Mar 22, 2017

Diversity Isn't Your Problem with Marvel

Diversity Isn't Your Problem with Marvel
by Duy Tano

I hate talking about comic book sales. I hate it. Most people, when talking about comic book sales, refuse to take in the context. I explained all that here some years back, when some hack writer decided to use sales as evidence that he was the right guy for a book, but the long and short of it is this: one book or company being down in sales compared to a previous period doesn't matter if the entire industry is down in sales.

You know what matters? Market share. And not "unit share," which is the number of units sold by a particular company sells divided by the total number of units sold by the industry. What matter is dollar share, which is how much money a company or book makes divided by the total amount of money the industry brings in.

Why dollars? Because this is a business, and like all businesses, the money is the bottom line. You need money to make more, and whoever's making more money leads the market. Pepsi could sell out and sell everything at 50% off, and it won't matter because Coke will still make more money. (Or the other way around. Whatever.)

Why value revenue and not profit? Because in most businesses, you have a revenue-generating department and a cost-cutting department. Revenue generation is what the writers, artists, editors, and the like are brought in for. Cost-cutting falls to the people who decide what type of paper to use, how many issues to print, and whatnot. Both jobs are important, but we as fans measure the first guys.

I say this now because I see people saying that the reason Marvel is down in sales is because of its "leftist agenda" and "forced diversity". But look. Marvel's dollar share in February 2017 was 37% compared to DC at 30%. This is, in fact, down from February 2016, when Marvel's dollar share was 41% compared to DC's 26%. So you'd think Marvel was doing something wrong. And then you remember, hey wait, DC just did a reboot. So what was it like the last February when DC did a reboot, meaning February 2012?

Oh look, Marvel led that with 36%, compared to DC's 29%. That is statistically the same thing as February 2017.

But some people, who could use a basic course in Economics, see that the volume is decreasing in absolute value, and proceed to look for what's wrong. They see the thing that is different from when they were collecting comics and sales were "higher." (Newsflash: comics sales have been declining since the late 50s.) So they latch on to that thing, in this case, the fact that Marvel has a line of characters featuring minorities and women. All of the possible reasons to discuss why comics sales are flagging, and that's what they latch onto. That's the thing they have a problem with.

I'm not saying that flagging comic sales aren't a problem, because they absolutely are. But when Marvel and DC combine for 67% of the market share, as they have for at least the last five years, their individual content isn't the issue. If other comics companies were making more business, then Marvel and DC would have less share, because another company would have increased its share by now. The problem with the industry is built into its infrastructure: the pricing, the format, the materials used, the capex. It's not the content when their market share remains the same as ever.

To illustrate, let's say there are only 100 dollars to go around each month. Marvel makes 35 (35%), DC makes 30 (30%), everything else makes 35 dollars (35%).

Now, if fans really had a problem with Marvel and quit comics because of it, then Marvel sales would decline. Let's say they lose 5 dollars. But everyone buying DC and everything else is still the same, so now there are only 95 dollars to go around. Marvel makes 30 dollars (31.5%), DC makes the same (31.5%), and everything else splits the remaining 35 dollars (37%).

Do you see? If this were an isolated incident — Marvel, and only Marvel, losing sales — everything else goes up in share. And if Marvel and DC both lost sales, then everything not them goes up in share. But share is steady, meaning the decline is steady throughout the industry.

So there you are. With market share basically being the same as it was five years ago, the issue is industrywide and is built into the infrastructure. It's not about the individual content of each book or company. So if you're complaining about Marvel declining in sales and the first thing you do is blame a "social justice agenda" or a "push for diversity," just think about that for a second and consider the possibility that diversity isn't your problem with Marvel. Maybe, just maybe, diversity is your problem with life.


Anonymous said...

The real problem with Marvel is not low sales due to diversity. It is that they expected the diversity to be a revelation and magically increase those sales. But anything that is forced down readers throats, including a positive thing, will always be met with resistance. Let the diversity come naturally, organically, not just made the dominant theme in every book from one day to the next. Real life never works that way, why should the funny books.

Duy Tano said...

1) How would you ask them to let it "come naturally" when historically speaking any attempt to introduce minority characters is met with backlash? I remember letters pages in the 80s complaining about Jim Rhodes as Iron Man.
2) Did you read the column? Marvel's share of the direct market is the same. If Marvel and only Marvel for any reason were decreasing sales, share for the other companies would go up. And yet, they haven't, because it's the *industry* that is declining.

Anonymous said...

The reasoning of this article is flawed. It makes no difference if Marvel has 35% of the market share or 99% of the market share if they’re not selling comic books. If Marvel is not making enough money to pay the bills sooner or later they will go out of business. Like it or not the “SJW agenda” is one of the major reasons people give for why they don’t read comics as much anymore. It’s pretty silly and foolish to ignore this at this point. And no, accusing readers of being bigots is not going to make them suddenly turn around and buy more comics to show their not bigots (which seems to be the preferred tactic). That’s just stupid and will guarantee they quit reading comics altogether.

Duy Tano said...

If market share remains stable while they're losing sales (They're not mutually exclusive), that means everything is losing sales. The problem is industry wide.

Specific to Marvel, there are other market forces at work, which have been covered in other places on the net.

And I didn't write the piece to advocate bigots to buy more Marvel. I wrote it to ask them to examine that type of reasoning and see what it says about themselves.

Anonymous said...

Comic book sales are declining because people don't like the writing, and at least some of that is due to the "SJW agenda". If it wasn't then so many people wouldn't say that's why they have stopped reading comics. But the industry doesn't want to address that issue, they just want to call anyone who disagrees with them "bigots" (weather they actually are or not).
One can disagree with the "agenda" and not be a bigot, but attacking customers and potential customers by calling them some of the worst names you can call a person is not going to attract more customers it will drive them away.

Duy Tano said...

The point of the article is to point out that while some of that is vocally due to the "agenda," there are other market forces at play. And if there are other market forces at play and that's the reason that someone gives, what does it say about us as a fandom?

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