What Marvel/Disney Merger Means to Comic Book Shops


While no one can predict exactly what the Disney acquisition of Marvel Entertainment will mean for comic books, there's a high likelihood of changes on the horizon.

And with Disney's distribution and marketing network being so extensive, the one segment of the comic book industry that may be the most affected by changes is the comic retailer. Most comic books are currently sold through specialty comic book stores, and with a big new corporation in the mix, the potential for big changes makes some store owners wonder what it all means for their businesses.

"With all the things that are happening with digital comics, there are already a lot of questions about what comic book retailing will look like in the future," said Jason Pierce, owner of Alter Ego Comics in Muncie, Ind. "Now, with Disney in the mix, you have to wonder if they're going to be satisfied with the current method of comic book distribution. And if they make changes, will those end up benefitting the industry as a whole enough that comic shops will also benefit?"

J.C. Glindmyer, owner of Earthworld Comics in Albany, N.Y., said that Disney should use Marvel's history as a guide when approaching distribution. In the late '90s, Marvel attempted to self-distribute products through its own company, Heroes World Distributing. The effort failed, and Diamond Comic Distributors ended up emerging as the leading distribution company.

"My main concern is with Disney's vast resources, will they self-distribute and leave Diamond Comics?" said Glindmyer. "I hope not. One 'Heroes World' debacle is more than enough."

Mike Wellman, owner of The Comic Bug in Manhattan Beach, Calif., pointed out that the efforts by comic book publishers to have their products sold in "big box" retailers should be easier for Marvel to accomplish now, having the power of Disney's leverage behind them. The retailer wondered if that would help or hurt the smaller shops.

"Any big company is going to have their eye on the bigger picture," Wellman said. "They're going to be more concerned with getting product into Targets and Wal-Marts than they will with taking care of the little guys -- us comic shops. But... looking at Warner Bros, they have DC Direct, so hopefully on that front, we'll get a little slice of that pie."

Joe Field, owner of Flying Colors Comics in Concord, Calif., serves as the president of the ComicsPRO retailing organization. He said that Marvel's current relationship with retailers isn't exactly great, so he thinks Disney stepping in could mean positive changes.

"As a business owner in the comics' industry, I am excited by the prospects of a larger company owning Marvel Comics, which over the last 10 years, has been a very penurious operation -- bowing out of doing most major conventions, ending its retail co-op advertising program and basically eschewing much of the inside industry stuff as they laid a course for Hollywood fortune," Field said. "Marvel may be the industry sales leader, but it's been 15 years since the company was the true market leader."

[*editor's note: While Marvel did forgo having major booth presence at Comic-Con International: San Diego for a few years earlier this decade, they have always been a programming participant and have offered a Comic-Con booth for several years now. They have also been a significant presence at all major Wizard shows this decade, along with Reed Exhibitions' New York Comic Con, and many other regional and international shows.]

While several of the retailers echoed what comic books fans have said -- wondering if comic book content would be controlled and changed by Disney -- Field said he thinks Disney is less interested in the comic publishing side of Marvel and more interested other media use of the company's characters.

"Comics are a small part of Marvel. This deal is for the riches in licensing and spin-offs to other media, notably video games and movies," he said.

Dean Phillips, owner of Krypton Comics in Omaha, Neb., said Disney adds a potential for Marvel to communicate about comics to a wider audience, which means more people might end up reading comics. And more customers is a good thing.

"Disney is a marketing powerhouse! Hopefully some of this marketing power will be directed to strengthen the comic book industry," Phillips said. "Perhaps a better superhero theme park than we have seen in the past. More than likely, is Disney wants the movie and video game rights! Hannah Montana vs. Iron Man is every fanboy's dream!"

But there's also a concern among retailers who have seen Disney try comics and abandon the effort in the past, including the recent failure of the Disney Adventures magazine and the virtually unused ownership of former CrossGen properties, leaving some with a sense that the company isn't dedicated to making comics publishing work.

"I'm in a fairly unique spot in this business in regards to this deal," said Field of Flying Colors Comics. "Years ago, when Disney launched their Disney Comics' line, I was one of a few comic book specialty retailer advisers to the publishers of Disney Comics. The Disney Comics line didn't last very long as Disney corporate wasn't happy with the meager revenue the line generated for the internal expenses it created. Shortly thereafter, Disney went back to a licensing agreement with its U.S. comic publisher."

Other retailers wondered about the future of the existing Disney and Pixar comics that have already established an audience in comic shops, as well as what will happen to Marvel's MAX line.

"I just hope this deal doesn't monkey with the BOOM! comics that we do very well with," said Adam Casey, manager of Ssalesfish Comics in Winston-Salem, N.C. "I think we'll be paying close attention to our pre-orders and stock levels of backlist mature, MAX, and niche product that may be slow to go into new printings under content and profitability concerns."

But most retailers pointed out that Warner's ownership of DC Comics hasn't really affected comic book retailing, so they're generally optimistic that Marvel's acquisition by Disney won't mean any drastic changes.

"If we look at DC/Warner Bros. as an example, I see nothing to worry about," said Wellman of The Comic Bug. "DC continues to make great comics and we've had excellent product in other media, like the Justice League Unlimited cartoon, The Dark Knight in theaters and a bevy of video games."

"When new companies have become part of the Time/Warner conglomerate, there has always been an attitude of: DC is doing fine so let them be," said Charlie Harris of Charlie's Comic Books in Tucson, Ariz. "I'd think that Disney would wish to adapt a similar attitude with Marvel."

"It probably means the same thing that DC being owned by Time-Warner affects our business -- pretty much, not at all," said Glindmyer of Earthworld Comics.

"As a retailer, I'm cautiously optimistic this deal will be a good thing for our specialty market," said Field of Flying Colors Comics. "As a Marvel reader since 1967, if the comics are entertaining, I'll stick with them. If not, there are many other publishers doing very remarkable and engaging comics, so comics will continue to thrive."

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