Recently, Marvel Comics' VP of Sales, David Gabriel made some statements in an interview during the Marvel Retailers Summit:
What we heard was that people didn't want any more diversity. They didn't want female characters out there. That's what we heard, whether we believe that or not. I don't know that that's really true, but that's what we saw in sales.
We saw the sales of any character that was diverse, any character that was new, our female characters, anything that was not a core Marvel character, people were turning their nose up against. That was difficult for us because we had a lot of fresh, new, exciting ideas that we were trying to get out and nothing new really worked.
Gabriel has since walked back those comments.
And of course, the internet went nuts. Both PC and Anti-PC proponents shot vicious comments back and forth. Personally, I sat back and laughed.
You see, I've been watching Marvel (and DC too, for that matter) making the same mistakes as a lot of indie writers, many of whom have quit the business over the years, and trad publishing have made.
So basically, Marvel has given us what-not-to-do guidelines:
1) Over-pricing product
Trad publishing has been doing this for years, especially by pricing e-books way higher than print books. Marvel upped Spider-man from $3.99 to $9.99. How the hell do they expect little kids to buy comic books when they are priced that high?
2) Giving the reader fewer pages
Indies are especially guilty of this faux pas, but the comic book companies are catching up. Most readers considered a novel to be a couple of hundred pages, but whatever the actual word-count or page-count they do expect a complete story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. When you slice a story in the middle and expect the reader to pay twice as much for half the story, the readers are going to be pissed.
On the other hand, comic books are expected to be a serial format. However, those episodes are getting shorter (40 years ago the standard number of pages was 24, now it's 10) while the price is going up. That leads back to my first point about readers feeling ripped off.
3) Sales Gimmicks
Hey, I'll be the first to admit gimmicks, like perma-free and 99-cent deals, can goose short term sales, but they're not a long-term substitution for decent writing. The comics industry tanked in the '90's thanks to the proliferation of multiple covers for the same issue and reboots out the wazoo to justify the multiple covers. Those crazy die-cut-, gold-embossed covers by whoever was the hottest artist at the moment.
And gimmicks are still used to the detriment of all on both the indie writer and comic book sides. For indies, the latest thing is buying, selling and trading e-mail lists.
NOTE: If you have signed up for my mailing list, or are planning to, my list stays PRIVATE. I WILL NOT buy, sell, or trade your information.
Why do I keep my mailing list private? Because (1) I already know it doesn't work, and (2) when other companies do that to me, it makes me pissed as hell.
For the comic books, the latest gimmick is short-term MAJOR changes to characters. I'm not a big Captain America fangirl, but making him a Hydra agent when fascism is on the rise in the world make my stomach clench.
But to blame low sales on "no one wants diversity" when it's because of shitty storylines? No. Just no.
And for the record, I was a collector of X-men comics for thirty years, but I stopped ten years ago because of #3. Even when books were under $3, I couldn't afford all the spin-offs and crossovers to get the complete story. Not with a little kid.
And all of this brings us to...
4) Losing the Base Fans
I hate to point this out, but the Golden Age fans are dead or dying. Even those of us who grew up with the Silver Age heroes and stories are becoming grandparents. Where's the new fan base going to come from?
The movies? Really? When the studios are rehashing the same stories from the '30's and '60's over and over again? Even Genius Kid made a smart remark about how times are the movie producers going to make us watch the Waynes and Uncle Ben die on screen.
In the end, it's not diversity, lack of diversity, or whatever other hot-button issue of the day raises its head. We as writers need to be aware of our responsibility to our readers. Don't take advantage of them and deliver the best stories we can. That's all they really ask of us.