Marvel Sales SVP on Marvel NOW! and AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #700


Amazing Spider-Man #700 attracted controversy among online fans, and as tends to happen, that translated to sales — with a report on Bloomberg Businessweek last week saying that nearly 250,000 print copies of the now-sold out first printing have sold, at a $7.99 cover price for the oversized issue.

The issue ended, for now, the 50-year run of Amazing Spider-Man, with follow-up series Superior Spider-Man debuting on Jan. 9. That's part of the ongoing Marvel NOW! initiative bringing multiple restarts throughout the company's publishing line, including new #1s for Avengers, Iron Man, Deadpool and many more.

Given the newsworthy time for the business side of Marvel, we talked with David Gabriel, their senior vice president of publishing sales and circulation, about the performance thus far of Marvel NOW!, the big success of Amazing Spider-Man #700, the undeniable value of a #1 issue and more.


Spider-Man #700

second printing.

Newsarama: David, it was a no-brainer that Amazing Spider-Man #700 would sell big — from the anniversary angle alone, let alone all of the multi-layered buzz surrounding the story itself. But how has the performance of the issue compared to Marvel's expectations? And from your stance, did the unique positioning of the issue — coming out the day after Christmas, with it and Avenging Spider-Man #15.1 the only Marvel titles out that week, and a $7.99 cover price — affect its reception at all?

David Gabriel: Sales far exceeded even our wildest expectations, which is truly a testament to the incredible work by Dan Slott and everyone else involved with the series. Some folks will erroneously claim the sales were driven by deep discounts to retailers (we didn't do that), but this is all about the excitement that Dan Slott's been generating on the series since "Big Time." In fact I think it's safe to say that this is a record-breaking book!

Both Amazing Spider-Man #700 and Avenging Spider-Man #15.1 were strategically placed in that final week of December a long time ago. Once we learned about the story details and knew that this was much more than just an oversized anniversary story, it made sense to release these comics in a week where they received the appropriate spotlight. We knew it would be groundbreaking, we knew readers would react passionately (though death threats are immature and stupid) and that this would be one — if not the — biggest comic book stories of the year. And from all reports it certainly turned out to be an even bigger monster that we expected, on all levels!


Nrama: Clearly, #700 and the resulting Superior Spider-Man status quo has been controversial with some, and it's obvious that Marvel knew that would be the case going in. But while there are definitely always going to be compelling creative reasons to shake things up, from a sales perspective, how is that risk versus reward measured? Even beyond the over-the-top outrage that can be chalked up to just being a vocal minority, there is still the fact that there isn't a "traditional" Peter Parker story being told right now (and presumably, the foreseeable future) in either the classic Marvel Universe or the Ultimate Universe, which could conceivably be off-putting to new or lapsed fans. How is a major change to such a major character — one that plays a role across several branches of media — evaluated in that regard? Is it as simple as being confident that it'll bring in more new readers than any that would be kept away?

Gabriel: This is a decision driven by editorial and creators on a series. Our sales and marketing team do not weigh in on stories or character changes. Editorial and creative folks work this all out on their own, and in most cases will let me know what they are planning and we discuss how I think retailers will respond to the story in terms of their orders. It's then turned over to our publicity (Arune Singh and James Viscardi), marketing (Pete Charpentier) and digital media (John Cerilli, Ryan Penagos, Ben Morse) to handle getting word out to fans and making sure that they are there at the stores demanding that issue. It's really a terrific thing when all this works according to all our plans. But the key thing to remember is that this process starts with editorial.


Nrama: From the sales standpoint, then, Amazing Spider-Man #700 and #698 before it were both the subject of pre-release online leaks, with #700 pirated nearly two weeks before release date. It's been said that these leaks don't necessarily mean a dent in sales, and in fact, maybe actually help numbers. But they do have the affect of at least tarnishing the reading experience for a lot of people, and could have a cumulative effect the more prevalent it becomes. How concerned are you with these types of leaks? And since it seems that these were the first two high-profile early leaks in a few years (Blackest Night #6 is the last comparable one I remember), do you think it might be a growing problem that's getting worse?

Gabriel: Every situation really is different. In this case, you've got to remember the books purposely shipped a full two weeks ahead of the on sale date in order to work the year end shipping schedule, so we really shouldn't have something like that happening for quite some time, if at all. I think that in this instance the leaks definitely didn't hurt the sales and the excitement of the story, no matter what those folks intended. I clearly saw the increases in demand from retailers mounting each time things were "discussed" on the Internet over those few weeks, whether or not they were correct. So no matter the intent of the people who seem to find joy spoiling the hard work of creators online early and possibly taking money away from them, they didn't succeed in hurting sales at all.

As to the second part of the question, I don't think it's getting worse. I think it continues. I think the thieves who "spoil" comics in advance will continue to find ways to assert their "abilities." At the same time we'll find ways to combat them, which we've been doing successfully for quite some time. Thankfully, it seems the majority of fans are disinterested in spoilers and we thank those dedicated, true fans for supporting us.


