We recently spent some time with Marvel publisher Dan Buckley for our annual discussion of the state of the comics business and Marvel's place in it. In Part 1, we went through the state of the market on a channel by channel basis, and asked how Marvel will handle its publishing program for its big movie year in 2007.  In Part 2, we talked about Marvel's latest efforts to increase its sales to female consumers.  In Part 3, we discuss Marvel's editing policies for changing content for different audiences, its current Web strategy, and its perspective on legal and illegal comic downloads.  And in Part 4, we talk about the Civil War delays and the challenges and opportunities in 2007.


What is your perspective on the state of the market 2006 vs. 2005 for comics and graphic novels overall?

We've seen some solid growth in the industry for both the comics and the graphic novels side.  DC and Marvel have probably been experiencing most of the riches of that growth.  So we've been really happy with the year; it's performed well beyond expectations.  And now there's the challenge of trying, particularly from Marvel's perspective, to top that next year. From a direct market standpoint we're very happy, because the growth has been very solid.


And bookstores have also been growing?



We also wanted to ask how things were going in the mass market. When we did our interview last year, you had just started your program that dramatically expanded the number of outlets you were in.  So we're curious about how your program in outlets like Walgreens and 7-11 has worked out over the last year.

Some of the retail outlets performed better than others.  7-11 is a better demographic than Walgreens from a standpoint of who's going there, and sales reflected that.  We're relatively happy with everything.  Did we wish that we'd garnered more explosive sales?  Yes, but that might be due to the fact that we're so used to the hobby market.  We are happy with it, it's a good trial, awareness, growth business and it gives us an opportunity to get in front of a lot more people.


We've seen some feedback now.  We're getting people calling the locator number and trying to find more comics.  That is a good way to get retailers selling comics.  People will end up in the hobby shops or looking for the hobby shops online to get the product.  So we've been happy.


Have any big chains dropped out, or are there any new ones that have been added?

Blockbuster is still performing with us.  7-11 has been that one that we've focused on the most, and it's still the one that has the best fit.  Drug store retailers like Walgreen's have not been performing quite as well as we'd like.  It doesn't mean that there aren't pockets of stores that perform better than others.


Any major additions? No, but we picked up a few here and there.  We targeted 7-11 as the big one, and it's performing the best for us, so we've been very pleased.


We know you've also got a book program in Target; how's that going?

That's still continuing to do well.  Target, if you talk traditional mass merchant, has been the best participant.  Wal-Mart's been a challenge. 


There are two things going on with Target.  Target has the oversized books that they put in the kid's section, which are still doing well.


They've also been carrying, pretty consistently, six to eight trades on their shelves.  They've been continuing to order those.  They've been participating like a bookstore, like a Barnes and Noble or Borders.  So that happened over the past year. 


So you're seeing some signs that these various mass programs are starting to recruit some serious consumers...

I wouldn't say they're serious, but they're looking for the product.  Have they converted into hobbyists?  That takes a little bit of time.  I don't really know how to gauge it, but we are getting some phone calls, we are seeing some subs come in, we are seeing reaction.  Do I have numbers?  No, but you can gauge it from the letters we're getting, from the phone calls we're getting back in the office from the 1-800 number, from the comic shop locator, things like that.


2007 will obviously be a really big movie year for Marvel. Are there any differences for 2007 versus the way Marvel has tried to take advantage of that visibility in the past?

No major differences.  I think we've learned about what kind of product works and how much we should be putting out there.  When I first got here, Spider-Man 2 was coming out and we had a lot of Doctor Octopus product, and we just flooded the market.  We ended up with something like four different limited series.  


We're learning that we need to gear up the product and more properly balance it.  The bookstores are where we get the most benefit, as far as mass market consumers stepping in.  We are doing a better job of loading the product in earlier, learning how much we should be putting out there, and working with stores to do promotions in the front of the store.  That's been a very dramatic change in what we're doing now.


One of the bigger challenges right now is that we just have to work with the retailers, because FF and Spider-Man are fairly close together, from a retail perspective.  So we're working on how we load the product in.


Are we coming up with new, unique stuff that's radically different from what we've done in the past?  No, but there is a cumulative learning effect.



Click here to go to Part 2.