’ You’ve been to cons, and you can see a definite shift in the demographic deliverance there too.”

The response from Alonso and the company was more female lead characters and “a more diverse palette of ethnicity in the books,” and according to Buckley, “the books are selling.”

Those sales successes aren’t necessarily visible in the direct market figures reported by Diamond, but it would not come as a surprise if the new audience came to comics primarily through digital distribution and bookstore sales rather than through the more unfamiliar and often more imposing channel of comic book specialty stores.

Buckley assured ICV2 that Marvel is not currently publishing any books that are critical successes but commercial under-performers. “We’re not holding on to critical darlings right now. Ms. Marvel is a legitimate top-selling title for us in all channels. And the Lady Thor book (for lack of a better term, I’ll use the moniker) is a top-selling book for us. Part of it is Thor fans checking it out, but a lot of women came in to check it out, and say, ‘What is this story? I want to take part in it’.”

Of particular note; the Miles Morales title Ultimate Spider-Man currently under-performs most of Marvel’s Spider-Man titles in the direct market, including Spider-Man 2099. ComicsAlliance has reached out to Marvel in the past to ask how the series sells through other channels, but the publisher was unwilling to share that information. Yet Buckley notes that the book is “a legitimate hit.”

Though we have no visibility into the size of the audience for books like Ms. Marvel and Ultimate Spider-Man, or how much of that audience comes through digital or book sales, it’s reassuring to have confirmation that the emerging audience for comics is diverse and able to drive hits. Buckley’s remarks demonstrate that there is an appetite for diverse heroes.

Buckley also mentions in the interview that Marvel has plans to expand its presence in kids’ comics, working with Disney Publishing Worldwide; “You’ll see us be more aggressive in the sampling in the next six to 12 months with the kids’ comic products. I just can’t get into any details.” Marvel has a lot of characters that can appeal to a young audience, and getting kids reading comics is good both for children’s literacy and for the future of the comic industry.

Regarding Marvel’s movies, Buckley acknowledges that the movies inevitably influence the comics because of the scale of their success, but he insists that Marvel is not looking to align its comics continuity to match movie continuity. “One is not overriding the other, it would be way too hard. But they do influence each other and that’s a lot of fun.”

You can read the full interview at ICv2.

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