Nrama: Of course, Amazing Spider-Man #700 contributed to a big month for Marvel, with plenty more Marvel NOW! launches — Avengers, Avengers Arena, Cable and X-Force and Thunderbolts. How did Marvel fare in the last month of the year?

Gabriel: We had another great month in December thanks to the strength of all our titles. It's refreshing that see that while we've greatly decreased the number of titles that we put out each month, about 20 percent year over year, our sales have increased, and, for those that closely value this sort of thing, that market share has also remained steadily in our favor. It's a clear indication that the market is definitely favoring our strategies and our product!

Nrama: Speaking of Marvel NOW!, with many of the major releases underway, and a couple of months of sales numbers in, what's your assessment of how the initiative has performed so far? What has surprised you along the way?


Gabriel: The creative recharge of Marvel NOW! has performed remarkably well across all titles. On the whole we've been pleased with each new success as each month progressed — and we still have a few months of Marvel NOW! launches to go. By releasing new beginnings for our series over a number of months, we've not only given retailers big books to sell week after week, but we've also given our biggest books the opportunity to really take the spotlight each month — October with Uncanny Avengers, November with All-New X-Men, now December with Avengers and Amazing Spider-Man… I think the biggest surprise to the industry really is a book like the launch of Thunderbolts, where we've seen an exciting reinvention of a concept strike a chord with fans and retailers alike.

Nrama: On the flipside, is there any challenge in keeping series that aren't being relaunched or (as in the case of Red She-Hulk or Journey Into Mystery) revamped — Astonishing X-Men, Captain Marvel, Daredevil and the like — in the eyes of retailers and retailers, at a time when they're not getting as much attention as the rest of the line?


Gabriel: That's always a challenge and we haven't taken our eye off any of those. The strength of the creators on those books — writers, artists, colorists, inkers, editors and really everyone involved — is what keeps them thriving. Internally we talked a lot about those titles and really felt like it would be overkill and a bit disingenuous of us to recharge those with Marvel NOW! #1s at this point. But that's not to say that each of those titles will be seeing some of their own brand of recharging coming up over the next few months!

Nrama: To touch on the issue of volume, Marvel has been double-shipping books for quite some time now, and it's a practice that's continued with several Marvel NOW! books, including All-New X-Men and Iron Man. You wouldn't be doing it if it wasn't paying off, and I know that at least some of the time it's a creative decision in the case of titles like Avengers, but at the same time, there presumably is a point of diminishing returns for at least some books. Is it tricky finding the right balance? And in general, can readers look forward to seeing similar rates of release for the near future?


Gabriel: I'll stress here that the double-ships are all worked out with creative teams by editorial months in advance. In almost every case the rate of release has not hurt any title, which as you pointed out is what's keeping the program active. The trick comes when editors decide that for story reasons, or creator reasons they can't hold up to the double ship as scheduled, then we need to get into the production schedule and see where we can rebalance things, or see if we could do with lowered title count that month. So far it's all been working successfully as we've seen lowering our title count has actually been beneficial across the board for us! So we'll continue on this path as long as it continues to work!

Nrama: The success of the Marvel NOW! launches leads to something of a philosophical question: If Captain America #1 is guaranteed to sell better than Captain America #25, why wouldn't Marvel relaunch the series as often as possible? Again, there is likely a point of demising returns to this as well, but are we at a point where a high number doesn't really have much purpose in the market, and we might not see too many issue #50s and beyond in the future? Basically, if sales can get a considerable boost by relaunching Captain America every couple of years, why not do it? Of course, some of that seems to be cyclical, too — there were a lot of relaunches in the mid-to-late '90s, before publishers started re-embracing high, "legacy" numbers. (And to bring this conversation full circle, obviously the significance of Amazing Spider-Man hitting #700 was a major factor in it attracting the attention that it did.)


Gabriel: Well I have a whole theory on this subject that I may share at a later date, but suffice it to say that while folks can go ahead and make a statement about diminishing returns, sales on every renumbering that we've done in the past few years have all been extremely successful. And don't go blaming me for the '90s — I was only a reader then. [Laughs.] Whatever the market and the consumers will buy into is what we'll be presenting moving forward. There are only a few levers to pull when getting new customers to pick up titles (I include in this getting retailers to order more and try to sell new titles) and the #1 launch is definitely the best one in the industry collectively. Now there may be a retailer here or there that says it doesn't work for them, which is fair. But every time I hear them say that, or see it posted somewhere I do something really simple, I check their zip code through the comic shop locator and sure enough I'll find a multitude of retailers nearby that I know the program is working and working well.

In all this, the main point to remember — and this is one where I will always go back to the strength of Marvel's editorial team — if there's not a story to be told within the context of the new #1, if there's not some status quo change, or big creative shift then it shouldn't be done and that would be a disservice to the loyal fans that have been with the series for a length of time. And that wouldn't be fair. We tend to fight those issues out here amongst ourselves, working as partners in the process and in the end I think we end up, certainly with Marvel NOW! in striking a terrific balance that is proving week after week (and after all, we are a weekly periodical business still) to be a great success.

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