We talked to Marvel Publisher Dan Buckley (see 'Marvel Announces Buckley as Publisher for a bio') recently in a wide-ranging interview covering numerous topics of interest to retailers.  In Part I, below, we discussed the state of the market for comics and graphic novels in comic stores, bookstores, and on the newsstand.  In Part II, we talked about Marvel's current editorial strategy, its policies on retailer exclusives and overprints, and the hopes and challenges of the future (see 'Interview with Marvel Publisher Dan Buckley, Part II').


We'd like to get your sense of the market for comics and graphic novels in 2004 compared to. 2003 -- up, down, or stable?

I think it's going to be slightly up.  Probably our biggest challenge is the loss of a publisher, so there's readjustment in what people are going to be buying.  As a whole, the retailers that we communicate with and that we talk to seem to be doing pretty well; they think sales are fairly strong, but I don't see anything going through the roof right now.  There is an adjustment to the loss of stuff happening within Image and CrossGen.


How about by format -- comics vs. graphic novels?  What do you see the market doing differently in those two formats? 

The industry or Marvel?


The industry, although we're interested in Marvel as well.  Specifically, the question is, 'Do you see comics or graphic novels growing faster this year?'

Within the direct market, I think you'll see some more dollars in the trade paperback business just because we'll be a little bit more aggressive with our collections, which will drive some dollars into that area.  I think there's going to be some interesting stuff going on as far as formats and digests, and not just with us.  How does Tokyopop enter the marketplace?  How do our digests continue to do in the marketplace as we opt to use some of our books in different ways? 


How are your digests doing?

We're very happy with it, and the feedback we've gotten has been very good so far.  I think the package for the product has been appropriate and we're getting good feedback on the price point.  We're very pleased with the feedback we've gotten from the direct market on it, and the book market has responded fairly well to it too.  I would say the trade paperback market (or collections market for lack of a better term) will probably grow a little more aggressively than the comics, because there are a lot of new things being done in that format, and Tokyopop could have some impact because it looks like they're trying to be much more aggressive in our market.


Is Marvel's trade paperback count up substantially this year vs. last year?

I believe it is (I wasn't here for most of last year).  We're somewhere between ten and fifteen trades per month.


How many have you got in backlist now?

We have between three and four hundred titles.


That's significantly up over the last few years.

That's significantly up over five years ago, when I think it was like nine (laughs).  I know when I left the business in '98 we weren't very aggressive in that market at all. 


How about by channel?  Comic stores vs. bookstore market, for example.  How are the growth rates different in those two channels this year?

This year's been relatively flat for both.  There was a tremendous growth rate for us in the book market the first couple of years that we got back in the collections business, just because we hadn't been there at all.  So we saw a great deal of growth in that business which has helped everyone, just because more people are picking stuff up.  It's been relatively flat from a per-unit standpoint.  Obviously there's been a little bit of growth in both markets in that category just because we have more releases out there.  But the direct market is still our bread and butter, and we do very well with it and we hope that we show it the respect that it's due.  


How about the newsstand market?  It's pretty small these days, but Marvel may have done more things in that market the last few years than some others. 

We look at it chain by chain.  We evaluate, 'Is someplace that comics will do better, or should we approach the retailer or chain for a digest program or a trade program?'  We're looking at it on a case by case basis to make sure we can get a proper return on investment.  There's a give and take in how much of it do we need to do to generate awareness for the product.  Obviously the movie products have made it a little bit easier for us to deal with placement, and have helped a little bit with the efficiencies of those books.  But we'll never be a full line out there, as you well know, and there never has been.  Spider and X do very well, and where there's an appropriate media property we would tend to be a little bit more aggressive in that market, but it's never going to be a real big market for us again.  I don't see that happening. 


For the last few years, and especially the last two years there has been a very rapid increase in the number of pockets available in bookstores for comic product.  What's your perspective on the availability of additional space as the number of new releases grows (as it's definitely going to do this year).

The pockets have grown.  I think we have the right title mix that we want in there now.  If we go too far with a vast array of product, it's not going to do well in that market because people, even in the book market, are a little bit more attracted to brands that they're familiar with.  There might be even more pockets available for DC, Marvel, and other comic book publishers, because CrossGen did have some of those pockets. They might be available, but I don't know if it's necessarily a good mix for us to do that because we're still dealing with efficiencies and returns.


So you're not seeing a pocket crunch.

No, not at all.  The people that have taken in the comic program in the book market have been fairly happy with it. 


Obviously we don't see all the numbers, but in the Bookscan numbers we do see it seemed as if Spider-Man 2 didn't drive as big an increase in sales of Spider-Man products as the first Spider-Man movie did.  Part of that may be because there are Spider-Man products on lists other than the graphic novel list.  What's your perspective on that question?

It's a little bit what you talked about.  Also, the first Spider-Man movie did coincide a lot with the fact that we didn't have a lot of Spider-Man product out there.  There wasn't much backlist.  So there's a different fervor associated with putting that product out there.  And it could be tied to release schedules -- the first movie didn't launch in July, it launched in May. 


We've been relatively happy with the numbers, but you're right, the numbers haven't been quite as big.  It has a little bit to do with the fact that people have been taking in a lot of Spider-Man over the last two years too, and getting caught up on it.  It's not like, 'Oh, Spider-Man, that's cool, I'm going to go  back out and get into this again.'  There was a jumping-on point with the first movie where people have been steadily consuming, so I don't think it [Spider-Man 2] created quite the same spike. 


For part II of our interview, see 'Interview with Marvel Publisher Dan Buckley, Part II').