We recently had an opportunity to interview Marvel Senior Vice President-Sales David Gabriel about Marvel’s 2011 sales and what to look for in 2012.  In Part 2, we talk about Marvel’s 2012 plans, and about Marvel’s strategies for gaining new readers.  In Part 3, we talked about event fatigue, Marvel’s graphic novel strategy, and digital.  And in Part 1, we talk about Marvel’s sales in 2011 and the company’s pricing strategy and its impact (or lack there-of) on sales.

What are your plans in terms of number of releases for 2012 vs. 2011, both for comics and for books?
We've cut our line down by about 20 to 25% per month going into 2012.  I think this is already evident in the March and April Previews.

Any plans to change the mix of book product between hardcovers and softcovers in 2012?
We have some plans to announce some new product and formats for later on in 2012.  However it'll be natural to see a reduction in collected editions later in 2012 with the reduction of comic titles in the early part of the year.  For April we are announcing two new formats in our all ages lines which we hope will have an impact on getting kids into our books.

One constant point of tension with long-running characters such as Marvel's is between gaining new readers, which requires content that can be understood without knowing a lot of history, and keeping your current readers happy, which requires that events tie to what they've already read.  DC has chosen one way of addressing that with its New 52 relaunch.  Can you talk about the ways Marvel is addressing that tension?
This is much more of an editorial question but I will tell you that we are constantly talking about how to gain new readers.  It's one of the reasons that we do launch new big number ones very few months... it‘s really one of the only proven methods right now to get folks interested in books (and of course that was certainly just proven true).

We've constantly been introducing new series and books to expand to the world outside of superhero fiction, with things like Dark Tower, the Orson Scott Card prequel to Enders Game, Halo, the Jane Austen adaptations, the Wizard of Oz, Castle and more.  We've even made great strides in launching an entirely new numbering system for comics called the Point Ones, and love them or hate them, they've done a lot of good in getting readers to try out new books, and from the first inception certainly managed to reach out to a mass market audience and draw some attention to comics.  And let's not forget that the strides that Marvel has made in the digital world, since we ushered in the digital age of comics for all publishers over five years ago, is certainly bringing comics to new and to lapsed readers in much the way the old newsstand used to do.

Marvel is the only publisher that mandates a recap page go at the beginning of every comic to catch the reader up on what’s happening if they’ve happed to miss an issue.

We’re also the first publisher to attempt a digital to print coupon and actually send digital comics buyers into stores to purchase print comics or collections.  That conversion rate has been tremendous and we expect to tryout more programs like that.  I’d like to see these kinds of programs from all publishers in an attempt to use digital to increase print sales!

I’d also be remiss in not mentioning that Avengers VS X-Men is completely perfect jumping on point for new readers.  These are heroes everyone knows but we introduce you to their world in the first issue so you know everything you need to enjoy the story.  We’re also launching the biggest marketing campaign in Marvel history to support this event, with a significant investment behind it and a strategy we know will bring new readers into stores.

Another way to get new readers is by attracting kids.  What are your plans for kids comics featuring Marvel characters?
We've already announced the new series that we are launching for our all ages line; we've also announced three new formats that we are putting out to get kids into comics with the comic readers, young readers novels, and a new screen cap digest all tied into our animation slate!  Along with these Marvel superhero-centric titles we're also launching a line of Disney Pixar comics with the first series of Toy Story coming out in March.

Marvel has tried some different packages for products featuring Disney/Pixar properties.  What are you learning with that experimentation, and how should retailers expect to see this program develop in 2012?
See above...  there will be more on the horizon.

Any plans to add comics featuring any of the other Disney character groups (e.g., classic characters) in 2012?
Nothing to report yet... but we're in constant contact with the WDW group on this topic.

Some have argued that there's a shortage of Marvel books with female lead characters (none, after the cancellation of X-23 and Ghost Rider), and non-white lead characters (one, Ultimate Comics Spider-Man).  Your comment?
I think that’s a pretty shortsighted way of looking at things.  All the X-Men books star Storm, Kitty Pryde, Psylocke, Rogue, Emma Frost, Pixie, Hope, and so on.  The Avengers books star Spider-Woman, Ms. Marvel, Mockingbird, Jessica Jones, Black Widow, and so on.  Fear Itself’s main villain was a female Red Skull, the next major Marvel event Avengers vs X-men has two women as its focus: Scarlet Witch and Hope.  The Jane Austen and Oz books star women; Anita Blake is another female character we are publishing; Sue Richards in Fantastic Four.  There are women throughout.

And as far as non-white characters go, we just had one of our biggest launches of the year with the new Ultimate Spider-Man, Miles Morales; Fury in the Ultimate Universe; Battlescars stars Marcus Johnson; The Black Panther has been running in some form or other for years now; Storm in multiple series; Rhodey in Iron Man; Luke Cage headlines Avengers and Thunderbolts; Dani Moonstar in New Mutants; M from X-Factor; Dr Rao in X-Club; Idie in Wolverine and the X-Men; X-23 is now in Avengers Academy; Armor in Astonishing X-Men; Falcon in Ultimate Avengers; and so on…

When you take into account that most of our books are team books because in the end we all see that those sell the best, the argument falls a bit short.  It’s not just about inserting non-white, non-male characters in comics to meet some vague quota--we want to create characters, regardless of creed or color, that resonate with fans.  So when you look at our characters, it’s more telling when you see the variety of characters we’ve elevated over the years into major players.  Luke Cage is one of our most popular characters, leading two teams in the Marvel U.  Black Widow is now one of the most popular Avengers and appears in multiple books, along with a strong number of limited series over the years.  Miles Morales received more press coverage worldwide than nearly anything in comics over the last 15 years.

Click here for Part 3.