Updated April 1, 2017: ICv2 has updated their interview with Marvel's Senior Vice President of Sales, Print & Marketing David Gabriel, adding the following statement from Gabriel:
[Note: Marvel’s David Gabriel reached out to correct the statement above: "Discussed candidly by some of the retailers at the summit, we heard that some were not happy with the false abandonment of the core Marvel heroes and, contrary to what some said about characters “not working,” the sticking factor and popularity for a majority of these new titles and characters like Squirrel Girl, Ms. Marvel, The Mighty Thor, Spider-Gwen, Miles Morales, and Moon Girl, continue to prove that our fans and retailers ARE excited about these new heroes. And let me be clear, our new heroes are not going anywhere! We are proud and excited to keep introducing unique characters that reflect new voices and new experiences into the Marvel Universe and pair them with our iconic heroes.
"We have also been hearing from stores that welcome and champion our new characters and titles and want more! They've invigorated their own customer base and helped them grow their stores because of it. So we're getting both sides of the story and the only upcoming change we're making is to ensure we don't lose focus of our core heroes."]
Original story, published March 31, 2017: According to David Gabriel, Marvel's Senior Vice President of Sales, Print & Marketing, a sales downturn at the publisher that accompanied a "big shift in the entire industry" beginning in October 2016 came as a result of many factors, including, according to the executive, the market "turning up their noses" at any title not featuring a "core Marvel character."
Suggesting the answer to the question of why people's tastes suddenly changed was better answered by Direct Market retailers, Gabriel toldICv2 that "What we heard was that people didn't want any more diversity. They didn't want female characters out there. That's what we heard, whether we believe that or not. I don't know that that's really true, but that's what we saw in sales."
Gabriel described what was no longer viable as "things that we had been doing successfully for the past three years..."
"We saw the sales of any character that was diverse, any character that was new, our female characters, anything that was not a core Marvel character, people were turning their nose up against," he explained. " That was difficult for us because we had a lot of fresh, new, exciting ideas that we were trying to get out and nothing new really worked."
Gabriel cited other factors for the market shift, including the economy, specifically events occurring in October/November that affected how consumers wanted to spend their money (with the unsaid implication of the U.S. presidential election), unease and lack of cash flow due to returns to Diamond Comic Distributors from DC's "Rebirth" initiative, a glut of product, and just a general sense of anger over all these issues.
"There was anger because of story reasons for all of us."
"It was the old things coming back in that time period, three books in particular, Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows, that had Spider-Man and Mary Jane married, that worked," he further explained. "The Venom book worked and the Thanos book worked. You can take what you want out of who might be enjoying those three books, but it is definitely a specific type of comic book reader, comic book collector that really liked those three series."
Knowing they had to make changes to adjust to the market, Gabriel explained it took six months in order for them to execute their plans, which they're now starting to promote. Recently the publisher revealed a marketing intiative which will feature the return of its classic characters and include the tagline "Make Mine Marvel."
Marvel's upcoming Generations series, which takes place during its summer Secret Empire crossover, will pair new iterations of Marvel's heroes with their classic counterparts.