So, the San Diego Comic Con has been over for more than a week now, and I’ve been trying to keep track of all the major news and schmooze and suchlike, both the good (Neil Gaiman on Batman!) and the bad (Flash: Rebirth? Oh, god, just when I was enjoying Geoff Johns’ work again) and the potentially wonderful (Boom! doing Muppets comics? MUPPETS COMICS! YES YES YES YES YES).
But I haven’t seen anything on these two issues which I will herewhich expound.
DEAR MARVEL COMICS. It’s common knowledge at this point that your profit strategy has shifted from direct profits through publication (28 percent of revenues according to WikiInvest) to profiting from licensing (54 percent of revenues) and, more recently and directly, through movie production rather than licensing of same (no figures, but Iron Man‘s success should make it a large figure, probably larger than publication).
This is fine and dandy, so here is my question. Given that your business model is predicated on having popular characters from which you generate licensing revenues, when are you going to create some new ones?
Don’t get me wrong: I understand that you’ve got a healthy backstock of properties left mostly untouched, and Iron Man is proof enough that any character can become a franchise. Unfortunately, Fantastic Four is proof enough that you can kill a franchise for a long period of time. (It should be interesting to see if Punisher: War Zone can rehabilitate the Punisher as a movie franchise. I like Ray Livingstone, but my money is on “no.”) Yes, I know that Marvel started up Marvel Studios specifically to avoid fuckups like Elektra, but if there’s one lesson the movie business can teach you again and again from history, it is that “doing it yourself” is no guarantee of success, and usually the opposite.
My point is that as you dig deeper into the backlog of characters, and as movies get harder and harder to derive from character properties (I love Deadpool, but let’s be honest: he’s as good an example of any of “popular characters that would be hard to make a good movie about”), you need new properties which can translate to film and other licensing opportunities. (Just keeping even isn’t enough. Marvel is publicly traded. Shareholders demand growth. Nature of the beast)
And here’s the problem: Marvel hasn’t created an iconic, popular character or team in years. Runaways is probably the closest they’ve come in the last two decades, and although I’m sure many people reading this love it, it was still mostly a “critical success” sales generator even with Joss Whedon writing it. The last truly iconic characters Marvel created were Ghost Rider (1972), Wolverine (1974) and the Punisher (1974). Those characters are all older than I am.
This is important, because we’re looking at the long term here; at 1-2 movies per year (not counting the franchises Marvel effectively has no access to produce itself, like Spider-Man or the X-Men), Marvel will be out of prime real estate in about ten to fifteen years – which is about how much time it took Wolverine and the Punisher to become WOLVERINE and THE PUNISHER. Thus, the time to innovate is now.
So how about throwing shit at the wall and seeing what sticks? And maybe actually promoting it. I mean, before you’re looking at your backlog and trying to decide whether to make a movie about Ares, the Sentry or X-23.
DEAR DC COMICS: No digital delivery announcement still? Hey, Zuda is cute and all, but even Marvel has a digital delivery system for their comics. Not a good one – it’s ass-backwards with a lousy interface and denies the obvious realities of the internet-comics market – but at least they have some service by which comics fans can spend money to read Marvel comics online. DC doesn’t even have that.
It’s not a corporate thing, either. Warner Music sells DRM-free mp3s online. The CW sells through iTunes (and shows itself through Hulu). HBO uses iTunes. The “download content to hard drive for money” model is fully established at DC’s corporate parent.
So where is the DC digital delivery system? Does DC Comics not like money? (Actually, that would explain Reign In Hell. I kid! I kid!) No, wait, maybe it’s that DC Comics doesn’t like the idea of a new market for its products to further introduce itself to new readers! Alternately, perhaps DC is hoping that everybody who went out and bought Watchmen after they saw the trailer will also buy a copy of the Amazons Attack! trade paperback and the OMAC Omnibus.
Seriously, though – the lack of a digital delivery system for DC is mindboggling, especially when we know that the company is stressing diversifying out of the direct market and mainstreaming its sales through bookstores more and more.