Marvel Comics has made a commitment to strengthening their newsstand distribution by making the Ultimate Marvel Magazine a newsstand-only product. Marvel VP-Direct Market Matt Ragone called the product part of a 'different products for different markets' strategy and said that the small orders that would come out of Diamond for the direct market were not worth the difficulties that could arise with distributing a product tailored for newsstand distribution through comic and other specialty stores. Among the potential problems he mentioned were those of coordinating release date between the channels so as not to disadvantage the primary channel -- newsstand -- for this product. Marvel's decision to make their new Ultimate Marvel Magazine newsstand-only is arousing ire in the ranks of some specialty shop owners, who believe the plan demonstrates a lack of respect for their importance to Marvel.
While the distribution into the newsstand channel is larger than that of any of Marvel's comics (130,000 Ultimate Marvel Magazines vs. 80,000 X-Men), this is not a magazine that's going to be a huge profit center for Marvel even if it's successful -- printing two to four copies for every copy sold is not a way to make a lot of money. It works far better for Marvel and for the market for pop culture products as a recruiting tool in outlets where comics are not otherwise distributed, or distributed poorly. Paul Levitz once described DC's newsstand distribution into 10,000 stores (at the time) as '10,000 billboards' for their comic properties. While Ultimate... is a modest effort at recruiting new readers, given the recent history of comics on the newsstand and the newsstand business in general it actually represents a fairly bold investment in the future by Marvel.
We just hope that this effort is more successful than Marvel's last attempt to create a pop culture magazine that simultaneously transcended and promoted comics. We still remember cases of unsold Pizzazz hanging around warehouses for many years after its brief, unhappy life on the newsstand (and in comic stores) in the late seventies. Perhaps retailers should be happy they dodged the bullet this time.