Is Disney Playing Dirty or Just Letting Marvel Monkey Around?

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Disney playing dirty?For 88 years, Walt Disney (DIS) has been the epitome of good, clean, family fun. Mickey Mouse. Disneyland. Donald Duck. But when Disney purchased Marvel Entertainment for the prince charming sum of $4 billion in 2009, a new cast of characters with entirely different rules moved into the House of Mouse.

Disney's purchase of Marvel included its comic book subsidiary -- Marvel Comics. And in comic book land, marketing practices may be a bit more in-your-face than Disney watchers are used to.

Scalping the Competition

Last week, Wired.com called out Marvel's "Comics for Comics" promotion. The plan goes like this: Marvel has a big summer "event" comic called Fear Itself -- think of it as the comic book version of a big blockbuster summer movie. Marvel recently prepared a special edition of this comic with a "variant cover" -- essentially, new artwork that makes the edition a collector's item.

Any retailers that want to get hold of a copy to sell can do so easily. All they must do is ... rip the covers off 50 copies of one of the titles involved in rival DC Comics' own summer event, Flashpoint, and mail them in to Marvel, coupon-style.

This is typical razzing between comic companies. Marvel pulled the same trick last summer, when its Siege series went head-to-head with DC's Blackest Night. But this time, it's getting mainstream attention because Marvel Comics is now part of a very mainstream company.

Some Smell a Rat

Marvel calls the program a way to "help" comic book store proprietors in "tough economic times." As pundits point out, many of the titles Marvel wants "scalped" have been sitting on store shelves for weeks, earning nothing for store owners.

Chances are, retailers will ultimately have to discount the titles to move the stale inventory -- or they may never succeed in selling them at all. So Marvel is offering retailers a chance to get something for titles that may now be worth far less than their cover prices.

A more evil interpretation would be that Marvel hopes its offer will result in the destruction of tens of thousands of copies of its rival's comics, preventing DC from reaching a wider readership. However, tearing off covers has been a common practice in the industry for years; retailers used to do so when returning any unsold copies to their distributors.

Negative publicity surrounding Marvel's Comics for Comics has led to grumbling in the comic community, where the consensus seems to be that this is "dirty tricks." But remember, we're talking about comics that (a) readers already had plenty of chances to buy and (b) sold only a few tens of thousands of copies anyway.

In the end, the promotion likely won't do any damage to rival DC Comics' bottom line, nor really make a dent in Disney's image.

Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own (or short) shares of any company named above, but Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Walt Disney and DreamWorks.


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bbib1

The real problem with comic book sales is the ultra-communist plot lines that are driving away readers. There is no large company that currently produces conservative comics.

August 15 2011 at 5:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to bbib1's comment
Erne

Soooo.....let make sure I've got this right; ultra-communist plot lines in comics are driving away readers of conservative comics.
Well, here's a eye opener for you bub, the reason there are no companies producing conservative comics is that there no readership for them!
Second item, direct me to some dialogue or text in any mainstream comic that is ultra-communistic! Forget the 'ultra' , just try to focus on just 'communist' plot lines as hard as you can and see what you can come up with! Get back to me!

August 15 2011 at 6:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
samwise246

Hardly seems fair that ONLY retailers can get the variant cover does it. Consider that wholesale for comics is 50% of the cover price, the retailers will be the only ones who can afford to send in 50 covers, lol.

August 15 2011 at 4:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to samwise246's comment
mchish2

Never met a comic collector have you. 50 covers is nothing.

August 16 2011 at 5:20 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Voice

So it seems that in a way Marvel is helping to turn the purchased copies of the DC comics into a higher value collector's item by reducing the availability of fully printed copies.

August 15 2011 at 4:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply