Faced with restrictions on the distribution of its much-anticipated comics adaptation of Stephen King’s post-apocalyptic bestseller, The Stand, Marvel Comics is working to turn them into a plus. After releasing the series in periodical form in the fall of last year, Marvel announced plans to release the hardcover graphic novel, The Stand: Captain Trips, on March 10 exclusively through the comics shop market.
Although the decision to release the book exclusively in comics shops is due to the conditions of the license Marvel received from the book’s publisher—originally Doubleday, which is now a part of Random House—Marvel is nevertheless working aggressively to turn those restrictions into a bonanza for comics shops. The comics shop market, comprised of about 3000 specialty stores around the country that buy inventory on a non-returnable basis at wholesale, has been the primary retail channel for the comics industry since the 1980s. But over the last 10 years the bookstore market—bookstore chains and online retailers—has opened up many new outlets for graphic novel sales.
While Marvel declined to provide more details on the license for The Stand, in an exclusive interview, Ruwan Jayatilleke, Marvel senior v-p, strategic-development & acquisition, and David Gabriel, Marvel senior v-p, sales & circulation, acknowledged the license’s conditions—as well as the concerns of general booksellers who won’t get to sell the book—while outlining plans to use The Stand to highlight the strengths of the comics shop market (also called the direct market) and give it a higher profile among King fans and longtime comics fans as well as new comics readers.
PW Comics Week: Can you give some of the background thinking leading up to this decision?
Ruwan Jayatilleke: Marvel is not at liberty to discuss deal points regarding licenses that we procure. That said, I can say that this was not a decision we made but rather a condition of the license with the novel’s publisher, to which we agreed.
David Gabriel: When Ruwan came to us about a year ago to tell us that he had this exciting new deal for us that involved Stephen King, he let us know right away that it would be going into the direct market only. Seeing as how we were well in the midst of our “embrace change” campaign we thought “this could be the biggest thing to happen to the comic shop retailers since the GI Joe commercials in the 80’s." Never before in the history of the direct market has one of the most successful writers of our time been involved in a project that would send people into their stores in droves. We saw it as an exciting opportunity and unique challenge….in the end all very positive.
PWCW: What other kinds of Marvel products have been made exclusive to either channel of late, and how does this compare to them?
DG: We’ve tested a limited amount of exclusivity with special direct market only variant covers for certain hardcovers, which has worked very well. We also listed the Mini Marvels Digest as a direct market only exclusive because the content is so specific to the customers in comic shops. That proved to be our best selling digest in recent memory (well, besides Runaways).
PWCW: Didn’t the first Stephen King hardcover—DarkTower—do well in bookstores?
RJ: Again, this was a decision made per the parameters of the license.
DG: The comic shops have proven time and time again to be one of our most valued allies in getting fans and consumers excited about Marvel material. We wouldn’t have the successful comic book movies right now if not for the existence of the comic shop retailers over the past 25 to 30 years. They’ve been able to keep our medium alive and thriving. What a great way to reward them through a project like this.
I understand that this program overall is confusing, which is why we wanted to get an interview out there to clarify things. There's no catch. The Stand: Captain Trips will be sold to the direct market. It will serve to drive hundreds of eager customers into comic shops across the country. Retailers will be able to capitalize this and show new faces a vast array of other products. This hasn't been done before, so naturally there are a lot of raised eyebrows and concerns. But to look on the bright side....this is the biggest thing to happen to the direct market in 25 years. To me that's a great way to look at things.
PWCW: King has the power to bring huge numbers of new readers to the graphic novel category. Are comics shops prepared for the demand?
RJ: While the distribution of the The Stand comic book collections are limited per the license, our belief is that King fans will seek out these books and purchase within this unique situation and its challenges. The success of The Stand and Dark Tower single issue comic books have proven time and time again that fans are willing to go to the direct market retailers and support them—whether they be mainstream King fans or comic book fans—or both. I see this situation as nothing different, just on a larger scale with a much larger opportunity at stake for said retailers.
DG: Again the comic shops have the ability to reach a huge number of consumers as well. Look at the amount of fans driven into stores for the Death of Captain America, the unmasking of Spider-Man, the Dark Tower comics launch, and recently the Amazing Spider-Man #583 featuring Barack Obama on the cover. We’re pretty certain that this book has the potential to bring thousands of new faces into comic shops and from there be introduced to a whole new world of graphic novels.
PWCW: Won't this ultimately limit the total possible sales of the hardcover book?
RJ: No. While the sales velocity may not be the same, our hope is that the actual sell-through tally at the end of the day will be tremendous.
DG: We plan to sell a lot of The Stand: Captain Trips HC, we plan to bring new faces into the direct market, and we plan to have a major book sold in a way that may never before have been done. We also plan to push this through our mighty marketing machine and make it clear plain and simple to all fans, King and comic fans alike, where they can find this book. This is a major opportunity for the Direct Market, and probably one of the most exciting challenges that we've ever faced!
We have a strong ad campaign that spans the Internet and printed media all of which directs new faces, and familiar faces back to the comic shops. It’s a great way to strengthen our partners in the comic retail industry.
And let’s not forget the strength of the comics shop locator service. Through the Comic Shop Locator hotline (1-888-comicbook ) and website (www.ComicShopLocator.com), anyone in the country can pick up a phone and call to find a comic shop near them and purchase the book from that store. For those folks who don’t have a store near them, they’ll be able to easily locate an online retailer such as Talesofwonder.com and order the book online. It should be fairly straightforward. All of the mainstream push that we are doing for the book will be pushing not only Tales of Wonder, but also the comic shop locator service, as well as a special Marvel webpage devoted entirely to The Stand: Captain Trips HC. The address for that is www.Marvel.com/theStand. With the number of hits Marvel.com gets every day there are plenty of opportunities to get the word out to every Marvel, King, and comics fan everywhere.
PWCW: What about online retailers like BN.com and Amazon? Can they participate?
DG: This will also be direct market online retailers only. Talesofwonder.com is our strongest online retailer for collected editions and their reach has grown enormously over the past two years. We're confident that with their assistance as well as all other direct market online outlets, we'll have an extremely wide reach across the vast array of Internet shoppers.
PWCW: What are your plans for the paperback edition of The Stand?
RJ: For the time being, we are focused on hardcover launch and are not at liberty to comment on the trade paperback editions.
DG: We’re so concentrated right now on making the hardcover a huge success that we haven’t yet given thought to what we’ll do for a Trade paperback release. We haven’t yet for the Dark Tower books, but things always change.
PWCW: Is there a potential that this may frustrate new and/or casual comics readers—King fans—who may try to find the book at their local bookstore?
DG: We’re hopeful that mainstream demand will be as overwhelming as we’ve just seen in the past few weeks with the Spider-Man Obama comic. The direct market is ready to take on these demands and we, as always will meet with the demands of the market to make this launch the strongest possible release of a direct market title ever. There’s no reason to think that there will be any sour experiences here. We will be doing everything possible to promote not only TalesofWonder.com but also the comics shop locator service.
PWCW: How have direct market retailers responded to this offer?
DG: We’ve received astounding support from our direct market retailers so far. The retailer trade organization ComicsPro sent out a recent message strongly supporting the book and urging all retailers to take advantage of the opportunity. TalesofWonder.com stepped up to become our MVP, and the folks over at Diamond Comics have also issued statements about what a boon for the comics industry applauding all the efforts that have gone into making this a huge success.
PWCW: How have general bookstore accounts responded? They can’t be very happy.
RJ: Obviously this is not an ideal situation for our valuable partners in trade and book mass retail. However they do understand that this distribution plan is a constraint of Marvel’s license and that this is no way is a measure of their value and importance to us. As we, obviously, recognize what an incredible impact that they have made for us regarding the graphic novel category.
DG: Ruwan is again correct and we’ve been trying our hardest to be respectful of our book market and mass market partners. We understand that this is a hard pill to swallow and we were careful in how we made the announcements for both markets so that nothing took anyone by complete surprise. Over the next 12 months we have a release schedule for both markets that includes: Enders Game, Enders Shadow, Dark Tower Treachery, Halo Uprising, Secret Invasion, Wolverine, Wizard of Oz., Anita Blake, and more, all of which will be available in both markets.
PWCW: Will the book be available to book stores at all? Will it be made available to the general book market at a later date?
RJ: That is an issue that Marvel will discuss with trade and mass retailers at a later date, and then disseminate for public consumption. However for the time being, Marvel is primarily focused on the launch and success of The Stand: Captain Trips hardcover comic book collection.
DG: I have to emphasize again here that the book will be offered through the direct market, through the Comic Shop Locator where you can find a local comics retailer, through TalesofWonder.com, and other various online retailers.
PWCW: If a B&N.com or Amazon.com or other online retailer wants to order the book can they do so?
RJ: No. This will not part of our plan at this time.
PWCW: Will the book’s distribution be handled via Diamond Book Distributors?
DG: No, Diamond Comics will be handling the distribution. The book will also only carry a Direct Market UPC.
PWCW: Will the book market be offered another King book or another high profile Marvel title later to make up for this exclusive to the direct market?
RJ: This is not part of our publishing plan for Stephen King or any other creator at this time.
PWCW: Are you worried that this may hurt the category and are there more deals like this coming?
DG: What hurts the category more overall is that we're all not reaching out to expand our audience and our product mix. We've been strongly behind lines like the All Ages Marvel Adventures, our magazine launches, and the classics in Marvel Illustrated, we're venturing into more adult stories with more Max titles and recently launched a successful Noir line. We'll continue to try new things, expand our products and our reach and I think we'll all see a stronger industry across the board.